A great Muay Thai teacher shows empathy, understanding and application of human psychology, and the fore-sight of the path ahead for others. This is dramatically different than the intensity, natural athleticism, and killer instinct of a Champion Fighter.
Teaching / Coaching a fighter and being a fighter is completely different. Fighting is an intense endeavor and many of the great champions had the physical talent along with the heart and will to train their martial art and win at it. However, in the corner of that champion is always a great trainer who knew how to evoke those talents and turn them into strengths and skill. In the Muay Thai world, we all know the famous Buakaw. However, we rarely hear about his trainers during his rise to stardom at the Por Pramuk Gym, who were low to mid level fighters in their day. Their lack of success in the ring didn’t make them less of a trainer to the talented Buakaw. Even in Western Boxing, you see the likes of Freddie Roach and Cus’ D Mato, mid-level fighters in their day, who trained talented but flawed fighters to superstardom.
Teaching Muay Thai takes patience and a strategic approach to learning
Muay Thai is a complex art at first. There are seemingly an infinite number of things to juggle in one’s head while learning new techniques. Additionally, to complicate things even more, each individual is born or acquires particular learning style they are more prone to learn from. (There are seven categories of learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Verbally, Kinesthetically, Logically, Socially, and Solitary) A great martial arts instructor or coach connects with his martial arts practitioner or fighter on the level that they learn best. It’s a matter of trial and error for the Muay Thai instructor to figure this out. It’s important to note, most people aren’t even consciously aware of what their learning style is. So a great Muay Thai instructor is a great practical psychologist.
The Muay Thai or Martial Arts instructor understands his art on a deep level and knows it inside and out
They have a deep knowledge of their art and often times this comes from not necessarily being the most physically talented or intelligent fighter. Many great instructors were not necessarily what some would consider physically talented or gifted. But it was through their struggle to overcome weakness that they discovered insights into the art that a naturally talented fighter who picks up the art easily wouldn’t come across. It’s simply the hours in the fundamentals to overcome weakness which creates a Muay Thai instructor who can deliver and share this with the widest array of students. Through years of figuring things out in the lab of training, he overcomes his weakness to obtain mediocrity and possibly some success, but more importantly, a profound knowledge of the art.
Finding a Great Muay Thai Instructor – Rapport and Trust
In the States and outside of Thailand, Muay Thai still remains a niche rather than a mainstay of the culture, like boxing and MMA. Whether a particular instructor is right for you will depend on your own gut instinct. For starters, your Muay Thai instructor should strive to develop rapport and trust with you. This is the only way a long term student-coach relationship will produce great results. Every person is already equipped with this ability to feel rapport. If your instructor can’t stop talking about how great they are and their accomplishments and looks down upon his students, that’s probably not the right instructor for you. It’s in my experience throughout the US, that instructors who’ve been trained in Thailand are very good Muay Thai instructors. They’ve always acted respectfully, had a great sense of humor, and knew their stuff. I believe this comes from not just the Thai culture of respect for the art but also a hard earned appreciation and pride for what they have to offer.
I take it that coming from a foreign country and starting to learn the authentic way at a later age made them fall into the category of the unnaturally talented but struggled to make it work. However, this isn’t an end-all conclusion of the instructors out there, just my experience.
“You can’t do Muay Thai? And who’s fault is that?”
It’s my belief that it’s the responsibility of those who are aware (the teacher) to bring others (students) into awareness. If your Muay Thai instructor cannot connect through to you and can’t demonstrate or explain the technique in the way that you at least understand it consciously, then he/she may not be the right instructor for you. There are four basic stages of learning:
- unconscious incompetence (the new student has no idea how bad he/she really is)
- conscious incompetence (the instructor and student understand conceptually and see the gaps)
- conscious competence (the student understands the art and can physically perform it but only with total focus. At this point, he or she can train him or herself to naturalness)
- unconscious competence (the student naturally performs the skill. It has been wired into the central nervous system deeply, outside of conscious focus)
A great instructor should be able to easily take you to conscious incompetence and see to it that you gain conscious competence of the art, pointing out the specific gaps in your skill. Performing Muay Thai will feel like a juggling act but at least you see the way and how it works. The rest of the path towards unconscious competence is hard training and time in the gym.
Free Trial? Take him or her for a test drive
If you’re going to spend your hard earned money for a martial arts or Muay Thai program, take the time to screen your martial arts instructor. Just like dating, one person is not necessarily suited for everyone else. While you’re being marketed to during the free trial, don’t forget to question the interaction and screen! While you may not have conceptual knowledge of the art, you can trust your gut. Ask yourself these questions “Does this person truly like and respect me? Does he have a sense of humor and seem confident in his art?” “Do I understand what this instructor is trying to show me or is there a cloud of confusion after he tries to instruct me? Do I feel comfortable to ask for more information?” Trust your gut, use these guidelines, and you’ll find yourself a great Muay Thai instructor who you both like, trust, and will bring you to competency faster than you thought possible. (Although I wrote this for Muay Thai instructors in particular, this article applies to all teachers in general)