Ajarn Rant: Muay Thai America v. Thailand

Muay Thai America v. Thailand Rant by Ajarn Bryan Dobler


This opinion piece on Muay Thai America v. Thailand is a transcript from Ajarn Bryan Dobler’s (Owner & Chief Instructor at Double Dose Muay Thai) Facebook status on the differences in the way Muay Thai is taught and practiced from the United States to Thailand. *Subheadings were added to “Ajarn Rants on Muay Thai America v. Thailand”

Lately, I have read a bunch of articles about Muay Thai that say we are not doing it like the Thais here in America. Like the one that says that since the Thais don’t Wai in the gym, we shouldn’t either. While I agree it can be overdone, the alternative will continue the decline in Muay Thai that we are currently seeing in Thailand. [To read the article from Samart Payakaroon about the decline of Muay Thai in Thailand, click here]

Remember when once upon a time in America, an elderly lady would enter a crowded bus and the young gentlemen would stand up and offer their seats? Just because men don’t do it as often anymore, doesn’t make it better not to offer their seats.

I also hear people say,

“Ah, if they were judging like they do in Thailand, I would’ve won that fight.”

Muay Thai America v. Thailand: Winning Fights

Uhh, are you sure about that? You do realize that gambling has changed scoring in Thailand and things like 10-10 on the first two rounds are the norm there. So if you think you should have won because of the first two rounds, guess again. Also, much of the outcomes are decided by organized crime with signals telling judges how to see a particular round of fights being thrown to make sure a party wins their bet.

Muay Thai America v. Thailand: Students

I’ve also heard criticism on how we run our gyms here in America. Things like they don’t have ranking or testing in Thailand, so it shouldn’t be done here. Okay, let’s look at that for a moment. How many successful fighters gyms only exist in the USA? I’m not talking about gyms that have fighters, I’m talking about gyms that only have fighters. Yeah right. The lifestyle, economy, reasons for fighting are all different here. Even the reasons for training are different. We have jobs and families and mortgages and credit cards and car payments and fighting Muay Thai in America doesn’t pay those bills. And besides, shouldn’t Muay Thai be for everyone and not just fighters? What about those who just want to get in shape or defend themselves or who love the art of Muay Thai, but found it later in life? Should we exclude them?

Muay Thai America v. Thailand: Titles

Titles? Let’s just hit on that for a moment – titles like Kru or Ajarn, good or bad? Since Ajarn is not used to describe Muay Thai instructors in Thailand then we should not use it here right? Well that’s not for me to say, but what if we were all Kru? Wouldn’t that be an adequate way to describe a Muay Thai teacher in America? Sure, but someone who has been teaching for a short amount of time and got his/her Kru certificate at a weekend training is not the same as someone who has dedicated their entire life to the art and sport of Muay Thai. So how as Americans do we differentiate that? I hold the title of Ajarn. It was bestowed upon me by my teacher (from Thailand) after 30 years plus of dedication to teaching and growing Muay Thai. Am I embarrassed by it? Honestly, a little bit. I don’t even consider myself a Kru, let alone Ajarn. I consider myself simply a Nak Muay or student of Muay Thai and always will. I also think that there are plenty of people who have contributed more than I but who don’t use that title. So yes, it is awkward for me. But what if your instructor gave you the title Ajarn, would you disregard it? Ignore it? I did for about two years before I finally realized that I was disrespecting my teacher. So I went with it. Do I demand to be called an Ajarn? No, call me Kru or Bryan, but not in the gym. Why? Ego right? No, out of respect for my teacher, period. Now I’m not saying that these self-proclaimed Ajarns or Krus who went through a weekend course to get the certification are the same thing, but I want to make it clear that some reasons for this title (while typically American) are legit.

Muay Thai America v. Thailand: Respect

Oh and what about the super plush gyms that people want and think should be free? Ugh simple economy tells you that it is impossible to put out heaps of money creating a plush gym with the best and most expensive equipment and then let everyone train at discount prices. My favorite is that martial arts should be taught for free since it is about humility. Okay… any idea how much your instructor spent to learn what they know? Oh and I’m not only talking about money here, but sacrifice. My teachers sacrificed more than I had to but my sacrifices were significant. My students’ will be less than mine at some point the sacrifices will become so little that students will forget what sacrifice means. In today’s world of entitlement and gym hoppers (which Samart also addresses – that people stayed with their teachers out of respect until recently) it is really difficult for a student under hat premise to really sacrifice enough to appreciate or be grateful for the sacrifices those before them have made to pave the road that they so smoothly sail upon. I’m not saying you should walk to school barefoot in the snow ten miles like your grandfather always tells you he did, but that you should simply acknowledge the things that were done before you and be grateful for the sacrifices others made so you can have ti so good now. An example is in California some people have fought very hard to make it possible for fighters (even amateurs) to use elbows in their fights, but many promoters do not allow them or make them optional and many “Muay Thai” gyms and coaches refuse to use them. If they had to make the sacrifices those before them did, maybe they would appreciate it and everyone would do it out of respect for those who came before them. Respect your teachers and elders. Another reason respect is an integral part of Muay Thai that if left out one will never experience the life lessons Muay Thai has to offer. In the end, its not just about becoming the best kicker or puncher, but about becoming the best person you can be through martial arts.

“A martial artists is someone who possesses a relentless desire to unleash their greatness upon the world through the warriors quest of self-improvement.. A martial artist is someone who is ready to conquer their fears, doubts, insecurities in the pursuit of evolving to into the best person they can be. A martial artist is someone who is willing to do what it takes to transcend circumstances, to overcome hardship, and to defy odds with nothing but an unbreakable warrior spirit. In conquering ourselves, we can give more to the world than what we receive.” – Chatri Sityodtong

—If you think that we should do it just like Thailand, be careful what you wish for. Even in his interview, Samart said that the future of Muay Thai belongs to foreigners. We are charged with not just duplicating what is done in Thailand, but actually bringing back the art of Muay Thai. Not what it is, but what it was in its golden age and we can do that but we need to quit trying to be just like Thailand. Many things that work here simply do not work there, but many things that are declining here can be brought back here, the art, the discipline (root word discipline, meaning one who follows after their teacher which in itself demands that as teachers we must guide our students not only in fighting, but in life) and respect (something that is also in decline in our country) and yes we could even do it better if we as Americans put our minds to it, organize and work together. We do it often, just sayin’.

Kru Chris

Head Instructor, federal law enforcement officer.