Muay Thai has seen an incredible surge in popularity over the past few years due to its effectiveness in various striking and MMA promotions, action movies, and other media. This martial art combines elements from traditional martial arts such as boxing and karate, as well as more modern styles like clinching.
Muay Thai is particularly known for emphasizing stand-up striking instead of ground fighting. This makes it one of the most useful hand-to-hand combat systems available today.
If you are familiar with taekwondo or karate, you may wonder if there was a Muay Thai belt system. Although this martial art traditionally does not have a belt grading system, some western organizations have adapted it to their schools. In these cases, belts are awarded based on the student’s proficiency in technique, forms, and sparring.
Generally speaking, Muay Thai has a less structured atmosphere than traditional martial arts; instead of focusing on rules and etiquette, it emphasizes respect for instructors and other practitioners.
Why is there no Muay Thai Belt System?
In Thailand, muay thai is treated like any other professional combat sport such as boxing. Fighters who join a gym are there to make a living rather than striving for belt ranks. This provides much more motivation to train than earning a belt would.
Additionally, fighters in Thailand usually start learning muay thai when they are very young – sometimes even as early as five or six years old – so that they can develop proper technique and conditioning as their body develops.
When instructed to do so by your trainer, you may be allowed to enter the ring. Your trainer may also give you traditional armbands called praciat, prajiet, or prajead.
A fighter’s rank is solely determined by their skill level, fight record, quality of wins, and number of championship belts and titles. As such, color belts are not a goal – it’s all about gaining wins under the belt.
Gyms in Thailand who are champions at Rajadamnern or Lumpinee stadium would scoff at the idea of introducing a belt grading system. They use their muay thai armbands and headbands primarily for protection and good luck rather than rank.
The only ranking system that really matters in Thailand is based solely on skill, fight record, quality of wins, and number of championship belts and titles.
The Western Muay Thai Belt System
Though many martial arts such as Karate, Taekwondo, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu rely heavily on colored belt rankings, some muay thai schools have begun to introduce grading systems of their own.
While these ranking systems may not be as essential to muay thai as they are to other martial arts, they can still serve as a useful indicator of progress.
In the USA, the World Thai Boxing Association (WTBA) developed an armband system ranging from white to black and gold for its affiliated schools. This is the only attempt in the western world to introduce a belt grading system for muay thai.
The WTBA uses the following colours for ranks:
- Black & White
- Black & Red
- Black & Silver
- Black & Gold
In addition to the armband system, some schools use colored shorts or shirts to indicate rank. The WTBA also has a curriculum as well as tests that can be taken in order to earn higher ranks. While some may see this as simply a way to make money, others maintain that it’s an effective way to motivate students to train and progress.
Personally, I’m fine with using the arm bands as a form of motivation. If it encourages more people to take up muay thai, then I’m all for it. However, I don’t agree with people who attempt to use their rank to exert authority over lower grades.
I have prior experience with taekwondo, and the path from white to black belt was not a particularly difficult one. It’s largely dependant on the school and martial art; in taekwondo, it only takes two years to get your black belt.
I have encountered plenty of black belts who lack actual ability in a fight, yet still think they are better than those with lower belts. Unfortunately, it’s these same people who often judge you during belt tests and decide whether or not to promote you.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is quite different; it takes at least ten years to get your black belt, and BJJ blackbelts are held in much higher regard than TKD blackbelts. On the other hand, if Muay Thai students are promoted based on their performance in the ring, I believe that’s a perfectly reasonable system.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Muay Thai Black Belt?
This is a fairly common question. In Thailand and traditional muay thai, there is no such thing as a black belt. However, some western organizations, such as the WTBA, have attempted to introduce a colored armband ranking system.
This system can work if executed properly, although it does not seem likely to happen soon. In my opinion, it should require at least ten years of training and some experience in the ring to be awarded a “black belt” equivalent. At the very least, I would assume that one would need to possess a good understanding of basic muay thai techniques before attempting this.
Muay Thai Belt System – Conclusion
In conclusion, muay thai is traditionally not associated with a belt grading system, and colored belts are not necessary for success. However, some western organizations have implemented a belt system in their schools.
While this may be beneficial to some, it’s not essential to achieving mastery of muay thai. Ultimately, the most important factor in one’s ranking is skill level, fight record, quality of wins, and number of championship belts and titles earned.