At a Thai gym there’s no rush to lock up at the end of the evening session and hurry home; most of the trainers and fighters are already at home. The gym is where they train, but it also also where they live, often with their families— indeed the gym is itself a kind of family. When you step into a Thai gym, you are stepping into a home.
You are also stepping into a social institution. Thai Gyms provide food, shelter, income and a career for some of Thailand’s poorest citizens. But what is more, you are also stepping into traditional Thailand. It’s a dedicated academy where fighters perpetuate and evolve a fighting tradition that stretches back hundreds of years.
In short, a Thai gym is a place of meaning, family, and dedication. It’s a sacred place deserving of great respect. The respect goes both ways and stands to benefit you too. You are most likely to get the most out of your Muay Thai sojourn in Thailand if you behave respectfully.
If you are a westerner travelling to Thailand, it can be tricky to know how to behave respectfully in the home of a different culture. To help you settle in and respect your hosts, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 Dos and Don’ts for training Thai gyms.
1. Do be aware of the culture.
Thai culture could be generally described as collectivist culture. Western culture, conversely, is generally described as an individualist culture. Not all cultures are the same. Be aware that what seems normal or logical to you may not appear that way to others. We are all products of our culture, and it takes awareness and effort to bridge cultural gaps and build friendships.
2. Don’t train when sick.
You may think you are being a hero, but actually, you are being selfish. Nobody wants your staph skin infection! By training while sick, you are exposing everyone else to your illness. It is the ultimate act of selfishness and disrespect to others to train anyway, because you’ve paid for it. For Thai fighters, you are affecting their employment if training while sick.
3. Do tip your trainer.
Your trainer is not only imparting their hard earned wisdom – basically their life’s work – to you, they are also letting you use their body like a punching bag. Holding pads is tiring, and the trainers are doing it for hours each day. The best way to express your gratitude and appreciation is to tip your trainer.
4. Don’t act entitled.
Thai culture is, loosely speaking, collectivist. Individuals who achieve great things are honored and respected but self-entitlement emphatically does not go down well in Thai culture. Thai people may not confront you directly since, by being self-entitled, you signal that you are not open to feedback and frankly not worth the effort to teach.
5. Do try to learn the language.
Not everyone can learn Thai, but everyone can try. Learning a few basic phrases can go a long way to showing your respect at the gym.
6. Don’t question your trainer.
Elders and teachers in Thai culture are respected. Their teachings are respected without being questioned or discussed. When a Thai trainer tells you to do 300 knees, now is not the time to debate different training methods: shut-up and do 300 knees.
7. Do wear appropriate clothing.
Wear Thai boxing shorts, and wear suitable underwear beneath them; hot pants are emphatically not compatible with Muay Thai. Ladies, be aware that you may be required to wear something more than a crop top. Men, be aware that while a bare torso is fine in the gym, it’s not the same outside of that setting. Basically, dress like the Thais dress. There are more Westernized gyms, specifically in southern Thailand, that are ok with short shorts and sports bras but don’t assume that this is a nationwide trend.
8. Don’t let your visa expire.
Rather than thinking about overstaying your visa as paying to stay longer, consider that overstaying your visa makes you an illegal alien with no rights, and no right to be in the country. Furthermore, it is not the responsibility of the gym to keep your visa up to date. If you get caught, they can’t help you.
9. Do smile and have fun.
Thailand is known as the land of smiles and the training culture is generally hard-working and very appreciative of humor. Jokes and playfulness are welcomed and perpetuated in Thai gyms.
Be flexible and open-minded; things change and you need to be able to adapt. Additionally, being polite goes a long way in Thailand. It’s important to not be standoffish or confrontational in public; Thais do not like losing face.
10. Don’t book your own fights.
The correct way to fight in Thailand is to form a working relationship with a gym. When you are deemed ready, the manager of the gym will seek fights for you and you will represent that gym in the ring. If you book your own fights, you are representing yourself. Whoever corners for you, most likely won’t have their heart in it.