There are more than 170 different martial arts taught across the world, each of which has its own unique features and applications.
Some martial arts will focus on strikes or ground fighting such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, while others will mainly focus on kicks such as taekwondo or karate.
Muay Thai is a martial art that originated in Thailand, with a name that literally translates to Thai Boxing.
This combat art makes use of all 8 contact points including fists, feet, elbows and knees.
As such, it is a comprehensive and highly effective means of self-defense, as well as a competitive sport where contestants spar to see who can land the most hits.
Muay Thai doesn’t use the belt system commonly found in Judo or Kung Fu. Instead, practitioners of the martial art are sometimes divided into ranks.
This article will aim to explain the rank system used in Muay Thai how it works, and why not every instructor will use it.
Does Muay Thai Have Ranks?
Many martial arts such as Judo and Karate will have ranks that are often signified using differently colored belts.
A person’s rank shows their experience and skill level, with black belts often being reserved for masters who are ready to start teaching their own students.
Muay Thai was not historically part of the same family as these other Oriental martial arts, and as such does not traditionally use belts or a ranking system.
Contestants may wear symbolic armbands, but these do not denote a rank and are merely ceremonial garments.
Some western schools that teach Muay Thai may adopt a version of the belt system as a clear means of differentiating between the various skill levels within a class.
Belts or ranks can also help to motivate students by giving them something they can work towards.
However, traditionally Muay Thai does not use belts or ranks and to understand why we would need to look at the history of where belts came from.
Where Did Belts In Martial Arts Come From?
Belts are a recent invention in martial arts, and have only been around since the turn of the last century.
Jigoro Kano, the inventor of Judo, was one of the first practitioners to introduce a belt system to his classes.
Before this, students were handed a certificate or diploma to show that they had achieved mastery of a specific martial art.
Jigoro, took his idea from the Japanese game of ‘Go’ which is similar in some ways to chess.
The idea behind a belt system was to help students advance much more quickly by motivating them to attain the next level.
It was also a means of quickly identifying the skill level of your opponents, to allow for more even match ups between fighters.
Kano’s belts originally came in four colors including blue, white brown and black. In modern times, the various colors will change between martial arts.
For karate, the belt ranking system starts at White and moves through yellow, gold, orange, green, purple, red, brown, and, finally, black
Why Does Traditional Muay Thai Not Use Belts?
Muay Thai was one of the few oriental martial arts that did not adopt Kano’s belt system.
The reason for this is because traditional Muay Thai started as a professional combat sport, meaning practitioners viewed it as a job and a means of earning a living.
As such, ones ‘rank’ or skill level is determined by their individual abilities, rather than by an article of clothing.
Western schools and practitioners of Muay Thai have adopted their own belt system, but these belts will mean nothing when attending a more traditional school or event.
Western Muay Thai Belt System
The rank system for western Muay Thai was developed by US-based World Thai Boxing Association.
This group decided to use the traditional armbands worn by fighters as a means of ranking instead of belts.
There are three ranks for beginners and 6 ranks for more advance fighters, as well as four extra ranks for instructors and teachers.
The ranks are denoted, as with belts, by various colors so that they are easily, and instantly, identifiable.
The beginners ranks include white, yellow and orange in order of ascending skill.
Once you have your orange armband, you can start working towards moving up to the advanced ranks, which start at green.
Next you will have to work your way through the blue, purple, red and brown ranks before reaching your black belt, or black armband in this case.
Having a black armband does not automatically qualify you to become an instructor and start teaching Muay Thai.
Instructors are also split into four different ranks, all of which have a black armband with a differently colored stripe.
The lowest rank of instructor has a black and white armband, while the highest will have one that is black and gold, with red and silver stripes being in between.
It should be said that this ranking system is very far from universal, and even in the west there are many instructors who will refuse to use it.
Many practitioners do not like the ranking system as it deviates from tradition and is not how the combat sport is learned in Thailand.
Western practitioners, who do use the armbands, often do so because they believe it has a positive impact on their students.
Not only do ranks make Muay Thai feel more familiar to those who have studied other martial arts, but they also provide a goal that students can work towards.
Muay Thai is a great martial art because it teaches you how to use all the different parts of your body offensively.
It is a lot of fun to engage in competitively, and many of the moves you learn will be very practical when applied in self-defense.
Traditional practitioners of Muay Thai will often never use a rank system, and even less traditional teacher may be reluctant to implement one.
Hopefully after reading this article, you now understand why Muay Thai doesn’t use belts and how the ranking system works for the instructors that choose to utilize it.