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Does Muay Thai Also Have a Belt Ranking System Answered

The belt ranking system of Muay Thai an analysis.

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As the sport of the growing popularity of Muay Thai in the western world has led the general public and new fans to seek out more information on the martial art. One of those questions is do they have a ranking or belt system in Muay Thai?

While some other martial arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Karate work on a belt ranking system, traditional Muay Thai does not! However, as more people from outside Thailand take up the sport, some organisations have decided to evolve and add a belt ranking system.

Widely regarded as the best stand up striking combat sport on the planet. More and more people want to find out about the sport of Muay Thai. And as more people get involved, organisations such as the World Thai boxing Association (WTBA) have initiated a belt ranking system to entice more students into the sport.

A chart shows us the different belts or arm bands used in Muay Thai ranking.
Thai Boxing Association of USA – Arm Band Ranking System

While the introduction of a belt rank is not something that is used in Thailand. Some say it will have its benefits for those who wish to join the sport and for Muay Thai schools to keep track of their students as they progress.

People who take up Muay Thai outside of Thailand will lead quite a different lifestyle to those who train and live the sport in Thailand. For those young fighters, they will often spend eight hours per day, six days per week of training. Something which is not even plausible for most people in the western world.

The Belt Ranking System

Below you will find the timeline involved to achieve the different ranks in Muay Thai according to the WTBA:

  1. White – Beginner
  2. Yellow
  3. Orange
  4. Green
  5. Blue – Student level I
  6. Blue/White
  7. Purple
  8. Purple/White
  9. Red – Student level II
  10. Red/White
  11. Brown
  12. Brown/White
  13. Black – Apprentice Instructor
  14. Black & Red – Associate Instructor
  15. Black & Silver – Full Instructor
  16. Black & Gold – Senior Instructor

No Muay Thai Belt Ranking in Thailand

But this is where the similarities between the Muay Thai found in the West and Muay Thai in its homeland of Thailand begin and end. While the western world has seen its fair share of elite level Muay Thai fighters with names such as Ramon Dekkers or John Wayne Parr.

For many in Thailand itself, Muay Thai is a way of life and a way out of poverty. From a very early age, those who show potential are steered into training camps to see if they have what it takes to build a career.

A Muay Thai fighter wearing a Praciat prepares with his master before his fight.
A warmed up Muay Thai fighter before his fight.

Muay Thai fighters in Thailand do not use a belt ranking system, as their actual fighting inside the ring is the deciding factor on how good they really are and at what level they are seen by their community.

As the fighters begin to progress in their career and are deemed ready to fight by their school Master. They are given a red armband known as a ‘Praciat’ to wear. This is blessed by the local monks in the belief that it will protect the fighter from injury and make them courageous inside the ring.

Thai Fighter Do Use Coloured Armbands

While there is no specific belt ranking system in place in Thailand. Within the school learning structure, teachers do give their students different colour armbands approximately every three months as they progress through their careers. These armband colours differ from school to school and teacher to teacher.

The point of the armband is not to give a specific ranking to the student. But to show them that they are moving into a new phase in their development, rather than giving them some systemised rank. Remember, each Muay Thai school is different and the armbands are in no way reflective of a universal ranking system.

Thai fighters often begin their careers pre-teen and finish by the time they hit their mid-twenties. It is not uncommon for Thai fighters to have had anywhere in the region of 150 fights by the time their career is over.

So it is no wonder that Thai fighter proves themselves by actions rather than a belt ranking system. The proof is in the pudding and if you cannot fight, in Thailand you will be quickly found out and asked to leave your Muay Thai school.

As a rule, teachers do not want fighters in their school, carrying their school name into the ring and not be up to the task. So perhaps any ranking is seen as an unnecessary addition to a sport and fighter who proves themselves in battle and not by what colour armband they wear.

Two Muay Thai fighter in Blue and Pink shorts exchange blows.
Two Muay Thai fighters exchanging blows

Another risk of the belt ranking system which we have seen in Martial arts such as for example Taekwondo. Is that fighter can achieve a black belt in a short a time as two years.

Now two years is not long enough in any martial art to be deemed a black belt. Just as people who train BJJ, where it takes a minimum of 10 years of regular training to achieve your black belt.

Actual Ranking in Muay Thai

Being ranked in Muay Thai is purely a numbers game. It is solely based on raw data including how many times have you fought, who have you fought, who have you beaten and how well ranked they are.

Very much like boxing, but perhaps less corrupt with no outright gimme fights. Consistent good performances in Muay Thai will gain you bigger fights and paydays.

With the vast majority of Thai fighters coming from poverty. The whole point of them fighting is to generate an income for their families. For the most part, fighting will not lead to fame and fortune but will put food on the table. And somewhere down the road perhaps a fighters very own gym.

The Muay Thai Championship Belts

While there may not be a belt ranking system in Muay Thai, there is most certainly a rich tapestry of Championship belts up for grabs. And as the sport has grown, a range of belts has also developed outside of Thailand.

This has led to non-Thai fighters becoming world champions in the sport and often going to Thailand itself to challenge the Thai fighters on their home soil.

But in Thailand itself, the home of Muay Thai, there are a number of stadiums that have their very own Championship belts. And it is these belts that are the main prize for the fighters of Thailand.

At the top of the list stand four of the main stadiums in the capital Bangkok. These are the famous Lumpinee stadium championship, the Ratchadamnoen stadium. The TV7 and Omnoi stadium belts. For the elite fighters of Thailand, these are belts that will make them stars in their country.

No belt ranking system will determine who is the top Muay Thai fighter in Thailand. That is done through years of hard work and proving yourself inside the ropes, Thai style.

In Conclusion

Any advancements to bring more people into such a great sport as Muay Thai can be seen as a good thing. But it is something that needs to be done respectfully and not in an Adhoc belt giveaway type of scenario.

We have seen how in martial arts like Taekwondo you can be classed as a black belt after two years. Now I do not know about you, but I feel that two years is not a long time to be classed as a black belt in any martial art.

What we don’t need to see is a watering down of Muay Thai to make it more palatable and really just easier for people outside of Thailand. That risks fighters getting a false sense of security in their abilities inside the ropes.

And a false send of security and skills could be a very bad recipe for disaster if they were to come up against a battle-tested fighter from Thailand, who has lived and breathed the sport most of their life.

Anything that helps the sport is welcome, but let’s not have a belt ranking system be a substitute for hard work and performances inside the ropes. As in the long term, it will simply do more harm than good, especially if you are the one getting tested.