Last week’s piece Guidelines For Training In Thailand’s Muay Thai Gyms elicited a comment by MBSB community member Geo that requires a new post in response. Geo asked two questions, the first being:
About the hierarchy, what about the foreigners are they placed somewhere inside or seen as outsiders?
To recap, I had written the following:
Thai culture is deeply hierarchical. In regards to a Muay Thai gym, the order is as follows:
- owner(s) and immediate family
- promoters, matchmakers, anyone who is hired to do office and/or legal work
- the head trainer
- the trainers
- established fighters
- fighters including children
Present within a gym is a hierarchy reflective of age. The young are expected to respect those older regardless of having the same experience and occupying the same space in a gym. For example, a twelve year old fighter will be mindful of the fact that his fifteen year old counterpart bears more status as his elder. The same is expected of you. Be mindful of the established hierarchy. This may require you to be more submissive than you’re accustomed to.
Although being made up of different ethnic groups, Thailand as a whole has a very strong national identity. My understanding based on my own experiences coupled with many discussions with nak muays and expats over the years is that Thais are typically taught to be tolerant of Westerners but as a Westerner you’ll generally be considered as Other regardless of how many years spent living in Thailand. How Other is valued on the individual level is no different than anywhere else I suspect. Other may mean different but worthy of respect or Other may mean different and worthy of less. Other may qualify in any number of ways.
The culture of a Muay Thai gym is no different. In traditional Muay Thai gyms where the main source of income is the Thai fighters, you’ll be Other and expected to fall into the hierarchy below the established fighters regardless of how successful of a fighter you are outside of Thailand. In the above listing, Foreigners are on the same level as fighters including children. However, as you’re a paying customer you’ll be deemed certain privileges the Thais occupying the same hierarchical space won’t. You’ll be trained on pads every day and you may also be trained early in the session.
Such allowances, from my experience are often relative to the amount of money you pay and/or if you do. For example, if you pay the regular non-discounted training price, you may take precedence over other Foreigners who don’t, regardless of their proficiency. Sometimes Foreign nak muays who train long-term in Thailand and pay highly discounted rates, if they pay at all, aren’t trained on pads every day unless they’re fighting regularly (and sometimes, they still aren’t). It’s reflective of the treatment of the Thai fighters occupying the same hierarchical space. Note, females in traditional Muay Thai gyms often go last on pads after every male waiting has had his turn. It doesn’t matter how much they pay.
A Foreigner’s status in a gym may be further influenced by of any number of criteria not limited to:
- the amount of time spent in a gym
- the return on a gym’s investment meaning the monetary value of your gender and ability in a Muay Thai promotion
- relationships between the gym and your home gym
- relationships cultivated within the gym
- how much money you have and spend on trainers outside of training sessions
- your ethnicity
- your gender
- your perceived attractiveness
- your perceived status in general Thai society (who you associate with, where you live, how you dress, etc.)
- who you may or may not have sex with
The list goes on…
Gyms that rely primarily on Foreign business differ in some ways.
Again, I’ve never trained in Phuket and my experience in such gyms is limited. From my understanding, you’ll still occupy the same space in the hierarchy as you would in a traditional Muay Thai gym provided established Thai fighters are present. If they’re not, Foreigners may be given more attention and esteem than they would otherwise.
I’ve experienced this in Chiang Mai. When I arrived at the gym, most of the Thai fighters were young teenagers with limited experience. From my understanding, the gym was surviving primarily on the money made from training Foreigners. As a result, the hierarchy in the gym was much more diluted and the gym culture was very lax. Lax to the point where I wasn’t aware of a hierarchy that differed greatly from gyms in Canada. It didn’t mean the previously outlined hierarchy didn’t exist, however the gym’s tolerance of Western cultural norms and expectations offered a much different and in some ways, fundamentally more egalitarian gym experience.
You’ve touched on a piece of the long-term Foreign nak muay experience that’s often discussed amongst ourselves.
Namely, what the place is of Foreigners in various Muay Thai gyms in Thailand. I continue to have conversations with people in Thailand trying to find a healthy balance of affordable gym fees, consistent and quality training, adequate promotion, inclusion and respect. It’s a mash up of different cultures trying to find a balance while also injecting different egos and circumstances into the mix. Navigating it all is one of the reasons my consulting exists.
What I’ve explained is a general guideline. I recommend that when you arrive at a gym, you use the above information coupled with Guidelines For Training In Thailand’s Muay Thai Gyms and apply the information to your particular circumstances. If anyone reading wants to add to the discussion by offering additional insight, please do so.
Now question number two:
Another question related: what would you suggest to do as a male foreigner, when you see the bigger kids hitting on the smaller one, when no elder is in sight?
As it really would depend on criteria specific to the situation, I feel it’s impossible for me to give you a definitive answer.
What I can suggest is that generally the expectation in a gym is that Foreigners shouldn’t be concerned with what happens between Thais and interfering may be perceived negatively. That being said, this would depend on what qualifies as a kid hitting a smaller kid, the culture of the gym you’re living in, and the relationships and status you’ve cultivated since you arrived. Use your best judgement.
However, I would be careful how you deal with the situation should you find yourself in one. For example, if the bigger kid is related to someone with influence (of any kind), there may be retributions you can’t foresee for intervening. This would also be dependent on how you choose to handle the situation (i.e. how aggressively). Should you become involved, I recommend using the least amount of aggression possible to neutralize the situation. Lastly, it’s also possible that intervening may actually cause the smaller kid more grief/violence later when no one is present.
If it helps at all, I’ve never witnessed this and I don’t know how I would react myself. Again, it would depend on so many specifics; I don’t have a premeditated response. Note,
I have been present for beatings laid out from trainers to fighters, older fighters to younger fighters and gym personnel to young fighters. They were public, some in the gym and some in the street and one involved a weapon held to someone’s head (which thankfully wasn’t used).
The general consensus was that people didn’t get involved. I currently don’t remember witnessing two fighters of roughly the same age and the same status hitting one another out of anger. Although from gossip heard in gyms I’ve been in, it happens.
I’ll put this one out to the MBSB community. Does anyone have experience with this type of situation?