How Hard Is It To Learn Muay Thai?


Muay Thai is a fantastic martial art but it is known to be quite difficult to learn. But just how hard is it to learn Muay Thai? I decided to research the internet and find out.

It takes about 6 months to learn all the basic Muay Thai techniques, and to have a good level of Muay Thai fitness. It takes about 2 years to become “good” at Muay Thai with around 7-10 years before you become an expert.

However, learning techniques are only one part of Muay Thai. Dealing with the painful shin conditioning, the intense conditioning workouts and sparring all make it a hard martial art to learn. These will all be discussed in detail.

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What Makes Muay Thai So Hard To Learn?

Muay Thai is the perfect example of a sport being easy to learn but very hard to master. Do not get discouraged as within a short period of around 6 months you will have most of the fundamentals down and be fairly competent in a street fight.

Nevertheless Muay Thai is so hard to master because it is known as the art of 8 limbs as you strike with your fists, knees, elbows, and legs! You also have a lot of sweeps, throws, and clinching (standing wrestling) to think about.

If you compare boxing to Muay Thai (see my comparison here) you only have two ways to strike (both hands) and variations of the four basic punches: jab, straight, hook and uppercut.

But if you look at Muay Thai the potential combinations of strikes are infinite as you have so many options available to you. Having elbows and knees adds so much to the sport. Even fighters who have trained their entire lives are always discovering new things, which is why Muay Thai is such an amazing martial art.

However knowing all the techniques is just the start. You need to know HOW to use those techniques against other people who are fighting back. It will take many years of training before you can perform all of your techniques quickly, precisely and under pressure.

Acquiring high fight IQ will take years and years as you create strategies and tactics of how to use every one of your 8 limbs to their maximum effectiveness, while also reacting to all of your opponent’s potential moves. Remember, your opponent can use all of their 8 limbs against you too!

You may be able to learn the basic punches, kicks, elbow, and knee strikes quite quickly. There are roughly 8 elbow strikes, 4 main punches, a couple of kicks and 2 knee strikes. But, there are effectively infinite variations of each strike that change depending on where you’re striking, and if you start the strike while spinning.

Add to the roughly 22 strikes to learn, footwork, evasion blocking/sparring, catching your opponents kicks, grappling work (clinching, sweeps & throws, maintaining control of your opponent, etc.) and you can see how it quickly gets complicated!

Learning the moves well enough to be able to perform them is not too difficult. You could probably be taught within a week if you have good muscle memory and spend a lot of time performing the moves. This is assuming you have adequate flexibility to perform them (see my post on should you do Muay Thai if you’re inflexible here).

However, just like with chess, knowing the moves you can do is very, very different from actually using them effectively against an opponent.

How Long Does It Take To Become Good At Muay Thai?

Now “good” at Muay Thai is subjective, as your self-defense could be way better than an average guy/girl on the street in only a couple of months. However, I will outline the average Muay Thai progression from beginner to master.

You can learn all the fundamentals like basic fight strategy, tactics techniques, and proper Muay Thai fitness in 6 months. This is enough time to be competent with training gear, work with a partner, and be able to spar and learn some basic beginner stuff.

After 12 months of solid training perhaps you would have had some fighting experience at Inter Club or amateur level, making you a notice fighter which has some basic Muay Thai ability.

To become competent at Muay Thai you need to regularly train for around 3 years and have some fight experience. To say you are competent you should have around 5-6 fights, as you can claim some experience. You can use the experience to fight far more tactically as your Muay Thai fight IQ has improved a lot.

To call yourself an expert in anything whether a physical skill such as fixing cars or Muay Thai you need to train for 7 years. You should have had many fights during this time. It is common in Thailand to have 100’s of fights even at an early age as they begin fighting so young.

It takes 7-10 years to become an expert, as in any skill that requires a combination of knowledge and physical ability, such as playing the harp, being a doctor, or fighting skillfully. By this time you will have had at least 15 fights and will be an expert fighter in Muay Thai. It makes sense to have trained in the other martial arts as well.

This 7-10 years’ time to become an expert in any field was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and it is 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.

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After 15 years you can be considered a master at Muay Thai. You will know you’re a master when other experts come to you for new knowledge about the sport. Fighters like Liam Harrison are at this level as is anyone who actively does Muay Thai seminars.

However “master” does not mean they know everything about Muay Thai as this is impossible. They are still learning new things every day, but they’ve achieved a level where other people want to learn from them.

Since Muay Thai doesn’t have titles or belts like other martial arts, after 30 years of training you can teach masters. So you’re like a grandmaster in Karate. Former fighters like Samart Payakaroon (pictured below) who is considered by many to be the greatest Muay Thai fighter of all time, fall in this category.

Don’t let any of this discourage you! You don’t have to dedicate your life to training Muay Thai to become good at it! Honestly, I think around 2 years is enough to be good at Muay Thai and even a few months is enough to be a lot more competent in a self-defense situation.

Archivo:Samart Payakaroon.jpg - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre
Samart Payakaroon The Best Muay Thai Fighter Ever

Can You Teach Yourself Muay Thai?

Whilst you can teach yourself some basic techniques, the reality is to learn a combat sport properly you need two people. However, you could teach yourself the basic Muay Thai rhyme and other fundamentals like proper footwork and hand placement.

Check out these two videos both from the fantastic martial arts YouTuber FightTips for the traditional Muay Thai stance and strategies together with a full free 30 minute Muay Thai beginner class!

YouTube, in general, is a fantastic resource for combat sports and we are very, very lucky to have it! Imagine back in the day we only had VHS tapes!

However, I still recommend learning in a gym as you will also likely learn bad form without a coach correcting you and if this goes unchecked it’s hard to unlearn bad habits.

Even if you filmed yourself and made sure your form was good, there are some things you will never learn without training in a gym. You need to see if your techniques are effective against someone trying to hit you. It’s very easy shadow boxing or hitting the bag against someone who doesn’t hit back!

There are many things you will be missing out on without training at a gym. The bond you get with your fellow martial artists is beautiful, so is the desire to impress your coach along with all the locker room banter.

The feeling of stepping into the ring for your first Interclub cannot be matched, and training in a virtual class can never match compare to the real thing.

Recommended Products and Conclusion

Outliers: The Story of Success(Amazon Link)

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