It’s time. You’re ready. You want to learn Muay Thai and kick banana trees.
Maybe you saw Buakaw chop the banana tree with kicks or watched some UFC fights and heard Joe Rogan go on about great “Muay Thai” skills and like the sound of it, so after some Googling you’re pumped to start training in what a lot of people call the most brutal combat sport out there. (Not to put you off).
I’ll never forget trying out my first Muay Thai gym here in the UK, coming from a kickboxing background at a good level I rocked up thinking it’s all the same game and pretty quickly worked out I was wrong. Funnily enough I didn’t stay at that first gym because of a lot of the reasons that helped me put together this guide on picking the right Muay Thai gym for you in the UK*.
Decide what you’re looking for/what you want from the sport
You might have seen that motivational clip of Buster Douglas KOing Mike Tyson and the background speech about his ‘WHY’ and finding your ‘WHY’.
Well that’s pretty important in any competition sport, especially a combat sport; and you might be thinking ‘isn’t it a bit too early to think about knocking out the GOAT?’ Maybe it is, but when you’re starting out in Muay Thai you should have a good think about why you’re starting.
Want to get fit?
Want to expand your martial arts knowledge?
Want to compete?
If you walk in a gym with the vision of one day being the fighting poster boy of the gym or even the country, but then spend the next hour doing constant straight punch combos with berpees in between each set then you might get pretty fit but I doubt that’s the type of gym that focusses on building fighters.
Just the same as if you head in to a gym that calls the instructor Kru, and uses a belt grading system then you’re likely to learn a lot about technique and traditional Muay Boran (That’s a whole other post) but not progress as a fighter as quickly as other gyms.
Knowing what you want from the sport and for yourself, within the sport is the best way to start picking a gym. With Muay Thai/Thai Boxing gaining a lot more interest in the past couple of years theres a lot of kickboxing gyms now offering ‘Muay Thai’ classes that are focussed on fitness and not fighting so working out if your gym suits your vision is the a great place to start.
Now that we’ve covered off the most important part of picking the right gym for you, you can start looking at the location of the gym. It might make sense to you to have looked at where the gym is first… but here in the UK there aren’t loads of good Thai boxing gyms in each city like other places in the world.
Personally I’ve met fighters, fans, and even just fitness bods who travel well over an hour 2-3 times a week just to train at their gym. Once you find a gym that you like, and like the people at it, plus fits with your vision, then you’ll understand that the distance between you and your gym doesn’t matter. Without getting in to a whole other topic about the ‘families’ in gyms, once you click in your favourite gym you won’t care about travelling over an hour to get the best training for you.
Start you’re search locally but don’t just settle at the closest gym to you, making that you’re regular, and settling for something that doesn’t suit you. If your aim is to fight in the UK or across the world at some point then you’ll quickly find that good ‘fighting’ gyms are few and far between so if you’re ‘WHY’ is strong enough then be prepared to hit the Motorway if need be. Not all Sunday League teams produce Premiership players!
Speak to people doing it
Although this article’s flawless and will give you 100% everything you need to pick the right gym – you might also want to speak to other people about it. Preferably people who are doing what you want to do e.g. fighting or keeping fit or studying the art.
The UK Thai Boxing scene isn’t massive right now and everyone is pretty well connected which means even as an outsider it’s easy to pick up on who the top guys in the fight scene are and even reach out to them online; so take the leap and drop them a message to ask about the gym they train at.
If you’d rather start small then just go to a gyms Facebook page, find someone who trains there and message them to see what the trainings like. Here’s a few questions you might want to ask someone:
How long have you been training at (that gym)?
Who runs the classes there? (A lot of UK gyms are run by past fighters and personalities in the sport)
How do the classes work? Is there a beginners class?
Don’t hesitate to reach out to people, either before or after you’ve been to a class to find out more about the gym and it’s history so you know what you’re future there could look like.
Testing classes is an obvious way to pick the right gym for you. Try out a class or two and get the feel for the training, the type of people in the gym and the atmosphere. Plus after a couple of lessons you should be able to work out the aims of the gym for example if there are a lot of posters on the walls with guys faces who you see in the class then you’re probably in a gym that focusses on training fighters aswell as fitness.
If you’re reading this before ever stepping in to a Muay Thai gym anywhere in the world then you won’t understand the ‘Taste’ part… until you step foot into your first class and literally consume the essence of Boxing Linament AKA Thai Oil. We’ll get in to that in another post, but if you walk in to a gym and don’t smell something resembling strong Deep Heat then your probably not in a serious Thai Boxing gym.
Keep an open mind
Might sound like it’s going back on everything else in this article but keeping an open mind when your picking a gym is key to finding the right one for you.
Your first class at a gym might have been boring because they worked on technique, or too hard for your fitness because they were preparing fighters for fights. But don’t go making a decision too early, sometimes you have keep an open mind and stick it out until you get a bit fitter, or make some friends in the gym, or catch your rhythm.
Just like I mentioned about the distance, travelling miles to training might be a pain in the arse at first but if you’re training at a gym that you enjoy and can take you to where you want to go in the sport then the trip is worth it; and that might not be obvious at first so don’t go elsewhere straight away.
Muay Thai no matter what, is going to challenge you; the fitness is harder than most sports, injuries are sometimes more frequent, and getting hit repeatedly can tough aswell so picking the right gym for you won’t just make progressing easier but by having the right people around you in the gym you’ll keep the passion alive that you so badly need in Muay Thai.
*I’ve also trained in the US and Thailand where there’s a lot of different factors to choosing a gym