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Kickboxing vs Muay Thai

Kickboxing is a catch-all term for any sport where you’re allowed to throw down with full-contact kicks and punches. It’s got a massive fan base worldwide. On the flip side, Muay Thai, or Thai boxing or the art of the eight limbs as it’s often called, hails straight from Thailand. It’s a unique blend of stand-up striking and clinching techniques that sets it apart from the crowd. Muay Thai uses an eight-point system, which means you’re not just using your fists and feet. You’re also bringing your elbows and knees into the mix. Kickboxing, though, sticks to a four-point system, focusing mainly on your kicks and punches. Both sports are big on footwork, setups, and evasion techniques, but how they’re applied in each sport is like night and day. Plus, Muay Thai holds a special place in Thai culture, which gives it a unique flavor you won’t find in kickboxing.

In this guide we’ll discuss muay thai vs kickboxing. We’ll about to dive deep into these differences, shedding light on what makes each discipline stand out in its own right.

Are Muay Thai and Kickboxing the Same Thing?

While Muay Thai and Kickboxing share similarities as stand-up striking combat sports, they are not the same thing. Originating from different regions and having distinct historical developments, they have developed unique rule sets, techniques, and cultural practices.

Muay Thai, also known as “The Art of Eight Limbs”, originates from Thailand and incorporates strikes using fists, elbows, knees, and shins, making it a highly versatile martial art. It also allows for extensive clinching (standing grappling) and sweeping techniques. The sport has deep cultural roots in Thailand, with fights often accompanied by traditional music and prefaced by a dance ritual known as the ‘Wai Khru’.

On the other hand, Kickboxing is a hybrid martial art that began in the mid-20th century, combining elements of Karate, Boxing, and Muay Thai itself. The rules can vary widely, but in general, Kickboxing primarily involves punches and kicks, while the use of elbows and knees is often restricted or outright prohibited. Clinching is often limited and the fights tend to be fast-paced, with emphasis on continuous action.

Therefore, while there is some overlap in the techniques used, Muay Thai and Kickboxing are separate sports with their own unique characteristics and traditions.

Muay Thai vs. Kickboxing: 5 Key Differences

If you’re trying to figure out the difference between Muay Thai vs Kickboxing, you’re not alone. They might seem pretty similar at first glance, but once you dig a little deeper, you’ll find they’re actually quite different in a few key ways. So, let’s break it down and look at the top five differences:

1. How They Strike

The first thing you’ll notice is how they strike. In Muay Thai, they use what’s called an eight-point striking system. This means they use their elbows, knees, kicks, and punches. Kickboxing, on the other hand, sticks to a four-point system, focusing mainly on kicks and punches. Some competitions might allow elbows and knees, but it’s not the norm.

2. Their Movements:

When it comes to moving around, Muay Thai fighters tend to be a bit more static. They’re patient, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Kickboxers, though, are all about constant movement. You’ll see them bobbing their heads, circling their opponents, and weaving in and out.

Professional kickboxing fight

3. The Role of Clinching:

Clinching techniques are used in both sports, but they’re a bigger deal in Muay Thai. Thai boxers often use clinching to set up knee strikes or sweeps. It’s not as common in kickboxing.

4. Training Styles:

The way they train is also different. Muay Thai training usually involves a lot of conditioning exercises like running and clinch wrestling. Kickboxing training, however, tends to focus more on technique and combination drills.

5. Cultural Impact:

Last but not least, Muay Thai has deep roots in Thai culture. It even includes rituals like the Wai Kru Ram Muay, a pre-fight dance to honor teachers. Kickboxing is more of a mixed bag, pulling influences from various countries and doesn’t have these kinds of cultural rituals.

So, there you have it. Five key differences between Muay Thai and Kickboxing. Now, you’re one step closer to figuring out which one’s right for you.

Muay Thai vs Kickboxing: Equipment

The equipment used in Muay Thai and Kickboxing, while similar in many ways, also presents a few notable differences reflecting the specific requirements and rules of each sport. Both disciplines require fighters to wear gloves, the weight of which may vary but is generally around 10 ounces for professional bouts and 16 for class and amateur. The gloves used in Muay Thai, however, are often more flexible and hooked at the end compared to those used in Kickboxing, accommodating clinching and upper body grappling of opponents.

In terms of attire, Muay Thai requires fighters wear shorts that are usually more colorful and ornate, often representing their gym or country of origin, and are cut high on the thigh to allow for maximum leg mobility. Kickboxers generally wear longer, more plain shorts, reminiscent of boxing shorts.

One additional piece of equipment often seen in Muay Thai but not Kickboxing is the Mongkol, a traditional headpiece worn by fighters during the pre-fight dance ritual, or ‘Wai Khru’, and then removed before the fight begins.

Shin guards, elbow pads and sometimes head pieces are largely reserved for training and amateur bouts in both Muay Thai and Kickboxing. In professional levels a Thai boxer will be expected to fight without the use of shin guards or elbow pads.

Finally, mouthguards are universally used in both sports to protect the teeth as well as reduce the chance of concussion.

Similarities between Muay Thai and Kickboxing

Despite their differences, Muay Thai and Kickboxing have a lot in common.

  1. Striking Techniques: Both sports incorporate the use of punches and kicks including leg kicks. The techniques may vary due to rule differences, but basic punches like jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts, as well as kicks like roundhouse, front, and side kicks are common to both.
  2. Ring Setting: Both sports typically take place in a similar setting – a square ring. In a Muay Thai fight and kickboxing fight, this allows fighters in both disciplines to utilize similar strategies related to footwork, ring control, and cornering opponents.
  3. Protective Equipment: Fighters in both sports wear gloves, mouthguards, and groin protectors during bouts for safety. While the exact specifications may vary, the purpose and overall design remain the same. In training or amateur fights, shin guards may also be used in both sports.
  4. Scoring and Winning: Scoring in both sports involves assessing the effectiveness of strikes, control of the ring, and damage inflicted upon the opponent. Winning can be achieved by knockout, technical knockout, or decision based on points in both sports.
  5. Conditioning and Training: Muay Thai and Kickboxing both demand high levels of fitness, including strength, flexibility, endurance, and speed. The training regimens in both sports often include similar elements such as bag work, pad work, strength and conditioning exercises, and sparring.
  6. Respect and Sportsmanship: Both sports foster a culture of respect and sportsmanship. Despite the brutal nature of these combat sports, fighters usually demonstrate mutual respect before and after fights, which is a key part of martial arts philosophy worldwide.

Should You Learn Muay Thai Or Kickboxing?

It’s a common dilemma for someone who wants to start learning a striking martial art like both Muay Thai and kickboxing are.. Let’s break it down and see which one might be your perfect match.

Expectations: Competitive Fighting vs Getting in Shape

CKO kickboxing gyms emphasize fitness over competition

First off, think about what you’re hoping to get out of your training. Muay Thai, in my experience at least, comes with more expectation for sparring or even competition. Most Muay Thai gyms you’ll find are not a “fitness first” gym where the main goal is to get into good shape but rather gyms to master the martial art and eventually compete i.e. fight against others. While its by no means mandatory or even encouraged sometimes it is very common to see people join a Muay Thai gym and then partake in their first “smoker” aka exhibition fight within a 12 to 18 months (if they’re dedicated). Even if you don’t see yourself competing, Muay Thai classes will still involve hitting pads your opponent is wearing (to simulate sparring) and then likely a session of actual sparring.

In kickboxing on the other hand, it is a lot more common to find kickboxing gyms where the main purpose is to get in shape. Kickboxing offers a dynamic and wide ranging movement exercise that can also allow you to take your aggression out. Generally these gyms, like CKO, will only have heavy bags/punching bags meaning you won’t be hitting or practicing against others.

Therefore, if your main goal is to get in shape with a new activity, kickboxing may be better for you. If you are looking to learn a martial art and want to practice it against others, Muay Thai is probably better. Though there will certainly be kickboxing gyms that do offer competition and sparring.

What you’re interested in learning

If you’re all about mastering a wide range of striking techniques, including some nifty elbow and knee moves, then Muay Thai could be right up your alley. On the flip side, if you’re more into fancy footwork and agility, kickboxing might be your thing. Muay Thai practitioners can be a little bit more creative than their kickboxing counterparts due to the other types of strikes and techniques allowed in the sport.


Both martial arts have been tried and tested at the highest levels of competition, the UFC. Both striking arts are effective as the striking component of your MMA game, pairing well with wrestling and BJJ as the grappling components. Some of the most famous UFC fighters generally are a master of one if not both disciplines. Anderson Silva was a high level Muay Thai fighter. Wonderboy Thompson and Israel Adesanya on the other hand are both highly accomplished fighters who got their start in full contact kickboxing. So if your ultimate goal is to step into the octagon, you can’t go wrong picking Muay Thai or kickboxing as your striking martial art.

Israel Adesanya kickboxing before becoming a professional UFC fighter

Is Muay Thai or Kickboxing Better For Self-Defense?

When it comes to defending yourself, both Muay Thai and kickboxing have their own set of pros and cons. A lot of folks in the know lean towards Muay Thai because it’s pretty handy in real-life sticky situations. The aggressive style of Muay Thai, coupled with its ability to dish out some serious muscle damage, could be a real game-changer when you’re in a tight spot. Because Muay Thai uses an eight-point striking system, you are trained to use your knees or elbows in addition to your kicks and punches to give you more weapons to defend yourself.

On the flip side, kickboxing’s emphasis on fancy footwork and dodging could come in handy in a fight as well. The ‘stand and bang’ nature of Muay Thai may be disadvantageous in a street fight or self defense situation.

At the end of the day, whether Muay Thai or kickboxing works better for self-defense really depends on how good you are at it and how well you know the moves. You likely will need to be have years of training in either sport to have a reasonably good chance of defending yourself against an aggressor in the streets or outside the gym. A high level fighter trained in either should be able to handle themselves well enough.

Muay Thai vs Kickboxing: Fights

In amateur and professional settings Muay Thai fighters and kickboxers will face different formats. Thai boxing bouts typically consist of five 3-minute rounds with a 2-minute rest in between. In terms of scoring, judges emphasize effective strikes, with particular merit given to those that would ostensibly unbalance or move an opponent. The fighter’s balance, posture, and control during and after each exchange are also evaluated, rewarding more tactical, paced engagements.

On the other hand, Kickboxing bouts generally comprise three 3-minute rounds, but can vary depending on the organization. Kickboxing and Muay Thai fights occur in similar settings – a square ring or a circular cage. The allowed techniques in Kickboxing include punches (jab, cross, hook, uppercut) and kicks (front, side, roundhouse, spinning kicks), but the use of knees and elbows are typically restricted or forbidden, and clinching is often limited. The focus is more on a continuous display of technique and aggression. Kickboxing’s scoring tends to follow a 10-point must system, similar to boxing, with points awarded for clean, significant strikes and knockdowns.

Winning in both sports can be achieved by knockout (striking the opponent so they cannot continue), technical knockout (referee stoppage due to one fighter being unable to safely continue), or by scoring more points than the opponent. In Kickboxing, the frequency of clean hits is a large factor, whereas in Muay Thai, the impact and effectiveness of the strikes hold more weight. Judges in both sports also consider the fighter’s aggression and ring control when scoring.

Muay Thai vs Kickboxing: History

The story behind Muay Thai and Kickboxing is just as thrilling as the martial arts themselves. Picture this: Muay Thai, also known as “the art of 8 limbs,” was born in the ancient lands of Thailand, back when it was still called Siam. It started off as a way for soldiers to fight without weapons, showing just how lethal it can be. Over the years, it’s grown and spread across the globe, earning its stripes as one of the most respected martial arts out there. When World War I hit, it started to blend with western boxing techniques, like using padded gloves and timing rounds in a ring. Even now, if you’re looking for traditional Muay Thai training, Bangkok’s the place to be.

On the flip side, Kickboxing is the new kid on the block. It’s a mix of traditional boxing and karate, and it really started to take off in the 1970s in Japan and the US. Since then, it’s popularity has gone through the roof. Now, while they might seem similar, Muay Thai and Kickboxing are actually pretty different. The biggest difference? Muay Thai uses an eight-point striking system that includes elbows and knees along with kicks and punches, while Kickboxing sticks to a four-point system that’s all about punches and kicks. The way these two martial arts have evolved really shows how combat sports have changed and adapted over time, reflecting the shifting dynamics of self-defense and competitive fighting.

The History of Muay Thai

This martial art has a deep-rooted history that takes us all the way back to ancient Thailand, or as it was known back then, Siam. Picture this: it started off as a form of unarmed military combat training. Yeah, you heard that right. It’s that powerful and effective.

As time rolled on, Muay Thai didn’t just stay put. It evolved, adapted, and spread its wings, earning a reputation as one of the most respected martial arts worldwide. Now, here’s a fun fact for you: the western world only really started to sit up and take notice of Muay Thai around the time of World War I. They even started blending in some elements of western boxing, like padded gloves and timed rounds in a ring.

But don’t get it twisted. Even with these tweaks, the heart and soul of Muay Thai still beats strongest in Thailand. Bangkok, in particular, is seen as the go-to place for traditional Muay Thai training. And in Thailand, Muay Thai isn’t just a sport. It’s woven into the very fabric of their culture, reflecting the strength, resilience, and spirit of the Thai people. So, if you’re thinking about giving it a go, remember: you’re not just learning a martial art, you’re stepping into a rich cultural tradition.

The History of Kickboxing

Kickboxing, a sport that’s got fans all over the world, has a pretty cool backstory that spans several continents. It all started in Japan around the middle of the 20th century. The idea was to mix up Karate, Western boxing, and Muay Thai techniques into one killer martial art. The guy behind this was Osamu Noguchi, who wanted to create a stage where Karate and Muay Thai fighters could go head-to-head. You can really see the Karate influence in the way kickboxers stand at an angle and deliver those lightning-fast, knee-bending kicks.

The sport quickly caught on in Thailand and then a Dutch martial artist named Jan Plas brought it over to the Netherlands. Plas added his own twist to it, creating Dutch Kickboxing. This style is all about throwing a ton of punches, keeping the pressure on, and delivering some seriously powerful low kicks.

But when kickboxing made its way to America, they decided to do things a little differently. American Kickboxing ditched the point-fighting system for full contact combat and said no to low kicks to the thigh or calf.

Today, the fact that kickboxing is loved by so many people around the globe just goes to show how it’s evolved and how thrilling it is to watch.


Both kickboxing and Muay Thai are great martial arts for anyone looking to get into martial arts to try. As to which to choose really depends on what your goals are, fitness or competition, and what your interests are. It will also depend on which gyms are in your area.

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