Khan Grading Structure – Student

Khan Grading Structure – Teacher

Mongkol levels for teachers


Thai Martial Arts are comprised of many unique and ingenious traditions, techniques, concepts, ceremonies and practices however, like virtually all other Martial Arts prior to the twentieth century, a uniform system of ranking was not part of the curriculum.

Over centuries of battlefield and later, sporting combat in Siam and abroad, there was no real distinction between teachers and disciples other than the designation of “Kru” (ครู) and “Sit” (ศิษย์).

Kru, which roughly translates as “teacher” or “master”, is derived from the traditional Sanskrit title of “Guru”. The title of Guru has been used ubiquitously in India for Millennia to describe experts in a broad range of fields; both religious and secular. The title of Kru however, was seen as an inadequate in today modern climate of traditional Martial Arts in clarifying seniority among it’s title holders. Traditionally, age and/or Martial proficiency used to determine which Kru held seniority.

Before one could become a Sit of the given Kru, an initiation ceremony known as “Kuen Kru” (ขึ้นครู) was required in which the prospective student would humbly apply to study under the guidance of the Kru by prostrating and offering gifts of currency, joss sticks, Bermuda grass, eggplant or lotus flowers, puffed rice, loincloths etc., according to the Regional Traditions, in a ceremony derived from Buddhism and Hinduism. The Sit takes an Age Old Oath to uphold the honor of the Art and their Master loyally and correctly, and begins studying the Art under the auspices of their Kru.

For centuries this simple system of bilateral ranking was used universally in Thai Martial Arts, however recently there has been a revolution of ingenuity in Muay Thai Boran propelled by an elite group of dedicated and progressive Grandmasters in Thailand and abroad.

Beginning in the late 1950s Muay Thai came into the consciousness of those outside of Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular, on a large scale when Karate practitioners began learning the Art in Japan.

In the 1960s Muay Thais influence in Japan would be the catalyst for several new hybrid styles of Martial Arts being created, namely Kyokushin Karate and Kickboxing.

Shortly thereafter the Noble Art would take its first steps towards International practice and proliferation when three young visionary Kru emigrated to England from Thailand and introduced the Art to Europe.

It was in 1975 when Masters Woody (Chinawut Sirisompan) Toddy (Thohsaphol Sitiwatjana) and Sken (Kaewpadung) began sharing the methods and culture of Thai Boxing with Europeans. This would cause a domino effect that disseminated the Art across the globe.

In 2003 a group of the world’s top experts and scholars of Muay Thai Boran banded together to form an association with the most ambitious objectives ever undertaken for the Art. Senior Grand Masters. Yodtong Senanan (Sriwaralak), Phosawat Saengsawan, Jarusdej Ulit, GM. Pranom Ampin (Kru Dang) Dr. Sompon Saengchai, Pajon Muenson and Nachapon Banlenpadit; along with Grandmaster Woody, who was still living in England at the time, founded the “Kru Muay Thai Association” (สมาคมครูมวยไทย) and registered the organization with the Royal Thai Government’s National Cultural Commission Ministry of Culture on May 9th, 2003.

The mission statement and Mandate of the organization was to unite all legitimate experts of the Art across the globe with a standardized educational curriculum and system of advancement which would be recognized by the Thai government throughout the to the Ministry of Culture and Education.

This audacious endeavor to codify, promote and proliferate the Art internationally in a systematic manner compelled these great luminaries to standardize the syllabus in an academic and uniform way.

Realizing the inadequacy of an absence of a standardized ranking system, the collective, spearheaded by Grandmaster Woody, went about creating a ranking system that would combine tradition with innovation and garner the Art the much needed and deserved legitimacy and structure in the modern world of Martial Arts Sciences.

The Savvy Grandmasters of KMA devised a Thai version of using the traditional titles and amulets of the Thai Martial Arts to give the ranking system a distinct Thai flavor unique to Thai Culture and Traditions. The development of this uniquely Thai ranking system was primarily developed by the Visionary Grandmaster Woody.

Grandmaster Woody used his extensive knowledge of Traditional Thai Culture

Grandmaster Woody set about the tedious journey of codifying a revolutionary ranking system for the Martial Art of Muay Thai Boran.

Grandmaster Woody’s objectives in the development of this ranking system went beyond just standardization and included two other important goals :

1. The first objective of the Khan ranking system was to provide former professional fighters a means to utilize their knowledge and experience in making a living for themselves once they retire from fighting. In Thailand professional fighters tend to retire around the age of 25, these still youthful men often find themselves working in dead end jobs with no prospect of upward mobility, wasting their talents and knowledge. The Khan grade provides these valuable Martial Artists a means to become accredited and recognized by the Thai government and earn a meaningful living with the skills and knowledge that they spent years of their life developing.

2. The second aspect of the Khan ranking system that the Grandmasters sought to address was the fact that many individuals outside of Thailand and even within the borders of the Kingdom had an interest in learning the traditional Martial Art of Muay Thai Boran but we’re not interested in being fighters. Many of the world’s best teachers and Grandmasters have themselves never in fact participated in the ring fighting sport of Muay Thai but rather are true Masters and Scholars of the rich Traditional Marital Art which encompasses an in-depth knowledge of the various ancient styles. The Khan ranking system gives those who are not fighters recognition for their years of dedicated practice and study of the Art by certifying them as legitimate experts in the field Muay Thai Boran.

This system, which came to be called the “Khan” (ขั้น) grading system, consists of 19 grades or levels.

The first 10 grades are student grades.

The Khan grades of 1 through 4 are novice or beginner levels;

Khans 5 through 7 signify intermediate ranks; and

Khans 8 through 10 are reserved for advanced students.

Khan 10 is the Kru Muay Thai Association’s Khan grade equivalent of a “Black Belt” in other Martial Arts.

Those students who have achieved the rank of Khan 10 and have a desire to become instructors undergoing a ceremony known as “Krop Kru” and begin as apprentice or Trainee/Assistant Instructors known in Thai as “Puchuay Kru” (ผู้ช่วยครู), at the rank of Khan 11 or Mongkol 1. Khan 11 holders wear red and white Mongkol and Brajeat and a red uniform with white sleeve trim, red collar with Thai designs and a white sash or “Pakaoma” (ผ้าขาวม้า).

After a period of at least one year, and at the discretion of and recommendation of supervising superior Khan grade Instructor, the Trainee may take the exam to become a “Kru” (ครู), or Teacher/Fully Qualified Instructor. Mongkol 2 holders wear a red and yellow Mongkol and the traditional red uniform with yellow sleeve trim, red collar with Thai embellishments and a yellow sash.

Once awarded Khan 12 or Monkol 2, the exponent may apply for a promotion to Khan 13 known as “Kru Yai” (ครูใหญ่) or Senior Instructor/Assistant Master, after a duration of three to five years since being promoted to Khan 12, providing that they have met all of the requirements and pass the examination of khan 13 or Mongkol 3 representatives wear a red and silver Mongkol and the red uniform with silver sleeve trim, red collar with Thai designs and a silver sash.

The next level of achievement is the rank of Khan 14. Khan 14 signifies the first level of “Mastership” which is known in the Thai language as “Ajahn” (อาจารย์). Like the aforementioned designation of Kru, Ajahn is derived from Sanskrit title of “Acariya”. Promotion to the rank of Master is a very significant honor reserved only for the most dedicated Muay Thai Boran exponents who demonstrate extraordinary knowledge of the Art and contributions to its proliferation in their nation and abroad.

Applicants for Khan 14 for must present themselves to the Kru Muay Thai Association’s Executive Committee, made up of the Senior Grandmasters, for the examination or khan 14 or Mongkol 4 holders wear a silver Mongkol and the red uniform with silver sleeve trim and collar and a silver sash.

Once Mastership has been earned, the Master will then, through continued work and promotion of the Art and their nation and the world as a whole, be considered for the rank of Khan 15 or Mongkol 5. This fifth Mongkol marks the commencement of the highest honor and responsibility known as “Grand mastership”.

Mongkol 5 or khan 15 much like Mongkol 1 and 3, is an apprentice rank where the Master becomes an Assistant Grandmaster known in the Thai language as “Puchuay Bramajahn” (ผู้ช่วยปรมาจารย์).

This Assistant Grandmaster works closely with a Grandmaster on the path to becoming a full Grandmaster. Mongkol 5 representatives wear a red uniform with silver sleeve trim and a gold collar, a silver and gold sash with a gold and silver Mongkol.

Once promoted to Assistant Grandmaster, the title holder is eligible for advancement to the sacred rank of full Grandmaster after a minimum period of 7 to 10 years since obtaining Mongkol 5.

Khan 16 or Mongkol 6 denotes certified Grandmaster or “Bramajahn” (ปรมาจารย์) and is a rare and high honor indeed. Bramajahn, much like all terminology used in Thai Martial Arts, is also derived from Sanskrit words of “Brahma”, the principal Hindu deity considered the first and supreme deity.

Once becoming a Grandmaster, the next stages again after a minimal period of 7 to 10 years is Khan 17 or “Puchuay Brahmajahn Awuso” (ผู้ช่วยปรมาจารย์อาวุโส) which means Assistant Senior Grandmaster.

Khan 18 or “Rong Bramajahn Awuso” (รองปรมาจารย์อาวุโส), meaning Accociate Senior Grandmaster.

Finally, the highest-rank possible in the Khan system, Khan 19 or Senior Grandmaster, “Brahmajahn Awuso” (ปรมาจารย์อาวุโส), a title reserved for only a select few of the most accomplished knowledgeable and honorable representatives who have dedicated their entire lives to the promotion proliferation and advancement of the Noble Art and have made consistent and significant contributions.

Mongkol 9 is a rank only held by five living Grandmasters after one of the chief founders of the Kru MuayThai Association, the legendary GM. Yodtong, passed away in 2013.

Mongkol’s 6-9 all wear the red uniform with gold sleeve trim and collar, gold sashes and gold Mongkols.

The Kru Muay Thai Associations development of and utilization of a codified ranking system based on a structured education curriculum has evolved a well-respected combat sport into a Traditional Martial Art which has a standardized curriculum.

This Renaissance of the Art has been the catalyst for unprecedented growth and a global community of practitioners who can trace their lineage back to the legitimate, recognized experts of the Art rather than the former free for all of unqualified so-called Kru who knew little or nothing of the Art outside of what they had learned from watching Muay Thai or Kickboxing matches and whose knowledge only extended to fighting techniques derived from Muay Thai.