The relationship some people develop with their trainer in Muay Thai is something that is often unbreakable. Years of hard work and dedication at the gym, often turn a teacher/student relationship into a long lasting friendship. The sweat, blood, and tears that are shed in the Muay Thai rings and training will further help to cement the relationship that is developed over time.
While most people are completely happy with their trainers (ignorance is bliss), not all trainers are created equal. There are some good trainers out there, some bad ones, and some REALLY bad ones.
People often feel extremely loyal to the person who taught them, regardless of their background or experience. This is why you will see these fake karate masters who can manipulate their students into believing they magical Chi Powers. Whenever you look up to anyone in an authority position, you are often susceptible to anything they tell you.
Telling someone that their trainer sucks is like telling a friend that his girlfriend is ugly. Whether its true or not, it’s best to let them come to that conclusion on their own.
The most difficult part of choosing a trainer when you first start training Muay Thai is that you have no idea right from wrong. If someone taught you a Karate technique and said it was Muay Thai, you would never second guess those facts because you would assume the “Muay Thai trainer” would know what he’s talking about.
While there is no universally accepted definition of a good trainer, I believe there are certain qualities that a Trainer/Coach/Kru/Instructor should possess.
It is important to remember that when I talked about Muay Thai trainer I am talking about someone who’s goal is to make you better at Muay Thai. If you are currently taking a Muay Thai cardio class I wouldn’t expect the instructor to teach you anything but movements or exercises that will increase your heart rate.
The first step in finding a quality trainer is to assess your personal Muay Thai goals. A lot of people who train Muay Thai are more interested in the fitness aspects of Muay Thai than actually improving their technique.
If you only care about fitness, then you can go to any kickboxing cardio class and you should get a good workout if you are working hard. This guide is designed for people who are looking to find a good Muay Thai Trainer.
Obviously this topic is extremely subjective as there is no universal definition of a good trainer. This article focuses on what I would look for in a good Muay Thai trainer outside of Thailand. If your training in Thailand it’s a different ball game and I will cover that later.
Here are 5 specific things you should look for in a good Muay Thai Trainer:
#1 – Knowledge of the Sport
In North America it seems that a huge percentage of people who learn Muay Thai go to a gym that offers everything under the sun. While there are some MMA gyms that have really good Muay Thai instructors who know what they are talking about, there are a lot of gyms who have instructors who don’t actually have a Muay Thai background.
There is a common misconception that Muay Thai is simply kickboxing with knees and elbows. An idea that is completely false. Muay Thai and kickboxing are completely different sports. If you watch a Kickboxer fight they have completely different movements and techniques than Muay Thai. While there are some crossovers between the sports, in general they are different fighting styles.
If you don’t care whether you are learning Muay Thai or Kickboxing then this is not an issue.
When you are just starting out in Muay Thai it is impossible for you to recognize the difference in Muay Thai and other Martial Arts. For this reason you will accept whatever definition of Muay Thai that your trainer teaches you. If you have a kickboxing instructor that says you’re learning Muay Thai, you will probably think you are learning Muay Thai.
Passing off other styles as Muay Thai is only an issue if you make it one. As the old saying goes “ignorance is bliss” – and it’s absolutely true. If you believe you are doing the right thing, finding out that it’s all wrong will only make you feel like shit.
Here is a great example of a trainer who teaches a Kickboxing technique and passes it off as a “Muay Thai Kick”
This video happens to be the most viewed Muay Thai kick video online. Even I fell victim to this video tutorial when i first started training back in 2006. I remember going home after my training and looking up this video and thinking this guy was an expert. Years later when I went to Thailand, I learned that everything I knew was wrong. (Of course if I had a proper Muay Thai trainer when I first started training I would have never developed these bad habits)
Update* As requested below, here is a short breakdown of the difference between the kick demonstrated above and a proper Muay Thai Kick. I will write an in depth guide to Muay Thai kicks in the future that breaks down the different steps.
Beware of Muay Thai “Certifications”
The idea that you can take a 2-4 week course and become a certified Muay Thai instructor is absurd. The only way that you can become good at anything is if you put in the hours and actually practice the sport. Make sure that your trainer actually has some experience in the sport without simply paying money to take a course to get a certificate saying they are “qualified instructors.” I’m not saying a certification means they are bad (I know some really good guys who got Muay Thai certifications in Bangkok), but you should never trust a piece of paper to judge if someone’s a good instructor or not.
I’ve already written an article about Instructor courses that talks about how a lot of certificates are BS.
Ask your trainer how he got started in the sport and what his Muay Thai background is. It is quite common to see trainers who have a 3rd degree black belt in Karate, black belt in Taekwondo, a Judo background and a 2 week Muay Thai trainer certification course, advertise themselves as “Muay Thai Instructors.”
Kevin Ross says it best in this quote:
“My eyes were really opened to this years back when I used to be with Master Toddy. He would do these ‘Instructor Certification’ courses where owners of gyms or trainers would come in and do this week long course in order to get certified by him. I would be sitting there watching him teach these guys and just be baffled at the fact that hardly any of them could even do the most basic of techniques. The majority of the time they would have backgrounds in some other martial art, karate/tae kwon do/etc, and just want to be certified to teach Muay Thai, which to me is total BS. How are you going to take a week course and then be certified to teach something like that?” – Kevin Ross
#2 – A Commitment to YOU
Find a Trainer that cares about YOU! This is the most important aspect that you should look for in a trainer. It doesn’t matter if the trainer has produced world champions or trains the best, if they don’t give two shits about you, forget about it. You have to find a trainer that actually cares about your journey in Muay Thai, not only the “prize” students at the gym.
Just because a trainer/coach has produced some good fighters or students, doesn’t mean he’s the right guy for you. I remember when I started out training Muay Thai at a local MMA gym near my house. The instructor was more interested in hitting on the girls in the class than actually teaching any technique. I remember I asked him a question about my technique and he gave me a couple word answer without actually going over and helping me out.
At the time I was a young college student and I looked up to my trainer because he was a “cool” mma guy. However, now that I’ve had the chance to train at different gyms around the world I now realize he was terrible. He really didn’t give a shit if people learned good or bad technique; he only gave a shit about a select handful of students and his “buddies” at the gym.
His background was mainly in BJJ and wrestling. When he wanted to coach he could be extremely good, however, for the most part, he was not a good fit for me. Even though this guy has been featured in a magazine as one of the top MMA trainers, he was the worst trainer I’ve ever had.
Finding a trainer that is committed to you will take you a long way in the sport. This is the difference between an average trainer vs one that actually cares about his students.
#3 – Chemistry with the Trainer
Commitment is very important, but without chemistry you can only go so far. Some people gel together and others don’t. The ability to relate and click with you is something that will happen naturally. You can’t force a connection with someone, you either have it or you don’t, regardless of their credentials or experience.
As I mentioned before, just because a trainer is considered the best in the world, doesn’t mean he is right for you. George st. Pierre’s Muay Thai coach may be right for him, but it doesn’t mean that he’s the best trainer for anyone else. I knew a guy who was training at one of the top Muay Thai gyms in Australia – a gym that had produced a lot of world class fighters. Even though he had a dozen Muay Thai fights under his belt, he was unhappy at the gym because the trainer didn’t click with him.
Not only did the trainer spend most of his time with his top fighters, he didn’t have the right chemistry. This is a perfect example of a trainer who has a perfect resume on paper, but doesn’t quite work for you.
This is how I found my trainer in Thailand. He wasn’t the most experienced trainer at the gym, nor the most accomplished, but we connected. Whenever someone asks me who the best trainer is at my gym, I always tell them every trainer has their own style, find the one that best suits you.
#4 – Muay Thai Experience
When I say Muay Thai experience it doesn’t mean that your coach/kru/trainer has to be a world Champion or a high level fighter. There are a lot of GREAT trainers out there who were never fighters.
Just because someone was a World Champion or at an elite level in the sport does not mean they’ll be a good trainer. You will often find that guys who are great fighters will make horrible coaches. Why? Because the best fighters often put all of their time and energy into their own training, not into training others. Just because you can execute perfect technique, doesn’t mean you can teach it. To become a good coach you need to have more than perfect technique and timing, you have to be able to teach.
The ability to teach others is a skill in itself. If you take a look at any sport, you will probably find that the best trainers weren’t the best at their sport. Of course you will have some trainers who were elite level guys and are great coaches. But it doesn’t mean that you have to have a lot of fights to be a good trainer.
While the best trainers aren’t always they ones that were high level fighters, if you are planning on fighting it definitely is important that your trainer has some fight experience. One advantage of having a trainer who has had a lot of fights is they will have lots of experience facing different situations that occur in the ring. This is why I believe that if you want to train others to fight, you should have a few fights just so you know the experience of getting in the ring and fighting an opponent. Getting a bit of ring experience is a good thing when it comes to teaching others.
A trainer with experience training in Thailand is definitely an advantage when you look for a good trainer. If you have a dedicated trainer who has been to Thailand a few times, you know that they are in touch with the tradition of the sport. Obviously not everyone has the luxury of training in Thailand, but this is something that you can look for in a trainer.
#5 – Passion for the Sport
Any time someone is teaching a sport they should be passionate (even obsessed) about the sport. I’m not saying they have to be a Muay Thai Nerd (plenty of good trainers are), but they need to have a love for the sport. If someone is doing something to simply make money, it will often show in the way they interact and treat people. You can tell if you are going to a gym where the instructor/trainer generally loves teaching people Muay Thai.
This quote says it best:
“To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way” – Pat Riley
Having passion for the sport will mean that they will continually develop themselves into a better trainer. Teaching is similar to training. Your trainer should be striving to improve their own methods of teaching to be the best for their students.
It Takes Two to Tango
Now you’ve found the perfect trainer, it’s time to do your part. People often complain about their trainer being this and that, however, at the end of the day, it all comes down to YOU. It doesn’t matter if you have the best trainer in the world, if you aren’t a student that listens and actually pays attention it won’t matter at the end of the day.
Being a good student is just as important as finding a good trainer. When all is said and done, your Muay Thai journey is YOUR responsibility. Your trainer can help guide you along the right path to improve and get better, but it’s up to you to take responsibility for yourself. Think of your training as a business. You might have people who can help guide you along the way, but whether or not your business succeeds or fails is all up to YOU.
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