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 Kickboxing

The art and sport of Kickboxing began in 1970 with the exhibition bout featuring Joe Lewis. Lewis was a Black Belt in traditional Karate and a student of Bruce Lee. He grew frustrated with point-fighting. Lewis felt point-fighting didn’t reflect a real fight, so he proposed a full contact bout using a karate and western boxing blend where a fighter could get knocked out.[1]

‟Lewis faced Kenpo stylist Greg ‛Om’ Baines… Lewis won the fight by knockout in the second round.[2]” At this exhibition full-contact bout, the announcers coined the term Kickboxing. Joe Lewis went on to defend his title ten times. The rules for fighting were still embryonically lacking weight classes, and most fights continued until only one boxer remained standing.

The sport continued to refine with the formation of two sanctioning bodies, the Professional Karate Association (PKA) and of the World Kickboxing Association (WKA). These two bodies developed a ranking system and sanctioned bouts worldwide. Several other organizations have come and gone since the mid-70s. The fighters also improved their art by including western boxing techniques and better physical stamina training.[3]

Kickboxing blending with Muay Thai during the 80s, eventually branching into the Mixed Martial Arts sport fighting. There are still Kickboxing bouts, but the field of options has expanded into various forms and governing associations. The most popular one is the UFC.

Legendary Kickboxing Fighters

A few of the early fighters became legends in the sport. Here is a brief list of the most popular and my favorite.

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis was a Marine and former high school wrestler who studied Shorin-Ryu Karate in Okinawa between 1954-1955. Lewis earned his Black Belt in seven months. After his return to the United States, he entered many point sparring tournaments taking first place in many bouts. Through his continued training with various instructors and his experience in the ring, Lewis developed an influential full-contact fighting art.[5] His art continues through his website Joe Lewis Fighting System. If you are interested in learning his system, join their online training and access to regional seminars.

Bill ‛Superfoot’ Wallace

Bill Wallace is an Airman who studied Shorin-Ryu in 1967. Wallace began to enter point-fighting tournaments and achieved some success. He switched to full-contact fighting with the PKA and dominated the middleweight division. Wallace acquired his moniker Superfoot because of his swift left foot, notably the round-house kick and hook-kick.[6] After retiring from Kickboxing, Wallace began teaching seminars across the country. These seminars were very popular, leading Wallace to produce instructional videos with Panther Productions. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Bill Wallace’s seminar. If you want to learn more about Wallace’s fighting system, visit his website, and join the classes.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is a Tae Kwon Do artist (taught by Jhun Rhee) who is a seven-time PKA World Champion. He is now a 10th-degree Grand Master and teaches at his Tae Kwon Do school in Virginia.[7] During his fighting career, Smith defeated many of the famous fighters in the era. His most memorable bout was the lead-in match for the worldwide broadcast of the 1975 ‛Thrilla in Manila’ featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.[8] Learn more about Smith at his website.

John Natividad

John Natividad is a champion fighter who fought on the Chuck Norris team. Natividad earned the moniker Giant Killer by defeating the top 5 National ranked competitors. His most famous bout was with Benny Urquidez, which Natividad won in overtime 13-12.[9] Natividad is now a 10th-degree Black Belt in Chuck Norris’ United Fighting Arts Federation. Learn more about Natividad and his school.

Grandmasters Natividad, Olivier, Wilson, and Gabriel

The early 1970s brought about an interest in full-contact Karate in the form of Kickboxing. This testing of martial arts skills in a real fight has led to many innovative changes and a flood of modified styles. With the influence of Bruce Lee and Kajukenbo, martial arts began to move towards realistic versus traditional evaluation of their effectiveness. And this progression percolated in the 1990s with the advent of thoroughly mixed martial arts, full-contact fights.

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] ATA Kick, https://atakick.com/the-history-of-kickboxing/

[4] Prokick, http://archive.prokick.com/kickboxing/article/history-of-kickboxing/

[5] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Lewis_(martial_artist)

[6] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Wallace_(martial_artist)

[7] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Smith_(martial_arts)

[8] IKF, http://ikfkickboxing.com/JeffSmith.htm

[9] John Natividad, https://www.johnnatividad.com/

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/

We Remember Black Heritage in Kenpo Karate

This month, we remember the inspirational life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words and deed inspire men and women across the nation. He saw the good in every person. He saw a way to undo the injustice found in our great nation, to make it a greater nation. Dr. King’s message inspired those in the early Kenpo community too.

Steve Muhammed (formerly Steve Sanders): A talented athlete and Vietnam Veteran, Muhammed knew about effective combat measures. Mr. Muhammed earned his Black Belt under Dan Inosanto and Chuck Sullivan in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. Muhammed ‟…established a reputation early on as one of the fiercest competitors ever.[1]” In 1969, he co-founded the Black Karate Federation (BKF) which is ‟…dedicated to promoting fairness on the martial arts tournament circuit.[2]”

Donnie Williams: Originally began training in Karate, later after his tour in the Marine Corp, Williams took up Tae Kwon Do. In the tournament circuit, he was known for high superior kicking and aggressive fighting. Williams met up with Muhammed and began training with the Kenpo artist’s deceptive fighting style. After retiring from competition, he began a film career.[3]

Grandmasters Steve Muhammad and Donnie Williams

Jim Kelly: A talented athlete and Shorin-Ryu Karate practitioner, Kelly had an illustrious career in the tournament circuit. Kelly then opened a Karate school in Los Angeles and starred in numerous films including Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee. Kelly was an inspiration for many Black martial artist through his films and fights.[4]

In the movie Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly played the role of Williams. After Bruce Lee, Williams was my next favorite character. Williams was confident, talented, and honorable. Williams didn’t take any guff. He was a very good fighter. I was sad to see his character die in the movie, but it did mean I was a fan of Jim Kelly.

Goldie Mack, 10th degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate

Goldie Mack: He began his martial arts career in the late 1960s. Mack was an avid tournament competitor, instructor, and stunt double for Walker Texas Ranger. “Mack has served as a Police Officer in Texas and as a Deputy Sheriff in Kansas. He has conducted over 200-300 anti-rape seminars across the nation annually for the past 20 plus years. He is the author of The Technical training Instructor’s Course, a methods text for martial arts, and…a number of training courses.[5]” I had the great pleasure of working with Grandmaster Mack in 2018.

These individuals worked hard to improve their martial arts and pass the character development qualities of martial arts training to the young men and women of their community. They helped their neighborhoods, inspired the youth to be strong dedicated, fierce, and hardworking. They knew the benefits of Kenpo transcend the harsh realities of everyday life of the 1950s and 1960s.

During this holiday, take a moment to remember that all Americans contribute to this tapestry we call the United States of America. We are strong because of our diversity. We are strong because of our education. We are strong because we are free.

[1] Sanders, Steve and Williams, Donnie; Championship Kenpo; Ohara Publications; 1983; Book.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Kelly_(martial_artist)

[5] http://universalmartialartsacademyandtrainingcenter.org