Can Muay Thai Really Be Self Taught?

Muay Thai is a fantastic martial art and takes many years to master but can it be self-taught? I decided to find out.

You can teach yourself the basics of Muay Thai, but combat sports need to be practiced with another person. If you don’t have someone to correct your form you can pick up bad habits that are difficult to correct. Training with an instructor is by far the most efficient training that you can do.

Now, this doesn’t mean you cannot practice Muay Thai at home.

However, Muay Thai is a very difficult sport that takes years and years to master. Understanding this is key to knowing how it cannot truly be self-taught.

Why Muay Thai Cannot Be Self Taught

While you can watch training videos on YouTube and read numerous Muay Thai books, this will never take the place of training at a gym with a qualified Muay Thai instructor.

I know when I was a beginner I made constant mistakes in the gym and even 6 months later I was still making some of the same mistakes.

This would be even worse training by yourself as you have no one correcting your form and noticing where you are making mistakes.

To think I still made these mistakes even as my instructor corrected me! So imagine how bad these habits would have become if I didn’t have an instructor?

The beginning of your training is key to your development. If you get into the bad habit of lowering your hands as you punch, this will be very difficult to coach out of you; in a gym, since you will be sparring relatively quickly you will know you need to defend because you will get that immediate feedback of getting punched in the face!

You might think as you’re watching Muay Thai videos you are doing the techniques exactly as they are instructed. But it takes the very keen eye of an instructor or someone who knows what they are doing to notice these mistakes as they happen and prevent bad habits from being formed.

If you cannot afford a Muay Thai membership or have no gyms in your area, then filming yourself training becomes essential to teaching yourself Muay Thai.

I highly recommend buying a tripod such as this one from Amazon so you can film yourself training.

The biggest issue with training solo is you have no feedback on your techniques. How can you learn to punch if you cannot punch anyone who hits back?

At least recording yourself gives you immediate feedback on your techniques, what you’re doing right, and what needs improvement.

Although fighting is not essential to learn Muay Thai, (see my post here), you can still learn the basics of self-defense, like exploiting distance and learning defense, but this is only because you have been taught by an instructor. 

If you are self-taught you will not truly understand these concepts and your progress will be slower, if you make any at all.

Watching Muay Thai videos and reading books are fine as a SUPPLEMENT to training but nothing can replace getting taught by a qualified Muay Thai teacher.

Not to mention all the relationships and camaraderie you will find in a Muay Thai gym, there is no replacement for this!

Can You Learn Muay Thai By Yourself?

We’ve mentioned the problems with learning Muay Thai by yourself but in the age of the internet, it is the best time to self teach yourself a martial art. The above 30-minute Muay Thai fundamentals class is a fantastic resource for a beginner Muay Thai practitioner and I recommend you watch it many times to begin your training.

However, the number 1 thing I wished I did when I started training Muay Thai is work on proper hip rotation, I estimate I would have progressed at least twice as fast if I worked on this from the beginning.

When you kick all your power comes from the hips. Most people when they start training will kick straight up like a soccer kick. This will be even more common if you train yourself. This is a big no-no for if you’re kicking a person all you will hit is the persons elbows on your foot so you will hurt yourself more than your opponent.

Think of a baseball bat, if someone broke into your house and you’re trying to defend yourself and your family, would you swing the bat straight up or more up and THEN left or right using your hips to get the most powerful kick possible? It’s the same with most kicks in Thai boxing.

This is the kick checklist when kicking

  • With the lead leg, your heel must go past your toes (foot has turned 180 degrees to where you’re kicking)
  • As you kick have your force go upwards not down
  • Bring your shoulder forward and whip your arm as you kick (same arm as kicking leg)

You can practice proper hip rotation in the drill by Sylvie (video above) a Muay Thai fighter with 200+ professional fights. Remember you should feel your side butt cheek flex with the hip that is rotating, which means you are fully rotating your hip.

There are people at my gym including me who were training for months and months without proper hip rotation on their kicks.

It is a crucial Muay Thai movement pattern, and if you develop it early in-home training you will have a better roundhouse than a LOT of people training in Muay Thai gyms.

I would recommend doing these at least 100 times per day on both legs to open up your hips. It is common in Thailand for a trainer to tell a westerner to do 300 reps per leg if their hips are especially tight.

  1. Place your foot on a platform like a sofa and be on your toes on the other foot like your kicking
  2. Turn the foot on the platform to the shin to mimic the kick while using your arms
  3. Repeat for 25 reps and change legs for a total of 100 reps each leg

As for other ways to improve at home? I recommend viewing my complete guide on how to learn Muay Thai at home here with TONS of different helpful training resources and videos with sample training routines to help get you on your way.

Although when training at home if you don’t have a friend or family member to hold Thai pads for you, a heavy bag is a must for training by yourself.

A heavy bag will be your number one partner and you won’t have to rely on family members or a spouse to hold Thai pads for you. Your bag will never be late and will always be there to train!

I can guarantee if you ask any fighter they will say it is one of the best pieces of equipment you can buy.

Especially if your only training is at home, getting a heavy bag is even more important. You will have something solid and real feedback for your strikes while improving your footwork at the same time.

Every stand-up fighter has put 100s of hours into a heavy bag, and I highly recommend the Fairtex heavy bag (which you can see here on Amazon) heavy bag for your home.

If you don’t have the budget to buy your bag, you can make one out of heavy carpet or material lying around your house. Check out the video below for some inspiration!

How To Make A Heavy Bag For Muay Thai

How Long Does It Take To Learn Muay Thai?

To become competent at self-defense it will take around 6 months of Muay Thai training, but to become a master at Muay Thai it takes about 15 years of hard consistent practice.

If you train at home it will take a lot longer to learn Muay Thai since it is very complicated. Check out my post here on why it is so difficult to master.

I will outline the average progression from beginner to expert in Muay Thai.

To Learn The Muay Thai Basics 6 Months

Learning all the fundamentals like the basic Muay Thai techniques, fight strategy, proper distance and spacing, and achieve a good level of Muay Thai fitness will take around 6 months.

However, this is assuming you are training at a gym and have people to correct you. I estimate training solo will roughly double this training period so it will take you a year to learn the fundamentals.

Competent 3 Years (With 5-6 Fights)

As Muay Thai is a combat sport you need to regularly train for roughly 3 years and have some fight experience to say your competent. As your Muay Thai IQ has improved you can fight more tactically and utilize what you know for your fights.

To say you’re an expert in anything even with fixing bicycles you should study or train for roughly 7 years. During this time you should have 5-6 fights and if you were Thai you would have 100s of fights by this time as they fight so young.

Expert Around 7-10 Years (with around 15 fights)

To become an expert in any skill that requires knowledge and physical ability like playing the guitar, becoming an engineer, or being a Muay Thai fighter you need around 7-10 years of consistent practice.

You should have had 15 fights by this period and it makes sense to have trained other fighting arts like Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Do you see the problem with training solo? While you can achieve a high standard of technical ability if you train solo, you need to train and spar with other people and fight to test your skills.

This simply cannot be done training solo, aside from a realistic robot sparring partner that hasn’t been invented yet.

The 7-10 years’ time to become an expert in any field was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and known as the 10,000-hour rule. It applies to Muay Thai as well as other martial arts like BJJ and pretty much every field.

You can check out the book on Amazon here.

Interested in Muay Thai? Check Out My Recommendations

Looking For Gear To Use When You Train?
If you are interested in training Muay Thai, here is some of the gear I recommend:
Best Mouth Guard
Best Gloves
Best Shorts
Best Shin Guards
Want To Learn To Fight, But Don’t Want To Go In Person?
CoachTube has online training videos for Boxing, Karate, MMA and more. And best part is you can do it all from your home allowing you to go at your own pace. Check them out here.
Interested In Training Other MMA Fighters?
Click here to check out the MMA Conditioning Association and see what you need to become an MMA conditioning coach and begin training fighters.

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