Muay Thai Traditions

Muay Thai Traditions that Westerners Practice (But Thais Don’t)

Of course it’s nice to uphold some of the muay Thai traditions from Thailand in our own country, but are they really muay Thai traditions? I haven’t actually spent much time training muay Thai outside of Thailand, but some of what I have seen is quite cringeworthy.

I think some trainers have taken some of what they have seen on their two week holiday to Phuket a bit too far and created something that never really existed…

Here are a few of the muay Thai traditions that I feel have been taken out of context.

Muay Thai Traditions that Westerners Practice (But Thais Don’t)

WAIING EVERY 30 SECONDS

Believe it or not, Thais don’t spend half their life bowing down to one another. In case you didn’t know, a “wai” is a sign of respect in Thailand that involves placing your hands together in front of you and bowing slightly.

For some reason, this tradition has been taken way out of context by many muay Thai practitioners in the west and has become rather cringy. Thais use the wai to greet one another or to say goodbye. Even then, it’s not something they do to somebody they meet on a regular basis, it’s done when they enter somebody’s home or gym, or when meeting somebody for the first time.

In training, it’s rarely used at all. Some gyms use it before clinching with somebody instead of touching gloves, but other than that, it’s pretty rare.

The way I see it, I respect everyone I train with unless I have a good reason not to, there’s no need for me to be bowing down to people left right and centre.

PLAYING TRADITIONAL THAI MUSIC WHILE THEY TRAIN

Traditional Thai music is played during fights, not training. Who really wants to listen to that all throughout their training sessions? In Thailand, Thais will play popular Thai music or Thai rock music, or maybe nothing at all. But they definitely don’t play traditional music.

If people really want to listen to it, fair enough. I would just rather listen to something enjoyable!

KICKING DOWN TREES

One of the most cringeworthy of muay Thai traditions is watching foreigners uploading videos of themselves kicking down trees in Thailand. To those people – sorry to burst your bullshit bubble guys, but everyone now knows that those things were set up on your own accord and have no place in real Thailand training. Please stop.

THINKING MUAY THAI IS ALL ABOUT RESPECT

Sure, fighters in the gym have mutual respect for one another. Trainers and their students also generally have respect for one another too. Yes, there are one or two bad eggs, but that’s life. Outside of that, there really isn’t much respect in muay Thai at all.

I’ve never seen a sport that was more disrespectful than the muay Thai in Thailand.

Shit rolls downhill. Promoters tend to treat fighters like shit and just use them as objects to make them money. And although I said there is respect between gym trainers and fighters, I use the word loosely as there is a big difference in culture so I won’t pick at everything.

But Thailand seems to have a hierarchy in pretty much everything. You’re basically not even allowed to question somebody who is older than you in Thailand, you have to respect them because they are older. To me, that’s not real respect.

From my experience, especially when it comes to employment, Thais will exploit anybody who is in a less advantageous position then themselves. Pople wanting to earn a living from fighting in Thailand are clearly not in a strong position, so it’s the fighters (who are generating all of the money) who get treated the worst.

No, muay Thai in Thailand is NOT all about respect. It’s about MONEY.

Obviously, respect is a good tradition to uphold in our own countries, regardless of whether or not it occurs this way in Thailand. Fighters SHOULD get treated with respect and training partners SHOULD respect one another, and I would hate to see that change because of money.

About Aaron Jahn

Aaron is an active muay Thai fighter and coach from the UK. He holds a BSc (hons) degree in Strength & Conditioning and is currently studying a Sports Therapy Master's degree in Leeds, UK. Aaron has fought over 20 times in Thailand and has spent years training at different muay Thai camps all over the country.

8 comments

  1. Waiing every 30 seconds is hella funny. Because I’ve seen it. I don’t blame the guys because they don’t really know the culture. Still funny though. As for the respect….it’s so funny when I see these comments on the internet about respect….it’s about hierarchy, favors and money.

    • Exactly, all respect and integrity goes out the window as soon as money enters the equation in Thailand.

      • Before and after every round, whether it’s with a person, shadow, or on a bag. Before and after demonstrating anything for someone else, every time you correct or someone else corrects you… That’s the way it’s done at my gym. That practice was, as best as I can tell, implemented by Ajarn Surachai Sirisute of the TBA.
        I only see it at TBA gyms. It’s always confused me because I know it’s not a normal Thai tradition in the gym.

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