1. You don’t need to be in shape to start training Muay Thai. MuayThai is a skill based sport. If you focus on the techniques you are being taught, drill them with focus and patience you will naturally get more conditioned as you practice, being able to do things faster and harder as you get better. If you are gassing out on the first round of pad work try going lighter, it will help you focus on your technique anyway. Sure the warm ups and the conditioning drills will be challenging at first, but you probably signed up to be challenged and improve your fitness. Besides, your instructor and the other students know you are new. No one expects you to be in top shape coming in and no one will make you feel bad if you aren’t. If you feel genuinely uncomfortable in class find a gym that makes you feel welcome. There are many different types of Muay Thai gyms with different vibes and gym cultures. If you are lucky enough to live in a large urban area you should have a variety of gyms to choose from.
2. Expect to Suck at First. Every great fighter sucked at some point. My first coach used to say, “If it was easy everyone would do it.” Learning how to use your body as a weapon in a rule-based sport is not an easy task. Instead of getting frustrated by not being able to do a strike or combination perfectly, get FASCINATED by the sport and use that drive and passion to focus your practice. Sure there are always those students who pick it up faster and look like a pro on the pads in a few months, but that is rare and usually that “natural athlete” is just an average person that wanted it more and spent more time working at it. If something was earned through hard effort and rigorous practice it is appreciated much more and that journey from sucky to awesome will stay with you forever.
3. Watch Fights. There is actually science behind this. You will improve at your sport by watching other people play that sport. If you are not an avid fight watcher and don’t know where to start ask your instructor for the names of their favorite fighters past and present. They will be happy to share them with you and you can get started on your YouTube education right away.
4. Shadow box and mean it. Shadow boxing gives you the opportunity to practice strikes, footwork and new combos with precision, by slowing it down, checking your work in the mirror, fixing mistakes and then speeding it up. To get better it’s very important that you drill things the right way in shadow boxing and not be sloppy. Try working on a combo you did in your last class during shadow boxing or focus on a particular element of your game like keeping your left hand up or extending your hips on the knee. If you don’t know what to work on in shadow boxing, ask your instructor for suggestions.
5. It’s okay to stick to the basics. If your gym has mixed level classes chances are there will be days when the class format calls for some advanced footwork or a long combination. Don’t get overwhelmed, tell your partner or pad holder you just want to focus on the first strike or two to make things easier since you are new. They will understand. If you are working the bag, take your time and think about your cues and instructor’s suggestions before each strike. Don’t just drill the strikes incorrectly over and over because you are trying to get a workout. Take the complex and break it into small pieces, putting them together one at a time paying particular attention to the transitions. If you stick to the basics in the beginning and refine them, before you know it a 6 strike combo will not be so confusing.
6. Don’t buy cheap gear. Invest in some quality equipment. It’s understandable why at first you might buy a cheap pair of gloves because you are not sure if Muay Thai is for you. But once you have been training for a bit and want to take it seriously you’ll want gear that lasts and is protective. With most gear the price indicates quality. So yeah, that $50 pair of gloves will wear out much sooner than the $100 pair. With most brands you really are getting your money’s worth. As far as style and brand, that’s a personal choice. Ask your instructor, fighters, or advanced students at your gym what they like and read online reviews.
7. You don’t have to fight. You don’t even have to spar. No one is going to think any less of you if you don’t want to. Crazy people like training that involves getting punched in the face. Fighters are insane, we acknowledge this and don’t think any less of people that want no part of it. Sparring will definitely improve your Muay Thai, but it’s not necessary to being a welcome contribution to your gym. If your gym insists on everyone sparring or pressures you to spar too early in your training, just find one that doesn’t, they do exist.
8. Be a good partner. Learn to hold pads well. Not only will being a good pad holder make your fellow students appreciate you but it will also make you stronger. You don’t have to think of exciting flashy combos to call out for your partner. Some of the world’s best pad holders keep it straightforward and basic. Just call basic punches kicks and knees, keep the pace up, work on your footwork while holding and hold pads with a good amount of resistance. Communicate with your partner about the right height, angle, and resistance of the pads. They will be grateful for your thoughtfulness.
9. Don’t forget to breathe! Breathe out when you strike, breathe out when you hold pads, pushing against your partners strikes and breathe out when you get hit in sparring. You don’t have to make funny grunting noises if you don’t want to, but at least breathe out and tightly flex your abdominal wall.
10. Don’t expect to get proficient at Muay Thai training just once a week. If you want to get decent at the sport, start training three days a week.
11. Don’t go on the mat with dirty feet. The mat should be a clean sacred place where Muay Thai magic happens. We all know to take our shoes off before going on the mat. Some schools make you Wai each time you enter the mat. In what world would it be okay to go to the bathroom (the dirtiest place in the gym) barefoot and then walk on the mat?