When you train in Thailand, the one person who can have the biggest impact on you is your trainer. If you end up with the right trainer, you can make huge improvements in a short period of time. Conversely, if you end up with a bad trainer, you may make little or no progress at all.
Contrary to popular belief, just because someone is from Thailand does not make them automatically good. Like all things in life, there are good pad holders, average ones, and even bad ones.
Over the past 4 years of being in Thailand, I have worked with countless pad holders throughout the years. Some of these guys have been legendary, and others have been certainly forgettable.
Trying to categorize different pad holders is hard because they all have different personalities and can hold pads differently depending on the student. Some pad holders will put much more effort with Thai boys and fighters, while others work equally good with everyone.
The following is a list of pad holders that stand out and are memorable. This is by no means a complete list, but for the most part, you are likely to encounter a few of these pad holders if you train in Thailand. Some pad holders might be a mix of a few categories.
1. The Cardio Machine
The first type of pad holder that you will come across in Thailand is the cardio machine. These guys have one mission in life and that mission is to make sure that you are Muay Thai Fit. You know you are in trouble when you start off the first round and the trainer says 30 kicks each leg.
If you just arrived in Thailand, you are unlikely to end up with one of these guys. If you do end up with one, you probably won’t be able to finish the workload that they demand from you.
The cardio machines are great for people who have a fight coming up or want to get fit. They will test your cardio and over time you will turn into a kicking and punching machine. While these trainers may be very technical, the main focus is to kill you on pads.
If a trainer knows that you have a fight, they will often turn into a cardio machine because they realize that your cardio and endurance is going to have a big impact on your fight performance.
Pros: Ideal for fight preparation and people who want to be FIT.
Cons: They emphasize volume over technique. This may cause your kicks to look pretty bad after 5 rounds of pads.
2. The Everything is AWESOME
The everything is Awesome trainer will make you feel like you are the man. They will tell you “very good, very good!” over and over, making you think like you kick harder than Buakaw. Everything you do will be “perfect” until you realize that you aren’t the only one he is saying “very good” to.
After your 5 rounds of pads and feeling like a champion, you will suddenly notice that the same trainer is telling a beginner “very good,” even though his technique is awful. At this point, you will start to realize that you are not the only special one in the universe.
These trainers are the Muay Thai equivalent to the guy who goes up to every girl saying how beautiful they are, hoping to get their number. Instead of trying to get a girl’s number, these trainers are trying to line up students to take private lessons with them. Take their compliments with a grain of salt because you aren’t the only one getting them.
Pros: You will feel good about yourself after pads
Cons: You don’t know if they are lying or saying the truth
3. The Technique Is Everything
When you train in Thailand the good trainers will break apart your technique and try to rebuild it into a proper Muay Thai style. Starting with your footwork and working your way up to your kicks and punches, these trainers will reinvent your game if you come from a Western background.
These are one of my favorite trainers to work with because they will give you corrections that other people will not make. They are not afraid to speak their mind and say that you have terrible technique.
After every kick and punch, they will scrutinize your form with a microscope. Hand back, turn hip, chin down, and guard strong are a few of the catch phrases you might hear.
Whether you are a beginner or advanced, they will correct you. They don’t care if you’ve had 20 fights, they will still break apart your game. The first time you work with a technique is everything pad holder, you might feel depressed after they essentially pick apart your ENTIRE game.
Some guys hate going with these trainers because they think that they already have the perfect style. Sometimes people ignore the advice that is given, which is not very wise.
Pros: Great for developing better technique and improving
Cons: They will make you realize how much more you need to improve. Less cardio intensive.
4. The “Does This Guy Even Know How To Hold Pads”
I have encountered a few trainers in Thailand who were absolutely terrible pad holders. Whether they are holding your pads for punches or kicks, it all feels completely awkward. These guys will bring the pads half way to you when you kick, so it takes away all the power from your kicks.
They will hold the pads a mile apart when you are throwing punches so you are punching 2 feet apart. When you hit pads with one of these guys, you will know that these guys are bad at holding pads from the first strike you throw.
Most of the time they might be a new trainer at a gym or an ex-champion fighter who just started holding pads for the first time. They may be good fighters in the ring, but they are terrible pad holders. I have had my pads held from a Lumpinee champion and I remember that he was one of the worst pad holders ever.
So just because someone is a champion fighter, does not make them a good trainer or pad holder. Conversely, someone could be a great trainer and be an average fighter. The two are not correlated.
5. The Aggressive Elbows and Knees
Every trainer has their own style of pad holding. The elbows and knees trainer will emphasize an aggressive fighting style that has you coming forward with punches, elbows, and knees. These trainers are great for teaching you to push forward with aggression.
When you work with these trainers you can expect to throw a LOT of elbows coming forward in a combination of punches and knees. While you will throw body kicks from time to time, most of the pad rounds will consist of elbows, knees and clinching.
I particularly enjoy these trainers because it works on areas of your game that other trainers do not touch. While everyone will ask you to throw body kicks, these guys will focus on elbows, knees and clinching.
Pros: Teaches you an aggressive style of Fighting
Cons: Less Emphasis on technique and skill and more on aggression.
6. The Everything With Power
Some trainers like to emphasize power behind all of your technique. Whether you are punching, kicking, kneeing, or throwing an elbow, they want you to do it with 100% power. You will hear key phrases like “strong” or “hard” that are constantly used to emphasize that they want you to go harder.
Whether you are throwing a jab, low kick or a one, two, right kick, everything you throw will be done a maximum power. If you don’t have enough skill to match your opponent, power is the next best thing that you have at your disposal.
These pad holders can help you develop more power and they will teach you to relax before you strike. When they ask you to do 10 kicks, they may get you to pause after each kick so that you can smash each kick with maximum power.
Pros: Develop more power and strengthen your techniques
Cons: Less emphasis on skill and technique
7. The One, Two, Kick Combo Guy
Some pad holders will make you do the same combination over and over again. You will know you have a one, two, kick pad holder when everything you do in 5 rounds can be summed up in a one, two, right or left kick. Or a one, two, right or left knee.
These pad holders will drill a few combinations over and over until you don’t even need to know what they will say next. While this might seem boring and mundane, it is actually very useful because they often drill basic combinations that you will use in a fight.
Drilling basic combinations over and over, allows you to use them without thinking. This is something that you should carry over to your sparring to help cement it into your game.
Pros: Drill basic combinations that become natural reflexes in your game
Cons: May feel a bit boring after a while and can get tiring hitting the same combo over and over
8. The Energizer Bunny
The Energizer Bunny is a high octane trainer who is animated and full of energy. These guys will make you laugh as they make animated facial expressions and constantly push you to your limits. The pad rounds are very enjoyable and they will teach you a number of different techniques.
These trainers are great because they will help you find the energy that you didn’t know you had. By being animated and fun, they will make the pad rounds feel a lot shorter than they would otherwise. While these trainers may not be picking your technique apart, they will provide tips along the way that will make you better.
If the energizer bunny goes through extreme high and low mood swings, there is a good chance they might be taking drugs (yaba) during their down time. Look for teeth that have completely rotted away and a real raspy voice as a sign of a drug user. (Hint* If they ask to borrow money from you this is also a telling sign)
Pros: Highly motivating and high energy pad rounds
Cons: Can be goofy at times and sometimes a little bit too animated. Can go through mood swings.
9. The Guy With the Big Ego
When you first come to Thailand you can expect the trainers to change a lot of your techniques. You probably have a lot of Kickboxing tendencies or techniques that they want to convert into a Muay Thai style. While this is a very normal thing to experience, there are some trainers who will try to change your entire game, regardless of your background.
They will say that the other trainers are “no good” and will try to correct everything into their style, whether it is right or wrong. These guys have egos and think they are better than the rest. I have experienced a few trainers like this over the years and they usually don’t last at gyms for too long.
Pros: If you can get over the ego, they usually share legitimate tips that can help you improve. These guys are often full of knowledge and have good technique.
Cons: They believe that their way is the “ONLY” way of doing something.
10. The Lazy Pad Holder
Another type of trainer you may run into from time to time is the lazy pad holder. Like any job, there are some people who work hard and there are others who do not. These guys may be lazy when it comes to YOU but could work harder with other people at the gym who are fighters or Thai boys.
Whatever the case, the lazy pad holder is simply going through the motions. He always looks bored, probably because he is tired or went out the night before. Expect your pad holder to be constantly looking up at the clock and waiting for the round to be finished.
You may even encounter a lazy trainer who decides to end your pad session a round or two short. They will usually do this if you are the last round of pads and nobody else is paying attention to the pad rounds.
Since these pad holders usually don’t last long at gyms, you won’t have to worry about experiencing too many of these guys.
Pros: Ideal if you are lazy and don’t want a hard round of pads
Cons: These guys will not push you, correct you, or make you better
11. The Cha Cha (Slowly) Trainer
The next type of trainer that you will encounter is the Cha Cha trainer. When you translate Cha Cha into English it means slowly or slow down. These trainers are all about slowing everything you do down and trying to teach you the proper Muay Thai rhythm. They will tell you to kick with good technique first and add the power to your game later on.
At first, these guys might look a bit off when they are pacing back and forth in front of you, trying to get you to mimic their movement and rhythm. However, this is the best way to learn how to move with a Thai style and will make you better.
They will tell you constantly to “relax, relax” and “sabai, sabai.” By slowing everything down and getting you too relax, you will not only be able to kick and punch harder, but you will also conserve a lot of energy. This is an ideal trainer that everyone should work with.
Pros: They will teach you the proper Muay Thai rhythm and teach you how to be relaxed
Cons: Usually less cardio intensive than other pad holders (depends if you are fighting or not)
12. The Freestyle Pad Holder
Every once in a while, a pad holder will let you do whatever you want to do on pads. They will literally say “do what you want” and they will move the pads to contact your strikes. Whether you want to throw elbows, knees, kicks or punches, they will absorb all of your strikes with the pads.
Working with a freestyle pad holder is like working on an interactive punching bag that reacts to your every move. These guys are very skilled pad holders and have very good reaction speeds that move to your every strike.
You will only encounter a Freestyle pad holder if the pad holder knows that you know what you are doing. If you are inexperienced, don’t expect a pad holder to freestyle pads with you. You need to be able to generate your own rhythm and work at your own pace.
Pros: Gives you freedom to work on whatever you want to
Cons: No direction. You need to be more self-driven and know how to work the pad holder
13. The “You better Keep Your Guard Up”
The “You Better Keep Your Guard Up” trainer is someone who is going to throw a lot of strikes at you throughout the pad round. (while most guys will throw the occasional strike, these guys make a point to try and land their strikes) These pad holders will keep you honest and will make you pay when you drop your hands after a punch.
Whenever you kick or punch, expect them to respond with something of their own. These are great trainers to work with because they will help you sharpen up your defense and ensure that you are not only thinking about offense on pads.
They make the pad rounds simulate a real fight, with the proper ebb and flow of offense and defense. This ensures that you stay on your toes and don’t get comfortable in the pad rounds.
Pros: Will Teach you the importance of Defense. Your defensive will improve a LOT
Cons: You might get hit in the head a few times. I had my tooth chipped because I failed to block a punch.
14. The Next Level Trainer
The next level trainers are the best of the best. They know how to motivate each student and will adjust their pad holdings style to their student. These trainers can give you a few small tips that can make a huge difference in your game.
Their pad holding will change depending on the students and what each person needs to work on. If someone is a beginner, they will tone down the cardio and emphasize more technique. If they are working with someone advanced, they will offer a few tips that can really help your game.
These pad holders have a lot of experience holding pads and have brought up a number of different fighters. They know what it takes to be the best in the sport and will pass down valuable knowledge to people who are willing to learn.
When it comes to hitting pads with someone who is next level, they flow from different combinations seamlessly and make it feel very natural.
Pros: Everything. These guys will work on the right things and make you better.
Who Is Your Favorite Pad Holder?
Have you experienced any of these pad holders while training in Thailand? Since every pad holder has their own style, it would be impossible to cover everyone on this list. Feel free to share your thoughts and add anyone who is missing in the last in the comment section below.