Questions are more powerful than answers. A good question forces us on paths of exploration to seek truth. Sometimes these paths are new, sometimes old; and inspires us to see something we’ve overlooked before.
My student today asked a great question. Which in turn made me look inward and remember something I have forgotten.
He was going about his regular workday, and as usual looked to share his passion for Muay Thai and training to anyone willing to listen or exchange. He met someone who also trained in Muay Thai, but in a slightly different orientation. My student was learning traditional Muay Thai, while his friend was doing MMA; boxing, and Dutch Muay Thai. He had said something that struck my student:
“Traditional Muay Thai is irrelevant and the fighting has evolved. You need to learn more than just Traditional Muay Thai these days”
He asked me my thoughts, and this is what led to our path of inquiry. The my initial reaction was largely emotional, as I have personal reservations about such beliefs, this was not the situation for it. My student was asking his teacher for his opinion.
So above all, this was a learning opportunity for the both of us.
The following was my response:
‘Tradition’ is a very imprecise word. It’s often used, but rarely applied in the right context and often assumed. I can’t tell you exactly what ‘Traditional’ is in a hard sense, but what I can tell you is that ‘Traditional Muay Thai’ is not necessarily a style.
Style happens from skill
Skill happens from Form
Form, happens from education.
‘Traditional Muay Thai’ at this phase in your training is not necessarily a method of fighting. In it's infancy, 'Traditional Muay Thai' is a method of learning, and teaching. The method, is about the process of Muay Thai skill. In Thai, it is called 'Tasa'--the process in which physique, becomes technique.
When we teach children division, which way do we teach them as an introduction? the long way? or short way?
Yes. Learning things the long way allows for the students to learn in a full way. Meaning, they get to see all the principles that go unseen when we speed it up. Knowing the principles allows the student to adapt and manipulate when they get to higher level mathematics where several mathematic disciplines exist in one problem (equations).
Fighting is the same thing. A Fight, for all intents and purposes is a chaotic and dirty situation. To win, you must have skill, conditioning and will all in a hyper concentrated moment in life. In other words, it’s a moment in which you must express what you know. There is a difference between training, and learning. Learning the fundamental ways of moving, primarily the transition from balance, to imbalance and back to balance (offense to defense) is a matter of learning how one moves, and the most efficient way to do so.
So from that perspective, learning ‘traditionally’ is simply to say that you are learning formally. You are learning novice concepts, with the goal of transitioning to intermediate concepts, and later on advanced concepts. Learning traditional Muay Thai has nothing to do with whether you will be good or not, or whether you are lacking in an area; thats up to you to express should you be a fighter one day. Learning Traditionally simply means you are being taught in a formal way:
Yam Sam Khum…Sieu Yam…Yam Si Teet…How to stand, how to walk, how to turn…
As for Traditional Muay Thai being ‘Irrelevant’…well thats a matter of perspective and can be argued in many ways. Technically, in a regulated world with police and military, the average citizen is not required (and many times illegal) to defend themselves hand to hand anymore. Statistics show that the ratio of those who die from disease greatly outnumber those who die from murder exponentially. If we are talking about winning fights where our lives are on the line—it is disease that is winning that war, not Connor McGregor.
However, if your goal is to be the UFC Champion, then there is some credence to his thoughts.
My point is, 'relevance' is always in the students hands. You are the one that makes Muay Thai relevant; it is your intentions that make it useful or useless. What is Muay Thai to you? Is it for a means of personal development? recreation? Social Media content? Why are you learning this and what do you plan to use it for?
Your friend is an MMA practitioner. Perhaps his perspective is rooted in his application: A means to get a professional career in the Octagon. So from his perspective, he is correct. But you must ask yourself:
What is my perspective?
Remember, from everyones perspective they are correct. What is important here is to understand why you train and what Muay Thai does for you.
And as far as ‘learning more than just Muay Thai’…
If Muay Thai meets and better yet, exceeds your needs and desires for training, then the need to learn ‘more’ is a relative matter. What does ‘more’ mean to you? It can mean learning deeper in Muay Thai, or learning wider and encompassing other styles. Only you can decide for you, no one else.