The terms “Muay Thai” and “Kickboxing” have been so often interchangeably used that so many people no longer see if there is any distinction at all. The confusion lies mainly in that Kickboxing is an umbrella term encompassing any stand-up combat sport that allows both punching and kicking. Muay Thai is one of the most popular forms of Kickboxing, though there are other well-known systems as well.1
Aside from Muay Thai, for example, American and Dutch Kickboxing are popular alternatives. All three of them may seem similar to the average onlooker. Once you know what to look for, however, it becomes plain to see how their complex histories influenced each distinct style.
Since various Kickboxing styles have many things in common, they don’t differ much in their effects, health-wise. The decision, then, boils down to a matter of preference. If you can’t decide which specific discipline would be best to enroll in, here are a few steps to help you:
- Learn more about the similarities and differences of each so you can make a well-informed choice.
- Ask yourself this: Is there even any Muay Thay gym near me? How about Kickboxing? If the closest gym to you is about an hour away, it’ll be tough for you to train consistently.
- Enroll in beginner Muay Thai lessons to get a feel for it. Join American and Dutch Kickboxing sessions too. The best way to make an accurate assessment of your best fit is to try each of them out at least once.
In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between these three forms of Kickboxing.
American Kickboxing is a hybrid art that began in the 1970s. Karatekas (i.e., karate practitioners) were dissatisfied with the traditional Karate point-fighting system. Thus, they branched out and created full-contact karate, establishing the Professional Karate Association.2
The PKA’s World Championships of Full Contact Karate brought together a mishmash of diverse fighting styles. Later, it instituted a standard set of rules to unify these styles, and so American Kickboxing came to be.
On the other hand, Dutch Kickboxing has a long and convoluted history that began at around the same time.3 Dutchmen traveled to Japan to learn Japanese Kickboxing, which is the amalgamation of Muay Thai and Kyokushin Karate into a single fighting system. They brought Japanese Kickboxing back to the Netherlands and incorporated Western boxing. Years of refining this system resulted in modern rules Dutch Kickboxers play by today.
Muay Thai came to the Western world almost two decades after American and Dutch Kickboxing did.4 Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is also known as The Art of Eight Limbs. It is an eight-point striking system, using hands, elbows, knees, and shins to inflict damage.
In the late ‘80s, a Thai’s tenacious display in a match against an American kickboxer sparked the interest of the public and a few influential people.5 A few decades later, Muay Thai has become one of the most prominent fighting systems in the world.
Frankly, there is no known ideology to American Kickboxing. It has been called “karate without philosophy,” though that’s not to say that its practitioners have no beliefs of their own. Generally, people who compete in Kickboxing already have foundations in other martial arts.6 In that case, their personal philosophies would then be greatly influenced by that of their original school.
Dutch Kickboxers (and the Dutch population, in general) have a mindset of “if it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.” Aside from that, though, they also seem to have no overarching philosophy.
On the other hand, Muay Thai is a very traditional martial art and is very deeply rooted in its philosophy. This philosophy is taught from the day students join their beginner Muay Thai lessons. The Thai believe that you can only grow as a fighter if your heart, mind, and body are all in sync.7 No amount of physical conditioning will prepare a fighter with little dedication and concentration for combat. This belief is why Thai practitioners follow a strict daily routine of training (at least) twice daily and immersing in Buddhism.8
The similarity between Muay Thai, American Kickboxing, and Dutch Kickboxing is that there are no formal rankings. Instead, each practitioner’s performance and record speak for themselves. However, such a vague measurement of skill level makes it difficult for instructors to make accurate assessments. It isn’t uncommon to see schools ranking their students through a belting system for the sake of assessment.
Muay Thai rules are very generous. The use of hands, elbows, knees and shin are all fair play. Even groin strikes are legal moves (Yikes!), and while they do advocate the use of groin cups, it’s still pretty painful. Sure, international rules have since banned it, but traditional Muay Thai has been laxer since teeps can easily miss their intended target. Clinch fighting is common. Kicking the weight-supporting leg with the shin or top surface of the foot is also okay. However, the instep is a Judo technique and therefore not allowed.
American and Dutch Kickboxing tones down the intensity and amps up the safety factor by implementing a few more restrictions. Clinches and grappling are not allowed. Sweeps are legal. American Kickboxing bans elbows, knees, and kicks below the waist. These restrictions don’t always apply to Dutch Kickboxing. Compared to Muay Thai, which allows knees to virtually any body part, knees in Dutch Kickboxing are only allowed in body strikes.9
Mouthguards, groin guards, hand wraps, and 10 oz (280 g) boxing gloves are standard in all forms of Kickboxing. Younger competitors and amateurs are allowed shin pads, kick boots, and a protective helmet for safety.
Clothing is usually limited to kickboxing trousers and Muay Thai shorts for men, and the same plus sports bra for women. Muay Thai players may wear a mongkol on their heads and prajioud on their arms. Depending on the promotion, 4 oz open-finger MMA gloves may replace boxing gloves.
Kickboxing matches can have anywhere from 3–10 rounds of 2–3 minutes each, with a minute of rest in-between. Muay Thai has shorter matches, with about five rounds of 3 minutes each, with a two-minute rest in-between.10
Stance and Footwork
Given the differences in rules, it only makes sense that the stance differs as well. If you watch (or join) beginner Muay Thai lessons, you’ll see that the instructors teach the squared stance rather than angled. The hips face forward, elbows angled out, and most of the bodyweight is on the back leg. It’s a very open stance—luring in attacks to set up a counter.
It’s an immobile stance that is susceptible to takedowns and well-executed sweeps, and it can barely block punches. However, this stance also makes it easier to shoot teeps, check kicks at any level, and rapidly drop (and defend against) elbow strikes. The Muay Thai stance amps up the defense from kicks and elbows at the expense of mobility, stability, and defense from punches.
The squared stance works best for Muay Thai, but that’s not the case for American and Dutch Kickboxing. American Kickboxing adapts a very defined bladed stance. Dutch Kickboxing isn’t very bladed but isn’t very squared either, landing more somewhere in-between.
American Kickboxing is basically karate with more punches and guards, while Dutch is basically boxing with some karate and Muay Thai. Both usually deal and receive higher volumes of punches than kicks, so they keep their arms close to their sides. It works for better defense and swift execution of punches. However, Dutch Kickboxers also have to be wary of elbows, so they slightly angle their elbows out to deal and defend against elbow strikes.
The semi-bladed stance offers greater mobility for Dutch Kickboxers to evade leg kicks, though kick check response time lags compared to the fully squared stance.
The distinction between the three Kickboxing systems becomes more apparent when they step into the ring. Dutch Kickboxers are very heavily oriented to Western boxing and will outbox their opponents. However, their arsenal of punches has a little more variety compared to boxing. Superman punches are legal, for example. The Dutch style is characterized by barrages of punches punctuated by knees and leg kicks. Body and head kicks are legal, as well as front kicks, but they’re not really preferred.11
On the other hand, American Kickboxing allows only hits above the waist. Those hits can be punches or kicks, but no knees or elbows. It has a preference for explosive, long-range kicks, which some people believe is because promoters wanted flashier demonstrations of power. It doesn’t allow backfists as Muay Thai and the Dutch style do.12
Muay Thai makes use of all eight striking points and puts greater emphasis on clinching. Any type of kick is fair play, and teeps are very commonly used. The roundhouse is a common favorite. Elbows are the weapon of choice in close range, and effective use is taught even in beginner Muay Thai lessons. In fact, the mighty elbow has been responsible for KOs time and time again. Clinches are the most distinct style-specific techniques, and dumps and sweeps are good scorers in Muay Thai.13
Compared to Dutch Kickboxing, however, Muay Thai just doesn’t put as much force behind its fists. The Dutch style allows dumps and sweeps but doesn’t favor them as much.
There is a lot of overlap between Muay Thai, Dutch Kickboxing, and American Kickboxing, so it’s plain to see why they aren’t so easy to distinguish from each other. Once you know what you’re looking for, though, it becomes much simpler.
Joining the family – In Person
If you’re in the area, come train the combat sport of your choice at the TFC in Logan, Brisbane. This martial arts gym offers Boxing, Muay Thai Kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It is home to to WBC World Muay Thai Champion Ben Johnston and his team of elite instructors, so you can rest assured that the quality of instruction is top-notch.
Joining the family – Online
You can still enjoy quality instruction from Ben and the team even when you’re outside Brisbane. Whether you’re a novice or an adept, you can check out our online Boxing program. Try it out, you won’t be disappointed. Find out more here.