The Ultimate Guide to Muay Thai Training in Thailand: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go.
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art dating back thousands of years originating in Thailand. In ancient times it was a combative martial art used on the battlefield by soldiers to protect the invasion of the country. Having that type of history it is no wonder it is as popular a martial art as it is today. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) is known for it’s powerful effective techniques. In modern times it has seen so much exposure by being the chosen stand up striking art of most UFC fighters! One Championship is giving it great exposure worldwide by staging contests with Muay Thai rules for everyone to see.
So why train Muay Thai in Thailand?
First of all, it is the motherland of the sport and art. But it is also a great experience to travel and enjoy the many cultural experiences and beautiful sights that Thailand has to offer. Muay Thai training is everywhere in Thailand so no matter where you decide to visit you can get some Muay Thai training in. If you decide to visit the beautiful mountain region in Chiang Mai there are many gyms that offer Muay Thai training. If you decide to visit the bustling metropolis of Bangkok you will find plenty of options there as well. If you desire to visit the tropical paradise of Phuket, again you will have many options.
How to find the Best Muay Thai Camps in Thailand and Choose the Right One for You?
With so many gyms available to train at which gym is right for you? Since I live in Thailand I get asked this a lot. People always hit me up and ask which gym should I train at in Bangkok or Chiang Mia or Phuket? The answer will vary depending on the person. You must take into consideration your experience and the type of experience you want.
Choose your location first. Where do you want to go in Thailand? This will determine the type of experience you will have. If you want to train on an island near a beach then Phuket may be the right choice for you. My gym in Phuket, Phuket Muay Thai is located just 50 steps from the beach. It is just a beautiful setting to train in. I often hear my customers say that they really enjoy training at Phuket Muay Thai because of the location. Having an ideal beachfront background setting and an open air gym with an ocean breeze creates an experience that people love. However some people like Bangkok. If you to go to Bangkok you will get the excitement of a busy gym in the city, if you want to visit Chiang Mai you will get the experience of training in a mountain town etc. So choose what sights you want to see and what experience you want to have.
If you are an experienced fighter you may want to explore training at one of the big named fight gyms. A lot of people come to Thailand and choose a gym based on their favorite fighter and choose their gym because they want to be like them. This is not always the best approach. Just because your favorite fighter is from a particular gym does not mean that you will learn from them or even see them there. It also doesn’t guarantee the quality of instruction. Often times these big name gyms are busy and you will find yourself fighting just to get the attention of a trainer. If you are only in town a short time it is not likely that the trainers will put that much effort into teaching you the “secret” techniques of their fighters success. It isn’t really the trainers fault. It takes a lot of effort for them to communicate the details to you correctly often times due to language barriers. If you are not staying long term and fighting for their Muay Thai camp it is unlikely they will put that effort into you. You can still get some great Muay Thai training in but it won’t likely be the intimate learning experience you had hoped for. Staying longer term will be your best bet to get the most out of the experience and if you are at a level that you can fight in Thailand then you will get a lot more attention if you choose to fight for the camp. The trainers will take more interest in your success and take more time to teach you and communicate with you. It makes it more worth their effort since you are not going to be there for only two weeks, then they will never see you again. You can’t blame them they get a lot of people just passing through. If you are one of them you are one of the many, but if you stay and fight you become one of the few. You may also book some private training sessions with the trainer that you like best. This is a great way to get some of the benefits of long term students without having to stay long term. The trainers will likely spend more time with you and teach you more detail. It is also a great way to develop a relationship with a specific trainer which will help you no matter if you are in a group or private session.
If you are a beginner the same problem exists. It is hard for the trainers to communicate the details and correct techniques to a beginning level foreigner. They know you came to get a workout and they have a schedule to follow that is not only geared to beginners. So they may “let some things slide” and not correct some bad technique that could become bad habits, in favor of getting you a good workout and just having some fun. They won’t take things too seriously with you and in some cases that’s good. If your aim is to just get aa workout and have some fun then it’s great to experience a Muay Thai class when you are in Thailand. You can do this at any gym and have fun and get a great workout. If you really want to get a good foundation and learn correctly you should look for a gym that has separate beginner classes. If you get lumped in with the fighters it may not be the best experience for you. Even intermediate level students tell me they went to a fight gym and ended up fighting for their lives during sparring because they put them in with advanced level fighters. The Thai’s will generally have good control but the foreigners are a different story. You may get an overly aggressive foreigner trying to prove something. Even if you are a beginner get the full experience and join in on the sparring (which is generally done ever day). If you are a beginner and they are doing sparring simply request to spar with a trainer. They will generally make it fun and exercise great control. As a beginner you just have to know these tips to make sure your experience is a good one and you enjoy your first session! Private training sessions are also a great idea to start out. As mentioned above the trainers will have more time with you and will likely slow down and take time to teach you since they are not under the pressure of keeping an entire class moving. I would highly recommend it for anyone’s first time doing Muay Thai. After that do a group class and see how you like it. You can always switch back and forth between group and privates to get the most out of your training experience in Thailand.
The right gym for you could be any of the gyms just make sure to ask questions first. You can also observe a class to see how it is run before you commit to attending.
What is a typical Training Session like in Thailand?
A typical class will be around 2 hours. It will start with skipping rope then some stretching and shadowboxing. Next, you will wrap your hands (don’t worry if you don’t know how a trainer will help you). Then put gloves on and the training begins. You will typically do 4-5 rounds on pads with a trainer then 4-5 rounds on bags. Then some technique, partner drills, sparring or clinch. They will typically have some stretching and cool down at the end. This will vary from camp to camp and will be different usually for morning and afternoon sessions. It is a good idea to ask each camp specifically what a typical class is like but this is a good general guideline. If it is your first time or you are not in particularly good shape just go at your pace and if you need to take a break do it. Tell the trainers and communicate with them. they may encourage you or tease you but it is better to pace yourself than not to enjoy the class and don’t worry you are not the first to sit out a round or two.
Tips & Tricks for a Successful Muay Thai Training Journey
Beside the tips already highlighted in this article there are several things to be aware of culturally when training at a Muay Thai gym in Thailand. First, always be respectful to your trainer. Some gyms will emphasize this less because they have so many foreigners coming through that it becomes difficult to maintain a level of respect. Wai to your trainer before and after each session. Listen to what they have to say and respect their advice. The more respectful you are and the more you show them you want to learn from them the better your experience will be. Muay Thai trainers are not highly paid professionals as a matter of fact they are considered low on the scale of both pay and societal hierarchy. When you give them respect it means a lot to them. When I first went to Thailand I wai’d everyone at chest level thinking I was being respectful. I had no idea that I was being disrespectful. Thai people are kind and friendly and they would never tell me I was doing it wrong, as a matter of fact they probably appreciate that I was making an effort but I was Wai’ing as if to a servant or child. Thailand is a hierarchal society. If you wai someone you respect it should be at least at your nose level. Someone older than you that you respect should be at your eyebrow level or where your glasses would rest on the bridge of your nose. So when showing respect it is better safe than sorry. To be safe just keep it at the bridge of your nose.
Also tip your trainer. You don’t have to lavish them with money but showing them that you are thinking of them by buying them a Sponsor (electrolyte drink) when you go to the store for yourself before training or some fruit, snack or a coffee if they like it means a lot. To be honest trainers do not expect foreigners to do this. Foreigners are not taught “Boon Koon”. Boon Koon is the law of reciprocation and obligation. It means that when someone does something for you you are obligated to reciprocate. In western culture especially nowadays there is a lot of entitlement. Meaning if I pay for class and the teacher teaches a great class I paid for it so that’s what I expect. Instead the Thai culture would say that the teacher imparted his knowledge upon you and took time with you to share it so you should show your appreciation for that teacher and their knowledge by a gift of some kind. If you are not sure what to tip them you can give them money so they can buy something they want. Be generous but not ridiculous. Remember that these trainers typically make on average between $300-$700 per month. So giving them a $100 tip is probably just too much. There are trainers out there that would take advantage of someone who is too generous, so be careful. A tip of 500 to 1000 baht (about $15-$30) is usually generous enough when giving money. Other things you can do that are nice would be to take them to lunch or dinner or find out more about them like if they have children or their favorite futbal club (soccer). Buying a gift for their child or a nice soccer jersey can be a great way to show your appreciation for the trainer you have developed a relationship with when you go home. When you come back they will more than likely remember you.
On another cultural note Thai people are taught not to show emotions good or bad. So don’t be discouraged if they don’t seem excited about your tip. You will be able to tell they are happy but you will have to look more deeply that an outward show of excitement. I am of the firm belief that this is part of why the Thai people are such excellent fighters. They are taught from an early age that showing anger, disappointment, pain etc. is a bad thing. In the ring this means it is hard to tell when they are hurt, tired, frustrated, angry or anything else.
Remember it’s hot here. You would be well advised to drink lot’s of water. I got cramps the first time I went to Thailand because I didn’t realize how dehydrated I was. You won’t get the usual signs like dry hands or lips like you do in the west because it’s humid. It’s a great idea to drink a Sponsor (yellow electrolyte drink in a bottle or can) which can be found at any 7-11 and they are everywhere. You can get other electrolyte beverages but this one is easy to get and it works.
Not all gyms in Thailand are customer oriented. Some are more about how many people they can fit into a class. When I opened Phuket Muay Thai in Rawai Beach Thailand I listened to the customers who were coming in that had been to other gyms. I heard how some of the bigger well known gyms had so many people in their classes that they just stuck them on the bag for most of the class and never corrected them or taught them. They just had too many clients in the classes and not enough trainers. I vowed to keep my classes small in favor of customer service and experience vs. strictly money and how many people I could cram into a class. But not all gyms do that so it’s good to look for a gym that seems to care about customer service over just packing people in like sheep.
If you come to Thailand to train do not expect the same level of sanitization and cleanliness you would find in the west. Most gyms are simply not clean. You may get offered to wear wet sweaty hand wraps that who knows how many other people have worn or when the last time they were washed was. That’s normal here and nobody seems to mind too much. At my gym we wash them daily and we clean and sanitize our mats, bags and equipment because I have western cleaning standards in my gym, but again, not all do. Don’ expect it to be a super clean and sanitary environment. It is a good idea to buy your own hand wraps and if you have a set of gloves bring your own. If not you’ll be fine but will probably want to wash up good after using the gyms loaner gear.
No matter what just give it a try and have fun! The fun and excitement of training Muay Thai in Thailand will far outweigh the minor things that may be different from what you are used to at home.
Wherever you decide to train in Thailand you can have a great experience if you just follow some of these tips. If you come to Thailand you should definitely give it a try! I hope this will help you enjoy your training journey in the motherland of Thailand! .
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