Have you been thinking about taking up a martial art and wondering whether Muay Thai might be for you or are you worried that it might be too hard for you to pick up? That’s an understandable fear and it’s best addressed by breaking down exactly what goes into learning Muay Thai.
Is Muay Thai hard to learn? Muay Thai is harder to learn than most other martial arts but anyone with a basic level of fitness can pick up the basics in a short time. Muay Thai is a very effective striking martial art and it can become quite complex at the highest levels. Mastery of Muay Thai will take years.
In this introduction for beginners, we look at what Muay Thai really is, why you would study it, how to find a trainer, the basics of learning Muay Thai, and how you’d be training.
What Is Muay Thai And Why Choose It?
Muay Thai is a martial art that comes from Thailand. It is a mainly offensive martial art which involves kicking, punching and striking the opponent with your knees and elbows. Many people consider it to be the ultimate striking art and this is why it’s often chosen by MMA fighters as one of their core martial arts.
Unlike many other martial arts, Muay Thai does not have a belt-grading system and, instead, rankings in Muay Thai are based on the individual’s success in competitive bouts. Muay Thai is very similar to Western boxing in this respect, though it is also quite different as a sport/discipline.
Why Pick Muay Thai For Your Martial Art
Muay Thai is a superb choice for people seeking to train a martial art for physical fitness or for other health benefits such as losing weight. It is highly energetic, and the training regime is both tough and intense. However, it’s worth noting – nobody trains Muay Thai to bulk up, in fact, gaining muscle weight can be something of a disadvantage in Muay Thai.
For those who intend to fight, Muay Thai’s varied striking system, which allows the fighter to use 8 parts of their body to attack with, is considered to be the strongest available in a commonly practiced martial art. Certainly, you would expect a highly-skilled Muay Thai fighter to make short work of a boxer or even a kick boxer of an equivalent level of skill.
In addition, the Muay Thai clinch essentially brings groundwork to a standing fight and it’s something that most other martial arts simply cannot match.
How Do You Find A Muay Thai Trainer?
There are no standards, legally, for who may or may not teach any given martial art and the growth in popularity in Muay Thai has rather outstripped the availability of high-quality Muay Thai instructors out there in recent years.
To find a solid Muay Thai teacher requires a little research online. You want to examine the gyms in your area and the instructor’s background as well as any fighters that have emerged from their students. It’s often the smaller, less impressive looking gym that attracts the best trainers, the big marquee brands tend to be less fussy about who they recruit to teach Muay Thai.
Ideally, if you can find one, you want a Muay Thai instructor who has both studied and fought in Thailand. There is no substitute for authentic experience, and it is very hard to gain without time in Thailand.
You may also want to look for a “pure” Muay Thai teacher rather than an MMA teacher as there can be some serious differences between MMA fighting and Muay Thai and this may lead you into bad habits with your Muay Thai.
The Absolute Fundamental Of Muay Thai
The absolute fundamental of Muay Thai fighting is the front kick or “teep” and it can be curiously difficult to master if you have already studied other kicking martial arts such as Taekwondo or Karate because you will already have learned a front kick, which won’t work very well in Muay Thai.
Otherwise, this is likely to be the first thing that you learn in Muay Thai and one of the most important things you learn too. If you’re on the fence about learning Muay Thai when you’ve finished this article, you might want to go and see if you can master the teep, if you can – you should know whether you want to progress or not.
A Beginner’s Introduction To Muay Thai
OK, but other than the teep what else is a beginner going to focus on learning? Well, there are three main areas that will require your attention before you can start to tackle anything more advanced: your guard, your stance and the very basic techniques of Muay Thai.
Muay Thai is an offensive art. Fighters don’t tend to spend too much time in defense (unlike in boxing, for example, where defense is part of the fighting process), they block or deflect blows but they also soak up a lot of punishment while they fight and do so with the expectation that their opponent can take less punishment than they can.
However, there’s one certain way to end a Muay Thai fight – a kick or an elbow to the head. So, your guard is vitally important, you keep your hands high and spaced apart with the expectation of saving you from being knocked out. Learning the correct guard is a vital step to getting started in Muay Thai.
Muay Thai fighters tend to move in a straight line rather than dancing around the ring, however, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to learn the right stance or to develop the right rhythm for fighting. It’s one of the first things you start to learn but it takes a very long time to get it right. Your stance is meant to position you to attack or defend at a moment’s notice.
There are a lot of ways to attack in Muay Thai, in fact, there are close to an unlimited number of ways to do so but to get you started, you’re going to focus on jabbing, crossing, hooking, front kicks (the teep again) and body kicks.
Possibly, the most impactful of these techniques is the body kick. It allows you to keep your opponent at bay, inflict a fair amount of damage and gives you time to think about what comes next.
Of course, in the long run, you will have to learn many more techniques but these 5 ways to strike should keep you busy for your first few months, at least.
What Will You Need To Buy To Learn Muay Thai?
Some sports, like golf, require you to buy a ton of stuff to get started. Muay Thai is not one of those sports and you don’t need to spend a fortune to kit yourself out to fight.
Choose a pair of gloves that have been designed for fighting Muay Thai and you can grow into them but if you already have some boxing gloves laying around, they will do for your initial training – you won’t be fighting with people at this stage anyway.
Pick a glove weight that feels comfortable on your hands. You can always pick something else at a later date when you have more experience. You don’t need to spend forever on this.
Nobody should every get involved in a punching sport that needs gloves without having hand wraps. These allow you to protect your wrists from damage when punching. If you don’t wear them and you lay into the bag or pads, you could seriously hurt yourself.
A lot of people buy these before they start and it certainly can’t hurt to own them but you won’t need them until you start sparring and that might take a year or two, so you can wait for them, if you want.
Muay Thai shorts are fairly distinctive and while they’re not essential for early training, they’re nice to have and you may fit in better at your gym if you buy some.
What Do You Train In Muay Thai?
OK, now let’s get down to what you’re going to have do in your Muay Thai training to move from basic competence to a solid Muay Thai fighter.
Heavy bag work is a key part of developing the punching and kicking skills for Muay Thai and you can expect to spend a lot of time with it. It allows you to put as much force as you can tolerate into your strikes as well as helping you build up a decent level of stamina for fighting with. When you start with a bag – focus on the basics, not on throwing clever combos.
Clinching is like wrestling but standing up. You lock with the other fighter and then it’s all about jousting for the advantage – when clinched you fight with your arms, elbows, knees and execute leg sweeps. It can be hard to find a proficient teacher for this in many Western gyms and it’s often ignored but it is an essential part of Muay Thai training. Make sure to wear a mouthguard if you do train it, head butting is a professional hazard here.
This is a natural side effect of all the work you put in during training. As you move forward, you will begin to tone up and you will find that you become more and more resistant to pain when kicking and punching. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean your nerves are dying, just that you’re getting accustomed to things.
Pad work is similar to bag work but instead of hitting a stationary target, you’re hitting pads held by a partner. You want to find a partner who is much more experienced than you are when you start learning Muay Thai because they’ll be able to give you feedback on your technique and help you develop your skills at a faster rate.
This is not the same as sparring though if you watch it a long way off – it might look the same. These are drills where you work through blocking attacks with a partner. However, there is no power placed in the attack, these drills are designed to help you work solely on your technique without any risk of being hurt. You’ll develop faster reflexes from this kind of work.
Welcome to the hard cardio training of Muay Thai and if your regime doesn’t involve road work, it’s not in the slightest bit authentic. Thai fighters are expected to start the day with a long run and if you want the stamina to last 5 rounds in the ring, you want to start your day with a run too. It will also help your legs get strong enough to keep kicking no mater what.
Shadow boxing is all about getting your foot work right and developing your technique in front of a mirror. It’s a slow-motion version of Muay Thai that lets you focus on what needs to be improved and make adjustments to the way you work. It also allows you to determine how to reset your stance as you move, which is very, very important to mastering Muay Thai.
This is when you start to train with a real life opponent. Sparring is not the same as fighting but it’s tougher than partner training too. You shouldn’t spar as a beginner at all. You need to have a very solid grounding in all the basics before you square up with someone else. Once you are ready to spar, you’re ready to use Muay Thai to defend yourself.
Do You Have To Fight Competitively?
No. Not everyone who learns Muay Thai fights competitively. In fact, the vast majority of people who learn Muay Thai don’t. That’s because fighting Muay Thai at this level brings genuine risk of injury and pain.
A rough is estimate is that about 5-10% of Muay Thai fighters choose to move forward into competitive bouts and while this is awesome for them, there’s no shame in the other 90-95% choosing to sit things out either. Learning a martial art helps keep you fit, to develop balance and poise, to give you a sense of confidence and to develop self-discipline.
You can get an awful lot from Muay Thai without choosing to fight with it.
Who Is Responsible For Your Muay Thai Development?
The real answer is simple – you are. You can only progress as a Muay Thai fighter by putting in the work. That means more than just going to training too, it means being fully present during training and seeking to constantly do better.
It means seeking out feedback from your instructor and from your peers and acting on that feedback. It also means learning to be truly self-critical, when you shadow box what do you see and what could you do better?
Eventually, you may also want to consider investing in 1 on 1 training if you want to be the best you can be. There’s nothing wrong with big group classes to get started picking up the basics but if you want to be the best – it’s probably not enough once you’ve developed some basic skills.
How Hard Is Learning Muay Thai?
Anyone should be able to pick up the very basics of Muay Thai assuming that they are healthy with a basic level of fitness and no physical impairments. All it takes is a little training and practice.
But if you want to master Muay Thai? That can take years. The same as it does for most martial arts and, in fact, Muay Thai can become very complex at the highest levels. Then learning Muay Thai is much harder.
So, is learning Muay Thai hard? No but yes. It just depends on where you want to take your Muay Thai journey to.
There’s no doubt that Muay Thai is the most efficient striking art that you can learn and if you want to learn to fight MMA it’s a great choice.
It may take longer than some other martial arts for you to develop basic competence in Muay Thai but in the long-term you’ll find that learning Muay Thai is a very rewarding decision.