The Many Styles of Kickboxing

Different Kickboxing Styles

Kickboxing has a very long history, with roots reaching as far back as 2,000 years ago, depending on how loosely you want to define it. Early forms of what people today would probably recognize as American kickboxing originated in Thailand, as part of the self defense based Muay Thai discipline. This evolved over time from a form of unarmed self defense into a sport, leading to a hybrid of Muay Thai and Karate that was introduced as “kickboxing” in Japan in 1958 by boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi, who is credited with coining the term.

Modern versions of Kickboxing come in what may seem like an endless variety of styles and focuses, with these branches of the original sport now going by many different names.  Newcomers to the world of kickboxing can find the wealth of information about each of these styles to be a little overwhelming, so today we’ll try to shed a little light on three of the most popular variations – American Kickboxing, Boxe Française Savate, and Dutch Kickboxing.

The Basics

To begin with, let’s clarify what kickboxing is in a general sense. Kickboxing is a full contact martial art that was created in Japan by Osamu Noguchi in the late 50’s. As developed by Noguchi, it was an intentional combination of elements of Karate and the full contact strikes that were at the time associated mostly with Muay Thai fighting. Noguchi’s new combined style of martial arts, which was more focused on the sporting aspect of practice than self defense, caught on quickly and has since grown into a sport that is popular with both spectators and competitors. Kickboxing is characterized by full contact strikes, which can include kicks, punches, blocking, evasion and other less traditional moves or throws, as determined by the style in use, and usually takes place in a ring, with competitors wearing gloves.

American Kickboxing

This style is the one that most people would probably recognize as “kickboxing”, particularly in the United States. American Kickboxing has brought elements of Western boxing into the style and can be full or semi-contact, with different rules for each variant, though participants wear protective gear (boxing gloves, mouth guards, hand wraps, shin pads, boots and groin protection) for either. The rules listed here may provide a better understanding of the minor differences that can exist between different versions of American kickboxing.

Rules for Full Contact

  • Punches and kicks above the waist are allowed
  • Knees, elbows, grappling and clinching are prohibited
  • Bouts typically last between 3 to 12 short rounds (of 2 or 3 minutes each)

Rules for Semi-Contact

Also referred to sometimes as Points Fighting, Semi-Contact American Kickboxing is scored on technique, delivery and speed, with different amounts of points awarded for specific moves. This emphasis on earning points makes Semi-Contact more like Karate than most other variations.

  • Punches and kicks above the waist are allowed.
  • Foot sweeps that are below the ankle are allowed
  • Axe and Hook kicks are allowed, but only if executed with the sole of the foot
  • Knees, elbows, throws, clinching and above ankle sweeps are prohibited
  • Bouts typically last 3 rounds (of 2 or 3 minutes each)

American Kickboxing has expanded even further than the boxing ring, having been incorporated into or retooled as form of fitness, such as the popular Tae Bo workout.

Boxe Française Savate

Also known as just Savate, French Kickboxing, and sometimes, French foot-fighting, this martial arts form came from a somewhat surprising source, evolving from a type of street fighting that was popular in the slums of Paris and other parts of northern France in the 19th century. Savate has some distinct differences from either American or Dutch style kickboxing, the most notable being the primary reliance on powerful kicks, although this is further specified into an allowance of “foot kicks”, but not kicks that incorporate the shins or knees.

Although it has never been an official event, Boxe Française Savate was featured as a demonstration sport in the 1924 Olympics, which were held in Paris, France and began to gain in popularity following such high profile exposure to large crowds. Rather than the colored belts which signify progress in martials arts (like Karate) that most people are familiar with, Savate uses the color of gloves to indicate a fighter’s proficiency and rank. Interestingly, Savate also has three different levels of competition, which are divided in the following way:

  • Assault – This is the lowest level. Competitors are required to focus on their technique while making contact and can be penalized by the referee for using what they deem to be excessive force.
  • Pre-Combat – Competitors are allowed to fight at full strength, but are required to wear protective gear, like mouth guards, helmets and shin guards.
  • Combat – On the Combat level, which is the highest level of competition in Savate, competitors are allowed to fight at full strength, but are not allowed to wear protective gear other than mouth guards and groin protection.

Dutch Kickboxing

Another notable style that has emerged in the last few decades is that of Dutch style kickboxing. Dutch Kickboxing, while similar to and even partially deriving from Muay Thai, is still considered to be a separate sport, mostly due to the differences in what is allowed in a fight.

The Dutch style places a heavy emphasis on agility and speed, making use of combinations like boxing blows delivered in a very rapid succession and then finished with low, powerful kicks.  This style of kickboxing was developed in the Netherlands and blends not only the basic elements of Muay Thai, but Japanese kickboxing and a style of Karate called Kyokushin as well. The Dutch style also puts an increased amount of focus on head movement and footwork when compared to other styles of kickboxing.

While these three styles cover a lot of the basics of modern kickboxing, there are still countless options out there for anyone who is interested in learning more, from fun fitness routines to effective self defense techniques.