Muay Thai, like other combat sports, requires a certain type of clothing when training and competing in order to maximise movement. Unlike other combat sports, the visual style of Muay Thai shorts has developed over the years, leading to a much flashier, vibrant style.
A quick look online will give you hundreds of results, with a range of better known and lesser known brands, but unless you know what you’re looking for, then it’s one big mix of colours.
If you’re new to combat sports then you might want to check out our guide on choosing the right shorts for your combat sport, which will go over the basic differences between the different styles of shorts and help you work out what you should be training with. That said, if your heart is in Muay Thai and you want to know a little more to make sure you know what to buy, then this article is the one for you.
What makes Muay Thai shorts different?
While different combat sports may be similar, there are a number of differences which require their clothing to be designed slightly differently – for example flexibility, grappling, or simply cultural heritage.
Muay Thai is a sport which very quickly transitions between striking and grappling (in the forms of clinching and catching kicks for example) which means any loose clothing increases the risk of getting caught on clothing, or competitors using the clothing for additional grip. As a result, heavier clothing such as Gis and loose trousers aren’t ideal, and the natural solution is to sway towards more minimal clothing – such as shorts.
Let’s step back and look at the history
Muay Thai as we know it today developed properly around the 1920s, coinciding with the introduction of modern protective equipment and rules, however it has its roots in the various martial disciplines referred to as Muay Boran that are recorded from the mid-18th Century. This evolution was heavily inspired by the traits of western boxing, with it’s influence seen in the ring, gloves and – you guessed it – shorts.
While traditional boxing shorts were a good starting point, it was inevitable that they would be updated to make them more suitable for the kicking-heavy sport. While Boxing shorts grew a little longer over time, Muay Thai shorts were developed into a shorter cut. Eventually Muay thai shorts developed their own style, with louder colours, visuals and text (not too dissimilar from the way MMA short styles developed at the beginning of Mixed Martial Arts as a sport).
Do I need to wear Muay Thai shorts to train Muay Thai?
The short answer here is no, but that’s not always the case.
If you’re training in a casual environment, then there’s absolutely no obligation to wear Muay Thai shorts. As long as you’re wearing something suitable, the chances are nobody will mind. Many competitions will also run under similar rules.
That said, the Thai culture is very built upon respect, and if you’re training at a dedicated Muay Thai gym which takes itself a little more seriously, then it can be seen as a little disrespectful to train in the sport without wearing the proper equipment. This should be pretty easy to spot just by checking the people around you, but if in doubt, speaking to the coach would be the safest way of learning your gym’s attitude.
There are stories out there of people being told they need to reach a certain level before wearing Muay Thai shorts, however this is not an authentic rule. Muay Thai shorts are designed primarily for functionality, and there is no authentic ranking system of any kind in the sport. If a gym chooses to enforce such a system, it’s purely a decision of the gym owner, likely to pull the sport in line with other commercialised martial arts such as karate or judo. This is not a common system, and is frowned upon by the majority of Muay Thai practitioners.
A couple of things to avoid
With Muay Thai’s surge in popularity in the west, more western brands are producing some great shorts for the sport. The problem is, those brands (and often the buyers themselves) aren’t aware of some of the cultural significance of some of the designs being used.
There have been a number of shorts in recent years which have been produced with all good intentions, but ended up being completely offensive to Thai people. In Thai culture anything below the waist is not considered a respectful position, and so certain designs should never be placed there. Included are designs relating to royalty, gods and the Thai flag.
As a general rule, it’s probably safest to avoid anything with symbolism that you don’t understand.
The two main cuts
Muay Thai shorts can vary a little in size and shape, but there are two main styles that are often referred to – The standard/traditional cut, and a ‘retro’ style cut. Due to changes in fashion and technology, there’s been a recent surge in popularity of ‘Retro’ style Muay Thai shorts.
Standard / Traditional
Standard (or Traditional) Muay Thai shorts vary a little in length, but are typically a short-to-medium length cut. They get maximum flexibility by having very wide legs, and as such Thai fighters have developed a habit of rolling the waistband to increase this even more.
The ‘Retro’ style of Muay Thai short is designed as a shorter, squarer cut, which makes use of arched slits on either side to compensate in terms of flexibility. There’s a trend for these types of shorts to have different material panels on each side, although this is mostly for style.
Muay Thai Shorts in fashion
Muay Thai shorts evolved for the sport, so it might come as some surprise to know that this brash, colourful style of shorts has been used by celebrities as an item of fashion.
Muay Thai is gaining in popularity, and more influencers are getting involved in the sport. Wiz Khalifa was a notable inclusion, seen frequently rocking his Yokkao kit. Singer Joe Jonas, Actor Idris Elba and model Mia Kang are also known to have a passion for the sport. As a result it’s no surprise that other celebs took notice.
Pharrell Williams attracted attention in 2018 with his collaboration with Japanese brand Nigo, which lead to him wearing Muay Thai shorts for fashion in a handful of social media posts. While he has been one of the most notable mentions, he wasn’t the first. Singer/rapper Missy Elliot featured Muay Thai shorts on her backup dancers in the video for 2015’s WTF (Where they From) – which coincidentally features Pharrell Williams. In 2016, Selena Gomez performed an entire concert rocking a pair of Raja shorts.
Now you know everything you need to about the shorts themselves, and in Part 2 we’ll be honing in on how to make sure you buy yourself the right pair, including a short focus on each of the major brands and what to expect.