Belt System in Muay Thai Explained

- September 20, 2022
The Belt System in Muay Thai

Muay Thai belt ranks are confusing mainly because the ranking system is not as standardized as in other martial arts. 

Not all countries and academies have adopted the concept of belt ranks.

Traditional Muay Thai, developed in Thailand, does not include any ranking system. Thus there are no color belts. 

Modern Muay Thai schools outside of Thailand may include ranking systems, but students wear colored armbands instead of belts.

But is being a black belt in Muay Thai legitimate as in other martial arts? What is the exact order of rank? 

Keep reading to find all the answers.

Does Muay Thai Have Belts?

The Muay Thai ranking system is not standardized on the global level. 

On one side, traditional schools do not include any ranking, while the ones outside of Thailand, notably in the western world, follow color ranks similar to those in oriental martial arts.

Traditional Muay Thai is very much the same as western boxing, a popular combat sport where people fight for money, fame, and glory. 

Your competition results and the belts you have won define your skill and proficiency level.

Muay Thai belt ranking first appeared during the expansion of art in the western world in the 1970s. 

Most schools started to adopt a graduated approach to learning where students split into different ranks.

Having belt ranks enables the school to separate students by age and experience, organize the classes, and track their progress. This system improves learning and safety while offering motivation to keep the students on the right track.

One of the leading organizations that have standardized the rankings is the “World Thai Boxing Organization (WTBA),” located in the US. 

The other three popular types of belt ranking systems in Thai boxing are:

  • Bang Muay Thai
  • Evolve MMA
  • Roufusport Kickboxing Association

The ranking systems and the way they work are very similar in all of these systems. 

Like in judo or BJJ, there are different ranks, from beginner to expert. Each rank has a unique color. 

But instead of using belts, the belt system in Muay Thai uses an armband-based ranking system (prajied). 

In some other schools, rank might be represented with colored shorts or shirts.

Let’s see how the Muay Thai belt ranking system works.

Modern Muay Thai Belt Ranking System Explained

The Muay Thai ranking system combines color belt ranks adopted from oriental martial arts and traditional armbands. Each rank is represented by different color armbands on the fighter’s arms. 

The system is standardized by one of the major organizations outside of Thailand, the World Thai Boxing Association.

The number of colors and ranks in Muay Thai differs significantly from other martial arts. 

The learning curriculum is divided into three categories, with each one having a different number of color belts:

  • Beginners (three colors) — white (beginner), yellow, orange, and green
  • Advanced (six colors) — blue, blue/white, purple, purple/white, red, red/white
  • Instructor — (four additional black ranks) — black, black/red, black/silver, black/gold

Here is how it all looks in a table:

Muay Thai Championship belts

The dream of every Muay Thai athlete is to win titles, not to become a black belt. They train, sacrifice, risk their health to win one of the following prestigious belts, and enjoy all the benefits of being a world champion.

In Thailand, championship belts are not governed by promotions like in the western world. No, there are different stadiums; each has its own championship belts. Here is a list of the most prestigious stadiums in Thailand:

Lumpinee Stadium Championship

Lumpinee stadium is widely regarded as the most prestigious belt athletes can win in Muay Thai. It is considered the ultimate achievement, and all legends of the sport have held a lumpiness stadium title at some point in their careers.

Though most of the champions are from Thailand, foreign athletes have managed to beat home fighters in their own game, such as the Dutch legend Ramon Dekkers.

Rajadamnern Stadium

Opened in 1941, Rajadamnern is the oldest Muay Thai stadium and with that, winning a title here is on the bucket list of every Thai boxer.

Channel 7 Belt

As its name suggests, channel 7 is a broadcast network with its own stadium. It ranks slightly below the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums, but the quality of competition and fights does not fall behind. Channel 7 champions are highly respected in the country.

WBC Muay Thai Belt

World Boxing Council is one of four major governing bodies in boxing. WBC Muay Thai is a branch that sanctions and organizes world championship events in Thai boxing. 

It is spread worldwide and covers various nationalities and demographics, so there are a lot of non-Thai fighters and champions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Muay Thai Armbands?

Armbands are a big part of Muay Thai history and tradition. In the past, Thai warriors would receive a piece of their mother’s cloth before leaving their homes to join the battlefield. 

They would wrap this piece of mother’s cloth around their arms as they believed it would bring them luck, courage, and protection in the battle. 

The tradition of armbands has been passed down through generations and is still present in modern times. 

Receiving an armband is a sacred event and a special moment in the life of every Thai boxer, and it is presented to a fighter by their chief instructor. 

Though not a rank or degree, armbands as a sacred symbol represent a certain level of experience and stage in the life of a Muay Thai fighter. They signify that a fighter has matured and is ready to go into the battle to represent their gym and coaches and provide for their families.

Why Do Muay Thai Fighters Wear Amrbands and Not Belts?

The two main reasons are tradition and practicality. Armbands are rooted deep in Thailand’s history and culture of traditional Thai boxing.

In the past, prajiad was usually made by one of the fighter’s family members or primary instructors. 

Armbands would often have written prayers, and wearing those around the arm is believed to bring luck, boost confidence, and protect the fighter in a match.

The second reason is related to functionality. Muay Thai as a concept does not include any type of gi uniform as athletes train and compete wearing shorts. 

Belts are used in oriental martial arts to keep the gi in place. Since there is no gi in Thai boxing, there is no point in wearing belts either.

Western Thai boxing schools customized the “belt ranking system” to their needs. Instead of using belts, Muay Thai fighters show each rank with colored armbands, which is one of the ways to keep the tradition alive.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Black Belt in Muay Thai?

Muay Thai falls into a group of advanced striking systems. Reaching a black belt rank is difficult and, for many, a lifelong journey. 

Practitioners must spend up to 10 years of consistent and hard training to reach the “black belt” rank.

A student with an average talent for sports and fitness needs around 6 months to get their body in shape and master most of the basics. 

Next, they need another year to develop good enough skills to compete as amateurs. At this stage, they are skillful enough to apply Thai boxing skills in a real fight.

Students may expect to reach an advanced level of learning after three years of training. 

They should also have around 10 amateur matches by this time and may start competing as pros.

But to reach the expert level, they must spend another four years gaining combat experience in competition. In most schools, students earn a black prajied rank after 7–10 years of total training time.

As in other martial arts, the exact time you need to achieve each belt depends on many factors. It starts with how dedicated and consistent you are, your fitness level, talent, and results in competition. Promotional criteria and quality of coaching staff also differ between countries and schools.

Why There Are No Belts in Traditional Muay Thai?

Muay Thai has always been a sport where the entire concept and training methods orient toward competition and rules. Fighters’ success is defined by the number of matches they have won and championship belts in their careers.

In Thailand, most young people join the sport to provide for their families and put food on the table. They aren’t motivated by belts or degrees, as getting out of poverty is their primary objective. And the only way they can achieve this is by winning matches, not color belts.

According to Thais, what you can show in sparring and competition is the best representation of your talent, potential, and skills. 

Reaching ranks, belts, and certain status within the community is not part of Muay Thai culture. 

A student with 10 years of training will reach a level of mastery with or without a piece of cloth.

Thus, training focuses on developing and continuously improving skills that apply in competition under strict rules. 

Representing your school in competition and winning matches and titles is far more critical than training to pass the promotional exam and get a certificate. 

What Is the Highest Ranking Belt in Muay Thai?

According to the World Thai Boxing Association, the highest rank a practitioner can obtain is the black and gold rank. 

On average, masters receive the black and goal armbands after 30 years of continuous training.

Black and gold rank represents a “Senior Instructor” status and is given only to the most skilled practitioners who have contributed to the art of Muay Thai.

Senior instructors are not just successful fighters and legends of the sport. 

They also have more than 10–15 years of coaching experience. First, they have dedicated their lives to becoming champions and achieving their athletic goals. 

Afterward, they enter a new stage where their Muay Thai journey focuses on passing down knowledge and creating new champions.

Senior instructors also travel across the world to host seminars, promote their schools, and, overall, contribute to the rise and popularization of Muay Thai.

Final Thoughts — Is Getting a Black Belt as Necessary as Other Arts?

Color belts or ranking of any kind has never been a part of traditional Muay Thai. Traditionally, the progress of the individual is validated by the main instructor. Students progress to the next stage of learning or start competing only when their head instructor approves it. 

Muay Thai belt ranks emerged with the popularization of the art in the western world, notably in the US. Schools started to adopt the concept of belt ranks from the oriental martial arts because this graduated and structured learning fits within the United States social context and martial arts culture.

However, collecting belts and reaching the ultimate black belt rank is not as important as in other martial arts such as Judo or Taekwondo, where training methods revolve around preparing you for a promotional test. 

Also, the Muay Thai community does not attach much importance to belt ranks. 

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