Two of the most popular striking martial arts are Muay Thai and kickboxing, and to the average person these two disciplines often seem very similar. After all, there are examples of highly-successful MMA fighters representing both kickboxing and Muay Thai alike as the striking portion of their training, and many of the techniques taught in Muay Thai and kickboxing share a lot in common. However, there are also a lot of key differences between Muay Thai and kickboxing that should also be considered when you are comparing the two. To help you out, we’ll take a closer look at both kickboxing and Muay Thai, the similarities they share, and where they differ.
Fundamentals of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is an aggressive martial art that focuses on powerful blows using punches, elbows, knees, and kicks. Staples of Muay Thai include powerful leg kicks designed to damage the muscles in an opponent’s calves and thighs and make it difficult for them to maneuver, elbows used to open up cuts in an opponent’s face, and using the clinch to control a fight, limit the damage you take, and land devastating knees and elbows from close quarters. While Muay Thai certainly teaches plenty of defense, offense is the name of the game in Muay Thai, and Muay Thai fighters rely on setting up powerful, fight-finishing blows to quickly dispatch an opponent. Though it will differ depending on the gym, training in Muay Thai is often intense and may feature near full-contact sparring, leading to both physical and mental toughness.
In this video, Kru (teacher) Joey is using Amelia and Samantha demonstrate various Muay Thai combinations.
Fundamentals of Kickboxing
Kickboxing teaches many of the same techniques and fundamentals as pure boxing. For example, a great kickboxer would likely feel quite comfortable inside a boxing ring fighting under boxing rules. Of course, kickboxing also incorporates kicks as well as punches. Kickboxing also places a heavy emphasis on footwork and movement, and you will see kickboxers circling and advancing in and out with fluid ease. Head movement is also a fundamental of kickboxing, and kickboxing tends to incorporate a very wide range of strikes, sometimes verging into strikes that are almost exotic in nature such as axe kicks and spin kicks.
Here is a video of one of the best Kickboxing instructors out there, professional Kickboxing, UFC and Bellator coach, Henri Hooft, at the KOMBAT ARTS, sparring with the students, during a Kickboxing seminar.
How Muay Thai and Kickboxing are Similar
Muay Thai and kickboxing both are very strategic, teaching you footwork, setups, and other techniques you will need to evade blows from your opponent and land blows of your own. Likewise, many of the techniques taught in Muay Thai are similar to the techniques taught in kickboxing, especially the fundamentals. Both are fine striking martial arts and have been proven effective at the highest levels of competition.
How Muay Thai and Kickboxing Differ
The first and most obvious difference you will notice between kickboxing and Muay Thai is that Muay Thai is an eight-point striking system that involves striking with elbows and knees as well as kicks and punches whereas kickboxing is a four-point striking system that teaches only punches and kicks.
The second difference is the way the fighters move and attack. With Muay Thai, fighters are moving almost primarily forward. Muay Thai fighters are taught to bide their time until an opponent gives them an opening then aggressively advance forward and strike. Often times these openings will come after an opponent has thrown a strike of their own, and counter-attacks are a fundamental part of Muay Thai. There is little head movement, weaving, and circling like you will see in boxing and kickboxing.
The movement of kickboxers is a little more fluid and defensive in nature than the movement of Muay Thai fighters. Kickboxers will use their footwork and angles a little more to set up attacks rather than relying on aggressive forward motion and counter-attacks. That’s not to say that fluid footwork isn’t found in Muay Thai – it’s just a little more prominent in kickboxing.
The types of strikes you will see in the two martial arts are different as well. There are very few stylized or exotic strikes taught in Muay Thai. Instead, Muay Thai prefers simple, powerful strikes that don’t throw you off balance as much if they miss. With kickboxing, though, you will learn a much wider range of strikes (excluding of course the fact that you won’t be throwing elbows and knees). Some of the strikes taught in kickboxing may be a little more difficult to pull off and may throw off your balance more if they miss, however, they do add to a kickboxer’s arsenal and can be highly effective if an opponent is not expecting them.
Lastly, the manner in which Muay Thai fighters and kickboxers throw kicks differs. It’s very rare to kick with your foot or lower shin in Muay Thai. Instead, Muay Thai fighters are taught to land blows using the middle portion of their shin. With kickboxing, though, there are a wide range of kicks that land using the foot, lower shin, and middle shin alike.
For street fighting and MMA, Muay Thai is often seen as the more complete martial art since it incorporates the clinch, elbow strikes, and knee strikes while kickboxing does not. However, a person could still stand a lot to gain by being trained in both martial arts.
Muay Thai fighters could use kickboxing to improve their movement and learn a few more of the skills and techniques taught in pure boxing. They could also use kickboxing to add a wider range of more complex strikes to their arsenal which could be used to devastating effects in the right scenario.
Meanwhile, a kickboxer training in Muay Thai would benefit from counter-attacks and aggressive nature of Muay Thai, could learn how to put a little more devastating power behind their blows, and could also learn how to be effective from the clinch and use elbows and knees to punish an opponent in close quarters.
In short, both Muay Thai and kickboxing are two highly effective martial arts – arguably the best two striking martial arts available. Though they have a number of key differences, you really can’t go wrong with either one.
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