What is the difference between Kickboxing and Muay Thai?

In the last twenty years, the distinction between Kickboxing and Muay Thai have blurred with the proliferation of sanctioning organizations, sponsored sporting events, and fighting rule sets. Previously, I described the origins of Kickboxing and Muay Thai. These are fighting sports that appear very similar to the uninformed or novice. I’ll discuss what is the main difference and then similarities between these two sporting arts.

Both martial arts produce outstanding fighters because the practitioners punch and kick at full-power. They employ fakes and feints to a live opponent who is actively avoiding hits and reading feints. They highlight training and conditioning are very important in fighting ability. These bouts are the closest one can get to an actual combat or self-defense situation.

The conditioning of the fighters is vital. A fighter with a lack of cardio will gas out or fail in the bout. If the fighter is not good at strategies, the fighter will get hit hard in the face. If the fighter has bad footwork, the fighter will trip herself up and not have adequate power in strikes. Physical fitness is crucial to being an impressive combatant.

Differences Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai

 Kickboxing Muay Thai
A varied number of rounds and time of rounds Five three-minute rounds
Sweeps and takedowns are not allowed Sweeps are allowed
Elbows and knee strikes are not allowed Elbow and knee strikes allowed
The referee breaks up clinches Clinch is allowed
A mixture of Western Boxing and Asian martial arts Developed from Thai culture and Thai warrior history
Wear pants or shorts Wear shorts to fight
Fighters are from different arts like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kenpo Fighters all study Muay Thai
Fighters wear boxing gloves and foot gloves Fighters wear gloves only, wraps on feet

Similarities Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai

  • Cardio conditioning, strength training, bag work, and mitt-glove work are essential to prepare for bouts
  • Full contact so fighters can get knocked out, bloody cuts, bruises, cracked/broken bones
  • They are both sporting events with sponsors, lights, and an audience
  • Fights occur in a raised ring
  • Both use rounds to track the bout. There are time limits and other rules
  • Sanctioned fighters compete and have rankings within the sanctioning organization
  • The sanctioning organization sets the rules for the bout

Tired of the same old Zumba or Cardio Dance?

Kickboxing fighters must have excellent physical fitness. This aspect of art is something everyday people can enjoy. The practice of Kickboxing to music is cardio-intensive, intense strength building, and sweat-inducing. When combined with the heavy bag, padded mitt work, and shield striking, the fitness student can get the same great results all while having fun.

I’m a registered Cardio Karate Kickboxing instructor and led classes for students interested in something new and different. We drill fighting combinations to music, get good at striking flow, and kicking power. The workouts are tough. We get sweaty, and our muscles are sore. After a few months, you’ll notice a difference in your body and how your clothes fit. The best part of this cardio fitness program is you learn real punching and kicking, usable in self-defense. However, you’ll still need to learn self-defense techniques, but you’ll have the power punch to back up the move.

Conclusion: The Two Arts are Un-identical Twins

What used to be an apparent distinction between Kickboxing and Muay Thai has muddled over the years. For example, many fighters compete in both types of matches (Kickboxing and Muay Thai), thereby confusing the distinction further. The arts appear to be the same to the casual observer. While both Kickboxing and Muay Thai are separate, distinct arts, they share a considerable amount of features characteristics that make them similar sports. Another issue with the confusion is the advent of Mixed Martial Arts fighting, which combines Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Jui-Jitsu, and Shoot Wrestling.

Martial arts styles are training styles with unique customs and fighting strategies. A student finds and studies arts that suit them. (link to choosing a martial arts style for you) Martial arts styles like Kickboxing and Muay Thai appeal to different people. Don’t think of differences or characteristics as making one style better than another. The martial art makes the fighter effective for that martial art’s focus or specialty. I suggest finding a style that you will enjoy because getting proficient takes a lot of time and effort.

I hope this helps you understand these two amazing fighting styles. If you are interested, consider finding an instructor near you.

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is a full-contact sport similar to boxing, except these fighters can use fist, feet, shins, elbows, knees, and lots of clinching. It is a swift sport featuring powerful blows, in-close elbows, and lots of fantastic athleticism.[1] Muay Thai is the national close-combat martial art of Thailand developed hundreds of years ago. Thailand’s history includes stories of great Muay Thai fighters and their heroic battles.[2] Just as Japan is known for Karate and China for Kung Fu, so is Thailand known for Muay Thai.

A Brief History of Muay Thai

“The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a golden age not only for muay but for the whole country of Thailand. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king’s personal interest in the sport.[1]” Muay Thai continued to gain popularity during the early 1900s with the infusion of Westerners and their interest in the sport.

The 1990s saw Muay Thai gain worldwide popularity, and the governing federation of fights grew to international proportions. Muay Thai is now a mainstay in the fighting sports watched by enthusiasts across the United States. I enjoy watching the skill and power of these fighters and their distinctive style.

Tiger Muay Thai has a much more in-depth history of the art.

Famous Muay Thai Fighters

Want to know who the best Muay Thai fighters are? Check out Muay Thai Citizen’s list of the Top Ten Thai Fighters.

Many UFC and MMA fighters cross-train in Muay Thai to improve their standing game. Others use a combination of Karate, Kickboxing, or Savate. The combo of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu is trendy among MMA fighters.

Current Information about Muay Thai

“The World Muaythai Council (WMC) is one of the oldest and the largest professional sanctioning organizations of Muaythai in the world for the sport. The organization was set up in 1995 by parliament resolution, and is incorporated by the Royal Thai Government and sanctioned by the Sports Authority of Thailand, …[6]” This is the organization that approves professional fights for Muay Thai fighters all over the world. Look for their logo on a sanctioned fighter. Head over to their website to find out more.

Are you interested in the amateur fighters? There is an amateur body to sanction these fighters too. “In 1993, the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur, or IFMA, was inaugurated. It became the governing body of amateur Muay Thai consisting of 128 member countries worldwide and is recognized by Olympic Council of Asia.[6]” If you want to be knowledgeable about the rising stars of Muay Thai, this is a great resource.

I want to learn more Muay Thai

Though I don’t teach Muay Thai at my school, it is an incredible art. If this article stirs interest in the art of Muay Thai, take a look at Budo Videos for at-home training. This won’t take the place of a qualified instructor, but it will get you moving in the right direction.

If you want to add this to your school’s curriculum as a new program, consider enrolling at KRU Muay Thai for their instructor training.


Many nations and areas across the world have their indigenous martial arts, developed through history in countless battles. These arts are national treasures and should be preserved by those willing to put in the work and dedication to acquire the skills. What other art forms do you know of from other countries?

[1] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muay_Thai

[2] Tiger Muay Thai, https://www.tigermuaythai.com/about-muay-thai/history

[3] Best Muay Thai Boxing, https://bestmuaythaiboxing.com/what-is-muay-thai

[4] Muay Thai Citizen, http://www.muaythaicitizen.com/beginners-guide-to-muay-thai/

[5] World Muay Thai Council, http://www.wmcmuaythai.org/

[6] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Muaythai_Council

[7] International Federation of Muaythai Amateur, http://www.ifmamuaythai.org/