Kicking Banana Trees
It is common misconception that all traditional Muay Thai fighters must kick trees in order to properly strengthen their shins. In fact, this is the fastest way to break your leg or, in a less damaging situation, be forced to stay away from the gym for months. And in doing this, you’ll likely be mocked, since (let’s be honest) kicking a tree is a pretty silly explanation for why you’re limping.
The animation below shows former welterweight Muay Thai kick boxer Buakaw Banchamek kicking a banana tree.
Back before the days of Thai pads, it was true that fighters would kick banana trees. The wood of the banana tree is rubbery and soft, thus more conducive to kicking than other types of wood, like an oak tree, or whatever is in your particular back yard. Actually, banana trees are not trees at all. They are plants, with a psuedostem (but that is beside the point). Banana trees were also in abundance in Thailand so they were convenient. A Thai fighter could be walking down the street and it would appear as if it were lined with heavy bags. After repeated kicks the soft wood of the tree would begin to bend and eventually the tree would fall over.
Evolution of the Thai Pads
The innovation of the Thai pad came from organizing the remnants of a fallen tree and securing it around the forearms. This allowed kick training to be taken to a whole new level, as suddenly fighters were able to train for moving targets without injuring their sparring partners.
Today, Thai pads are a staple in most martial art training facilities. They are typically made of firm foam covered with tightly pulled leather and fastened with straps to make it easier for the pad-holder to grip.
Kicking a banana tree will cause bruising along the soft tissue of the shin. When the soft tissue heals you’re left with some scarring and also some nerve damage. After the superficial wounds heal you may feel like you’ve strengthened your shin but don’t be fooled by the lack of sensation as that has no bearing on the strength of the bone below.
Conditioning the shins is essentially accomplished by inducing repeated impact stress through kicks to a semi rigid surface. (We go into extensive detail on shin conditioning in a related story.) But you need to keep in mind that this will cause micro-fractures to form along the tibia and as these fractures heal new bone is deposited in a denser honeycomb arrangement. This improves the strength and resilience of the bone. Though don’t let the conditioning go to your head, It’s very important to treat your injuries as they occur. Allow for plenty of rest in-between training sessions as micro fractures do reduce the stability of your bones and that can result in compound fractures when the same stress is placed on the injured area.
Before you go looking for another big banana tree to bash, remember that while Heavy bags and modern Thai pads may cause less damage they will do the trick if you let them, and you should, because the added time spent conditioning can also be spent perfecting your technique. You can have the hardest shins in the world, but if you can’t get them to land on anyone, the conditioning is rather pointless.