If you want to reach your full potential in Muay Thai, it is crucial that you train with the people who are better than you.
While it can feel good being “the man” at a gym, being the best fighter at a gym is not ideal for your development. If you constantly face inferior competition, you won’t get tested, and it is easy to become complacent.
You never want to be the big fish in a small pond. Being a big fish might feel good for your ego, but it can stunt your growth in the long run.
When you are the best person around, it is easy to develop an ego because everyone looks up to you. You will have people telling you how amazing you are because they are all bad.
Over time, you may start believing the bull shit everyone is telling you and start thinking you are the bomb. While there is nothing wrong with being confident in your abilities, becoming arrogant and over-confident are two things that will hurt your development in the long term.
These are the types of people Thai trainers hate working with because they think they already know everything when the reality is they are terrible at Muay Thai.
Don’t be a Big Fish in a Small Pond
When I was in the 9th grade, I was one of the top math students in my class of 30 kids. At the time I thought I was pretty good at math.
In my math class, I was the big fish in a small pond. I didn’t need to study, and I still managed to score high marks in all of my tests.
The following summer I ended up taking some placement tests and got accepted into the International Bachelorette program (advanced level classes) that my high school offered.
The next year, I went from being the “smartest” kid in the class to become an average student, who was falling behind in a class of brilliant kids. Up until this point, I never had to do homework or study in school because it always came easy.
When I got thrown into the accelerated class, suddenly I couldn’t rely on my natural advantages. It wasn’t good enough to merely show up to class and learn. If I wanted to get an average mark, I had to put in the work and study, something I never did before.
The next time I would experience this feeling was when I made my second trip to Thailand back in 2011.
Before coming to Thailand, I thought I was good at Muay Thai. I had experience being one of the best guys in my gym back home, which made me believe that I had talent.
I mistakenly thought that the Thais would be impressed when they saw my skill.
In my first week in Thailand, I remember the trainers correcting everything. My kicks were terrible, my knees were even worse, and my stance was off. Pretty much everything I thought I did right, was wrong.
When it came to sparring, I fared even worse. I got tooled by the Thai trainers, who were playing around with me with feints and techniques I had never seen before. I had never experienced this level of skill outside of Thailand, not even close.
Once again, I learned that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
Surround Yourself with Better People
When you surround yourself with people who are better than you, it forces you to bring your game to their level. Instead of playing down to lower level competition, you need to step up your game to keep up.
If you want to be a good clincher, do you think dominating a few beginners is going to make you good? To improve your clinch game, you need to clinch with strong fighters.
The first time you clinch with a beast, you will get thrown around like a rag doll. They will sweep you and utterly destroy your neck in different locks. You will feel completely helpless, as they do what they want with you.
This experience typically lasts for a few weeks, until you start becoming stronger. Once you get thrown on the ground for the hundredth time, your body will begin to adjust to the sweeps.
Suddenly, your balance will start improving, your neck will become stronger, and your overall clinch game will make rapid improvements.
The same is true for sparring.
If you spar guys who are better than you, you will develop better reflexes against faster competition who are good at throwing feints. The more you fight with better sparring partners, the better your game becomes.
This process of learning is how some fighters can make such significant gains in a short amount of time in Thailand. These fighters can reach a high level in a short amount of time because they are continually facing people who are better than them.
Make a Trip to Thailand
You might not have a lot of training options in your home country, but if you book a trip to Thailand every year, you will get to experience the feeling of being a small fish surrounded by bigger fish.
If you are already at a high level and compete against top competition, there are plenty of gyms in Bangkok that are full of Raja and Lumpinee champions that will crush you. If you aren’t at a champion level yet, most gyms are going to provide a good training environment and have trainers who are better than you.
Thailand is the mecca of Muay Thai and a place that everyone Muay Thai fan should visit. Whether you can spend a few weeks or a month there, that is going to help you make the most improvements to your game.
The one thing you should remember at all times is that no matter how good you think you are, there is always someone better (unless your name is Saenchai).
If you surround yourself with people who are better than you, it is going to help you push your game to their level. While it may be tough to adapt to a high level of sparring/clinching, over time, your body will adjust, and you will improve.
Another way to face better competition is to organize inter-club sparring sessions so that you can go against new people in the clinch or sparring.
Anytime you find yourself a big fish in a small pond, focus on trying to find a bigger pool, so you face better competition to train with. This is going to help you take your game to the next level.