The system of using belts was introduced into the martial arts scene in the late 1800s and was first applied to the martial art of Judo.
From then, the practice of using belts and classes spread over to other martial arts such as Karate, Taekwondo, and Jiu-Jitsu throughout Japan and Korea over the next century.
It was only in the early 20th century that the belt system that we recognize today was formally introduced.
Achieving belts in disciplines such as Judo or Karate are used as an indicator of performance and competency in certain skills.
This makes it easier to understand where one is in terms of competence, and there is usually some form of standardized assessment to determine what level or belt you have achieved.
Belts are used not as a show of mastery over a discipline, but as a personal level of ability.
This also makes it easier to find partners to practice and spar against who are at the same level as you, building up your skills and discipline so that you can aim to progress w=through the belt’s ranking system.
But does Muay Thai follow the same structure? No, not really. Read on to find out more about this fascinating sport.
What Is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai, sometimes called Thai boxing, is a martial arts discipline and hand-to-hand combat sport that involves close striking poses along with clinching techniques to take down the other opponent.
Maui Thai is also known as the ‘art of eight limbs’ as it is a discipline that involves every part of the body for striking and grappling to injure the opponent.
By using fists, legs, arms, elbows, and shins to deliver blows, it is a mixed rule kickboxing sport that has gained an international reputation in the late 20th to early 21st century from mixed rule matches being played all across the world, however, it’s history can be traced back as far as the 16th century in Thailand.
Maui Thai is not only a practical fighting technique used in warfare, it also developed into a sport for entertainment, becoming an integral part of Thai celebration and tradition.
Unlike many other martial arts, all forms of the body are allowed to be part of a strike, such as the elbows and knees.
For a hit to count and a point to be gained, a fighter must deliver a blow without it being blocked or guarded by an opponent.
Strikes do not count on the groin, and intentional groin strikes are considered fouls. Strikes also do not count if they hit an opponent’s forearm, foot, shin, or glove.
Maui Thai is a fast-paced discipline, mixing boxing, full contact, and disciplined martial arts where the entire body is used to deliver forceful blows to the opponent.
Does Muay Thai Have Belts?
Much like western boxing, Maui Thai does not use belts or standardized tests to determine skill level or rank. Rather, a fighter’s record will speak for itself.
However, since its introduction to the west from the 1970s onwards, outside of Thailand there are western schools of Muay Thai that have adopted a belt and ranking system similar to that of Judo and Karate.
These schools often replace the traditional belts for Muay Thai arm bands, or Prajids, to represent the level at which they are ranked.
One such school that uses this type of ranking system is the renowned US Muay Thai gym named Bang Muay Thai.
However, it is important to note that even in these renowned schools, this is not authentic Thai Muay Thai, and rather a modified version of the combative art.
Whilst still an effective and punishing discipline, it is worth noting that it is a blended technique that takes elements of different Muay Thai and blends it with what we now know as MMA or mixed martial arts.
Other gyms practice a more traditional Muay Thai, with original style and cultural heritage at the heart of their teaching, and may also choose to adopt the ranking method.
Is There A Ranking System In Muay Thai
Yes, and no. Whilst some westernized gyms use the colored bands as a ranking system, many Muay Thai purists and traditionalists are not in favor of the ranking system.
They are firm believers that Muay Thai should remain rooted in its cultural heritage in Thailand and exported as it is practiced traditionally.
As many gyms offer Muay Thai and get paid for the various examinations, bands, and testing done to rank up, some have called out the ranking system as little more than a cash grab to make money out of the sport.
Martial arts schools that are seen to be solely established to make money and teach an inauthentic form of martial arts are even becoming branded as ‘McDojos’.
These are the sorts of places that even charge you extra for different colored shorts as you rise the ranks.
The opposite side of the argument is that it encourages kids and those who practice recreationally to train more regularly and stay motivated, using the grading system as a benchmark to push their skill level.
Traditional Thai gyms do not train with peers only on the same level, letting anyone spar any other partner, rather than just using a grading system as Judo or Karate would.
Why Do Muay Thai Fighters Wear Bands?
What confuses some people into thinking that traditional Muay Thai fighters use rank is the display of arm bands called Pra Jiad.
These arm bands are traditionally used by Thai athletes to give them confidence and good luck and are usually made for them by their families.
Some fighters wear one, or two Pra Jiad and are traditionally kept in safe, revered places, as according to folklore, to step on them or lose them is to rob the fighter of their good luck.
Some western schools use different colored Pra Jiad to indicate ranking, though this is very uncommon in traditional Muay Thai where Pra Jiad holds significant value for athletes.
Whether you’re for or against the ranking system, as of right now, it’s pretty rare in the Thai martial arts scene.
That’s not likely to change any time soon, being seen as more of a cash grab than having any real contribution to the discipline.