Learning Muay Thai is difficult, time-consuming, and taxing. Often, it’s humbling. Those of us who stick with it, however, are familiar with its rewards, so I won’t bother explaining why one should begin Muay Thai training. Rather, I’d like to discuss one of the most important aspects of Muay Thai training, the method in which we learn technique and develop speed and power, and the implement we most often use with a partner – Holding Thai pads.
No one likes working pads with a new student. Tough. We were all new once, and our pad holding skills probably lagged far behind our striking skills. We’ve all hampered a more advanced student’s workout with unfocused and lackadaisical pad holding. Hopefully, that more advanced student displayed the patience and caring for a teammate’s progress necessary in this sport and provided a few tips on how to hold pads properly. As pad holding is such an important part of Muay Thai training, and an aspect of the sport we often overlook due to time constraints, let’s discuss the basics.
Stance: stand in your normal Muay Thai stance. Your padded arms should hover at about the same height as your hands would if you were striking, although there’s nothing wrong with carrying your hands an inch or so wider as a safety precaution.
Holding for punches and elbows: This is the area of pad holding I most often see performed incorrectly. You must provide tension for your partner while holding the pads. Push back against your partner’s punches. Time it so that the moment of tension coincides with the end of your partner’s punch. Also, make sure to breathe out audibly and harshly as the blow connects – this resisted breath will allow your body to maintain tension. This is easier said than done, but tension in the pads is necessary for your partner. If your arms flail away while holding Thai pads it means one of two things: one, that your partner is significantly stronger than you and you shouldn’t be holding for them in the first place, or two, you aren’t giving back enough tension. Identify the problem and enact the solution.
Holding for kicks: Also frequently done incorrectly. Keep the pads close to your body; don’t hold the pads two feet away. When you hold the pads far from your torso you force your arms and shoulders to provide all of the tension against the kick, and normally your partner’s kick will be much stronger than your arms and shoulders. Pull the pads close to your torso and brace your entire body right as the kick connects, giving a snappy push back but not extending your arms so that you end up reaching away. Also, you don’t have to keep the sides of both pads touching; keep the top inside corner of the pads touching but allow a gap between the bottom corners, like an “A.” Angle the pad somewhere in between parallel and perpendicular to the ground, about 45 degrees, in order to allow your partner to turn his or her shin over at the top of the kick. (Note: if your partner is really struggling to turn his or her shin over at the top, angle the pads slightly more parallel to the floor.)
Holding for the teep (push kick): This is tricky, but with practice you can master the technique quickly. Hold one pad, facing towards the ground, on your lower abdomen, and the other pad facing forward right above. Pull both padded arms tight against your torso, and brace your abs as the teep connects.
Holding for the knee: How you hold for the knee will depend on what kind of knee your partner throws. If throwing a long knee, I like to make an “X” out of my forearms. Make sure the pads aren’t facing the ground; we don’t want our partner to get in the habit of kneeing straight up. Rather, angle the crossed pads forward so your partner can practice properly kneeing through rather than up. If your partner is throwing a round knee, trying holding as you would for a teep.
Pad holding is simple; that doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it’s important for the advancement and enjoyment of the entire Muay Thai class. No one expects you to hold pads perfectly on your first day; just do your best and keep three things in mind – angle, timing, and tension. Everything else will fall into place with practice, and you and your partner will have a better Muay Thai session for it.
*A quick note on calling combos for your partner: There’s nothing wrong with calling short, simple combinations. Your partner is better off drilling his or her 1-2 than floundering while attempting to master a 1-2-1-2-3-R kick-L kick combo. Mastering the basics will take you farther than endlessly dabbling in a convoluted mess of punches and kicks.
For a visual of proper pad holding, see this video: