One of the keys to success in Muay Thai is learning how to conceal your outward appearance.
Whether you are frustrated, tired, hurt, or fading in a fight, to be successful in Muay Thai you need to be able to conceal your weaknesses.
Failing to hide your weaknesses can give your opponent a big boost in confidence in the middle of a fight, making it tougher to beat them.
Conversely, if you are able to conceal your weakness and show strength, even when you are completely exhausted, it will create the opposite effect and take away your opponents momentum.
Being able to hide your weaknesses is what I call the Muay Thai Poker Face.
A good Poker Face never reveals when you are tired or hurt, so your opponents are unable to get any positive feedback when they land a strike against you.
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
When you are tired or hurt in a fight (or in sparring), you must try not show it. Whether it is your body language, your facial expression, or your movement, never reveal your weaknesses to your opponents. Try to replace your outward signs of weakness with the appearance of confidence.
How Thais Develop A Poker Face
The Poker Face is one mental aspect of fighting that fighters from Thailand have mastered brilliantly. No matter how tired they are, they RARELY show signs of fatigue, even when they are about to collapse. They are very good at maintaining complete composure when they are tired or hurt in a fight.
You can witness this Poker face when you see Thai fighters training.
When you watch Thai fighters hitting pads and sparring, rarely do you see them completely exhausted like you do Westerners. Even though they are dying for oxygen after a set of 100 kicks, they have been trained to conceal those feelings of exhaustion.
Often, the only way you can tell when a Thai fighter is tired is when they pause and don’t do anything. Usually, when a Thai fighter pauses for a few seconds as their trainer is screaming at them to do another 50 kicks, it is their version of being completely out of breath and panting for air.
Conversely, when a Westerner starts getting tired on the pads, their hands are up, they lose all sense of technique, and they look like they’re ready to collapse.
Why Are Thai Fighters So Good At Keeping a Poker Face?
The answer is simple.
They have been trained since they were young to never show when they are tired or hurt.
The moment they start training the young Thai fighters are taught to avoid showing signs of being tired. This principle is drilled into them for years and years until eventually, they become masters at controlling their outward appearance.
The Poker Face Is Important For the Judges Too!
Concealing any signs of weakness is not only an important mental advantage over your opponent, it is also important in SCORING. Judges in Thailand take into account how a fighter looks throughout a fight.
If a fighter looks visibly tired or hurt in a fight, it will hurt them on the judge’s score cards. Conversely, if a fighter is confident and looks fresh in the later rounds of a fight, that will score points in their favor.
It is essential that you show the judges that your opponent’s techniques are having no visible affect on you throughout the fight.
Besides being drilled into them in training, they also learn first hand in the ring why you shouldn’t show your opponents you are tired. Thai fighters who constantly fatigue and show exhaustion in the ring, are less likely to make it as fighters. (Survival of the Fittest in action)
Developing a Poker Face in Training
Learning how to keep a Poker Face when you are tired, is much easier in theory than reality. When your lungs feel like you are going to collapse and you are gasping for air, the last thing on your mind is maintaining an outward appearance of calm.
My trainer Run, always used to yell at me when I was panting after a round of pads. Whenever my hands would go up for air or I would show signs of being tired, he would hit me with the pads and yell, “No Show TIRED!!”
Fighters who are able to train themselves to disguise their exhaustion have a significant mental advantage in the ring.
Hide any signs of Weakness to your opponent
Besides learning to hide feelings of exhaustion, you also need to learn how to conceal any pain that you experience in a fight.
If you have ever had your leg chopped by a good low kick, the natural reaction is to flinch. Why?
Because it bloody hurts, that’s why.
Normal people flinch when they feel pain.
The problem is that Muay Thai fighters are not normal people. Normal people do not go into the ring and risk getting permanently scared or injured when they don’t have to. (Unless you are from Thailand, where most of the Thai boys are forced into fighting by their parents or for Economic need)
If you want to reach a high level in Muay Thai, you have to train yourself not to flinch, even when it hurts like hell.
Learning how to conceal your pain starts in sparring.
You might be tempted to tell your sparring partner to “go easy today” because you are tired or your leg is hurting, however, you should try to avoid this at all costs.
Because sparring is your preparation for the ring. The only way you will develop a poker face in the ring, is if you practice it during sparring. When you are completely exhausted in sparring and have no energy, it is essential that you try and conceal this from your sparring partners.
If your leg is dying from all the low kicks you have taken in sparring, it is important for you to push past that pain and not show it.
Before you ever develop a poker face in the ring, you need to have it mastered in sparring.
If you are in a fight and you show that you are tired, your opponent will not back off. Instead of showing sympathy for you, they will likely push forward and try to finish you off. Learning to control your outward appearance is a matter of winning and losing.
Imagine These Two Scenarios:
You throw a low kick at your opponent that lands flush on the leg. The moment your low kick lands your opponent’s face flinches and his leg slightly buckles. He is visibly hurt from the kick and starts to become more tense as a result. Given the visible signs of pain, you then start to go after your opponents leg with more low kicks.
You are now facing a different opponent and you throw the same low kick that lands flush. However, this time your opponent doesn’t flinch when the kick lands. Instead, he smiles at you, scratches his leg like it is itchy, and tells you to bring it on.
While the low kick had the same physical impact on both of your opponents, their reactions were completely different.
The first opponent showed exactly how he felt. You threw the kick and it hurt him, which caused him to flinch in pain. However, the second opponent gave you no visible reaction that he was hurt from the kick. The only thing you can detect is that he either likes pain or is a bit crazy in the head.
If you had to choose to fight one of these guys, who would it be?
My guess is you would probably rather face the first opponent who does a poor job of concealing his pain.
This example demonstrates exactly why you should develop a Poker Face in Muay Thai. The psychological effect of not showing your opponent any emotion can have great benefits in the ring.
So here is your homework:
The next time you at the gym, try to conceal any signs of being tired when you are hitting pads, on the bag, or sparring.
Even if you feel like you are going to die after a pad round, focus on trying to control your breathing so that you are not panting with your hands down.
THIS IS NOT EASY. Trust me, I know.
It is almost harder to conceal being tired than actually being tired.
Developing a Poker Face in Muay Thai does not happen over night. Initially, you will probably find it very difficult not to collapse after a heavy round of pads, however, over time you will slowly start to train yourself to take deep breaths and control your breathing.
Besides not showing that you are tired, you also need to learn how to conceal signs of pain.
The next time you are sparring try not to flinch when your sparring partner lands a strike that hurts you. Keep the same facial expression throughout the sparring match. Even if your partners lands the perfect low kick across your leg, you should do everything you can to pretend like the kick had ZERO affect on you.
If you want to show some emotion, practice smiling when someone hits you. If you smile at your opponent when they hit you, they won’t know what is going through your mind.
This will help you gain a mental edge over your future opponents and score you points on the judge’s score card.
If you want to learn more about the Muay Thai Poker Face and other topics that are essential in your Muay Thai development, make sure you check out my new books called Muay Thai Strategy and Counters. These books cover essential topics that will help you take your game to the next level and beat your next opponent.
To read more Strategy articles please read the following:
Please feel free to ask any questions or share your experiences developing a Muay Thai Poker Face in the comments below.