The Difference in Muay Thai Vs. Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a term that is used to describe a large number of different combat sports and martial arts that incorporate kicking and punching. However, that broad description can encompass several different kickboxing styles, various offshoots of karate or other traditional martial arts, as well as a style in its own right. Muay Thai is one of the more popular distinct forms of kickboxing.

Muay Thai is a distinct kickboxing art. (Image: OSTILL/iStock/Getty Images)


Kickboxing is often used as a catch all term to cover any kind of combat sport involving kicking and punching, as well as many other techniques. However, the term is most accurately used to describe the form of competition that was pioneered by American karate practitioners such as Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris, who sought to test their skills in the ring. They wore boxing gloves and foot protectors while competing in rings, using karate kicks and boxing punches to create a hybrid combat sport known as full contact kickboxing or freestyle karate.

Kickboxing Styles

Freestyle karate and full contact kickboxing typically require participants to wear boxing gloves and padded foot protectors. Most styles do not allow kicks to the legs either, with the emphasis instead on fast paced, aggressive fighting with flamboyant high kicks and a heavy focus on boxing. Other styles include K1, which was created in Japan as an offshoot of full contact karate styles such as Kyokushin and Seidokaikan, and is the major kickboxing organization in the world today. K1 rules permit kicks to the legs and the rest of the body in addition to knee strikes.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a martial art derived from the ancient battlefield arts of Thailand such as Muay Boran and Krabi Krabong. It literally translates to "Thai boxing" and is often referred to as the "science of eight limbs." The eight limbs refer to the weapons allowed. Unlike ordinary kickboxing, Muay Thai permits strikes with the knees and the elbows, as well as punches and kicks. Muay Thai bouts feature a lot of kicks to the legs to slow down an opponent, as well as a lot of clinch work. Clinch work is a Muay Thai specialty in which you control your opponent's upper body with your arms in order to land knees and elbows or to throw them to the mat.

Kickboxing vs. Muay Thai

Many kickboxers compete in Muay Thai competitions and vice versa, and both arts are commonly used by those looking to improve their striking for mixed martial arts competitions. The main differences in styles center on the permitted techniques. Muay Thai contains a greater range of strikes with the knees and elbows, while the addition of clinch work makes for an effective fighter at all ranges. Kickboxing tends to focus more on mobility, moving around an opponent while looking for clean shots, whereas Muay Thai fighters often seek to grind down an opponent with repeated heavy shots to the legs or even to a fighter's guard. Even kicks are delivered differently, with Muay Thai using the hard shin to strike rather than the foot with its multiple small bones. Most mixed martial artists will turn to Muay Thai to supplement their striking because of the array weapons available and the crossover application.

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