Muay Thai is unique as it is both a martial art and a combat system, but does it have a ranking system? I decided to find out.
So does Muay Thai have a ranking system? Muay Thai does not have a belt grading system although some organizations outside of Thailand have created a colored based ranking system, based on the armband Muay Thai fighters wear known as Prajoiyud in Thai.
Understanding why the history behind Muay Thai is key to knowing why it doesn’t have a ranking system, also knowing if Muay Thai has belts or weight classes is key to comprehending the sport.
Why Doesn’t Muay Thai Have A Ranking System?
To understand why Muay Thai doesn’t have a ranking system we need to go back to ancient battle-worn Thailand when it was known as Siam. Fighting was very common during this period and Thailand was constantly at war like the Burmese-Siamese wars(wiki link) fought between the 16th and 19th centuries.
To protect their sons and husbands going to battle women from the soldier’s family would do a pre-battle ritual by tying a personal piece of clothing(usually a birth cloth) around their hands or arms before they went to battle.
See my post here for more information on the Thailand headband known as Mongkol and Prajoiyud(armband).
Muay Thai originated as a form of combat without weapons on the battlefield and still has all these traditional and spiritual values deep inside the art, which have lasted for hundreds of years.
Muay Thai predates any martial art ranking system as the ranking system for most martial arts was inspired by the existing ranking system in the popular Japanese board game Go(wiki link) “devised by Honinbo Dosaku in the late 17th century”.
Before this most student in different martial arts in Japan were given scrolls showing their skills.
“Muay Thai has been a part of Thai Heritage & History for over 2000 years”(link to history) so it predates the ranking system of all martial arts by a very long time.
This is why it doesn’t have one, and the reason why Sparring is a key element in the art and why Muay Thai is so effective; as it is a combat sport born in war.
Traditionally armbands are given whenever a trainer thinks a fighter is ready to fight and represent the gym; there were and still, no belts or colors to show you’re ready to fight.
With authentic Muay Thai, your fight record does the talking as there is no need for a grading system, unlike traditional martial arts like Karate, that don’t have a lot of sparring.
Whilst a new Muay Thai trainee will receive a Prajoiyud(armband) this has historical origins of good fortune and to stop evil spirits, it does not signify a rank.
The closest thing to a ranking system in Thailand is a trainer giving their student a Mongkol(headband) signifying they are ready to fight and represent the gym.
Typically in Thailand, most fighters are not training for leisure or a hobby they are training to fight themselves out of poverty such as the current One championship MMA/Muay Thai champion Stamp Fairtex. They don’t need a ranking system to encourage them to train as getting out of poverty and earning a living is all the encouragement they need.
Whereas with Muay Thai in the west, people train for fitness and leisure so creating a Muay Thai ranking system similar to traditional martial arts makes a lot more sense out of Thailand.
If you want to know the 12 other reasons Muay Thai is great for self-defense, check out my post here.
Does Muay Thai Have Belts?
As Muay Thai doesn’t have a grading system, there are not bet and belts are not worn in Muay Thai as there is no traditional martial art clothing like a Gi in BJJ.
Although if we answer this question hypothetically it’s important to discuss other martial arts and how long it takes to achieve a black belt in each art before we could answer how long would it take to get a black belt in Muay Thai if it existed?
Taekwondo 3-5 years For Black Belt
Taekwondo for a dedicated student typically they are eligible for a 1st Degree Black Belt(II Dan) around 3-5 years, with some schools have a minimum of 4-5 years.
To get the belt you need to pass a test to prove you understand what an instructor has taught you. You can fail this test, and the reason most people fail is just like taking a normal test; anxiety.
Aikido 4-5 years To Get A Black Belt
If you train 3-4 times a week you can get an Aikido blackbelt in around 4-5 years depending on how often you train.
What separates Aikido from other martial arts is if you must have the correct mentality and be a good representative of your martial art school. Even if you have the technique and strength/speed you will be denied your black belt without the correct martial art attitude.
Whilst, achieving a belt in a little over 2 years is possible you would need experience in another martial art but it varies from person to person.
Judo 3- 6 years To Get A Black Belt
You will achieve a Judo black belt in 3-6 years based on your commitment to the art. With Judo you have the standard colored belts with ten different black belts(dans) from Shodan(beginner) to Judan(10th-degree black belt).
To be a true Judo black belt you must have one or more tokui waza which is a match-winning throw that you can do effortlessly, watch the video above to see Shinjiro Sasaki the owner of Sasaki Judo perform various tokui wazas.
With Judo getting a blue belt does not mean you’re an expert but rather you are on the first step to becoming an expert. Like with all things in life you more you put into it the faster you succeed, and this is the same with getting a Judo black belt.
Karate 5 Years To Get A Black Belt
Typically following the guidelines set out and followed by most karate schools, and depending on your age and how often you train Karate you should get your black belt in around 5 years.
Whilst you can get a black belt in less time, Karate masters emphasize the time spent learning a martial art to be important. If you reduce this time you also reduce the wisdom and personal growth the art of Karate can teach you.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 10 years To Get A Black Belt
The hardest belt to get in martial arts and one of the most respected. Getting a blue belt(after white belt) in my school can take you anywhere between 1-3 years based on your dedication to BJJ, making the BJJ belt system the most difficult to progress in as it requires the most mat time and dedication.
Belt promotions in BJJ all depend on when the coach feels the student is ready, and whilst generally, they depend on someone’s skill ability and knowledge of BJJ they don’t always. I could be about how dedicated you are, or how well you perform in competition.
Either way, a black belt in BJJ will take you the longest to achieve and I think it’s a quite similar period to the hypothetical Muay Thai black belt.
Muay Thai 10 Years To Get A Black Belt
If a Muay Thai black belt existed you would need at least 10 years of consistent training with a solid amount of ring experience to be a black belt. Muay Thai is a combat sport and Sparring and ring experience is a vital part of becoming truly good at it.
This is hypothetical but since Muay Thai is the art of 8 limbs and includes a lot of grappling which makes it very complicated compared to other striking arts on this list, the closest art I can compare it with is BJJ as sparring is very important in BJJ like Muay Thai.
Both BJJ and Muay Thai are similar because they are so complicated and can never truly be mastered, you hear Muay Thai experts like Liam Harrison(fighter) who is basically a Muay Thai black belt discuss how complicated Muay Thai still is to him; your always figuring out new things and how to make known techniques more effective.
Does Muay Thai Have Grading?
Whilst Muay Thai in Thailand doesn’t have a grading system several schools in the USA use the Muay Thai armband to denote rank, and other prominent Muay Thai gyms outside of Thailand have a belt ranking system. Each ranking system will be discussed
- Bang Muay Thai ranking system
- Evolve MMA(Singapore) ranking system
- Roufusport Kickboxing Association belt system
- Thai Boxing Association of the U.S.A(Arm Band Ranking System)
- The Fight Centre(Brisbane)
Bang Muay Thai ranking system
The Bang Muay Thai belt ranking system was created by former UFC fighter and K1 champ and 2-time UFC coach of the year in 2013,2014 Duane Ludwig.
He took the commercial elements of Taekwondo and Karate and applied this progression over to Muay Thai the progression follows like this.
Unlike with traditional Muay Thai when your progression is about how many fights you have, Bang Muay Thai has a clear curriculum from white to black belt and a clear path can be learned and also practiced online which you can access here.
To test for a belt you must be in the BANG headquarters located in Colorado or a Bang certified gym. Just like with traditional arts the bang Muay Thai ranking system focuses on respect and discipline. You can see this support when Duane Ludwig gives a yellow belt promotion in the video below.
Evolve MMA(Singapore) Ranking System
The evolve Muay Thai program is run under the well known Sityodtong Camp(most successful Muay Thai training camp ever) under Kru Yodtong Senan, being the biggest Sityodtong Camp outside of Thailand. To read more about Sityodtong camp please check this post.
Kru Yodtong is considered one of the key grandmasters in Muay Thai as he has produced the most number of Muay Thai champions in history(57). Check here to see how long it takes to a Muay Thai grandmaster.
The Sityodtong Muay Thai curriculum is broken up into 7 distinct levels that are separated by training intensity, technical knowledge, and the proficiency level of Muay Thai at each level.
Kru Yodtong focuses on technique and the application with intelligence to understand how to use each technique. To progress through each certification you need to have completely mastered the level before it.
Check here to the official Evolve website but here are the official certifications from the Sityodtong Gym.
- Level 7 = Kru
- Level 6 = Expert
- Level 5 = Advanced
- Level 4 = Intermediate
- Level 3 = Advanced Novice
- Level 2 = Intermediate Novice
- Level 1 = Novice
Check out an interview from the man himself down in the video above.
Roufusport Kickboxing Association Belt System
Duke Roufus is a well known striking coach in the USA and the coach of the former Lightweight UFC champion Antony Pettis, Alan Belcher, and Sergio Pettis, also the owner of Roufusport competition team based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He has an online course designed to teach you his system which you can access here. Like Bang Muay Thai all the testing has to be at Roufusport or one of the many accredited gyms across the USA, see the list of gyms here.
He also runs a black belt affiliate program, as some martial art school do not have a black of their own so they need someone from Roufusport to accredit a new blackbelt. Similar to 10th planet in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
See one of his black belts Antony Pettis do one of the best KO’s EVER in MMA. Enjoy
Thai Boxing Association of the U.S.A(Arm Band Ranking System)
Founded by Ajarn Chai Sirisute “the first person to teach Muay Thai in the USA” has a grading system based on 16 differently colored Muay Thai headbands that go from white(beginner) to black/gold(senior instructor) that you can see above.
This is the companies vision statement so you can see what they are about.
To advance, promote, educate, and instruct the martial arts of Thailand throughout the world while offering the student, fighter, and instructor the highest standard of teaching Thai Boxing (Muay Thai).WBTA Vision Statement
Like other schools, the WBTA has officially credited schools that are designed to teach the assigned WBTA method and promote students through the armband(prajoiyud) which you can see here.
The problem with these schools is whilst they are excellent for encouraging progression and keeping people motivated, the belt system could lean towards Muay Thai becoming watered down, with MC Dojos(urban dictionary) meaning martial schools that focus more on making money than teaching people the martial art.
The Fight Centre(Muay Thai Brisbane)
Located in Brisbane Australia the fight center use armbands for promoting students under 12 years and a tank-top(singlet) for students over 12 years many rankings are important but the main things they care about are.
This causes a unique issue with the trainers as someone training for one week could be a better fighter than someone training for 6 months but just be better because of genetics sadly, some people are blessed.
Should that person who’s been training for 1 week get better grading than the person training for 6 months? In the fight center, they think no.
They believe a student must EARN their Muay Thai grading level by placing a lot of importance and dedication to the sport and get rewarded with a grade; grading should mean something.
I think a lot of teaching grades like this, as I’ve seen people in my BJJ gym get a blue belt when they were not that good at Sparring but it was more so my coach saw the dedication in them. If you open a school one day, make sure to implement these values whenever you grade someone.
Grading should be when students achieve something no matter if it’s preparing for their first Muay Thai fight, or winning a tough fight.
In the UFC many fighters like Tony Ferguson and Anderson Silva were given BJJ belts after winning via submission; it’s the same with Muay Thai; grading has to be memorable and a special moment in your martial art journey.
Does Muay Thai Have Weight Classes?
Muay Thai is a fighting sport and these weight classes are issued by the World Muay Thai council which was created in 1995 under the directive of the Royal Thai government which was approved by the Thai Parliament, you can see the website yourself here.
Saenchai(wiki link) is known as the best pound for pound Muay Thai fighters and is considered to be one of the best fighters ever.
He used to give up weight(be lighter) so fights were interesting for him and from 2003-2-14 he only lost 2 times when the weight was equal.
Against foreigners the skill gap is so large he would even go up to 147 pounds which is over 15 pounds his best weight class, so Thai fighters, because they are so skilled, don’t have to fight at their ideal weight.
|Mini Fly Weight||105||47.62|
|Light Fly Weight||108||48.99|
|Super Fly Weight||115||52.16|
|Super Bantam Weight||122||55.34|
|Super Feather Weight||130||58.97|
|Super Light Weight||140||63.50|
|Super Welter Weight||154||69.85|
|Super Middle Weight||168||76.20|
|Light Heavy Weight||175||79.38|
|Super Light Heavy Weight||182||82.55|
|Super Heavy Weight||209+||95.00+|
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