Starting anything new can always be nerve wracking. Doesn’t matter what it is. The feeling of stepping out of our bubble is uncomfortable to say the least, and everyone needs change in their lives. Change is a positive ideal that influences us to discover new interests, hobbies or in some cases careers and dreams. Muay Thai or any martial art for that matter is no different. For most, you will really have to dig deep towards taking that first step into the world of the art of 8 limbs. However, once you do take the plunge, I can guarantee you will be hooked, as it is unlike anything else. Never once since I started training 5 years ago have I had anyone tell me they regretted starting Muay Thai. If that trend continues, you wont either. Before getting into what you’ll need to get started, here are a few considerations to think about before making any purchases.
So you’ve decided to give Muay Thai a whirl. Good for you; really. You’ve entered into a beautifully violent world, steeped in centuries of tradition and culture. Now before really diving in head first, you have a few things to discuss with yourself.
First; What do you want out of it? Are you doing it for fitness? Do you want to really learn it? Are you just going to train recreationally? Do you want fight competitively? It is always good to set a goal for yourself at the start, and whatever your reasoning, know that people all over the world have the same reasoning as you. Muay Thai over the past years has gained a lot of popularity and whatever you’re justification is, you will love the sport none the less. Who knows, maybe you start recreationally then later want to start fighting. Some people say “no, never”. You would be surprised how many people shift their focus.
Secondly; Know your limitations. Do you have pre existing injuries or health issues? As great a workout as Muay Thai is, no one will ever tell you that it is easy on your body. If they do, they’re just training their mouth, not their body. Any serious Nak Muay (Muay Thai Practitioner) will tell you that your body is always in a fantastic state of pain. It’s always something; your foot, your hip, your back, your wrists; something is always sore. I’m not saying to not train if you have prior injuries. Not by any means. Just make sure you identify those injuries and work around them as best you can in order to maximize your training time and potential. Once the Muay Thai addiction kicks in, you will be sore, so no need to aggravate injuries when it can be avoided.
Third; don’t get discouraged. Once you start training, you will realize that everyone appears to be better then you. They are in better shape, have more experience, hit harder, move faster, have better technique and some are competitive fighters. That’s ok, its normal when starting anything new. Just remember “everyone starts somewhere”, just like you. At one point, they had to take those first steps into the gym as well. The key is that they stuck with it; just like you will. With perseverance you will get there.
Lastly; this mostly pertains to those that want to spar and potentially compete. Check your ego at the door! There is a difference between giving it your all in training and throwing 100% all the time or trying to “beat people up”. There are a few things that will happen if you decide to be “that guy”. First, you can hurt your training partner and then guess what? People won’t want to train with you which in turn will stop you from improving. You are on the same team, treat each other well. Second, you can hurt yourself. Don’t try to show off by throwing like a crazed lunatic. Chances are your technique is not great to start and you will just end up look like an idiot. Because your technique is not developed yet, you will end up kicking someone’s’ elbow or something equally as painful and then be out of training until the injury heals. Third; someone will smash your face. I’ve seen so many people go into sparring thinking they are going to intimidate people or bully them around. Wrong place for that. As tough as you think you are, there is always someone tougher. Beat up on someone who is not on your level or try to take out a person who has been around for a while and you will get lit up. I have seen tons of people never train again after getting smashed in sparring because they decided to be “that guy”. Remember, it’s not a fight, its training.
Let those points soak in, give them some thought and lets move on to what your going to need from basic to advanced. There will be more reviews coming in the future going into more detail on each of these categories, however for now this should serve as a quick and dirty reference guide to what you’ll require and our top picks.
So the first thing you will want to do is protect your hands. Wraps will compress the muscles and bones in your hands which help prevent wrist and knuckle injuries and allow you to hit with greater force for more repetitions. These are essential. You’re going be throwing a lot of punches so keep your hands in good shape. Learn how to wrap your hands correctly first as well. The quality won’t matter if this is not done correctly. There are many styles of wrapping hands so don’t be thrown off when everyone tells you “the best way” to do it. There are tons of hand wraps out there however I would ensure you go with a quality pair from a trusted brand. I would also recommend that you purchase Mexican style hand wraps that are 180 inches and offer a higher degree of protection.
Fairtex Elastic Cotton Hand Wraps
Just about anything you purchase from Fairtex will be top quality, and their wraps are no exception. I find these wraps to have the perfect balance of rigidity and flexibility. They have a good amount of stretch but will still conform to your hand and keep it a solid fist. I own at least 5 or 6 pairs of these wraps alone as they are my go to for hand wraps. One thing to note; if you decided to purchase the Thai flag patterned wraps, they are much more rigid then the standard solid coloured pairs. I personally prefer the flag style wraps because of this however opinions differ from person to person.
Every Nak Muay will need a quality pair of gloves. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of protecting your hands. These are going to get beat up, they will need to be tough and durable. Hard or fast punches, you will always be throwing your hands at some point in the session. Click here if you haven’t checked out our previous blog review on “What are the best gloves for Muay Thai” for a more detailed look at the top gloves on the market today. This is an important decision, as you will want these gloves to last you for a while and be able to take whatever punishment you dish out. Keep in mind that you will need different sizes for different drills. Most people start out with 16oz gloves, however in my opinion these are just too big for hitting pads or doing bag work. Get 16’s for sparring and 10oz gloves for pad work.
Fairtex BGV1 Universal Gloves
Fairtex again? Starting to see a pattern? Again this company shows its worth with the BGV1 Universal glove. I talked in detail in my previous blog however I must say that I have never had a complaint with these gloves. So far my pair has lasted just over 4 years of training 4-6 times a week, 2 trips to Thailand and are still going strong; just now starting to show some wear ( which I think adds character). An excellent glove that comes outfitted with the Fairtex patented 3 Layered Foam system, they offer excellent hand and knuckle protection and are a comfortable snug fit. Definitely worth having a look.
Shin guards are the last basic piece of gear you will need to start training Muay Thai. Even if you are not ready to spar, you will still need these for drilling and techniques sessions. Doing slow drills with bare shins will end up being painful and in my opinion does not allow for a lot of improvement in your reaction time because you will be more focused on not hurting yourself. Your shins will toughen over time, however no need to expose them to unnecessary punishment if you are just learning. Practice the techniques under a controlled environment until they are perfected. This is key to your development. You will need to know your size, which is determined by measuring around the widest part of your calf. All companies vary in their sizing charts so be sure to check that before purchasing.
Top King Pro Shin Guards
Top King shin guards are one of the more popular pairs out there today. On par with other highly regarded companies such as Fairtex and Twins. Made of premium leather not only are these shin guards tough, they look great. They come in a variety of patterns and colours for those who want to stand out a bit more or have a flashier style (the black and gold snakeskin are my favorite from their line). While comfortable, they offer a great deal of protection without being bulky and are perfect for checking kicks during drilling. A great choice for those new to Muay Thai.
While not necessarily something you need to start with, if you feel you are going to take Muay Thai very seriously, I would recommend investing in a pair of Thai Pads. Most gyms’ curriculums will more then likely require you to hold pads for a team mate at one point or another. While pad holding is an important part of Muay Thai, many gyms do not clean their pads as often as you would think. As you can imagine this can lead to health issues. I personally have contracted STAF infections when I first started training as well as other skin rashes from a gyms dirty Thai Pads. This is the primary reason I invested in my own pads. On a more positive note, if you have your own pair and someone to train with, you can practice whenever you want.
Twins Special Muay Thai Pads
I don’t think I have ever been in a Muay Thai gym whether in Canada or Thailand that did not have Twins thai pads being used by trainers or students. Twins has been around for a very long time producing top quality muay thai gear before the brand was even called Twins. Like a few other brands, they have lived on through the Golden Era of Muay Thai and are still supplying Nak Muay all over the world to this day. With comfortable velcro straps, and a tough leather shell, these pads will take all the damage you and your partner can dish out. They come in a large size as well for those who have a larger frame or heavier kicks which will make it easier on your forearms when the heat starts flying. Believe me it will. All in all, very good pads for those just starting out, not only are they tough but they are durable and will last you for years.
Now we are getting into the realm of sparring. Aimed at more advanced students or those that are wanting to compete, sparring is an essential tool that you will need to regularly conduct. Now while a lot of gyms and Nak Muay spar without headgear (myself included) this comes with time. Typically you will start wearing this kind of protection to help prevent concussions and in a nutshell, get you comfortable with being punched in the head. The downside to headgear is that it is hot and I find it cuts off your peripheral vision. Either way it is recommended that when starting out, you wear the gear until you gain a little more experience. There are 3 styles; full face, cheek protection and open face. Fairtex, Twins, Venum, Hayabusa and others all make quality headgear in the various forms. It is totally up to you what style you pick however you will have to weigh your options. Protection or weight? The more padding it has, the more it will weigh. Do you want to take a higher volume of shots? Or would you rather be able to evade shots? Remember it’s always better to not get hit. Personally, if I had to choose it would be open face or cheek protection without a question. However, if you decide to go another route, ensure it has a vented or open top which allows for heat to escape at the very least.
Fairtex Competition Headgear
Besides Fairtex’s well known quality, this headgear is somewhat of a hybrid between open faced and having cheek protection, making it a very good choice. The cheek padding is very subtle so it will protect your cheek bones while not creeping further on to your face and obscuring your vision. It has a padded chin strap which while not fully attached like many check protected headgear it will provide some protection to your chin while being adjustable. Like the majority of Fairtex’s gear, it is made with their triple foam layered padding system to ensure a high level of shock protection. As per above, both the ears and head are ventilated. In the long run a very good choice for headgear for those just starting off in sparring and possible competition.
This one is pretty straightforward and is one of the most important. Get a good mouth guard. Whether you go with a boil and bite or a custom mouth guard, do not just buy some cheap 3 dollar piece of shit. Either style are fine. Custom mouth guards may cost a little more then the ladder and require an extra trip to a specialist to have them fitted. I have gone both routes and in my opinion I have had better success with boil and bite. That could be for numerous reasons however after trying a custom mouth guard I found that it was too large and hurt my gums. Even after several trips to have it shaved down in size I eventually returned to the boil and bite. That being said custom mouth guards are a tighter fit and will offer a greater deal of protection. Shockdoctor or Venum or the top choices for mouth guards without going the custom route.
Venum Predator Mouth Guard
As mentioned above Venum produces great mouth guards and the Predator is probably their most popular. It is very comfortable with a “Next Fit” gel frame as well as a sleek shape and size. It has excellent shock protection and does not obstruct your breathing during training. Available in a variety of colours, this mouth guard is highly regarded, comes complete with a carrier and should absolutely be considered when shopping around. Remember, a mouth guard is an important purchase so do your research first.
I’ll keep this one short as it is quite straight forward. Get a good cup/groin protector. Do I really need to go into detail as to why this one is important? Just in case you have never been hit in the ol family jewels before, let me tell you, it is absolutely horrible. Now imagine the person kicking you is a trained fighter that can kick through baseball bats… Get the point? Don’t be dumb, get a cup or you will regret it. Don’t cheap out either! Now I can’t speak about female groin protectors because I know noting about them other then; do your research and purchase from a reputable company. For the lads, your best bet is a steel cup. There are good companies such as Shockdoctor that do make high quality bio flex cups, however I literally have seen these crack from the impact of a heavy knee or kick. Fairtex steel cups are where it’s at. Get one. End of story.
Other odds an ends
The above pretty much covers the essentials you will need to start off, from doing basic pad and bag work, to drilling and finally sparring. However there are other pieces of equipment that you may want to consider picking up that will aid you in your Muay Thai journey.
Ankle guards are a good investment as you will be moving around on your feet a lot, which will be taking a great deal of impact and punishment. Not only will they provide some extra support while bouncing around, I find they provide a little extra traction on the mats as well, to help prevent slipping. Now do not be confused. These are not a replacement for medical ankle supports and will not fix an ankle or foot injury. Personally I find Top King makes the best ankle guards. While having worn a few different brands, theirs seem to be the most supportive and keep their rigidity longer then the others.
Skipping ropes are part of training for essentially every combat sport today. This exercise has a wide range of benefits including increasing muscle tone, cardio, balance, coordination, improves heart rate and promotes weight loss. There are numerous styles you can look at as well. Some are heavier for greater muscles tone, standard ropes and others are thin or wire ropes for greater speed. Whether you hate skipping rope or not, no one can deny the health benefits of this activity, so keep that in mind when you are debating on buying.
Time To Start Training
The more you train the more different styles of pads, gloves and gear you will discover, as there are a ton of tools at your disposal out there. Again, starting Muay Thai can be a fairly intimidating thing for a lot of people. Being nervous is ok, but be confident in yourself and go in and have fun. Enjoy yourself. That’s what it’s all about. It will be challenging, it will be frustrating, there will good days and bad days, shitty sessions and great sessions. Either way I guarantee you will love Muay Thai as it really is a life changing endeavor.
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