“If you want to train for fighting number one, you must be fit.” Says Paddy Carson, a professional trainer for Bradal Serey, Khmer Kickboxing, in Phnom Penh. For the last four years I have been living in Phnom Penh, off and on, and Paddy has been my teacher, pushing me beyond the limits time and time again. He drills into all of his students that fitness is the key to winning fights.
“Take Mike Tyson, was one of the best in the world. He hasn’t trained in a year. We put him in the ring right now with number twelve in the world and he will get knocked out because he is not fit. You need to be fit because you want to throw the same techniques, the hard bombs, from round three to round five.
One of the biggest conditioning drills that we do at Paddy’s Gym is working the coaches pads. Paddy calls out the combinations and we have to respond with the right techniques. Four years ago he was only training me in boxing, so the commands were simple. One, was a straight right. Two was left right combo. Four was two left right combos. Three was an upper cut and five was a hook. But now that I am changing to Bradal (Pradal) Serey, the combinations become more complicated as he is now calling for kicks, knees, elbows, and grapples.
When I was just boxing, during the first round, my punches were solid, powerful. When Paddy shouted, “Give me eight,” I ripped into the pads with four left right combos. But, if my cardio was bad, by the second round, I felt myself weakening. By the fourth round, you could be hitting in slow motion. By the fifth round, I wasn’t even hitting anymore. My hand stayed more or less stationary and Paddy swatted it with the pads.
“If this was a fight, you’d be defenseless.” Paddy would tell me.
It was true. I have had fights where, in the later rounds, I got so tired, I saw the punch coming but just couldn’t be bothered to move out of the way. Getting hit seemed like it would hurt less than trying to move.
Kickboxing takes about five times as much energy as regular boxing. Each time you kick, you are lifting your entire, massive leg in the air, and of course your base leg has to take all your weight. Your muscles begin to burn, and you can look really stupid throwing a slow pathetic kick. Somehow, it is more humiliating than throwing a slow pathetic punch.
“You don’t want your techniques steadily getting weaker during the fight.” Paddy tells us. “Your first round must be hard, your fifth round must be harder.”
Bradal Serey fights are always five rounds.
“We always train three minutes, with one minute rest. In a Khmer boxing fight they even get one and a half minutes rest, but we train three and one to get my boys in shape. I train them two and half minutes then the last thirty seconds we pump it out.”
Where Paddy stresses conditioning, fighters and trainers at other gyms have other opinions on what is important.
“A lot of fighters in this part of the world think that they need to make their shins hard.”
This is so true. The rumours and legends people have heard in the west about kickboxers training on trees and bamboo posts, or sitting up at night banging their shins with bottles are true. This always perplexed me, because as a boxer, I know that I need my hands to make a living, so I take good care of them. If you have ever seen a real boxer’s hands, they are not hard and covered with scars and knobs, like a kung fu master. They are soft, pampered, protected by hand-wraps and gloves. Why would kickboxers want to smash their best money-making asset against a tree?
“Your shins get developed not by kicking tress and a poles.” Says Paddy. “You aren’t going to make your shins any harder. All that will do is bruise a bone. To get harder, to condition your bones, you kick the bag. You do three minutes on each leg. And the conditioning will come naturally, with time. You can start with a bag stuffed with cloth remnants. Eventually, you can move up to a harder bag, filled with sand. You shouldn’t smash a tree hard with your shins.”
Toughness is an important part of being a fighter. But toughness, just like conditioning, has to built up gradually. You lose it when you lay of training, and you have to earn it back.
“Take a boxer who has been out of training for a while. His face gets soft. After he is training again his skin gets harder. It gets immune to the shots. It’s the same with the shins. People say I kick the trees. If you want to kick trees, go kick the bag instead, or train by fighting. First fight with shin pads, then wean yourself off the shin pads.”
Another mistake that a lot of people make in their training is sparring too hard.
“In training, I believe you should never go full out. Guys get in the ring and they smash each other. When one of my fighters is approaching a fight, I start to condition him mentally. I get him to believe in himself. You have to believe in yourself. If I put my fighters in the ring a month before the fight and they are bleeding and smashing noses and that, then by the time they get into the tournament everything is out already.”
Paddy tells a story about how a horse race trainer never lets the horse run full out in training. Then, on race day, he pulls away, and wins.
“You want to build them up when they are sparing so that when it comes to the fight they want to let it out. You make them hold it back, hold it back. Then when they get in the fight the mind and body say, I want to see what I can do.”
“That is what a lot of people don’t understand. That’s how it should be, hold back and on fight day, explode and everything jells.”
“Back in South Africa, we have an ultra marathon of close to 100 km. The guys who win it, never run a full 100 km in training. They run very long distances, but hold them selves back till race day. Fight training is not just getting in there and smashing a bag. I have had five world champions and the most regional champions in South Africa.”
“That is the difference between a good trainer and not a good trainer. There are trainers like Angelo Dundee in their eighties and still producing world champions. That comes from experience.”
“You can’t juts let your guys kick the bag and then put him in a championship. It can work like that at the beginning. But like that, you will never make it to the world championship level. Not just anyone can train you to that level. A lot of these guys think training means kicking the bag really, really hard again and again. But it is so much more than that.”
What is power worth?
“Look, power is a lot. We all want power. I want my fighter to be able to knock the guy down with one punch. Some people just don’t have that kind of power. Some guys can train ten years and won’t get there. Others will do it in one year. But they could all be good and they have to fight in their ability. Anyone could be a fighter, but not everyone could be a champion.”
“To a good fighter, power is important, but it isn’t everything. A good fighter is a thinker. He knows strategy. I have seen guys strong as an ox they get in their and win on strength. And they go and they go, moving up the ranks, but when it comes to their twelfth fight or fifteenth fight then they are fighting a guy who is strong and good. The better fighter has strategy and he is a thinker, and the big brawler gets knocked out.”
“Did you ever see a brawler become the world champion in boxing? It never happened. Tyson was not a brawler. He fought smart.”
After our training sessions, Paddy and I often discussed Butterbean, the 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) 398 Lbs. (180 KG) wrecking machine who was called “The King of the Four Rounders. Butterbean hit so hard, he could demolish almost any opponent he faced and wracked up a winning record not only in boxing, but also in K-1 and MMA. According to Wikipedia, “His combined professional fight record currently stands at 89 wins with 63 knockouts, 13 losses and 5 draws.”
The important lesson Paddy always wanted me to learn from butterbean was that for all of his power, he was not a brawler, he was a thinker. He was smart enough to see exactly what his talent was, and to exploit it to make money. His special, God-given ability, was to pound a man into unconsciousness during a four round bout. If Butterbean had tried to go for the title he would have had to fight ten and eventually twelve rounds. He may have done Ok or may have completely run out of gas and gotten hurt. Instead, he capitalized on his strength, stayed at four rounds, and won almost all of his fights. What is more, because he stuck to his guns and only fought within his comfort zone, he made more money doing four-rounders than any challenger almost-was who tried for the heavyweight belt.
The lessons I learned from Paddy this week were:
- Conditioning is key: If you are out of gas, you can’t fight.
- Condition your shins naturally. Don’t kick posts or bamboo. Work the bag and let toughness come.
- Sparring is training, not fighting: Never go all out in sparring. Hold something back for fight day.
- Fight smart: fight your fight. Fight the fight that matches your abilities. Stay in your game and you have the best chance of winning.
If you are going to Phnom Penh and you want to train with Paddy, contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org