What is the Difference Between Kick-Boxing and Muay Thai?

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At first glance Muay-Thai and Kick-boxing look the same, people punch each other and they kick each other, same thing right? NOPE. while there are many similarities between the two styles that can allow you to transition into either one with relative ease, there are still some key differences between both styles, first off lets start of with the origins of both.

The Origins

Kickboxing has been around in some form or another all throughout history, with elements of Kickboxing being seen in the Greek martial art Pankration, however, Kickboxing as we recognise it has been around since the 1950s, created as a hybrid of Karate and Muay-Thai by Karate practitioners with it eventually becoming true hybrid martial art, taking influence from even more combat sports such as Taekwondo, Boxing and other martial arts. It has since evolved into a global spanning combat sport, with almost all countries practicing it in some form or another.  

Muay-Thai is a centuries old martial art, originally used as a way of training Siamese soldiers to fight, it eventually became a sport, with bouts happening at temples, festivals and celebrations for the entertainment of the crowds. It eventually became widespread along all of Thailand at the end of the 18th century, with it becoming nationally and internationally popular.

What's Similar?

Both Muay-Thai and Kickboxing share a fundamental similarity, the ability to throw both kicks and punches, it is only later into training that the types of punches and kicks you throw as you become more advanced will  start to differ.

When you begin to train in either you will also probably notice that the basics of the footwork are the same too and only start to differ when you become more advanced.

 A very similar theme emerges between both styles, beginners in both styles are quite likely to be training the same sort of things and then as you become more proficient in the style you’ve chosen, the differences become more prevalent and begin to shine through. Its these differences that really show us how different these 2 combat sports are.

The Differences?

The most noticeable difference is of course, the fact that Muay-Thai allows for knee strikes and elbow strikes as well as having a much heavier emphasis on clinching, trips and sweeps. 

That alone is quite a vast difference, which is perhaps the most concrete way to describe the difference between Muay-Thai and Kickboxing, it isn’t the only difference, but it is the largest. For instance, Clinching is a huge aspect of Muay-Thai, with whole fights being won or lost in the clinch whereas too much clinching in Kickboxing can lead to you having points deducted. 

Dirty Boxing, is an aspect of fighting in the clinch, that is frowned upon in Kickboxing and Boxing, yet in Muay-Thai it would be strange if you DIDNT use Dirty-Boxing. It isn’t only the techniques used that are different but also how the techniques are perceived.   


Another big difference between the two styles is the level of conditioning expected, at high levels, amazing conditioning is expected from all martial artists, however, for Muay-Thai, there is a huge emphasis on muscle endurance and cardiovascular endurance straight from the get go. Daily 3 mile runs, bodyweight circuits and endless hours of pad and bag work are expected from the beginning, this leads to quite a steep learning curve that is quite intimidating to newcomers.

Whereas with most kickboxing styles like American or Japanese, there is less of a demand for high level conditioning so early on, which leads to much more accessibility to people and much much less intimidation. you could make an argument for either side, personally I don’t really know where I stand, I think conditioning is a hugely important aspect of martial arts but I also think it shouldn’t be introduced as quickly or as aggressively. Its similar to my thoughts on sparring, very important to do, but the approach should be measured. Conditioning is vital to success in both martial arts, you would be hard pressed to find an effective martial art where conditioning isn’t  important, and if it isn’t, then that martial art is probably a load of shit.

To conclude

Muay Thai and Kickboxing are similar martial arts, so similar that if you studied one for years you’d find your skills would translate into the other relatively seamlessly. However, the rulesets of both of them are so different that they have become focused on other aspects of fighting, with kickboxing there is a much clearer emphasis on points being scored through ring control and clean scoring strikes, this has lead to more aggressive, fast paced combinations being prioritised, with emphasis on clean complex combinations being thrown, similar to Boxing. In Muay Thai however, points are scored through damage, or how damaged or affected one fighter is from the others strikes. This has lead instead to smaller combinations being thrown, with more emphasis on good technique and power. Ultimately this shows us that tweaking the rulesets is what allows a different style of fighting to shine through. 

So what are the differences between Muay Thai and Kickboxing, on first thought they seem so similar that they shouldn’t be thought of as separate things, but when we look closer we can see the differences clearly and how different they really are.