Introduction: A Guide to Taking Up Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)

Taking up Muay Thai can be a daunting experience!

If you have ever considered it, chances are you've gotten slightly nervous at the prospect of your first lesson.
After all, Muay Thai is a brutal looking sport: two guys (or girls) in a ring, pummeling the heck out of each other, and hoping to come out of it intact... And in a 16ft.x16ft. ring, there is not much room for hiding!
Even seasonned martial artists have been known to dread taking up Muay Thai, as the sport is renowned for its emphasis on hard sparring (as opposed to forms), and its demanding conditioning regime.

But, what is the reality? Read on...

For more information on Muay Thai, check out:

Step 1: What to Expect?

If there is a good muay thai gym near you, here's what you can expect on your first visit:

- Upon approaching the gym, you'll probably hear some hard thumping from a distance!
- you might even hear some loud grunting
- the great majority of fighters will be male, and under 40 (any decent gym will have separate children classes)
- a lot of fighters will be in superb shape
- a lot of sweat, and not a lot of talking
- fighters are likely to size you up quietly, and if you come in with an attitude, you might be quickly put back in your place. But don't worry, they'll very quickly recognize you for what you are: a beginner, and therefore not much of a target...

Sounds bad?
Don't despair, it's only a first impression... and after all, isn't that what you should expect from a good martial arts club? Read on, and you'll be one of these hard-as-rock fighters in a matter of months...

The reality is that as a newcomer, you'll most likely be made to feel welcome. You'll start by learning the basic techniques and working on the bags and pads. Also (and this is the bad part) you'll also be doing countless push-ups, sit-ups, squat thrusts, and various other body weight exercises designed to leave you a trembling wreck.

Will you have to spar?
Well, no one is going to throw you in the ring until you're ready... and even then, it'll be up to you: a lot of people take up muay thai for its health benefits, and spar very seldom... but more to come about sparring later...

Step 2: How Do I Find a Gym?

Often, there'll be a muay thai gym on your doorstep, and you will not even know about it...
Muay Thai gyms are not always hugely advertised, and it can be hard to locate one...

But this is the era of the internet, and there are lots of resources you will find useful:

- if you live in the UK, try this club locator:
- in the US, try this: or this:
- for other countries, you might want to do a search on your country's muay thai -or thai boxing- association

Any decent instructor should be listed with his country's national association, would it be only for insurance purposes.

Step 3: What Will I Need?

In terms of equipment, you'll need very little to start off with as your club will probably lend you the basic equipment. For your first lesson (assuming you want to take part, rather than just watch), just turn up in a pair of lose-fitting shorts or trousers and a t-shirt. Muay Thai is done without shoes, so you won't need trainers...

In the long run, you will probably end up buying Muay Thai shorts, bag gloves and sparring gloves, shin pads, anklets, and handwraps. A very modest investment compared to most other sports.
If you value your teeth and your *errm* family jewels, your first purchases when you start sparring will also be a mouthguard, and a groin gard.

You can buy a generic boil-to-fit mouthguard (a mouthguard you shape to fit your mouth by dropping in a glass of boiling water, before placing it in your mouth ) for about £5 or $10...
However, these will not fit brilliantly; and they make it hard to speak and breathe!
You can also purchase a purpose fit mouthguard at your dentist for about £30 or $60, which is a much better option...

Step 4: How to Prepare for Your First Class...

OK, don't say we didn't warn you: this is going to be physically hard...

Not because you'll get beaten up, but simply because working on the bags and pads can be exhausting in itself, and your instructor (or Kru, as you will come to know them) will probably make things even more interesting by throwing in a few sets of push-ups and the like...

If you are still seriously considering taking up Muay Thai, it might not be such a bad idea to jump the gun, and start a fitness regimen a few weeks in advance.

Everybody's basic fitness differs, so it is very hard to give guidelines here, but try the following every other day:
- 3 sets of 3/4 of the maximum number of push-ups you can normaly manage. So, for instance, if you can manage 20 push-ups in one go, do 3 sets of 15.
- 3 sets of 3/4 of the maximum number of sit-ups or crunches you can manage.
- 3 sets of 3/4 of the maximum number of squat thrusts you can manage (to perform a squat thrust, get into a pushup starting position, and 'thrust' your knees forward so they'd almost touch your elbows, then jump back into the starting position)

then, go for a jog every other day, and always stretch after a workout.

Don't get me wrong, this will not get you very far... things are going to get harder ; much harder! But if you haven't exercised for a while, this basic preliminary training might just save your life!

Besides this, you could watch the following video tutorials demonstrating the basics of Muay Thai:
- basic techniques page 1
- basic techniques page 2

Step 5: Sparring

Why spar?

Well, if you're doing a martial art primarily for its fitness benefits, there won't be many reasons to spar... And there is no shame in that! Different people look to get different things out of their martial practice.

However, if you are interested in learning how to fight, or to defend yourself, if you have a competitive streak, or if you simply like to put what you learn into practice, chances are sooner or later you'll be wanting to spar...

I used to go to a very good karate club some time ago... Spring, summer and autumn were dedicated to forms (kata), technique and fitness. The winter was for sparring.
Funny thing was, suddenly, every winter, half the club members were mysteriously vanishing... most of them with the most feeble of excuses.

So why the big stigma?

To tell you the truth, sparring is fun... in fact it's probably the most fun you'll have at any Muay Thai gym... Sure, the occasional glove meeting your nose will bring a tear to the eye, but it will also teach you to keep your guard up very quickly...

Sparring is a game: you don't have to go 100%... If they did, Thai fighters would spend most of their time nursing injuries, not training... It is a chance to learn to block, and to try your combinations.
And in all my Muay Thai years, the overwhelming majority of people I sparred with were very considerate partners: you're there to learn, not to get pulped...

After a while, with a small tap of the hand you'll be able to deflect a punch ; with a raised knee, you will learn to absorb a kick, and you will stop making circles around the ring like a mouse on the run... Sparring is a game of chess, not of strength... not until you start competing that is!

Step 6: Why Muay Thai?

Here are a few reasons why Muay Thai is such an effective martial art (in no particular order):

- little or no emphasis on forms, high emphasis on sparring
- has proved itself in the ring
- complete as a stand up art (elbows, knees, shins, as well as hands and feet
- outstanding clinch work and basic throws
- high emphasis on conditioning
- can be picked up fairly quickly
- does not require amazing flexibility
- powerful and distinctive kicks (no chambering)
- hand techniques heavily influenced by western boxing (which has also done its proof in the ring)
- strong record of Thai fighters against other martial artists (statistical evidence)
- defensively very sound
- competitive rule set favoring relatively realistic training
- suits most body types

There are other stand-up martial arts that fare very well against muay thai (sanda, kyokushin karate, and -to a lesser extent perhaps- western boxing), but you cannot go very wrong with any of these...

Step 7: Muay Thai FAQ

1.What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai (literally meaning, Thai boxing), is a traditional Thai martial art characterized, notably, by its use of elbows and knees. Muay Thai is thus often referred to as the 'art of eight limbs', as opposed to other styles which tend to focus primarily on hands and feet.
It is a sport-oriented art, the modern rules of which have been influenced by Western boxing, and it is enjoying an impressive recent worldwide growth due to its popularity as a base art with Mixed Martial Artists.

2.What's the difference between Muay Thai and kickboxing?

Kickboxing is a 20th century sport originating mostly from Japan and America, as the rules of karate contests were adapted to the ring. In contrast, Muay Thai is centuries old and deeply rooted in the social and cultural heritage of Thailand.

3.Can everyone learn Muay Thai?

In short, yes. Muay Thai is suitable for children, and men and women alike. There are even a few gyms where you will find the occasional senior citizen!

4.Is Muay Thai an expensive sport?

The cost of lessons varies from gym to gym, but it is usually very reasonable. In terms of equipment, you need very little to start off with as your club will probably lend you everything you need. In the long run, you will probably end up buying Muay Thai shorts, bag gloves and sparring gloves, shin pads, a groin guard, handwraps, and a mouth guard. A very modest investment compared to most other sports.

5.Will I be asked to remember strange foreign names for all the techniques we learn?

In all likelihood you won't, as most clubs and schools simply refer to the techniques by their english names (jab, hook, roundhouse kick... etc). However, if you really enjoy the sport, and consider training in Thailand for some time, finding out more about the sport's heritage and learning some of the language will go a long way towards making you feel accepted.

6.I've heard Thai fighters fought with broken glass on the bandages on their hands... is that true?

Whilst it is true fighters did wear bandages on their hands, it is hard to establish whether they did attach broken glass to these with wax: in fact, it may be no more than a myth. However, it is also true ancient Muay Thai was much more violent than it is nowadays. The introduction of gloves and modern rules have made it a relatively safe sport... For instance, in Britain, there are far more rugby related injuries proportionally, than there are due to Muay Thai.

7.Does Muay Thai training involve kicking trees?

It certainly did in ancient times, before the introduction of modern training equipment, notably heavy bags. Thai fighters used to condition their shins by kicking banana trees. Nowadays, the practice is almost never heard of, apart from a few foreigners who have been watching too many Jean-Caude Van Damme movies.

8.Will I get hurt in training or competition?

Whilst the risk of injury can never be excluded, it is worth remembering that your instructors will always take every precaution to make the sport as safe as possible... Thai fighters make their living out of the sport (and they do have to fight frequently!), and they take great care in training not to jeopardize their future fights. There is a higher risk of injuries in contests, but for most this will be limited to some bruising and the occasional black eye!

Have any questions about Muay Thai? Just ask in these friendly forums

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