Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

What is your belt in #MuayThai?!

While in Brazil I was asked “whats your belt in Muay Thai”!?–

Now, having spent 5 years living in Thailand and visiting the country every year since–I figured he was asking me if I was a Champion at Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, or some other stadium for Muay Thai and just didn’t translate the question from Portuguese into English the same way I would have.

I told Vale Tudo legend  Jose Pele Landi Jons I had never won a belt for Muay Thai however I’ve been training since 2007.  Truth is I started learning ‘Muay Thai’ in 2002–however I didn’t invest enough time with real instructors to honestly say that I was training in anything other than Kickboxing with a few low kicks.  That said, once I moved to Thailand I learned important details; How to block a forward swinging elbow, several ways to counter a thai pummel in the clench, details of the leg check, offensive and defensive strategies to the teep….so many little details that were never shown to me.

Pele replied he was a Muay Thai black belt.

Curitiba Brazil famous for its Muay Thai training, is home to Chute Boxe academy, and head trainer Rudimar Fedrigo, a massive Muay Thai academy that started in 1978 and has had world class fighters such as Wanderlia Silva (remember him kneeing Rampage Jackson a billion times in the head during their PRIDE FC fight?), Ninja and Shogun Rua (Killer Kicks), Anderson Silva (Did he kill Rich Franklin in that clench?!), and so many other true striking legends in the sport of MMA.  Many would even say that as a team Chute Boxe has was the first to show the viciousness of Muay Thai in MMA.

Chute Boxe Muay Thai ranking system

Chute Boxe Muay Thai ranking system

During my time in Brazil, I noticed that many of the fighters were in fact ‘belted’ in Muay Thai, like a marital artist in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or even Kajukenbo karate.  At several of the seminars I helped Cris Cyborg I noticed the students wearing different colored Muay Thai armbands called Prajiets. Cris said that it was how people wear their belt…and then she proudly told me she got her Black Belt after more than 7 years of Chute Boxe training!

In Thailand, Muay Thai is similar to that of American Wrestling, you basically train and compete. Competing is where you prove your ‘Belt’.  The theory is basically that if a person has had 300+ fights, his facial scars and his accomplishments ‘proved’ his belt…not to mention any shiny hardware he might have acquired, which would usually quickly  be followed by a scrapbook of old photos and newspaper/ Muay Siam clippings from his career.

I’ve seen some people recently start handing out ‘Kru’ or ‘Ajarn’ certificates once someone has completed a course–and thought it was funny.  The word Ajarn, is literally transcribed as ‘Teacher”–something I could call a mentor–or tutor even. It’s  more of a sign of respect than a formal ‘Title” (like say a Doctor).

I never really believed in the ‘Muay Thai ranking system’ while I was actively competing, it was something I looked at strictly for the competition.  Having earned my black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu–I would compare it to the guy only learning BJJ to compete in the UFC, with no regards to belt or rank.  Simply stated, earning a ‘black belt in muay thai’ was never a goal of mine–rather it was to get in shape, improve my techniques, train, compete…sometimes not always in that order, lol.

Now that I’m starting to focus more attention on teaching–I see the value of a belt system (Ranking system) in Muay Thai.  When you have a ranking system it gives the student an opportunity to set short term/ long term goals, and gives them a guideline for expected curriculum materials to be covered. It holds the teacher accountable while allowing the student to actively monitor their success.  Ultimately someone is training in Muay Thai for various reasons wether it is Self Defense, Fitness, or Competition (Muay Thai, K1 MMA Boxing, etc).

What credit does a belt hold?

A belt promotion in BJJ is about a relationship between an instructor and a student.  While I got my black belt from Juliano Prado in 2010, I have always spent time visiting his academy, working with his classes, soaking up his knowledge and tutelage and sharing some of my own.  It’s a relationship where we both feel proud to represent each other, without any set contracts or crazy affiliation fees.

Credibility of a Belt is that of the person representing it.  I would expect a belt to represent training, dedication, knowledge, application, and overall ability…but I would also expect it to showcase the other virtues of martial arts like; Value, Commitment, Confidence, Encouragement, and Community.  Someone who carries a high rank should be the example inside the gym–not necessarily some naturally gifted world champion who smokes more cigarettes and drinks more Thai Whiskey than is good for him leading up to his fights.  While there are some very good examples of World Champion Thai’s transferring into the world of trainer and highlighting the techniques and spirit of Muay Thai to their students…There are also many examples of washed up thai fighters who never held a pad for anyone in their life before accepting a job in some daytime gym/nighttime bar in Thailand targeting foreigners.

The belt system allows instructors to monitor their own reputation by establishing their name as an attachment to a student.  With the advancement of the internet, it is much easier for students to google, research, and find out the legitimacy of their instructor (…maybe even their most embarrassing injury…eeeek)…but it allows the student to see if their coaches are in fact ‘the real deal’ or if they are ‘stretching the truth’–so to speak.  The belt rankings system also gives the student an opportunity to show advancement to their friends, family, peers, training partners…and accept a visual form of self gratification for all the sacrifices they’ve made and the commitments they have shown towards leading by example while progressing through the curriculum.

I think the Brazilian style of teaching Muay Thai with a belt system similar to BJJ is a great idea, and as a student would have loved an opportunity to have been belted under an instructor I saw as credible and had built a relationship with.

If you found this blog post entry interesting…scroll to the top on the right of the screen there is a spot for you to put your email…I’ll send you the DEADLIEST CHOKE KNOWN TO MAN as a token of my journey, lol.