Unlike other martial arts, especially of East Asian origins (Karate, Taekwondo, Judo), there is no formal ranking or rigid hierarchy in Muay Thai. Even as a national sport steeped in tradition and history, most Muay Thai gyms have a very encompassing and easy-going atmosphere. Most of the time, the relationship with your Thai instructors and trainers is cordial and enjoyable. Even more importantly, they are often very forgiving towards the cultural differences (ignorance) of foreigners.
Although we are exempted kindly from many of their nuanced cultural manner, just showing your best efforts is enough to be deeply appreciated. But there are some basic etiquette to maintain to ensure a pleasant training experience not just for yourself, but also the other people at the gym. Trainers, training partners and other gym users alike.
Almost all Asian cultures are respect-oriented, especially towards elders and teachers (including your Muay Thai instructor/trainer). Being respectful means that you value and care about other people’s feelings. Respect goes both ways and if you train with a Thai instructor, you will observe that they are usually friendly and approachable. That is until you cross the line of friendship into disrespectful territories, you might get put in your place.
Respect not only your trainers, your peers, but also the administrative staff and the cleaners. In short, respect everyone. Being a pompous ass and having a sense of entitlement just because you paid for training isn’t going to go down very well with anybody. On the other hand, having basic manners; being polite and considerate; paying attention and following instructions from your trainers; showing appreciation; a wai greeting; all these actions will go a long way towards enhancing your whole training experience.
Being punctual is a virtue and shows your respect for the sport and also your instructors. Not only because being late can sometimes disrupt the class but it can mean missing an essential part of the training: warming up. Adequate and proper warm up prepare the muscles for physical activity which helps to lower risk of injuries.
Make it a point to arrive a little early for all your training, to allow time to do some stretching on your own, rub some Thai oil if you like and wrap your hands. This is also a great time to get acquainted with your fellow gym mates. If you do, however, find yourself late for training, seek permission from your instructor before you join in. But should your instructor decline, accept their decision with grace. Your respectful behavior will be duly reciprocated.
This topic warrants an entire article on its own. For some people, hygiene seems to occupy a very low or insignificant place in their lives. If not taken care of, bad hygiene can cause plenty of unpleasantness for your instructors and training partners due to the close contact nature of the sport. Here’s a list of good personal hygiene habits to practise for personal care as well as mercy towards your gym mates and trainers:
- Cut your nails (both fingers and toes) regularly to prevent from slicing your sparring/clinching partners and pad holders with long unkempt nails.
- Shower before you train or head over to the gym so as to minimize any unpleasant odor that might arise when you perspire. If you have severe B.O., you might want to consider using deodorant.
- Always use fresh hand wraps as they will soak up some of the sweat while you train and stink fairly rapidly. It is thus recommended to wash or change your hand wraps after every training or at the maximum, after 2 training sessions to avoid introducing unsavory scents to the gym.
- Use a fresh clean shirt for training. Again, stench. Your favorite tee that you have been wearing for the last 3 days: time to do the laundry, dude.
- Wipe your sweat during the very brief rest periods in between rounds but especially before clinching practice. Not everyone appreciate getting soaked by another during partner training or wrestling with a greasy slippery partner.
- Oral hygiene, thank you. Brushing your teeth or rinsing with a mouthwash are deeply appreciated, particularly for clinching practice. You may not be able to smell your own morning or garlic breaths but everyone else certainly can.
Training When Sick
Training when you are unwell not only increases the risk of injuries or worsen your health condition, you could potentially pass your germs to other gym users especially when you have an infection. Be it flu, cough, cold, fever, eye or skin infection, arriving at the gym sick is just pure inconsiderate. Please keep it sanitary and safe for everybody working out at the gym. Stay home instead and have a rest for quicker recovery.
While I can understand the enthusiasm to want to flaunt your hard-earned lean, sexy body as a result of Muay Thai training, there is some basic decency to maintain. Protruding nipples and bulging crotches can be out of place in a Muay Thai gym (especially if you are in Thailand) and will attract many unwarranted attention. Bras and underwear, please.
The ubiquitous Muay Thai shorts is also a culprit of many careless indecent exposure. The leg openings are really wide so you want to consider something more appropriate to wear underneath. I suggest dark boxer briefs -instead of loose boxers or briefs- to prevent any slippage exposing your family jewels. Girls might want to avoid anything lacey or overly “stringy”, in case your gym partners and trainers get too distracted when you perform those high kicks. Compression shorts (spandex, cycling, tights) underneath the shorts are also popular and a comfortable choice. Going commando is not recommended.
The level of intensity during typical sparring sessions is actually quite light and the mood intended to be fun. The objective of sparring is to practise techniques, hone your reflexes and sharpen your instincts. The objective is NOT to win, and definitely NOT to knockout your sparring partner. Acting/reacting aggressively and leveling up a spar into a brawl is just not cool. It is important to have your instructor around to supervise any sparring. They should be there to correct your techniques and most of all, make sure that tempers are kept in check when you otherwise can’t.
Unless agreed upon to go hard either mutually or instructed by the trainer, focus on your techniques instead of strength. Exercise restrain on your power. Nobody likes to be out-of-action due to unnecessary sparring injuries. Most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself. It’s just sparring, for goodness sake, not a competition.
While many of the tips listed here seem like common sense, I guarantee you that you will -or might already have- come across a few dicks and asses during your time at the gym. Embarrassingly, I have been guilty of some improper behavior during my earlier days. But hey, we all learn so hopefully this article serves as a guide and reminder to be mindful of our sometimes careless habits. Learn, improve and become the best version of ourselves in every way.