How To Improve Timing: Advice From Muay Thai World Champions

In the world of combat sports, there are fewer qualities as important as timing. This is especially true in Muay Thai, which is typically competed at a much higher pace than most other martial arts. As with pretty much anything else in life, timing matters.

Just ask a winemaker, who is trained to understand when the wine has matured enough to drink. Or a chef, who must wait until the sauce is thick enough to serve. Or perhaps a farmer, who cultivates his crops until the right time comes to reap his fruits and vegetables. Any mistake may see all of their hard work spoiled, although none of the above run the risk of eating an elbow or kick to the face for their ill-judgment.

Muay Thai is a sport where the smallest margins matter. Fighters are highly-trained artists who are masters of making their opponents pay for their mistakes. A carelessly timed punch, or a kick that hangs out there just a second too long, could lead to a devastating lesson for that Nak Muay. When it comes to offense, a fighter must truly understand how important timing is.

Below, you will find some helpful tips from Muay Thai World Champions on how to improve your timing.


1) Loosen Up

“You have to relax. Being too tense is not good.” – Multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Penek Sitnumnoi

It is natural for a fighter to be tense every once and a while. Novice practitioners will understand what we’re talking about. However, nerves and tension should be ironed out as you progress through the ranks as a fighter. This doesn’t mean becoming a complete and utter psychopath, who is incapable of feeling anything. Conversely, it is accepting the tension and finding ways to minimize and alleviate it.

The act of loosening up is incredibly important before you train or fight. Your body needs to be relaxed in order to attack, defend, and simply maintain your gas tank. Tension leads to mistakes, stiffness, delayed reactions, and about every other negative thing a fighter can do to themselves inside the ropes. It will have an adverse effect on your ability to perceive and defend threats and to exploit the marginal gaps that can win a contest.


2) Sharpen Your Reflexes

“Muay Thai training is not just about how hard you can hit the bags, but also how fast your reflex timing is!” – Multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion Nong-O Gaiyanghadao

It is no secret that the “Art of the Eight Limbs” requires the ability to think and move extremely fast. The rapid-fire responses a fighter requires must be completely embedded into their fighting psychology and muscle memory. For one, being adept at kicking back once you miss a block, for example, can be crucial when it comes to the scorecards. Judges will not award a point to your opponent if you match that strike.

When it comes to the bigger picture, an opponent will be discouraged to learn that every strike he attempts to land on you leads to a response. The key here is to remember that – for every action, there should be an equal and opposite reaction – but not to get carried away or sloppy. Do not confuse reactions and speed with timing. Sometimes, you should strike back and other times you should hold fire. It is all about timing.


3) Keep it Basic

“Keep it basic. I watched too many movies looking for too many flashy kicks. Strong basics win fights.” – Multiple-time Muay Thai World Champion John Wayne Parr

It is of the utmost importance – especially for a novice fighter – to keep things simple in a fight. Timing is control. It is the understanding of knowing when to act and having the reactions and authority over your body to be able to harmonize the mind and the limbs. This is why drilling is so necessary for Muay Thai; it ensures that you are coding strikes into your brain so that you can let loose in rapid-time, if necessary.

If you have done your homework in this regard, yet are trying flashy or new, over-the-top techniques, you will not hold the same control over your body. These techniques – which have probably been tried a handful of times in the gym – cannot be thrown with the same fluency as the more basic, fundamental strikes. This will disrupt your timing and expose you, leaving you open to attacks.


4) Repetition is Key

When we do something for the first time, it appears alien to our brains. This can be as simple as writing an email on a new computer, or as complex as driving a car. However, as time goes on, repetition helps our brains to absorb how something works. Sooner or later, we understand the feel of each key on that computer’s keypad or switch gears on a car with ease.

Repetition is key. Doing something over and over and over again trains each and every single movement into our brains. Our muscle memory develops to a point where we don’t even need to think about the act of doing it. It just happens, because the number of times we go through the motion. Every human being on the planet who can walk had to take their first steps until it became natural.

Repetition is key. In Muay Thai, the same principles apply when it comes to timing. This is why it is so important to drill and train as much as possible. You are essentially becoming fluent in a new, physical language while sharpening the brain. In order to improve your ability to converse in this new language, you should speak to others who understand it at an expert level. In other words, your timing will be improved by sparring and putting yourself into these positions inside the ropes.

Repetition is key. So is your ability to move and strengthen the body to a point where it can act as sharply as your mind does. In order to this, of course, you will need to be as physically fit as you can be. Your timing will improve greatly if you are looking after your engine and pushing your body to create the perfect partnership with your mind.


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