Muay Thai Vs. Kickboxing: What’s The Difference?

kick to the head

For many people, Muay Thai and kickboxing are synonymous. But although the two arts are similar in some respects, there are significant differences between Muay Thai and kickboxing, especially if you’re looking into taking up one for exercise or self-defense.

What Is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is at least a thousand years old, and was developed in Thailand. It has its roots in muay boran, “ancient boxing,” a series of techniques that were taught to soldiers to use when they were disarmed. Muay Thai grew into both a form of sport, with evidence of public matches dating back hundreds of years, and of self-defense (for both soldier and everyday Thai citizens).

During the 1800s and 1900s, Thai royalty modernized both the way Muay Thai was taught, and how matches were arranged.

What Is Kickboxing?

This brings us to the 1960s and 1970s, when kickboxing was first developed.

“Kickboxing” is a catch-all term for Indochinese fighting systems — such as Muay Thai — and the sports that grew out of these systems. Generally, when someone is referring to “kickboxing,” they’re referring to the North American version.

Originally called “full-contact karate,” kickboxing grew out of Japanese martial artists studying Muay Thai and related systems in the 1960s. Adding to the confusion is that Muay Thai fighters can — and often do — participate in kickboxing matches under different rules.

Practical Differences

Muay Thai and kickboxing are extremely different in three important ways.

1. Muay Thai is an “eight-point” fighting system while kickboxing is a “four-point” system. Essentially, this means that Muay Thai fighters can, and will use fists, feet, knees and elbows to strike. While most kickboxing systems will only use fists and feet.  Attempts to knee or elbow your opponent will risk in a disqualification.


2. The two sports have different approaches to clinch fighting and grappling. In Muay Thai, grappling is part of the art, and often when the knees and elbow strikes come into play. Kickboxing, especially North American kickboxing… Doesn’t allow grappling.  Similar to traditional Western boxing.  Any clinching will be quickly broken up by the referee.


3. Muay Thai allows as a sport, shin kicks and other kicks below the waist, although groin attacks are off-limits for obvious reasons of taste and sportsmanship, while North American kickboxing allows no attacks below the waist. These differences will lead some to argue that Muay Thai is more practical as a form of self-defense, but it is worth noting that kickboxing is largely taught as a sport, not a method of protecting yourself.

 

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