Differences between Kickboxing and Thai Boxing

Many people, too many people, confuse Kickboxing with Thai Boxing (also called Muai Thai): perhaps it is because of the generalization that many schools do in defining any fighting sport that uses upper and lower body strikes (e.g. punches and kicks) as Kickboxing.  I used the term fighting sport to indicate a martial art that gets practiced according to some sport rules: these rules define, among other things, what can be used as a striking weapon and what areas of the opponent’s body can be hit.

In general the correct definition for Kickboxing is what is also called American Kickboxing, the style initially defined in the late sixties / early seventies as Full Contact Karate.  The pioneers of this sport where people like Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis and Benny Urquidez: they eventually renamed it Kickboxing to indicate a Boxing fight with added kicks when got into disagreement with the traditional Karate people that were (and are) still fighting with little or no contact.  Several other styles get called Kickboxing while being obviously something else: Thai Boxing, topic of this post, is the typical example but Savate, a French style with some obvious differences gets called Kickboxing and even Sanda, a sport application of Kung Fu gets sometimes called Chinese Kickboxing.

Although there are some very obvious differences between Kickboxing and Thai Boxing I will try to make them very obvious for the neophyte:

  • Kickboxing is American and Thai Boxing is Thai… not that easy to spot to the untrained observer but the most obvious aspect of this difference is in the uniform that is generally adopted although there are exceptions.  The former one uses (and imposes during tournaments) long trousers while the latter uses broad silk shorts, usually in very bright colours.
  • Kickboxing uses the same range of punches from standard IBF Boxing plus back fist and knife hand strike together with all most obvious kicks: front, side, round, axe and so on, including all variations of jumping, spinning back.  Thai Boxing allows all of the above and adds elbow and knee strikes: in reality knees are considered kind of preferential weapon and they tend to deliver a high percentage of the most devastating blows.
  • In Kickboxing you cannot grab and hold any of the opponents limbs or body parts: Thai Boxing allows for example grabbing the opponent’s leg and hold onto it while striking at the rest of the body; it is also allowed to clinch and strike at the same time.
  • Kickboxing’s techniques can land on the opponent’s torso, face and head: no strikes are allowed to the legs, back or back of the head.  Thai Boxing can strike everywhere excluding the groin area.
  • Kickboxing is practiced wearing full protection kit made of gloves, mouth guard, groin guard, shin and foot pad: Thai Boxing fighters wear just gloves, mouth and groin guard.
  • Kickboxing’s competitions can follow Semi, Light or Full contact rules: Thai Boxing just applies to Full contact.

Just because video are better than words, now that a bit of explanation has been offered please have a look at these two examples I found.  The first is a friendly demonstration fight between Bill Wallace and Dominique Valera: please notice the variety of techniques and how spectacular they look.  If they were in a competition they would have been less spectacular and much more violent:

The second video shows a Thai Boxing fight.  Although the number of techniques available to Thai Boxing fighters is larger than most of the other fighting sports the actual number of techniques effectively used is generally smaller:

I hope you enjoyed this post and the video I selected as examples: any comment is, as usual, highly appreciated.