Muay Thai is known as the most effective stand up martial art, but how long does it take to master? I researched the internet trying to find out.
You can never truly “master” Muay Thai as the sport is constantly evolving with new discoveries being made, however, after 15 years of consistent training, you can be considered a master at the same level as a BJJ blackbelt.
Understanding why Muay Thai is so hard to master is key, and how long it takes to become competent and how many times a week should you train to achieve this level are important. All will be discussed in detail.
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How Long Does It Take To Be Good At Muay Thai?
Now “good” at Muay Thai is subjective as your self-defense could be way better than an average person on the street in only a couple of months. However, I will outline the average Muay Thai progression from beginner to master.
To Learn The Basic Fundamentals 6 Months
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, working with a partner, and being able to Spar and have the ability to teach someone some basic beginner stuff.
After 12 months of solid training perhaps you would have had some fighting experience at InterClub or amateur level making you a novice fighter with some basic Muay Thai ability.
Competent 3 Years (With 5-6 Fights)
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 had around 5-6 fights, as you can claim some experience and 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 and it’s common in Thailand to have 100s of fights even at an early age as they fight so young.
Expert Around 7-10 Years(with around 15 fights)
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 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 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.
Get Outliers for the best price on Amazon here.
Master Around 15 Years
After 15 years you can be considered a master at Muay Thai, and 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, or anyone who actively does Muay Thai seminars where people pay to listen to them teach.
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.
Grandmaster Around 30 Years
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.
Why Is Muay Thai So Hard To Learn?
Muay Thai is the perfect example of being easy to learn but very difficult to master. Do not get discouraged as within a short period 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 ads so much to the sport and even fighters who have trained their entire life always discover new things, which is why Muay Thai is such an amazing martial art as you are always learning and growing.
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 your techniques quickly with good technique under pressure.
Acquiring high fight IQ will take years and years as you create strategies and tactics on how to use every one of your 8 limbs to maximum effectiveness. Remember, you also need to defend against your opponents 8 limbs which is equally challenging to master.
Whilse you might be able to learn the basic punches, kicks, elbow, and knee strikes quite quickly. There are roughly 9 elbows strikes, 4 main punches, 12 kicks, and 6 knee strikes but; there are effectively infinite variations of each strike that change depending on where you’re striking and if you are spinning as you strike and what combination you do.
Check out blackbeltwiki to get a full explanation of all these Muay Thai techniques and how to implement them.
Add to the roughly 31 strikes to learn, there is footwork, evasion blocking/parring, catching your opponents kicks, grappling work(clinching, sweeps & throws, maintaining control of your opponent, etc). You can see how it quickly gets complicated!
Although learning the moves so you could 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 assuming you have adequate flexibility to perform them(see my post on should you do Muay Thai if you’re inflexible here).
However, knowing how to do the moves is like knowing how each individual piece moves in Chess. This tells you NOTHING about how to attack and defend using each piece effectively. Just like with Chess using all 8 limbs effectively against a capable opponent and defending against them is a very different thing to do indeed.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Muay Thai Black Belt?
Muay Thai does not have a belt grading system although western organizations located in the USA have created a system based on the armband Muay Thai fighters wear known as prajoiyud in Thai.
The schools started this armband system as a way to motivate students to train harder and earn better armbands.
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 can answer how long to get a “Muay Thai black belt”.
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 change.
What separates Aikido from other martial arts is if you must have the correct mentality and be a good representation of your martial art school. Even if you have the technique and physicality you will be denied your black belt without the correct martial art personality.
While 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 the age and how often you train Karate you should get your black belt in around 5 years.
While you can get a black belt in less time, Karate masters emphasized 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 from1-3 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. While generally they depend on someone’s skill ability and knowledge of BJJ they don’t always. It 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.
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 essentially a Muay Thai black belt, talk about how complicated Muay Thai is as you’re always figuring out new things and how to make known techniques more effective.
How Many Times A week should I Train Muay Thai?
This question is the same as answering how big is a hole? It changes from, person to person and depends on how seriously you take Muay Thai. It will also depend on your fitness level and if you have any martial arts/fighting experience.
If you don’t work out or have no martial art experience
Typically if you’re a person who isn’t physically fit or a natural athlete starting with 1-2 sessions a week is a good start.
The problem is Muay Thai is a very intense martial art and can burn around 600 calories an hour! For untrained individuals, this puts a lot of stress on the primary muscles used in a Muay Thai class, which causes a lot of painful muscle soreness.
Click here for a blog post by evolving MMA for the four muscle groups that Muay Thai strengthens. Typically Muay Thai will give these muscles a workout:
- Shoulder and arm muscles
- Hip and leg muscles
- Core muscles
- Back muscles
If you are untrained Muay Thai will hit all these muscles especially the legs and hips very hard, so you could find yourself being very sore in the days after training. This soreness will only get worse if you force yourself to train when you’re in pain.
It’s much better to start small and wait a couple of days in between workouts to ensure your body is properly recovered. For example, train on Monday and don’t train again until Thursday.
I recommend daily stretching to reduce muscles soreness. You can read more about the specific stretching you can do for Muay Thai on my post here.
Typically your training should be 80% Muay Thai with kicking pads/bag and working on your technique movement etc. With the other 20% doing some basic conditioning with pushups, dips, bodyweight squats, etc. Just keep it basic and easy to stick to.
Once you’re used to training 1-2 times a week and you feel healthy and want more, then you can gradually increase the training frequency to around 3-4 times a week as your body get’s accustomed to muscle stress.
If You Workout Or Have Some Martial Art Experience
Now if you’re someone who regularly works out at home or in the gym or has some previous martial arts experience.
Typically you should start training Muay Thai around 2-4 times a week.
Training Muay Thai will still put stress on your muscles but the difference is your muscles were USED to being under stress; from weights or your previous martial arts training.
If you want to find out if you should lift weights whilst doing Muay Thai check my post here.
You will not be as sore from training Muay Thai compared to a complete beginner as your simply stronger and used to workout. This is where I started training Muay Thai as all the calisthenics(bodyweight exercises)were known to me and I already had good cardio fitness.
Whereas if as a beginner you’ve never done a pushup before, of course, it’s going to be harder to perform, especially as straight after you’re going through an intense 90 minute Muay Thai workout!
Also if you want to learn Muay Thai in Thailand make sure you prepare yourself before you go! If you’re in Thailand for 1 month to train and spend the first 2 weeks catching up physically since you don’t have the required fitness you will waste your time. This tip is mentioned in Sean Fagan’s 10 Muay Thai Thailand training survival guide which you can view below.
I still recommend starting at the lower end at around twice a week, as we all know it’s difficult to start a new habit so aim low even if you have the required fitness levels; as you can always improve instead of trying to immediately go 4 times a week and getting frustrated when you don’t.
If You Have A Lot Of Martial Arts Experience/Want To Fight Amateur Level
If you have considerable martial arts experience in a similar martial art or want to fight Muay Thai at an amateur/Interclub level.
Training anywhere from 4-6 times a week is ideal.
Maybe you kick-boxed for several years back in the day or did Muay Thai a long time ago and want to get back into it. Your body should be used to muscle fatigue from punching and kicking compared to less experienced Muay Thai beginners.
This is the level where I’m at as I’ve fought in InterClubs (friendly sparring with other gyms) and if you want to improve & compete you need to be training at least 4 times a week as the more you train the quicker you will improve.
Ideally, if you want to compete at InterClub you should be sparring at least once a week, read my blog post here for more info on if you have to fight to train Muay Thai.
If You Want To Be The Best Fighter You Can Be/Turn Pro
This is the highest level you can train up to, and you should train for months and months before you reach this training frequency.
Training around twice a day 5 times a week if you want to be a professional Muay Thai fighter.
This is the level professional Muay Thai/MMA fighters train at but it will take a long time to get your body accustomed to this level of stress if you came from being a complete beginner.
Typically, you want to split your training into morning and evening sessions, in the morning you could do some weights for your strength and conditioning then in the evening work on your technique and do bag work.
This gives you enough time to recover in between the training sessions. Usually strength and conditioning come first before technique as you want your body to be as strong as possible to push yourself with weights.
With learning technique training tired is okay because you will be tired in a fight anyway, while training weights after you do technique is counterproductive as you won’t be able to lift the same weights compared to being fresh.
Giving yourself two days off a week is a necessity even for professional fighters as their bodies need time to rest and recover. If you trained 7 times a week eventually your body will break down and your training will suffer.
Check out Flavia, a professional Muay Thai fighter, answer the same questions down below.