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Kickboxing Vs. Muay Thai - What's The Difference?

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: August 4, 2023

Many people believe that kickboxing and Muay Thai are the same.

Although these two martial arts share many similarities, they’re actually different in many ways.

Differentiating one sport from the other can be hella confusing, so I created this comparison to help you tell which is which.

Let’s get to it.

Quick Summary

  • Kickboxing and Muay Thai are distinct martial arts with differences in techniques and strategies.
  • Muay Thai focuses on explosive strikes with punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, while kickboxing emphasizes footwork and movement, drawing from Western boxing.
  • Muay Thai includes clinching and grappling techniques, whereas kickboxing does not, allowing for more focus on punching.

The Fundamentals Of Muay Thai

athletes in a middle of a muay thai match

Muay Thai, aka Thai boxing, is a combat sport with an 8-point striking system.

Its entire focus is on generating explosive blows using movements such as punches, kicks, knees, and elbows.

Powerful leg kicks are designed to damage an opponent’s thigh and calf muscles, while sharp elbow strikes are used to open up cuts in an opponent’s face.

The clinch, where a fighter grapples the opponent, is a move meant to gain control of the fight and limit the damage one incurs.

It’s also an excellent strategy for landing damaging elbows and knees from close quarters.

A Muay Thai fighter heavily relies on offense rather than defense. The goal is to deliver fight-finishing attacks that will quickly defeat an opponent.

The Fundamentals of Kickboxing

men athletes during their kickboxing match

Kickboxing employs pretty much the same techniques as pure boxing.

That’s why a skilled kickboxer will likely feel more comfortable fighting opponents inside a boxing ring under typical boxing rules.

This sport is a 4-point striking system that also uses punches and kicks but focuses more on footwork and movement in general.

That’s why kickboxers often circle and advance in and out with ease because they’ve been trained to do so.

Also, kickboxing tends to integrate a wide range of exotic strikes in the sport, such as axe kicks and spin kicks.

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Notable Differences Between Muay Thai And Kickboxing

The Boxing

men exchanging punches

Kickboxing, particularly K-1 and Dutch kickboxing, takes many of its techniques from western boxing.

Kickboxing often involves heavy use of hands, sometimes even more than kicks, while Muay Thai especially the traditional Muay Thai in Thailand uses far more kicking.

Muay Thai fighters often clinch, knee, and elbow their opponents.

You won’t see these moves in kickboxing, making it easier to engage in punching without worrying about these charges.

Kickboxing also has longer hand combos, usually three to six punch combos.

The Kicking Technique

one on one muay thai kick coaching

Both the low kicks and high kicks for these two combat sports are completely different.

But Muay Thai fighters competing under K-1 rules sometimes use kicks practiced in some kickboxing styles such as Dutch kickboxing.

However, there is still a general difference, especially when you compare American kickboxing and Muay Thai.

Kickboxing fighters swing their hips, lift their legs, and snap their knee when throwing kicks.

They prefer to land with their feet, but some may also land with the middle/lower part of their shin.

Unlike kickboxers, Muay Thai fighters don't bend their knee while kicking.

They keep their leg relaxed until the moment of impact, the point of which is at the lower part of the shin.

This tactic allows them to land with more speed.

This move's power is driven by the torque of the hip and arms as fighters swing their opposite arm downwards while twisting their hip.


close up shot of boxers lower body during a match

If you've ever seen a kickboxing fight, you'll notice how its rhythm of movement differs from Muay Thai.

Muay Thai fighters are not as shifty and mobile as kickboxers.

The former requires more patience; they wait for the right opening before they strike and aggressively advance forward.

This is the complete opposite of mixed martial arts or kickboxing, where fighters intimidate each other with an active use of hands, angles, movements, and volume combos.

Although you can fight like this in Muay Thai, the sport's top fighters rely mostly on quick and explosive counter-attacks.

Head Movement

man protecting his face from a boxing stance

There is minimal head movement, circling, and weaving in Muay Thai fights compared to kickboxing.

On the other hand, kickboxing fighters may duck, bob, weave and slip punches as a boxer would.

Watch any K-1 fight, and you will see how competitors move both their heads and feet to dodge punches.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

- Bruce Lee, Martial Artist

Striking Techniques

man conducting a spinning kick on another man

Even though Muay Thai and kickboxing share the same punches, knees, and kicks—like round kicks and leg kicks—they differ in a few striking techniques.

Since kickboxing takes some of its movements from karate, it tends to have a broader range of kick styles, like the axe kick, side kick, spin kick, and other unique attacks.

You're more likely to see spinning kicks in a K-1 match more than other kicks, but it still depends on the fighter, of course.

Conversely, spinning kicks are rarely performed in traditional Muay Thai, but their fancy form is present in Muay Boran, the art form of Muay Thai [1].

Staple kicks in Muay Thai include the Teep or the front push kick used to create distance or deliver a powerful strike.

A Muay Thai fighter can also pull off fancy moves such as the cartwheel kick, the spinning elbow, and the spinning back fist.

Fight Pace

coach talking to his athlete inside the boxing ring

Traditional Muay Thai, as found in Thailand, consists of five-round fights, with the first two rounds being "soft."

This is the stage when fighters feel out their opponent.

The real fight begins during round three when both fighters really start attacking each other.

On the other hand, kickboxing fights tend to be pretty intense from the start.

Each match is three rounds in duration, and opponents typically fight hard in every round



Which Is Better, Kickboxing or Muay Thai?

Those in the know would say that Muay Thai is better for combat as it offers fighters more ways to attack, which kickboxing doesn't.

This martial art incorporates the use of elbows, knees, and clinch work.

Others think that kickboxing is better because of its emphasis on footwork, movement, and boxing skills.

Although they differ in fighting style, the reality is that both of these arts can learn from one another.

There are many styles of kickboxing, and some of these fighting styles can be equal in their effectiveness to Muay Thai.

Which Is More Dangerous, Boxing or Muay Thai?

Boxing is considered more dangerous than Muay Thai because most strikes in this sport are aimed at the head.

The number of rounds in one fight is also usually higher than in Muay Thai.

Muay Thai tends to be safer because it has a lighter sparring style.

Muay Thai fighters also take fewer hits to the head than boxers due to the lower number and shorter length of rounds during an average match.

Muay Thai Vs Kickboxing: Final Thoughts

Although these full-contact sports have several differences, you can never go wrong in learning either because they have a lot to offer.

These arts have greatly influenced each other and are very strategic, teaching the importance of timing in setting up attacks and the importance of footwork and movement during combat.

Muay Thai and kickboxing are two martial arts with common elements that have been proven time and time again to be extremely useful in combat.

Training for both can certainly make you one hell of a fighter.


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