A sport revered because of its sheer skill-building and brute force, Muay Thai has taken the world by storm. While it lags behind conventional boxing and MMA in popularity, many fighters in the free world travel across the globe to the Far East to train in rugged studios and prove themselves worthy. But unlike other disciplines, the Muay Thai ranking system is quite unique, and at the same time, perplexing.
Perhaps, you may think that like Taekwondo’s belt ranking system, the ranking system in Muay Thai may have consisted of the multi-colored bands called Prajioud or Druang Rang. It is sometimes called “prajeer” in the Southern part of Thailand, too. These arm bands are made by ripping a torn fabric of a mother’s surong, a traditional dress or skirt worn by Thai women, tied on a fighter’s arm before a fight to give them protection and good luck– a time-honored tradition when mothers send-off sons to wars in the past.
While this is used by Western training houses as a way to identify the level of training fighters acquired, it has no bearing to the Muay Thai ranking system whatsoever. In Thailand, however, these arm bands serve as an identifying feature for a particular training gym. They are blessed by either monks or spiritual advisers, and are normally worn by everyone belonging to the said gym regardless of experience or achievements done.
The Principles Behind the Sport
Honesty, integrity, courtesy, as well as humility– these are the principles that bind the sport of Muay Thai. When it comes to ranking, the same principles also apply for one to become a master in his or her craft in connection to fight experiences as well as successes in those ring fights. Categories usually considered when taking this aspect into consideration rests on these– skills, experience, and passion or dedication.
Some fighters have the innate ability to make themselves better even with just a few weeks of training. Some fighters may also fail to even with months of training under his belt due to inconsistencies or genetic limitations therein. One thing remains for sure though– being recognized in Muay Thai can only be achieved when a trainee turns to fighting in the ring. This is quite a relief as more and more upheavals have been noted on martial arts “belt system” with many posturing it as akin to handing out candies to kids on a Halloween trick or treat activity.
Instead of the simplistic belt system, Muay Thai ranking factors onerously rely on fight results and the belts you’ve won during those fights. Like the quintessential boxing, it focuses on total fights, the number of wins or losses, and the fights won via TKO as well as the number of draws. Titles often take center stage in the world of Muay Thai competitions. Aside from national, regional, local competitions, there are World, Continental, and International belts to be won by a passionate fighter.
In Thailand, however, stadium-based fights are more common. There’s the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums in Bangkok which operate Muay Thai tournaments. The former do so in behalf of the Thai government while the latter operates privately. These stadium offer Muay Thai fights to the public with winners vying for a place in their own ranking system. Of course, the World Muay Thai Council, which is operated by the government, is the main regulatory body of the sports. WBC Muay Thai, on the other hand, is the most popular of all, being the governing body for international competition wherein both local and international fighters vie for the much-revered champion’s belt.
Bottom line is: There is no clean-cut, single standard Muay Thai ranking system. While the principles of the game and the categories for training programs and ring fights remain the same, ranking fighters are still not as standardized like say lawn tennis ATP. Belts and arm bands do not solidly constitute a rank either. Popularity and pride perhaps, but definitely not a rank.