Kickboxing combines the rapid-fire punches of boxing with the kicking techniques of Eastern martial arts like karate. Depending on whether you study kickboxing at a gym or a martial arts studio, it can range in intensity from a vigorous aerobic workout to a hardcore competitive contact sport. Whether you’re going for awesome physical conditioning or you want to fight, training with an experienced instructor can help you avoid injury. Consult your doctor before you begin kickboxing training.
Kickboxing has deep roots in Thailand. There is speculation that the ancient art of kickboxing known as Muay Thai originated on the battlefield before evolving over the centuries to become the sport it is today. Kickboxing in the west originated as a response to the rules of karate competitions -- specifically those that require participants to avoid full contact strikes and kicks. In the 1970s, American karate practitioners decided to found WAKO, the World All Style Karate Organization, which eventually changed its name to the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations, according to kickboxing instructor Eddie Cave, author of “Kickboxing: The Essential Guide to Mastering the Art.” Over time, the sport integrated safety rules and protective clothing, according to the website Kickboxing.com. As a competitive sport, kickboxing is true to its origins and can be relatively dangerous, but it offers excellent physical training.
Kickboxing entered popular consciousness as an aerobic workout method in the 1990s, when martial arts gurus like Billy Blanks introduced exercise programs that involve kicking and punching in time to music. If you take kickboxing at your local gym, this fast-paced, energetic workout is the form you’re most likely to encounter. Be aware, however, that this type of kickboxing doesn’t offer much in terms of self-defense, says middle weight kickboxing champion Bill Wallace, writing in the August 1999 issue of “Black Belt” magazine. Joint injuries also are more likely if you don’t understand how to correctly execute punches and kicks, Wallace argues.
Kickboxing is adaptable — you can train more or less intensely to meet your fitness and martial arts goals, according to fitness guru Karon Karter and former Ultimate Fighting Champion Guy Mezger in their book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Kickboxing.” If you want to fight, join a martial arts club that offers kickboxing instruction and teaches you how to spar. If you’re looking for stress release or trying to build a better body, a good kickboxing instructor can help you, Karter and Mezger advise.
As competitive martial arts go, kickboxing can be particularly brutal. Competitive kickboxers suffer a larger number of facial injuries than those participating in boxing, tae kwon do or Thai boxing, according to a 2010 article published in the “Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock” by Gholamreza Shirani and colleagues at Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences in Tehran. Seventy-three percent of the kickboxers in the study experienced facial fractures. The study's authors noted that professional fighters sustained more injuries than amateurs.
Kickboxing training is excellent for developing speed, strength and cardiovascular health. If you want to spar with a smaller risk of injury, pursue a competitive martial art with stronger safety regulations than kickboxing. In a typical karate tournament, participants must pull punches and kicks. The goal is using correct technique to score points, rather than using sheer physical force. While you might gain victory over your opponent, traditional martial arts tournaments invite you to gain mastery over yourself, says Hirokazu Kanazawa, president of the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation, in his book “Karate Fighting Techniques: The Complete Kumite.”