Inside The Mind of Elite Level Muay Thai Coaches – Part 1
A Conversation with Kru Alex Palma
The fight community loves a great athlete.
They make landing combinations (the same ones you spend hours in the gym trying to perfect) look effortless and fluid at the drop of a hat. It’s easy to idolize athletes—especially in combat sports.
We gravitate towards the style or façade of certain fighters over others because of how they move, how they react and how they overcome adversity early on the fight.
It’s easy to say that the tenacity of A-class fighters can simply be attributed to having the mindset of a champion and how that psychological resiliency allows them to prevail fight after fight with seemingly unstoppable momentum.
What many people tend to forget is that there is always a man or woman behind the curtains that takes no credit for the work that is on display by the fighter in the ring. That person is most commonly referred to as ‘coach’.
After giving it some thought there were two individuals in particular that came to mind when I was considering what coach (or coaches) would make for a candid and engaging interview.
I came to the decision to try my hand with Kru Alex Palma—the founder and head coach of Blue Ocean Muay Thai out of San Diego; and Coach Tony Cummings (who will be featured in part 2 of this series) —the founder and head coach of Elevate Striking Systems; an affiliate of Kru Palma and the Blue Ocean System located in Boulder, Colorado.
A Chat with Kru Alex Palma
Since parting ways as the head striking coach at Team Blackhouse, Kru Palma has been a very busy man. His work with current Lion Fight champion, Tiffany Van Soest has seen her perform on a level that has placed the rest of the division on notice. Aside from a razor-thin decision loss to arguably one of the pound for pound greats, Caley Reece—Van Soest and Kru Palma seem to be a perfect duo.
Steve Eisman: What is your background in the sport and when did you develop the Blue Ocean system?
Kru Palma: I started training in San Francisco when I was eight. When I turned 23 I started to compete across Europe in both the “B class” and “A class” divisons. I was really active on the circuit for close to 12 years before I came back to the US and started coaching fighters in 2003.
As for Blue Ocean Muay Thai, I formed the team in 2007 but didn’t make it known or advertised it until 2008. That’s when I felt the one year of training spent was enough for my students to compete in amateur Muay Thai competition. That’s when Tiffany and others followed. I had a small team comprised of two girls and three guys. The two girls were exceptional. Tiffany with two amateur titles and Kristina with one amateur title and was the best lightweight and Super-lightweight in California. She was chosen to be on the US National Muay Thai team and she repped the U.S. in Thailand at 133 lbs.
For the guys I had Sean, Gary and Carl. Gary was the most successful out of the two in competition and was the United States Muay Thai Association Featherweight champion in California. Sean was also successful in competition and Carl competed only once but trained with the team to help his team mates out during their camps.
The method to our training is simple. I teach Muay Thai like one would teach English– as a second language.
English was not my natural language. I was born in the Philippines and I was taught the English language by ESL teachers. They structured the process for me accordingly with learning rules of English language structure and how the rules delegate what comes after. That’s exactly how I structure Muay Thai to those newbie students.
Teach rules of the sport.
When I say rules I don’t mean the rules one must follow inside the ring that the commission and referee has you follow. I mean rules of how each piece, how each technique is delegated by the stances of Muay Thai. Some schools don’t address the fact that Muay Thai has three different stances and that within those stances we either modify a technique to make it fit. You don’t throw a punch the same way in a weight back stance as you would in a 50/50 stance. These are things I teach my students to understand.
SE: You just recently moved your program to a larger facility. How’s the transition been?
KP: I just recently moved the gym down closer to Mira Mesa. Originally we were on Miramar Rd which is difficult to get to but now we are much easier to locate and travel to. If anyone is interested in coming by to visit us they can log onto our website at www.blueoceanmuaythai.com.
SE: You’ve produced a number of very accomplished athletes. Most notably the current Lion Fight and WBC champion, Tiffany Van Soest. Getting to that level of the sport is no small task and obviously takes years of commitment. Do you find that a lot of fighters have a difficult time making the transition from the amateur to the professional level? Or is it generally a case by case basis?
KP: It is a difficult process that requires sacrifice and dedication indeed, but the work ethic required to excel within the professional ranks must be cultivated by the coach and athlete in the beginning and throughout the fighter’s amateur career.
Luck also doesn’t hurt. Tiffany wasn’t even planning on turning pro for at least another year but as luck would have it, two people dropped off the roster and it left both Tiffany and Lena without an opponent. So WCK asked us that day if we would fight pro and be Lena’s opponent. We did and the rest is history.
SE: The most saturated areas for Muay Thai are almost exclusively the East Coast and the West Coast. How do you feel about the progression and popularity of the sport’s growth throughout the rest of the country?
KP: I am happy that the sport is on the rise in popularity and that more individuals are gravitating to take up the sport. We are still very far behind Europe and Asia but we are doing great things in the arena and our American fighters are holding their own against the rest of the World in professional competition. Our amateur national team still has a lot of catching up to do in my opinion because we lack the infrastructure to better identify high level talent within the amateur ranks. But that’s slowly getting better.
SE: If you had to only pick one specific characteristic or component for a developing fighter to have what would it be?
KP: Self awareness. Be aware of your shortcomings and weaknesses and search out for answers and methods that will help improve those weaknesses. Ask questions. Take ownership of their Muay Thai education by venturing out of their personal comfort zones. Never cease to learn and discover and be self aware of the people we bring into our circle.