Kickboxing is known to be a very effective martial art as proven by its results in the ring in kickboxing and MMA fights.
Although it’s generally not thought of as a martial art that has a belt system, certain types of kickboxing do in fact have a belt grading system. Today, I will explain how long it takes to get a black belt in kickboxing.
On average, it takes 4 years to get a blackbelt in kickboxing. In the UK and USA, the grading progression goes white, red, yellow, orange, blue, purple, brown, black. Savate (French kickboxing) uses a colored glove system. Muay Thai kickboxing has no formal grading system.
In this article, I will explain the difference in grading systems between the different forms of kickboxing, as well as how each belt level is awarded.
How the Kickboxing Grading System Works
Interestingly, Muay Thai typically doesn’t use a belt ranking system.
However, Muay Thai schools have been known to award different colored armbands known as prajioud in the Thai language. There is no international grading system for kickboxing, and therefore it very much depends on the school.
In Savate, the kickboxing style from France, different colored gloves are awarded to signify skill level. The progression of colors goes blue, green, yellow, silver.
But there is variation between different Savate schools.
For example, in the UK it goes blue, green, red, white, yellow, silver.
Most countries follow a system where blue is the first glove color, and silver is the equivalent of a blackbelt. However, the middle belts can vary a bit based on the school.
Here’s a helpful table that shows this info:
|USA & UK Kickboxing
|Savate (French kickboxing)
With Muay Thai – Thai kickboxing the armbands and headbands are worn for good luck. These traditionally didn’t use colors to denote experience level.
Some Muay Thai schools will use colored singlets or bands which is helpful when trainers are holding pads so they know their skill level.
Silver gloves in French Kickboxing (Savate) are very hard to obtain
According to the USA Savate Federation, silver gloves are very difficult to get.
A person of this rank is very rare, and some people estimate there are only 20 in the entire USA.
They also state that gradings are held twice per year, and you won’t go up two ranks in one year. There are also stripes awarded for silver gloves, with the highest rank being silver gloves with 3 stripes.
If you are to compare the rank of silver gloves in Savate to other martial arts such as karate, judo, or BJJ Brazilian jiu-jitsu here’s how the belts relate relative to how long they typically take to get and the average time it takes to obtain:
|Savate (French kickboxing)
|Brazilian jiu jitsu
|Black belt dan ranks (stripes)
|Black belt dan ranks
|Red and white belt
|Red and black belt (called a coral belt)
As you can see silver gloves which are the highest rank in Savate is equivalent in time and effort to somewhere between a red and white belt and red belt in judo, and a red and black belt (coral belt), and a red belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This is essentially a black belt with all the stripes on their belt.
The same is true in karate and is equivalent to about a black belt with 7 or more stripes.
If you’re interested in the belt ranking system for Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) check out this article about how long it takes to get a red belt in BJJ.
How Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) differs from the Savate ranking system
For Muay Thai kickboxing there isn’t generally a formalized ranking system.
The culture of kickboxing in Thailand is that children will start at a very early age at around 5 to 10 years old and do it as a career. When they train kickboxing they live on the premises, or if the parents live close by they will drop them off in the morning.
They will train almost every day until they’re in their mid 20’s then they will retire.
Because this is the culture of Muay Thai in Thailand there isn’t a belt ranking system. Instead, the trainers know their fighters extremely well and adjust their training accordingly.
Classifying competitors for kickboxing competitions
The World Kickboxing Association in the USA uses a classification system based on wins in competition to determine what class competitors should compete in.
According to their official rules which can be found here, competitors are classified as follows:
|Licensed as a professional fighter
They say that the number of losses aren’t important only the amount of wins. To be a licensed professional fighter is generally quite involved, and requires a bit of paperwork. The exact requirements differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
In the USA there is an Athletic Commission for each state. They administer rules to keep competitors safe, and each Athletic commission has different requirements to be a licensed professional kickboxer.
They also cover boxing, and MMA competitors.
How long it takes to go from one belt to the next in kickboxing
Where a kickboxing school in the USA or the UK uses a colored belt ranking system, it generally takes a minimum of 6 months to go from one belt to the next according to British Kickboxing Council.
They also say that after a black belt there are 5 degrees. To reach the highest belt under their grading system which is a 5th-degree black belt it takes 20 years.
Based on the 6 month minimum between belts it will take a minimum of four years to get a black belt under the British Kickboxing Council grading system.
To get silver gloves it takes a very long time, about 40 years or more according to anecdotal stories online.
The official Savate websites don’t provide an estimate for how long it takes, but it’s generally considered to take a very long time, and about the time it takes to get a white and red belt in judo, a coral belt in BJJ, or about 7 stripes on your black belt for karate.
These on average take a minimum of 20 years but can take much longer.
Boxing has no formalized belt ranking system similar to Muay Thai
There are two broad categories of martial arts, striking and grappling. Striking martial arts often have some understanding of grappling.
For example, in boxing, once fighters get tired or find themselves in a bad position they will grab a hold of their opponent until the ref breaks them up.
Also, kickboxing has many throws and trips. However, most of the time in competitive matches is spent standing at a striking distance and throwing and blocking strikes.
Here’s a good video that shows some basic throws in Muay Thai kickboxing.
Grappling martial arts have some understanding of strikes.
For example, in jiu-jitsu, certain pins are very advantageous for strikes such as the ‘mount position’ or the ‘turtle position’.
The turtle position is a position where a lot of fights are stopped in MMA. But, the main emphasis of both is either grappling or striking.
How long it takes to get good at kickboxing
On average, most people say that you can develop good enough skills to be able to defend yourself doing 3 months of regular sparring.
This will give you the instincts and experience to land strikes and avoid strikes. There are many different opinions on when to start sparring, and it’s important to spar in a way where you don’t take hard strikes to the head. But, also throw strikes in a way that’s realistic.
A kickboxing school that teaches how to spar in this way, where only light contact is made is the sign of a very high-quality kickboxing school. Where hard contact is reserved only for a real fight.
When sparring it’s common for someone to strike a little bit too hard because they feel the rush of adrenaline or want to bully the person a bit.
However, a very good instructor will be keeping a very close eye, and de-escalating this kind of situation if it breaks out in a gym.
It’s important to note that, even a very experienced fighter won’t win 100% of fights against an untrained opponent. There are too many variables involved in a real fight.
If you slip and fall, if a person has a knife, or lands a lucky punch, the fight can be over very quickly.
It’s virtually impossible to avoid every strike in a fight.
And if the right strike lands it can cause a person to become what’s called in MMA, boxing, and kickboxing as ‘hurt’. This is where the person has considerably diminished fighting ability and begins moving much slower, and can be on shaky legs.
This spells the end of a fight if an opponent is able to capitalize before the person can recover.
However, overall a person who has done a lot of sparring will have a much higher chance of winning a real fight, and successfully defending themselves.
In general, it’s always best to avoid fights and only fight as a last resort when you have no other option. When you can get out, or de-escalate a situation it’s always best to do so.
If a person flat out starts attacking you then your only option is to start fighting.
Whether you can be too old to train kickboxing
In Thailand kickboxing is a very popular sport. As you may know, Thai kickboxing is called Muay Thai.
Being a Muay Thai fighter is seen as a legitimate career path but in Thailand, the culture is for Muay Thai kickboxing fighters to have a very short career that ends in their 20’s. But, many older Muay Thai fighters will fight in exhibition matches.
Here’s a really good video that shows how children start off training Muay Thai and go on to become professional fighters.
Because kickboxing is relatively brutal, head injuries add up, and a Muay Thai fighter cannot fight competitively their entire lives.
This is also true of other martial arts such as wrestling, judo, and boxing.
Although head injuries are not common in wrestling and judo, the physical strain on the body and joints means that training competitively can’t be done past about age 30.
It’s well known that a person’s head can only take so much hard impact, to where they suffer brain damage. And has been proven scientifically in many studies.
However, this is a fairly recent finding, and the old ways of training are still quite common. Where people learning the martial art can train ‘hard’.
Based on my research in Thailand people don’t spar hard, as they want to conserve their bodies for competition, and have developed a way of training to be effective in a real fight without suffering hard strikes to the head and body.
There are always exceptions but most people can’t compete in kickboxing competitions past about age 25 to 40. However, they can still train and do light sparring which maintains their reflexes until they are very old.
Kickboxing is trained as part of MMA – no grading system in MMA
It’s still possible to find strictly kickboxing gyms in most countries. Instructors at these schools typically have a fight record in kickboxing either in Thailand, Europe, and/or the United States.
Kickboxing is also taught at MMA gyms, due to the recent rise in the popularity of MMA. These are where kickboxing is trained together with grappling arts such as wrestling, and jiu-jitsu, and boxing.
The reason is that in recent years it has become widely known that a well-rounded fighter needs both skills in striking AND grappling. A pure striker such as a kickboxer or kickboxer can get thrown or wrestled to the ground.
And without some experience or skill on the ground, they can never get up, and a grappler can hold them down for as long as they like, and apply submissions holds, or strike from a position where the opponent is pinned and can’t easily defend.
There is no formal grading system in MMA. Generally, fighters will work their way up the ranks by fighting and getting an MMA record. The same is also true in boxing which
What Is the Highest Belt in Kickboxing?
All martial arts generally have a grading system. Many have a similar color for the highest rank, but others are quite different. So, here’s what the highest belt is in kickboxing.
The highest belt/rank in kickboxing is silver gloves/silver patch for Savate (French kickboxing) or a black belt for some USA/UK kickboxing associations. Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) doesn’t generally have a formalized grading/belt system but some trainers do have one.
Muay Thai kickboxers generally stay with one academy and a few trainers their whole career.
Therefore, they don’t have a need for belt systems as the trainers are very familiar with all of their competitors and their skill level.
Savate is a bit more widespread, and it’s more common for people who do Savate to train at different schools, and therefore, it’s important to know what each student’s rank is.
Is Muay Thai and Kickboxing the Same?
Kickboxing at first glance appears to be very similar to a boxing match but many other techniques are allowed. Muay Thai is often called Thai Boxing, or Muay Thai kickboxing, but are Muay Thai and kickboxing the same thing?
Muay Thai is a style of kickboxing. Kickboxing generally refers to fighting styles such as Muay Thai, Savate, and Sanda. They all have kicks, punches, elbows, knees, trips, and throws. Each kickboxing style has minor differences but the main approach to fighting is the same.
They are very different from boxing. In boxing you cannot strike below the waistline, for example, you cannot punch the legs. In boxing, you also cannot throw any strikes other than punches. Kickboxing is a lot more ‘free’ in that almost all types of strikes are allowed.