Last Friday, my gym’s owner approached me at the end of training to ask if I wanted to go to Hua Hin with him that day as it was my day off work. Hua Hin is a beach town a couple of hours away, and since I never get a chance to go to the beach, I was more than happy to go. So, I got ready straight away and we set off from the gym in a van.
While we were on the road, I got a call from my manager at work. Since the coup had been announced the previous evening, we were unsure what would happen with our work situation. It turned out that she had called to inform me that there was no need for me to come into work for the whole weekend, as the Ministry of Education had called for all schools to close, which was music to my ears. I only ever have one day off each week, so the idea a weekend, let alone a long weekend, was exciting. However, 45 minutes later, I received another call to say that I did, in fact, have to work. The Ministry of Education had changed their minds and said that since we teach adults, we had to remain open. Gah. To have only 45 minutes of joy before my weekend plans were snatched away from me was quite disappointing. I knew that it was too good the be true. Still, I was happy to be going on a day trip, since it’s not something that I do very often.
On the way to Hua Hin, we stopped off in Petchaburi. Almost immediately after I got out of the car, I was instructed to change into my training gear, which I had brought with me under the premise that I’d be running on the beach. I had no idea what was going on, but did as I was told. After I emerged with my gear on, I was directed to a plot of banana trees and told me to pick one that I liked. Then, I realised what was going on; I’d been lured into kicking down a banana tree with the temptation of a beach day.
I’ve heard of Thai fighters kicking down banana trees, but didn’t think that anyone actually did it in real life. I’d assumed that this was reserved for movies only.
Most of us have seen Jean-Claude Van Damme doing it in ‘Kickboxer‘. There’s a video of Buakaw destroying a banana tree on Youtube, and contenders on the Thai Fight Krad Chuek TV show had to do it for a challenge (although I couldn’t find the video for that one). Other than that, I’ve never seen it done. It’s not common practice in Muay Thai, despite what the internet might have you believe.
Even if it was just a gimmick, I was pretty eager to try it out for myself. I picked out a fairly modest-looking tree, as I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of its hardness, while trying not to pick one that was too small. Then, I was shooed over to the tree to get on with it while everyone else waited on the other side of the road. It was rather strange. I had no choice but to work it out for myself.
The general expectation of kicking banana trees is that it’s good for shin conditioning. I found that this is actually not entirely the case.
Banana trees have rather soft bark, which yields to pressure. While this doesn’t make it a particularly effective tool for shin conditioning, it makes it excellent for sharpening techniques and showing the effectiveness of strikes. After every kick I landed, I could see the immediate effect that it had on the tree. The first kick that I threw didn’t make much of a dent, so I knew that I needed to adjust my technique; turn my hips more, lock my leg, change the angle at which my shin came down or whip my hips faster. Each time I adjusted, I could see the difference. Although the tree obviously lacked the movement of a bag, it was responsive. It told me exactly what I was doing wrong and how I needed to sharpen up.
It’s quite easy to nonchalantly kick a bag without paying as much attention to your technique as you ought to. Quite often, I’ll be doing some bagwork and wondering why my kick isn’t coming as well as it usually does, then my trainer will give me the tiniest little reminder of something that I need to tweak and it will come straight back. I need that sometimes. With the tree, I didn’t because I was constantly reminded of what I was or wasn’t doing correctly with every mark I made. As I worked on the tree, some people on motorbikes stopped to watch what we were doing, which was a little embarrassing. It must have looked pretty ridiculous to them.
Regrettably, I didn’t count how many kicks it took me to chop the tree as I was too focused on the chopping itself, and although it didn’t take long, I was definitely relieved once I’d done it. That relief was short-lived, because no sooner had the tree hit the ground than one of my trainers held it back up again. This time, he wanted me to punch and elbow it down.
This was actually even more satisfying than kicking it. You can’t punch a tree down without feeling like a badass (I realise that a banana tree is technically a herb, but don’t take this away from me). After I’d successfully demolished that tree, I was instructed to grab the one next to it and knee it down. This one was the easiest by far. In fact, it only took two or three strikes to break it down.
After uploading some photos to the Under the Ropes Facebook page, I received mixed reactions. Some thought it was awesome, but there were some bewildered users who asked questions like “why kick trees when you have perfectly good bags at the gym?” and “banana trees are soft and anyone can destroy them, what’s the point?” As I mentioned, the very fact that banana trees are not ‘woody’ or hard makes them excellent for kicking, because it shows the effect of every strike. That’s something that you don’t get from a bag.
Those who thought that my act of tree destruction was awesome were probably those who have seen the videos of Buakaw, JCVD or Thai Fight contenders doing the same and see it as some sort of elite test of toughness. While it may appear to be so, that’s not the case. It’s not about the sole act of breaking the tree, but the speed, accuracy and technique with which you do it. Besides, I found that the purpose of breaking the tree isn’t just for the sake of looking awesome, but for the perspective on your technique that it gives you. I wasn’t trying to prove anything by doing it.
So, contrary to popular belief, kicking banana trees isn’t going to give you Terminator shins (unless, perhaps, you kicked really old ones). If you’re looking to get shins of steel, you should probably look elsewhere. For most of us, the most sensible and viable option for shin conditioning is a heavy bag. However, a banana tree does give some very helpful feedback and allows you to see the actual effect of your kicks in more detail. I’m not suggesting that anyone should incorporate it into their regular training and go around kicking every banana tree they come across, but I definitely got more out of it than I thought I would. While it may seem incredibly cheesy and perhaps a bit redundant, it was a useful exercise.
See below for a gallery of pictures (click to enlarge)
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Great read, thanks for the insight. I’ve found kicking bags 100 times consecutively while focusing on technique helps me to tune in with my body, making adjustments to the hips, stepping foot, shoulders, etc. more obvious. Keep up the sweet posts!
Thanks for the comment! That’s definitely a great way to do it. It’s easy to under estimate, but it really is key.
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