Muay Thai is a vicious combat sport that involves the use of punches, elbows, kicks, and knees. Treated mainly as a striking martial art, this Thailand-based fighting style has raised the level of martial arts, just like how other traditional martial arts like Judo, Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, and Taekwondo have brought up the standard of the combat scene in general.
Unlike the aforementioned sports, however, it is interesting to note that Muay Thai does not follow the commonly utilized belt system or belt ranking system. If you would like to know more on Muay Thai belts and how Muay Thai schools, coaches, and practitioners observe the ranking system, keep reading!
Does Muay Thai Have Belts? Why or Why Not?
Muay Thai does not observe belt ranking systems as seen in traditional martial arts like Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, and Jiu-Jitsu.
There are several reasons why Muay Thai does not have universally accepted belt grading and ranking systems. Let's explore a few of the most prevalent ones below.
Not Influenced by the Japanese Ranking System
The belts and ranking system (otherwise known as the belt system or grading system) were among the many ranking systems used in martial arts that originated from Japan, most especially the martial art of Judo.
The reasoning behind the belt system or grading system in accordance with colors (white, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, orange, gold, etc.) is based on the history of Judo founder Jigoro Kano and later on adopted in Karate by Gichin Funakoshi.
It was believed that a belt ranking system would serve as motivation for other aspiring students and lovers of the martial art to work hard and dedicate their time and effort to mastering every technique, form, and movement, even beyond what is learned in an actual fight and what is taught by an instructor.
The same reasoning applies to the Korea-based training system in the combat sport of Taekwondo. The colors of the belts and the corresponding level for each belt were to drive up motivation toward the sport and were used by several gyms and training schools to attract more students.
Similar to Boxing
Thailand-based Muay Thai is closer to Western boxing than you may think.
The most obvious reason is simply because like in Western MMA, the level systems or rankings are not based on the color (whether white or black) of the belt, but rather the amateur or professional record a fighter has.
The focus in Muay Thai and boxing gyms is to train hard, hone your skills, and associate yourself with greatness by traditionally achieving championship titles (or championship belts) and wins over similarly skilled fighters.
Color rank is of no meaning in the professional fighting scenes of boxing and Muay Thai.
Even if you were to show off your progression from white rank to black rank (that you may have acquired from a Muay Thai gym that utilizes this system in the USA), it would mean nothing in Thailand, where the true system and practice of Muay Thai is done.
Belts are Not Part of the Uniform (But an Armband is)
Muay Thai fighters and students do not wear gis or robes with which a white belt or black belt may be appropriate.
The clothing and apparel of Thailand and non-Thailand Muay Thai fighters are usually limited to tank tops, shorts, and other protective equipment. This is to grant more speed, flexibility, and mobility in the fight and in training. Hence the question 'does Muay Thai have belts', the simple answer is no.
As such, certain martial arts associations and Muay Thai entities such as WTBA (World Thai Boxing Association) recommend the usage of ranking based on the armband color as armbands are a common accessory or piece of gear that are used while in the ring or at the very least, during the entrance and introduction of the fighters.
The Traditional Muay Thai Ranking System
If we were to speak exclusively about the traditional Muay Thai ranking system, then the straightforward response is that there was none.
The Muay Thai martial art prowess of a fighter was not based on a white or black belt, but rather the fighting record of the fighter and their skill.
The only form in which fighters of Muay Thai have a belt was through titles or championships earned as a result of being victorious.
The Modern Muay Thai Ranking System
In the USA, most notably advocated by the sports entity World Thai Boxing Association (WTBA), belts and ranks have been replaced with the color of the armband as armbands are a generally accepted piece of gear in the art of Muay Thai.
The color grading follows an all too familiar system, as seen below:
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there belt levels in Muay Thai?
There are no belts or belt levels in Muay Thai. Like in MMA and boxing, where ranking or grading systems may be given in certain gyms or schools, the only indicator of skill level or rank would be your tally of wins and losses.
How long does it take to get your black belt in Muay Thai?
There is no black belt in Muay Thai in a traditional sense. However, if you were to train in a Muay Thai or MMA school that observes instructor-administered armband ranks (which is traditionally not accepted in Thailand or any other organization), then it would take you several years (approximately 5 years) to earn a ranking equivalent to getting a black belt.
How many ranks are there in Muay Thai?
Traditionally, there are no Muay Thai ranks. However, in certain western Muay Thai training facilities, there can be anywhere from roughly 15 to 20 levels, divided into three broad categories: beginners, advanced, instructor-level.
Does Muay Thai have a belt grading system?
Muay Thai does not have a belt grading system. However, certain Muay Thai schools observe an armband ranking system that shares similar characteristics with the former.
Why do Muay Thai fighters wear armbands?
Historically, Muay Thai practitioners believed in the perfection of form and the apparel worn, including armbands, to give a spirit of confidence and luck to the Muay Thai artist in the ring. This practice was passed down from generation to generation and is still being observed to this very day.
The art of Muay Thai is ferocious and effective in a fight, regardless of accolades, championship belts, or color level. Hopefully this guide has helped you understand Muay Thai belts, or rather the Muay Thai ranking system as well as how and why it works.