The following is a template Coach Marlon uses for his competitive youth team. We call it the 5 bout rule to getting warm for your competition match.
5 bouts before your bout
Get up and start start "dynamic" warm up. This is where you get up and start moving your body. No need to shadowbox here, just get up, walk around, arm circles, criss-cross your arms & hug yourself, tap your face, open jaw etc. You want to just get the blood going but take it easy.
4 bouts before your bout
Get your heart rate up by skipping or any body weight cardio exercises like mountain climbers, squats, jumping jacks etc.
3 bouts before your bout
Shadowbox and fight visualization. This is not the time to strategize a new game plan or overthink anything. We use this time to visualize how we want to fight, practice your bread and butter combos, visualize your defensive move, your counters, your attacks. Let your mind relax.
2 bouts before your bout
Gear up and get ready for pad work with the coach/cornerman. Warm-up with haste. You never know, there might be consecutive knockouts in those matches before you and you might be up fighting earlier than anticipated.
1 bout before your bout
Finish putting gear on, have a sip of water and walk to the staging area. If the coach needs to say something to you, this is where we may have a final pep talk.
Feel free to adjust, add, and make it yours. Give yourself some margin of safety with time so you don’t get caught going onto stage cold!
What makes competition and sparring so scary? Let me tell you, it’s the unknown. Anxiety stems from the lack of control and anticipation over the situation and the outcome. So what should you do?! Control what you can, and embrace what you cannot. Pre-fight rituals (or pre-spar rituals) is one tactic that I use to help me calm my nerves before going into competition.
A pre-fight ritual is a set series of tasks/activities that you do each time before entering the stage to perform.
WHY PRE-FIGHT RITUALS WORK
Rituals work because amidst all the unknown associated with competition, rituals have the ability to ground you with the power of familiarity and therefore put the element of control in your own hands. Familiarity is built by the consistent reenactment of these rituals over time so take the time to practice and get acquainted with them.
MY PERSONAL EXAMPLE
Before every BJJ competition I go through a very specific set of rituals. I usually arrive 1.5 hours before my bracket. 45 min before my 1st match, I like to leave the competition area and find a quiet spot somewhere away from the action. I put on my headset, play some calming instrumental music and close my eyes for 25 minutes. I focus on deep breaths and empty my mind. At times, I even doze off. I wake up to the sound of the alarm with 25 minutes to go; I start putting on finger tape. The process of wrapping my fingers is extremely important for my psyche. I do not rush the process. I stay in the moment with each wrap and soak in all my feelings. Once all my fingers are taped, I get up and start my warm-up routine, which consist of a few sets of mouth clenches, jumping jacks, and burpees. I head toward the mats 10 minutes before go time.
What happens in a fight is unpredictable and chaotic, so I try not to make too many predictions nor do I try to control the outcome. I try only to control what I can, and that’s the pre-fight rituals which I do my very best to replicate the same each time. This puts me back in the driver’s seat.
CREATE YOUR OWN
The set of rituals you chose should be specific to you. Get creative and create your own routine. Rituals can be done 30 minutes, 2 hours, or even a day before performance. Just remember that you should try to keep the process as similar as possible each time you do it.
Ideas for Rituals:
Listening to music (should be the same every time)
Have you ever been lost with what combos to throw on the bags or pads? The coaches here at Legacy have put together some of their favorite muay thai combos. They are very basic, yet they work at the highest levels of competition. Don't just glance over them, study them, and know them well.
Have you ever been asked by your coach to come up with a combo of your choice and stood there drawing a blank? Do you have a heavy bag at home but don’t know what combos to work on? Or couldn't think of any good combos when holding pads for your partner?
Here are 3 principles to consider when creating your own combos.
1. Left to Right
A good rule to follow is to flow from one side of the body to the other (ie. left strike right strike, left strike, right strike). This also applies to strikes from different weapon groups (mixing punches and knees).
Example #1: Left jab, right cross, left hook, right low kick, left knee, rear elbow
Example #2: Left jab, right cross, left uppercut, right cross
Example #3: Right cross, left hook, right low kick
2. Striking Ranges (refer fig. 1.1 above)
In muay thai there are four major ranges - Snug (1), Close (2), Medium (3), Long (4). When combining the individual strikes from these groups, do not connect 2 strikes that are 2 or more ranges apart. For example, a strike from Range 1 (snug) can be connected with a strike from Range 2 (close) but not with a strike from Range 3 or 4 (medium and long). The reason for this is simple: if you can make contact with your elbow strike, you are too close to effectively throw a long range weapon like a pushkick! Vice versa, if you are standing afar and throwing pushkicks, and then trying to skip multiple ranges to get on the inside for the elbow strike is extremely dangerous, as a skilled opponent will likely intercept you with a more suitable weapon while you are on your way in.
There are exceptions to this rule. Feints and setups can make it less risky to skip multiple ranges. Faking a push kick (Range 4-Long) to temporarily distract your opponent while simultaneously jumping in for an elbow strike (Range 1-Close) is an example of a feint tactic. However as a beginner to intermediate practioner, you should stick with the basics during sparring. Here is a great fight between Buakaw and Mike Zambidis to illustrate why one has to be careful when skipping multiple ranges in muay thai. Zambidis unsuccessfully attempts to "jump" into the close range from the long range with hooks only to be punished repeatedly by swing kicks. When in close, his punches are nullified by the superior knee strikes and clinch throws.
3. Keeping it Simple
Don’t get too crazy with the length of your combo! The longer the combination, the more your technique for each individual strike will suffer. What’s more important than volume is the placement (aka accuracy and precision) of these strikes in conjunction with timing as well as choosing the most suitable strike for that specific situation. I suggest 2 to 4 hit combos (no more than 5!), and keeping it to the very basic strikes (refer to the strikes in fig. 1.1 above).
Here is a collection of 10 basic combos by Sean Fagen.
Some of you may now be thinking, “These ideas and concepts are too technical and won’t work in a real fight.” Well my friend, you obviously don't know good muay thai. Go watch some Samart, Rodtang, or Saenchai fights.
The humble student who trains consistently over the long haul will eventually trump the talented one who lacks the work ethic. As a muay thai coach and current Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor, I’ve seen countless examples where the hardworking individual reaches a higher level of success far more often than that of their mere talented counterpart.
The secret lies in those days when you don’t feel like training, but you do it anyway.