I started my Muay Thai journey over 14 years ago in Thailand, where I continued for the vast majority of my training, ever since. I have always believed that going directly to the source is the best course of action and my life experience has continued to re-affirm this fact. Like some of you, I began as a student boxer, transitioned to fighter and then finally acknowledging I passed my nak muay expiration date at 40 years old I became a Muay Thai coach and finally, a pro-Judge and Referee.

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What I didn’t realize at the time is that I got the sequence wrong. My epiphany came about after, albeit reluctantly, I agreed to train to be a Muay Thai Referee/Judge at the behest of my mentor Kru Chinawut ”Woody” Sirisompan. As usual, he saw the bigger picture that I did not. This realization falls firmly into the “you don’t know what you don’t know” category.

I can now see clearly that even as an old-school, traditional boxing coach (Kru) I became so focused on raw techniques, conditioning and strategy for my students that I lost sight of the ring aspect of the equation. As a coach, it is my responsibility to teach this to my fighters, the actual full spectrum of our sport.

There seems to be an assumption in the U.S. Muay Thai community that somehow just by watching live fights or video footage, everyone already understands the protocols and what is really expected inside the ropes. This is a critical mistake.

After I spent a considerable amount of time learning the “Thai’ style of officiating, working in the ring in Thailand and subsequently the U.S., I recognized we have a lot of educational work to do. This seems to be an issue with both the MMA and the dedicated Muay Thai only training schools in the states.

I have noticed at fight events in the U.S., coaches, fighters and seconds (Corner men) sit through the pre-fight rules briefing looking noticeably bored and disinterested, at the conclusion inevitably few questions are asked of the officials. As an official I assumed, everyone is already on the same sheet of music, so great let’s go. That is definitely not the case. The following is a list of some areas I see that we in the U.S. need to work on if we are going to gain the respect I believe we deserve in the international boxing community.

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Untrained Officials: Many of the boxing sanctioning organizations in the states are based in unrelated “martial’ arts disciplines. Thus, the judges and referees are often coming from kick-boxing, western boxing or MMA backgrounds.

It is the responsibility of the event officials AND the coaches to protect the integrity of Muay Thai as sport. This is the stop-gap that will ensure that coaches are teaching Muay Thai properly. When the correct Thai standards are set and maintained, poorly or improperly trained fighters will not succeed in the ring and that Darwinian effect will trickle down to render poor coaches and camps extinct. So much the better I say….

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Muay Thai Traditions: If you want to send a fighter to Thailand to compete and arguably that is the goal of any serious Muay Thai student. The coach, corner men and fighter will publicly lose huge face if it is apparent that the expected behavior and traditions are not demonstrated in the ring beginning with the Wai-Kru/Ram-Muay. Of course the Thais, being painfully polite, will not tell you this but I assure you it will be the talk of the town.

Knowledge of Rules: The rules related to fouls and legal throws/take-downs are a huge problem area for U.S. camps but this generally gets corrected in Thailand by the ring officials in short order. This is a bigger problem during fight events in the states where referees have not been properly trained to recognize the violations, and to warn or penalize when appropriate. To be fair, some of this confusion is caused by inconsistency imposed by fifty different state regulatory boxing commissions. Thailand doesn’t have this problem to overcome of course.

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Knowledge of Scoring: I have seen endless numbers of American (and European) coaches have a melt-down when their fighter loses a match on points, when it is obvious to all the educated eyes in the room why the judges favored the winner. Again, this problem begins in the states where the judging and refereeing is lacking in consistency and proper training, giving coaches and fighters an inaccurate perspective of the Thai standards. If foreign teams travel to Thailand and experience the (correct) Thai system, they often walk away from a loss complaining about a rigged event or bias Thai officials when that is absolutely not the case. The Thai judges have a specific style of scoring that takes time to learn.

Untrained Seconds: A second’s job is very under appreciated. It is critical that seconds are well trained and ready. What I have seen in the states are seconds that appear to just be there to help out and get some camera time. Many don’t know how to properly wrap fighter’s hands, treat cuts or swelling, evaluate a fighter’s ability to continue, maintain second’s equipment, demonstrate an understanding of the rules, ensure fighters have required safety equipment or properly warm-up their fighters properly pre-match.

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There appears to be a consistent reluctance for seconds to throw in the towel to protect their fighters, dodging the responsibility, instead deferring to the referee to take the heat for stopping an obvious mismatch. Another odd trait I have noticed in the states is the propensity of coaches to hit pads with fighters before a match. I can only guess this is done simply because everyone else is doing it here.

I can’t recall ever seeing a Thai fighter at Lumpini or Rajadamnern hitting pads before a fight. Additionally, U.S. coaches and seconds seem reluctant to massage fighters before or during fights, I can’t figure out why this is but it is common. Naman Muay isn’t effective unless it is massaged into the muscle vigorously.

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I believe we can vastly improve Muay Thai in the U.S. by promoting national standards for Muay Thai specific sanctioning organizations, training Referee’s and Judges to the correct Thai standards and educating coaches and fighters in the states. With these changes the future of Muay Thai in the U.S. holds much potential but only if egos can be checked and minds are kept open.

 

Author: Coach Chris

Coach/Referee/Judge

Channarong Muay Thai Camp-USA