Is Muay Thai Kickboxing?
At first glance, Muay Thai and Kickboxing can look indistinguishable. Both Muay Thai and Kickboxing employ a stand-up fighting style (as opposed to grappling-based martial art forms like wrestling or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). When it comes to competition, both operate on a 3-5 round timed structure on a platform or in a ring.
And though both stem from the same ancient weaponless combat form, the two martial arts are actually very distinct. In this blog, we’ll demystify the difference between Kickboxing and Muay Thai and the history of both combat sports.
Muay Thai vs Kickboxing: History
The History of Muay Thai
Often called “the art of 8 limbs,” Muay Thai traces its roots back to ancient Thailand—or Siam. The martial art was born out of unarmed military combat training and has evolved over the years to become one of the most popular styles of martial arts across the globe.
Muay Thai gained popularity in the western hemisphere around the time of World War I and adopted several western boxing practices, such as padded boxing gloves and 3-5 timed rounds in a ring. Bangkok continues to be revered as the premier city for training in traditional Muay Thai.
The History of Kickboxing
In its purest form, American Kickboxing is a hybrid martial art developed in mid-1900s Japan by fighters who adapted Karate, Western boxing, and Muay Thai techniques. The term “Kickboxing” was first coined by Osamu Noguchi, who wanted to create a sport where Karate and Muay Thai fighters could compete against each other. The Karate influence can especially be seen in the Kickboxer’s bladed stance and snappy, knee-hinging kicks.
The new sport quickly gained popularity across Thailand and was later brought to the Netherlands by a Dutch martial artist named Jan Plas. Plas developed Dutch Kickboxing with an emphasis on high-volume punches, forward pressure, and hard low kicks.
American Kickboxing quickly distinguished itself by trading in the point-fighting system for full contact combat. American Kickboxing also prohibits low kicks to the thigh or calf.
Muay Thai vs. Kickboxing: 5 Key Differences
Striking Systems - Kickboxing is built on a 4-point striking system (2 punches and 2 kicks), while Muay Thai uses an 8-point striking system that includes knee strikes, elbow strikes, and upper body grappling that’s referred to as the “full clinch.” Because of this, Kickboxers often fight from a distance, while Muay Thai artists move in and out of their opponent’s pocket.
Movement - Thai fighters tend to move at a more even pace—their foundational footwork movement is a forward 1-2-3 march called the Yang Sam Khum that keeps their feet flat-footed and their head centerline.
In contrast, Kickboxers stay on the balls of their feet and bounce and circle around the ring. Kickboxers move in and out of the striker zone at a lightning-fast pace, cutting angles with their footwork to set up and doge attacks.
Stance - If a Muay Thai fighter and a Kickboxer are facing each other in a ring (say, in a UFC or Bellator Mixed Martial Arts fight), they’re going to hold their bodies very differently.
The Muay Thai fighter will be standing flat on their feet, hips facing their opponent, hands at their temples to block strikes.
The Kickboxer will be bouncing on their feet with one foot significantly ahead of the other, creating a bladed stance that turns the side of their torso towards their opponent. Their hands will likely be a little lower, as Kickboxers fight from a distance.
Kicks - Kicks to the body and head are cornerstones of both Muay Thai and Kickboxing…but not all kicks are created equal.
In Muay Thai, fighters kick by turning their hips and landing with the lower shin. They don’t bend their knee, but rather keep the leg relaxed until the moment of impact, resulting in a powerhouse of a kick that can feel and sound like the crack of a baseball bat. It’s because of this force that Muay Thai artists are trained to check their opponent’s kicks to prevent serious damage to their legs.
Kickboxers, on the other hand, hinge from the knee and lift the leg up to strike with the foot rather than the shin. Because pure kickboxing fights are often scored by points, fighters are motivated to deliver rapid-fire kicks that may not knock out their opponent but will rack up points for strikes. In American Kickboxing, fighters are not allowed to throw kicks to their opponent’s thighs or calves.
Volume and Pace - Watch even just one round of Kickboxing and you’ll be able to grasp how much of kickboxing is a barrage of strikes. Kickboxers are volume strikers—they strike fast and often, punctuating strike combos with a mix of high and low kicks.
On the other hand, Muay Thai fighters tend to fight with a more patient and measured style. Many Muay Thai gyms coach a Sabai Sabai mindset, which loosely translates to “keep it chill.” The idea is to slowly wear down your opponent and then when they’re tired, knock them out with ruthless efficiency.
At the end of the day, both Muay Thai and Kickboxing are incredible workouts, great for your mental health, and badass as hell. So now that you know what's the difference between Kickboxing and Muay Thai are you ready to try them?
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