You’ve thrown thousands of punches and kicks, you’ve drilled the knees the elbows and every combination of eight limbs under the sun. Yet somehow, you still can’t manage to land those shots you’re after! It’s frustrating. Your training partners seem too fast, or too far away, and you find yourself swinging at air. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to start working on your timing.
The term timing in Muay Thai and many other striking arts, relates specifically to that perfect moment a strike is thrown in order to intercept the target just at the right point. Of course, your training partners and opponents are in constant motion, and targets never remain where they were a few seconds ago. With a proper development of good timing, you’ll see your ratio of misses to hits change drastically.
Striking where they will be, not where they are
In a very simple sense, it is important to bear this concept in mind at all times. If your opponents head is constantly moving, there should be a readable pattern to it, however random it may seem. Do they bob backwards and forwards? Side to side? Even up and down? Spend a little time analyzing your opponent and watch for any patterns in head movement. In this way, when you throw strikes, don’t aim for where they are currently, aim your strikes more for where they will be next. This may sound very complicated and advanced at first, but just bearing it in mind can improve your accuracy enormously over time.
Heavy bag work
Contrary to what you may already think, the bag is not just a big static target for you to smash as hard as you can for a few minutes of training. Yes, it’s important for use in developing pure power and refining technique, but it’s much more than that too.
The bag constantly swings as you strike it. It can move from side to side and forwards and backwards, much like an opponent. The good thing about it though is that it won’t hit back! Working on the heavy bag is a low-stress way of practicing your timing without the concern of getting knocked back in the process.
One good drill for this is to practice timing your roundhouse kick. Try giving the bag a hard push, strong jab or teep (push kick) to set it in motion. If you hit it correctly, you’ll notice the bag swing away from you and then straight back towards you. Now, time your kick to land as the bag returns. Not only does this mean a more accurate strike, but also magnifies the power of your kick as it is now combined with the full weight of the bag as it swings!
It’s not just kicks that this works for either. You may notice a variety of heavy bags at your gym, of all shapes and sizes. Some look skinny, some thicker, some even the shape of tear drops. Experiment with each of them. Try getting them to swing a particular way first, and aim to land your strikes when they are the perfect distance from you. The very best Muay Thai fighters are able to keep the momentum of the bag going purely with strikes, but if you need to give it a push every now and again, that works too in the beginning.
With a partner, you can look at refining your timing even further than the bag. Both you and your partner glove up and usually wear shin protection for these drills (though shin guards aren’t a necessity). Not to be confused with sparring, partner drills are supposed to be very light contact.
Partner drills for timing can take many different forms. Some look more like “sparring” than others, but many are usually a routine of planned techniques, though they can be a little more improvised for realism.
One brilliant way to work your timing is with a low kick to push kick drill. When your opponent is standing on one leg, they are usually at their most vulnerable, and it’s the perfect time to land a strong teep to set them off balance. Remember, balance, posture, style, and composure are as much a part of the scoring system in Muay Thai as effective shots thrown.
Get your partner to throw a few low kicks at your lead leg, and work simply on defending them with a proper shin check. Make sure you read their speed and timing as you do. Now, in the middle of their next attack, and while they are on one leg delivering the kick, time a teep to their mid section. If done correctly, you should knock them completely off balance and maybe even to the floor. Bear in mind this drill works in reverse. The person throwing the low kick can also feint with one, encouraging the other boxer to check the kick on one leg, and then switch to a low kick to the planted leg. There are dozens and dozens of variations to this technique.
Partner drills for timing can work brilliantly in many ways to improve your timing. Pick an area you feel weakest to drill. Is it your jab? Your knees? Maybe even your entry into the clinch? Get your partner to simulate a variety of movements and attacks at you so that you can work on perfectly timing those techniques in the heat of the moment.
Once you feel confident with the above methods, now it’s time to take them into the ring. Controlled and sensible sparring with a good training partner is one of the very best ways to improve your timing. The top sparring partners don’t try to take each other’s heads off in training (it’s just training at the end of the day). You should present each other with live examples of attacking and defensive problems, and allow each other to work through those problems to a degree. It’s not about winning or losing, save yourself for actual competition!
Through rounds and rounds of sparring, you’ll achieve a greater sense of calm in the ring, and you’ll also start to notice opportunities for correct timing where you may not have seen them before. And, with a combination of all the above on a regular basis, your timing and accuracy will soon start to improve. As always, look after your training partners, and have fun with it!
So, which of these will you start incorporating into your Muay Thai training?