Having been to dozens of Muay Thai gyms around the world, I have seen some bizarre things.

Last week, the Thai trainers had to tell a European guy to wear underwear under his shorts because as he stretched, everyone in the gym got a full look at his junk hanging loose. (You can’t make this stuff up)

I’ve trained with a guy who smelt so bad, that people would go out of their way to avoid clinching with him. It got to a point that the trainers finally mustered enough courage to tell the him to not come back until he washed his clothes properly.

There were even a few times sparring when my opponent didn’t put on shin guards because he didn’t have any. While I don’t mind light technical sparring with someone I know without shin guards, I am not going to spar with someone when I’m handicapped with shin guards and they aren’t.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of idiots come and go through the gyms that have made me constantly question the intelligence of some people who take up Muay Thai.

The following guidelines are written to help clear some confusion when it comes to training at the gym. These are recommended best practices to avoid being that “guy” at the gym who everyone hates.

Don’t Correct People

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing guys who have no business teaching others, correcting other people during training.

While your intentions might be good and pure, there is a good chance that you might not be fully qualified to teach someone. Even if you have a handful of amateur fights, that does not qualify you as an expert.

Now, if you are considered one of the assistant instructors at your gym, then by all means go ahead and offer advice. However, if nobody at your gym has ever asked you to teach people techniques, don’t do it. If someone asks you for help, you can show them how “you do it,” without pretending like you are an expert.

Some people like correcting others during sparring to assert their authority over their sparring partner. I am not talking about telling a beginner to keep his hands up either, i’m talking about someone who is your level or below, trying to tell you what your doing wrong.

A while ago, I was sparring with a bigger guy who outweighed me by 50 lbs (22kg). Right at the start of the sparring sessions, he tried giving me advice on how to land my kicks just 30 seconds into the round.

Shortly after offering advice, he soon realized that I wasn’t the one who needed help. He thought my initial inaction was a sign of weakness, without realizing I was using the first minute of sparring to read him.

Instead of trying to offer useless advice, my sparring partner would have been better off focusing on improving his own game.

Always Be Respectful

Always be respectful to everyone around you, no matter their skill level. You should treat the beginners with the same level of respect as you treat your sparring partners and coaches.

In Thailand, this will mean doing the “Wai” whenever you are greeting a trainer and saying goodbye. These little signs of respect go a long way when you build rapport with your trainers and fellow students.

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Years ago, I met a self-proclaimed “Muay Thai Genius” who claimed to be a champion in his home country of Greece (he probably was). In sparring he would try to knock everyone out, which resulted in people hating him. After a few months in Thailand, he ended up losing his last few fights by knockout. Shortly after, he disappeared back to his home country without a word.

The fact that he lost fights in Thailand isn’t a big deal. It is the fact that this guy called himself a “Muay Thai Genius” and disrespected people by trying to beat them up in sparring, is what made everyone dislike him.

If you go to a new gym and try to prove you are the best at the gym, that is a great way to make people dislike you. Even if you are that good, nobody wants to have an arrogant asshole training at the gym.

Humility will take you a long way in the world of Muay Thai.

Maintain Personal Hygiene

Nobody wants to be the guy at the gym who stinks.

If you are that guy reading this, you probably have no idea it’s you because you are so used to smelling yourself, it is normal. Otherwise, you would have thrown out that old pair of gloves and destroyed those moldy shirts you keep wearing.

If you are going to sweat all over the mats, make sure you are clean before training.

If you have old equipment that reeks of mold, throw it out and get new stuff. There are even deodorizers you can buy to remove the smell from old gloves, if you want to try to save what you are currently using.

Always make sure you are clean before you come to training, so you don’t force other people to smell your B.O. Every gym has one or two guys (always guys) who are clueless about their lack of hygiene and need to be given a few bars of soap as reminders to clean themselves.

Personal Hygiene includes cutting your finger and toenails. If you ever clinch, make sure you have your nails trimmed very short, or you will scratch the hell out of your clinching partners.

If I see that my nails are long I won’t clinch until I cut them. I hate it when other people do it to me, so I avoid doing it to others.

Wear the Right Equipment

If you don’t have a mouthguard, don’t spar. That’s a simple rule to follow.

Nothing is more annoying than when you are about to spar with someone, and he tells you to take it easy on the punches because he doesn’t have a mouthguard.

Get some proper gloves for training.

I don’t want to feel guilty when I land a punch to your face because you neglected to protect yourself. It is not your training partners fault if you lose a tooth because you forgot your mouthguard. That is on you.

Dental is expensive and you probably can’t afford to replace a broken tooth, so wear a mouthguard.

In addition to a Mouthguard, wear the right type of Muay Thai gloves when you spar. If you are wearing small 8-12 oz gloves, make sure you are only technical sparring. If you want to hit hard, put on the 16 oz gloves to give your teammate more cushion.

Similar to the boxing gloves, make sure you wear shin guards that have enough padding to protect your training partner when you kick. Those thin shin guard socks used for competition don’t offer enough protection for everyday sparring – so only use them if you aren’t kicking full power.

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Don’t Be a Bully

Every gym has that one person who likes to beat up on people with less experience.

The easiest way to spot a bully in the gym is to watch how someone spars with different types of people. If you see someone sparring hard with beginners, but going light and technical with more advanced people, that is a sign that they are a bully.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t trust the guy on the far left 😉

Now, If you are a beginner, you probably don’t know how to control your power, so sparring sessions can escalate into heated battles very fast. That is why it is important to make sure there is a good trainer around who can correct you and make sure that you stay controlled when you are sparring.

If there is a bully in the gym, a good coach will usually get a better student to spar with that person and repay the favor. Sometimes the only way you can teach someone to go soft with other students is to show them how it feels to get beat up by someone more experienced.

You never want to be that guy that beginners want to avoid sparring with because you are going to hard on them. Only spar to the intensity of your training partner. If someone is going soft, go soft. And if they go hard, then you have permission to go hard.

Other Unwritten Rules

  • Dress appropriately for training (every gym has their own dress code)
  • Don’t leave your equipment lying around the gym (put it away)
  • Show up on time (Or at least try to)
  • Don’t Talk to People During the Rounds – If someone is hitting the heavy bag, avoid distracting them while they are working out. There is a minute break between rounds you can chat.
  • Don’t be loud and obnoxious
  • Don’t be a CREEP (Girls at the gym don’t want your creepy eyes staring at them while they are training)
  • Pay for Training on Time

Final Thoughts

Every gym has their own culture and set of internal rules, but for the most part, these rules can be universally applied.

For example, hard sparring at one gym might be considered the norm for another gym. It is important to understand what the culture is at the gym by observing other people.

Some gyms are toxic from the top down. If you train at a gym with a head trainer who is hitting on female students and bullying people at the gym, you can expect students to follow that lead. Corruption usually starts at the top, and works its way down.

No matter what gym you train at, you should be respectful when you train there. If you don’t like something about a gym, then leave. That is the best thing you can do to show your disapproval of something, instead of sticking around and being a toxic presence at the gym.

Find a gym that has a respectful culture with people you like, and they will become your second family. Muay Thai gyms are full of amazing people, you just have to get to know them.