Structuring A Muay Thai Class: The Fundamentals

Chief Instructor Bob checks the boxers gloves before a Padwork session in the gym
The role of the Muay Thai coach is to ensure that the boxer has gloves on correctly before a padwork session

For some instructors, martial arts are more than just about making money! Although if you looked at some posts you see on Facebook, money seems to be the only motivator.

I’m not being critical of that approach, we all need to pay the bills and its right that there should be value placed on your expertise, but I feel that if you put the marketing and the money before the martial art it’s like putting the cart before the horse. I for one understand that if you have rent to pay and equipment to buy, you need to make a few quid.

I ran a full-time gym at one time for over 15 years and whilst I loved teaching I found it difficult to work the finances. I was constantly balancing my love of the sport with running a gym. It was a balancing act at times, but I kept the passion for the art at the forefront of my mind and reminded myself that my purpose was to teach and not be a businessman.

I however always managed to pay the bills, but found that running the gym was becoming a chore. I love teaching and that was why I eventually moved to a smaller, more manageable premises with less hassle.

Some people have no problem with taking loads of cash off students, and that’s fine too. If that’s what drives you, who am I to criticise. This is just my viewpoint on teaching Muay Thai.

I however have always been keen that my students get as much fun out of Muay Thai as I have done and not worry about paying monthly fees.

I have managed to create quite a large group with camps all around the world with very little effort, other than making friends!

It’s worked for me!

So my first principle is to put the art first and money second.

So, with that off my chest let’s look at a typical class structure. This is important as it allows you to plan sessions and give the appearance that there is some sort of order in place. It gives students the security of knowing what’s happening each week.

A typical class will start with a warmup and should be structured to suit the physical strengths of those in the class. A good instructor should pick up on the different physical types and the technical level of students in the session and a good instructor should be able to improvise around the main theme of the class. If you can’t improvise, then I suggest you learn. Having too rigid a structure can be detrimental to the development of the students.

I also make it clear to students that they need to respect the art, the gym and their fellow participants. Leave the old ego by the door and open yourself to learning something new. Respect should be reciprocal and an excellent instructor will never bring their ego into the gym either.

Lead by example, as they say.

Poor attitude in a student usually comes from the Teacher’s attitude. If a student shows bad manners or lack of etiquette, I generally take them off to the side and have a quiet word explaining what type of behaviour is expected in the gym.

This is important, not just for the smooth running of the gym but also from a safety point of view. We are practicing a dangerous contact sport and I would never want students getting badly injured in training. It’s true to say that a student should expect bumps and bruises from time to time. It is Muay Thai after all. But if injuries occur frequently, I would question the training methods that the instructor is using.

If you find yourself, or others, are being injured every week, find another instructor!

It is customary for a student to bow when entering the gym, just as the fighters bow before climbing into the ring. So get used to it!

We should also make bows (Wai) at the start of a sequence with a partner and at the end of the session in the closing line up. I always start a session with a lineup, a bow and then a short warm up which will vary from instructor to instructor.

In the West we don’t have the luxury of being able to train 6 hours a day as they do in Thailand. Sessions are usually around the 1 hour 30 minute length, so we don’t want to have a warm up that lasts for 20 minutes! Keep it short and structure it so it warms up the primary muscle groups that will be used in that session.

I then move onto to a short period of footwork patterns lasting no longer than 5 minutes, before moving onto the main body of the session. This is either done with a partner or as a solo drill.

Once I have established that everyone’s footwork is up to scratch I will have them work drills without pads, then move those techniques onto the pads.

Always ensure that students are holding the pads correctly and always give guidance on how this should be done. You cannot afford for students to injure each other because of shoddy pad work. Pad work is a skill in its own right and needs as much work as training actual technique on the pads.

Whatever it is you have chosen to teach on the pads, you must always keep in mind that everyone, and I mean everyone, in the class is given attention. Correction of mistakes is done by demonstrating correct technique.

I often see instructors showing how “not to do a technique.”  This is a bad methodology. Always correct the student and show them how it should be done. Always keep things positive.

With the main body of the lesson completed, I do a recap of what it is we have been doing and why.

At this point, if there are questions, I answer them and share them with the group.

I will then often do a cooldown of about 5 mins or so, which usually includes some stretching.

We then line up and bow out!

Obviously, this is a very brief overview of the way I teach a Technical class. A fighters class has a very different structure and will usually last longer with sparring and ringcraft and heavy bag work.

I hope this post proves useful if you are just starting out and next post will be about wrapping the hands.

Incidentally, if you are a new Instructor and would like guidance please get in touch.

Until then,

Sawadee Khrup!