One thing that often separates good Muay Thai gyms from the rest is the quality of pad holders at the gym. If you look at the top Muay Thai gyms around the world, they consistently have students that are high-level pad holders that work with the fighters at the gym (they are often fighters themselves.)
As the old proverb goes, “iron sharpens iron.” This means that the higher the overall level of students at a gym the better the training environment. Good pad holders often act as secondary instructors that work with beginner students to help them improve their technique during the rounds.
This is not always the situation.
At the first gym I trained at back in 2006, the pad rounds consisted of the head instructor teaching a sequence of strikes, which the students would repeat for the pad round. In some cases, these combinations would be quite lengthy, sometimes going 8-10 moves in the sequence. The combinations reminded me of Katas in Karate, almost like trying to memorize a certain movement, that would never be used in a real fight.
Before I continue, I should point out that this method has its purpose. If you are teaching a class of beginners, it is not practical having students hold pads for each other trying to free flow whatever comes to mind. Setting a structure in place for what they should do, takes the guesswork away and allows them to focus on a specific goal.
The goal is to train beginner students to become proficient pad holders at the gym.
Instead of repeating a sequence of strikes each pad round, trainers can give students the ability to hold pads independently and call out their own strikes.
Here are 4 reasons why it is important to train independent Pad Holders at the gym.
#1. Pad Holding Becomes Engaging
If you ever sat through a Muay Thai class repeating the same series of strikes over and over for 3 straight minutes, you probably got bored at some point. This is often why instructors will spice things up and throw in fancy combinations to make the pad rounds more entertaining.
When students actively hold pads for each other, they become more engaged. Even if they are calling out basic strike combinations, the fact that the sequences are constantly changing makes it more engaging for both the holder and the student kicking pads. The pad holder has to think about what they are going to do next, and the other student has to react to whatever sequence is called out next.
#2. Students Develop Their Own Style
While the learning process of holding pads can become tedious at first, once students start developing proper pad holding technique, it moves along much faster. Over the years, each student will develop their own pad holding style and have specific combinations they favor. This makes it engaging when they work with different students at the gym who have to adapt to their unique style.
Being good at pads is something that takes practice and development over time. I’ve worked with Muay Thai champions that were new pad holders, and they were terrible. However, after a few months, they quickly adapted and became proficient at holding pads. Without enough practice, any student can turn into a proficient pad holder.
#3. Students Get Better Faster
The better pad holders you have mixed into the classroom, the faster students improve.
A good friend of mine who opened a gym in Australia, once told me that the most important thing he needed to do when he started, was train a few good pad holders. His reasoning was that once he had a couple of students who were good pad holders, they could help the other students at the gym and make his life a whole lot easier.
Good pad holders provide more eyes on beginners and allow for timely corrections whenever they are doing something wrong. Conversely, if a classroom only has one instructor who provides feedback, students are less likely to get corrected and improve.
#4. It Frees Up the Instructors Attention
When an instructor doesn’t have to focus on coming up with the next combination for the class to repeat, they can spend more time giving feedback to students. It is more important to tell a student to turn their hips when they kick than telling them how to finish the final move in a long combination sequence.
Instructor time is extremely valuable. The more hands-on time they can get with students to provide feedback on technique, the better it is for everyone.
The point of this article is not to say that pad work should always be independent and instructors shouldn’t do any teaching in class. That is not the case. I believe instructors should teach between rounds and offer combinations/techniques to work on, but ideally, you want students to be able to independently hold pads during the rounds. That is the goal.
While this might not be possible in beginner classes, in advanced/fighter classes all students should be allowed to free flow their pad work.
When you look at all the top gyms outside of Thailand, you will notice that the fighters all hold pads for each other. The more fighters a gym has, the better quality of pad holders they develop at the gym. This is why top gyms are able to continue to produce so many talented fighters consistently.
Training high level pad holders is a must if you want to have a successful Muay Thai gym.