For a long time in muay thai, the importance has long been placed on winning bouts or working towards championship belts rather than black-belts. Although neglecting the muay thai grading may seem like a very no non-sense and practical way of thinking, it does mean that students under appreciate one of the most satisfying achievements of learning a martial art: achieving a new level of grading.
In western gyms, many clubs use an arm-band (prajioud) or a singlet grading system to rank their students. At The Fight Centre – Brisbane, we use arm-bands for grading our students under 12 years, and singlets for our students over 12 years. Rankings take many things into consideration, but the main categories are:
This can sometimes leave the grading level of a student up for debate between trainers. The truth is, some people can be training for only a week and already be a better fighter than someone training for 6 months, just due to the fact that they won the genetic lottery when it comes to athletic ability, speed and strength. This leaves us trainers to decide whether said person should be given a higher ranking than the person who has dedicated the last 6 months to their training. More often than not, the answer is no.
It is important that the student EARNS their muay thai grading level. This is not about creating some sort of cult that requires a person to abide by the rules and follows procedures to become initiated, but it is about the student placing importance on a level of grading for when they finally achieve it. If you can commit to achieving a black singlet (our highest rank), you can commit to achieving almost anything!
In some martial arts where the belt system is used, earning a black-belt has lost its prestige. In Brisbane, Karate dojo’s in the earlier days made their students go through hell to earn a grading. Nowadays there are clubs that hand out belts like a magazine subscription, where as long as you are paying your fees you receive the next one. This is unfortunate for the Dojo’s which still make their students earn their ranking, as others have cheapened the meaning of having a black-belt.
(a questionable black belt grading)
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the other hand has done a great job of keeping the prestige in their belts. This is probably due to that fact that in BJJ, a great importance is placed on competition. If you are given a rank which you do not deserve, you will have a very tough time at the next competition because you will be forced to compete against people who earned their ranking. I have never seen another martial art where only the first belt after white (blue) is given such respect. In turn, this means that a BJJ black belt is the sign of an ultimate martial artist. A BJJ student will often regard his/her black belt achievement as one of the greatest achievements of their life.
We are trying to replicate this prestige at our gym. Rankings are NOT given away. It will take our students years to achieve their black singlet (our black-belt equivalent), and once a student finally earns it by completing the tough muay thai grading, they will know they truly deserve it. This is also a way for our fighters and potential fighters to gain confidence in themselves. Earning a singlet of a strong colour shows that they have put in the work and haven’t cut corners in their training.
The most important thing to us is seeing our students achieve something. Whether it be having their first bout, training for the next muay thai grading that will get them to the next singlet colour, or winning a championship belt, as long as they can reflect on their achievements with pride, we feel as though we have done our job.