Muay Thai and Kickboxing are both forms of kickboxing, but even people who are into both sports can often struggle to tell the difference.
I understand how confusing it must be, so I researched the internet trying to understand what exactly is the difference between Muay Thai and Kickboxing?
Muay Thai traditionally is 5, 5-minute rounds of striking with all 8 limbs. Kickboxing is 3, 3-minute rounds with no elbows. The Clinch is big in Muay Thai with throws and sweeps being permitted. In Kickboxing the clinch is limited to only 5 seconds with no sweeps or throws allowed.
Now, in reality, Muay Thai dates back several 100 years and has deep spiritual roots in Thailand, this spiritual past and the rules are the biggest difference between the two sports.
I will discuss in detail more of all the differences so you can truly understand what makes Kickboxing kickboxing and how it differs from Muay Thai.
The general difference between Muay Thai and Kickboxing is Muay Thai has an eight-point striking system with elbows and knees as well as kicks and punches being scored.
Kickboxing is a four-point striking system involving kicks and punches with some organizations such as Glory(Glory) allowing knees.
Traditional Muay Thai fights are 5 rounds of 5 minutes similar to UFC title/main event times and Kickboxing fights are 3 rounds of 3 minutes sometimes extending to 5 rounds depending on the promotion.
This makes the pacing of both sports every different. With Muay Thai in Thailand, the first two rounds are not that important and usually, fighters just feel each other out .
In Thailand betting is prohibited aside from specific sports events like in Thai Boxing; the first two rounds are where most of the bets are taken which is why Muay Thai fights start off slower.
In certain Kickboxing organizations like WAKO(world association of kickboxing organizations) fighters are obliged to deliver a minimum of 18 kicks(WAKO Rules) at the end of the match(6 per round) after every round an official kick counter must report to the referee if there are missing kicks.
In Muay Thai there are no striking limits since you have so many weapons available to you it would make little sense. There are big differences between how both sports are scored which is discussed later.
Kickboxing Prohibited Techniques
Although Kickboxing is a very generic term and refers to many different organizations like K-1, Glory, and One Championship they all remove fundamental Muay Thai techniques.
I believe they do this to make Kickboxing more action-oriented and exciting, as clinching and sweeps/trips make the fights more time consuming as fighters need to get up after they are down and clinching can be used to time waste.
I don’t agree with this logic as I think it makes Kickboxing far less effective in a self-defense scenario than Muay Thai, as it makes kickboxing more of a sport than a martial art.
You cannot sweep or catch your opponent’s leg in all Kickboxing organizations in modern times, although Japanese kickboxing was a lot more lenient before 1993. The following rules are from the official Glory rules which you can access via the link.
Glory Kickboxing Legs,Sweeps,Throws Rules
Throws, leg sweeps, foot sweeps, or pushing of any kind as an effort to off-balance or down an opponent; any attempt to off-balance or down an opponent with anything other than a legal strike may be considered a foul.
Grabbing, or holding for any reason other than to immediately attack with a knee strike (or strikes) is a foul; this includes holding to rest or grabbing an opponent to stop them from striking.Glory Rules
Since Muay Thai is combat sport turned into a martial art, throws and leg sweeps are a key element of Muay Thai and there is no limit to how long you can hold someone’s leg, wherewith Kickboxing if you grab someone’s leg you must immediately attack.
The Muay Thai techniques that Kickboxing lack is one of the reasons it’s so good for self-defense, if you want to know the 12 other reasons why Muay Thai is fantastic for self-defense, please click my article here.
Certain organizations like the international kickboxing federation(IKF) don’t even allow kicks or punches below the waist!
Leg kicks are a crucial part of Muay Thai and part of what makes it so dangerous, this is why I consider certain Kickboxing organizations//styles to just be inferior to Muay Thai as a self-defense system.
The IKF also does not allow elbows or knees(IKF RULES) of any kind, but Glory allows knee strikes but not to the head.
Muay Thai & Kickboxing Clinch Differences
Whilst sweeping and catching the leg is allowed in some Kickboxing organizations, the Muay Thai clinch is severely limited in Kickboxing rules
If you want to see how TRULY. effective the Muay Thai clinch can be check the above video for the 6 clinch masters that dominated the 80s & 90s.
In Glory Kickboxing you must strike immediately after you enter the clinch and if your opponent counters the referee can allow the clinch for “up to 5 seconds“.
Glory Kickboxing Clinching Rules
If a fighter clinches and fails to immediately attack with a legal knee strike or completes the knee attack and does not release the clinch this may be considered “holding” which is a foul and will result in a caution, warning or penalizationGlory Rules
So defensive cinching in Kickboxing could even result in points being taken away!
With Muay Thai, the clinch is standing wrestling you’re trying to get your opponent to the ground or smash them with knees & kicks and this is why Muay Thai is so effective; usually, there is no limit on time as long as the fighters remain active in the clinch.
Just take a look at the above video on how useful the clinch can be in both offensive and defensive situations.
Unfortunately, some Muay Thai promotions like One Champion are leaning more towards the Kickboxing style of clinching, with referees quickly separating the fighters. I believe this is to make the fight more action-packed, but I don’t like it as the clinch is so important to genuine Muay Thai.
History & Culture
Muay Thai has a history that dates back at least several 100 years mostly to when Thailand was called Siam and was a battle warring nation, check this wiki post for more information and the above video for a documentary on the origin of Muay Thai.
Muay Thai was essentially a battle art for when soldiers lost their weapons on the battlefield and had to rely on only their 8 limbs for survival; also this is why all Muay Thai techniques leave you’re still standing, as who wants to be on the ground in a battlefield?
It doesn’t seem smart to me!
This is why Muay Thai is so effective for self-defense as most of the blocks and techniques still work barehanded, this isn’t the same for other fighting arts like Boxing. Click here for the differences between Boxing and Muay Thai if you want to understand why Boxing is less effective in a self-defense situation.
Muay Thai’s rich history has a tremendous amount of culture and spiritual practices embedded deep into the sport. If you want to know more about the spiritual side of Muay Thai check my post here.
Traditionally respect is very important in Muay Thai even between fighters and before every fight, Muay Thai fighters do the Wai Kru which is a traditional pre-fight virtual to pay respect to the fighters masters and everyone who helped them in their path and also to stretch and limber up before fighting.
Thai fighters wear Mongkol(headband)and a Prajioud (armband), these both have deep spiritual meaning relating to the history of Muay Thai as a battle art and they are meant to bring good luck to the fighter and to protect them; this tradition dates back to ancient Siam when women of soldiers families blessed soldiers with a piece of clothing to protect them in battle.
No such traditions are found in Kickboxing as Kickboxing is more an umbrella term and refers to all kicking and punching arts and has no specific cultural origin, whilst Muay Thai comes strictly from Thailand.
You will see Kickboxers perform the Wai Kru, but 99 times out of 100 they are Thai fighters who transitioned into kickboxing.
A perfect example of the differences between the cultural styles of Kickboxing and Muay Thai is shown in the above video of Buakaw performing the Wai Kru whilst his opponent is just standing there.
Generally, a Muay Thai fight will play with traditional Thai fighting music, to help with the Thai fighters natural 1-2 1-2 rhyme.
With Kickboxing even events happening in Thailand, there is no music present and the only sound is the roar of the crowd and the noises of each fighter’s corners.
History Of Kickboxing
The issue with comparing Muay Thai and Kickboxing is assuming you are treating Muay Thai separately, Kickboxing refers to many different styles that are each unique and have different cultures.
We need to look at them individually to understand what a general term kickboxing is.
List Of Kickboxing Styles
- American Kickboxing
- Dutch Kickboxing
- K1/GLORY Kickboxing(most popular)
- Chinese Kickboxing (San Chou)
What Is American Kickboxing?
American Kickboxing became popular in the 1960-80s in the USA and was not influenced by Muay Thai but moreso Kyokushin Karate and Boxing. Sometimes there is a 6 round kick limit per round with a kick counter official, only strikes above the waist are allowed.
- 4 point striking system(punches & kicks)
- Kicks are only above the belt
- Throws sweep and takedowns are banned
- Clinch forces a reset of both fighters positions
Differences Between American Kickboxing & Muay Thai
The video above is an excellent example of American Kickboxing style vs Muay Thai. The fight between Duke Roufus and Changpuek Kietsongrit was important as in the 80s Muay Thai In North America and Kietsongrit was one of the first Thai’s to travel outside of Thailand to showcase Muay Thai to the masses.
Notice how American kickboxing is very flashy with spinning backlists and a bouncy style, whilst Muay Thai is a lot more controlled and simple. The best example of a modern American Kickboxing style is Stephen Wonderboy Thompson.
Remember that the above fight was with Kickboxing rules so, no clinch sweeps, or catching kicks so we can only imagine how bad Roufus would have lost with full Thai rules!
What Is Dutch Kickboxing?
Dutch Kickboxing is a mixture of western boxing and Muay Thai with a Dutch style. A Dutch low kick is different than a Thai low kick as it is thrown in a downwards chopping motion. Ernesto Hoost popularised the style.
History Of Dutch Kickboxing
The Dutch developed their style in the 1970s after Dutchmen traveled to Japan to learn more Japanese kickboxing which was a mixture of Kyokushin karate and Muay Thai.
The Dutch Kickboxing Association was created in 1976 by Jan Plas and Thom Harinck. Plas learned Kyokushin karate from Jon Bluming(martial arts pioneer), and Hanrick wrote a book called “Godfather of Muay Thai in The West” that you can buy for a great price on Amazon here.
Harinck is the grandfather of European Muay Thai and founded the NKBB (Dutch Kickboxing Association) in 1976, the MTBN (Dutch Muay Thai Association) in 1983, the WMTA (World Muay Thai Association) and the EMTA (European Muay Thai Association) in 1984.[
- 6 point striking system(punches, knees, kicks)
- Kicks are only above the belt
- Clinch fighting, throws and sweeps are allowed.
- Elbows are banned
- Clinch is allowed but it must be used offensively, and only one strike is permitted.
Differences Between Dutch Kickboxing & Muay Thai
Since dutch kickboxing is heavily influenced by Muay Thai the differences are a lot more subtle than with American kickboxing.
Since elbows are not allowed in dutch kickboxing the guard is more like a traditional boxing guard that has been changed to defend kicks.
In Muay Thai punches don’t score high but in Dutch kickboxing, they do, so the boxing combinations are a lot longer usually ending in a low kick with proper rotation of all the punches.
In Muay Thai the footwork is a lot slower and fights happen at a rhythmic 1-2 pace, the Thai clinch isn’t as important with dutch Kickboxing and the style is more explosive focussing on high- low strikes.
Check out the above video for a comparison of the styles.
To see a classic example of a Dutch kickboxer see the above video of one of the greatest kickboxers of all time Ernesto Hoost, who was well known for his deadly leg kick.
What Is K-1 Kickboxing?
K-1 is a Japanese kickboxing promotion like the UFC which was created in 1993. It has evolved to become a general term for kickboxing and it’s own martial art style. The style is a blend of Muay Thai Kyoshin Karate and American kickboxing.
History Of K-1
K-1 started in Japan in 1993 as a way to test who were the best kickboxers from various styles. : dutch kickboxing, boxers. karate etc to see who was the best. like the early days of the UFC but for kickboxing.
K-1 proved to be very popular with numerous different tournaments formats from World Grand Prix Final Eliminator where 16 men faced against each other on one evening until there was only one winner and a K-1 World Grand Prix Final.
In 2010 K-1 and it’s parent company FEG. were caught into financial problems, and even Sim Rutz the owner of the Dutch-based kickboxing promotion Its Showtime, claimed in January 2011 that some fighters from Its Showtime had not been paid for fights in K-1.
- 3 or 5 minutes rounds lasting 3 minutes each
- Scored on a ten-point system with the winner getting 10 points, the loser getting 9 or less and a draw resulting in 10 points for both fighters
- 3 knockdowns in a round result in a technical knockout
- If there is a draw after three rounds, the scores are discarded and there is another 1-2 3 minute rounds with the judges score separately
What Is Japanese Kickboxing?
Japanese Kickboxing is a mixture of Karate and Muay Thai. It was created by Tatsuo Yamada a Karate expert who was interested in learning Muay Thai and in 1959 he called the new sport karate-boxing.
History Of Japanese Kickboxing
On December 20, 1959, a Muay Thai event held by Thai fighters was held at Tokyo Asakusa town hall in Japan. Tatsuo Yamada, the creator of Nihon Kempo Karate-do was interested in Muay Thai and 1959 and said the following when he created karate boxing.
In 1963 there were Karate vs Muay Thai fights and three karate fighters from the Oyama Dojo traveled to the world-famous Lumpinee Thai boxing stadium in Thailand and won 2-1 against the Thai fighters!
Japan pioneered kickboxing and created the first kickboxing sanctioning body founded by Osamu Noguchi in 1966 called the Japan Kickboxing Association, the first kickboxing event that was held in Osaka on April 11, 1966.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Sport reached North America and Europe, and later when K-1 was established in 1993 Japanese kickboxing only grew and grew, and only then were Boxing rules introduced with limited clinching and no elbows.
If you want to know more about the origins. of Japanese kickboxing check out this article here.
Japanese Kickboxing Rules
Japanese Kickboxing is essentially K-1 before K-1 so the rules are the same. Only in 1993 when K-1 was created were elbows banned and the clinch became more limited.
What Is Sanda? (Chinese Boxing)
Sanda is a fighting system developed by the Chinese military based on the study and practice of traditional kung fu and modern combat techniques. It includes elements of kickboxing with close range quick punches. and kicks, with even wrestling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, elbows and knee strikes
Sanda or Sanshou in Chinese is like Kickboxing as it is an umbrella term that covers. a lot of different martial art styles, you can see the rules here. If you watch the fight above it looks like a mixture of Muay Thai wrestling and Judo.
Whilst the clinching, elbows, and knees are not as specialized as Muay Thai Sando is still a fantastic martial art especially with the takedown elements.
Technique Differences Between Muay Thai & Kickboxing
A traditional Muay Thai stance will have a 1-2 matching rhyme or the lead leg going up and down(see above video), the stance will be narrow with the hips pointed directly to the opponent, so you can easily check kicks.
Hands are up high so you can parry punches and kicks and your ribs are quite exposed, but you’re set up to easily check. and counter with a kick.
Whereas the dutch stance. is more similar to boxing with the hips turned a bit and a big focus on heavy combinations and punches. Think Johanna Jędrzejczyk in the UFC.
Typically a K-1 or Dutch fighter will punch more than they kick, normally they will have better Boxing than a Muay Thai fighter but this isn’t necessarily true in modern times as Thai fighters like Rodtang Jitmuangnon the current has fantastic boxing.
The majority of K1 fights like the K-1 classic fight between Zambidis vs. Chahid(see above) will have tons of boxing compared to kicks.
With Muay Thai kicks are used more than punching; as in Thai, you have the clinch and elbows to worry up when you’re close and punches don’t score as much as kicks.
You will see Kickboxers land long combos anywhere between 3-6 with far more head movement like slipping punches, and more Boxing inspired footwork.
Muay Thai is a much slower martial art as you wait for the perfect opportunity to strike, and judges do not reward aggressive rushing behavior like in Boxing or kickboxing.
This doesn’t mean you cannot fight aggressive (Rodtang is aggressive) but Muay Thai is more of a counter-attacking style.
You can see in the above video the differences in styles, as Kickboxing is a lot more bouncy and fluid than Muay Thai, generally in Muay Thai you block and then counter-attack, with Kickboxing the focus is on evasion and being allusive,like Connor McGregor in the UFC.
In general Muay Thai fighters do not have much head movement, and don’t slip or duck punches. There are exceptions like Samart Payakarun and Sanchai both considered some of the greatest Muay Thai fighters of all time, but as a rule, there is little head movement compared to kickboxing.
Kickboxing has a lot of emphasis on punching there is more head movement, and K-1 fighters will incorporate slipping punches with some slight bobbing and weaving.
Masto(above video) is a good example of a K-1 fighter who will lean forward and get his head off the centerline whenever throwing a left uppercut.
However, in K-1 the head movement is not supper excessive as you will need to watch out for kicks and knees which will still hit you if you try to evade them.
Typically Kickboxers will not check(lifting the leg) kicks, since kicks score so highly in Muay Thai compared to Boxing checking kicks is very important to win on points. and to protect yourself as Thai fighters kicks are so deadly.
Whilst some K1 fighters usually those with a traditional Muay Thai fighters will check kicks, normally kicks are not usually checked. I believe K-1 fighters shins are not as conditioned as Muay Thai fighters shins, so they don’t check as much as checking kicks HURTS if you are not conditioned.
If you want to know why Muay Thai fighter’s legs are so strong, please check out this post.
Difference In Fight Pace Between Muay Thai & Kickboxing
In Muay Thai fought in Thailand the first 2 rounds will start slow as both fighters feel each other out so people in the audience can place bets on who wins. The third round is called the “money round” as this is when the fight really gets going.
In Thailand, the first 2 rounds are not that important, with the 3,4 and 5th being the ‘real’ rounds.t. You will see Thai fighters even outside of Thailand turn it up in the 3rd and be at a walking pace in the 1st and second.
With Muay Thai outside of Thailand such as in One Championship, it depends on the fighters but most fights will start round one depending on a 3 or 5 round fight or if a Thai is fighting.
With K-1 no matter if it’s a 5 or 3 round fight, fights typically start and end hard which is why K-1 organizations like Glory are so exciting to watch. Kickboxing doesn’t have the same culture of slow starts like Muay Thai, which is why the fighting pace is different.
What Is Better Kickboxing Or Muay Thai?
I believe Muay Thai is better for combat as it is a combat art turned into a martial art, whilst Kickboxing while being very effective it lacks many key self-defense components like the clinch and elbows.
Despite kickboxers usually having better boxing than Muay Thai fighters; the clinch and elbows on the inside more than make up for this.
Now the argument between dutch kickboxing vs Muay Thai is more difficult to answer, as assuming the dutch kickboxers have elbows and knees most o the other techniques are derived from Muay Thai.
I still believe traditional Muay Thai is more effective, as the clinch is a big part of it and at least in modern Glory rules, the clinch is still there but it is watered down so dutch kickboxer will not treat the clinch with the same importance as traditional Muay Thai fighters.
If your comparing American style kickboxing, with no knees, elbows, or attacks below the belt Muay Thai is just a far superior art in every way. With K-1 and dutch kickboxing, the competition is a lot closer but I still think Muay Thai edges it because of how important the clinch is in true Muay Thai.
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