While for many people these two sports seem very similar, they are in fact very different, and we will explore the reasons why in our detailed article below. Afterward, provided you have the time, you can read some of our other articles if you want to learn how to get the best equipment for this sport such as the right pair of Muay Thai shorts and so much more.
Differences in scoring
In professional Muay Thai fights, punches are generally used as a way to set up knees and kicks. It is very uncommon for Muay Thai fighters to attempt to knock out their opponents using punches instead of fighting to win on points. Conversely, you will see more punches in kickboxing fights, oftentimes in combinations.
The reason for this is due to differences in scoring. For Muay Thai, you will not win if you don’t kick unless you manage to knock out your opponent with something else. For traditional Muay Thai, middle kicks are scored the highest and they are followed by knees, elbows and only lastly punches.
Thus, someone can throw as many as 50 punches in a round and he or she can still be beaten by someone who managed to throw 10 kicks. The only moment when punches are scored more significantly is when the fighter has managed to get the opponent against the ropes and is able to do visible damage with the punches.
In kickboxing, on the other hand, punches, kicks, and knees are scored quite evenly. While a light jab will not be scored equally as a solid low kick, a hard punch that manages to back up the opponent will score on a similar level as a kick.
This is the reason why in kickboxing you are more likely to see people fighting with lots of punches, which is not seen often in Muay Thai unless the fighter is certain he can get a KO by using them.
The kicking technique
While to an untrained eye the kicking technique might seem fairly similar in both sports, kickboxing kicks are entirely different in both the low kick and the high kicks. With that said, there is some crossover with some Muay Thai fighters that like to compete under K1 rules.
Some kickboxing styles may use Muay Thai kicks, but other than that, the two sports have very different kick techniques. Kickboxing puts a lot of emphasis on the athlete swinging his or her hips while lifting the leg up and then snapping the foot out. The impact area should be on the top of the front foot.
In the case of Muay Thai, the kicks have the legs going up straight from the ground without being bent. The athlete must keep the leg completely relaxed until it hits the target in order to achieve maximum speed and torque of the hips. Here the point of impact is not the front foot but the lower part of the shin.
When combined with the proper technique, the shin can have a force and impact that is very similar to that of a baseball bat. Thus, out of the two techniques, Muay Thai is much more powerful, but it also requires more training to perfect.
Foot and head movement
There is also a difference in rhythm between the two sports with a Muay Thai athlete being more patient since this martial art requires you to wait for the right opening and only then strike. People that enjoy the pacing of kickboxing, where the two opponents often time overwhelm each other, may not find Muay Thai as rewarding or entertaining to watch.
That can also be observed in the way that a kickboxer moves in and out fast, while Thai boxers move forward to engage much more tactically. Thus, in terms of foot movement, kickboxers have more styles of movement than Muay Thai fighters, and that can be observed when it comes to head movements as well.
Indeed, as far as head movement is concerned, Muay Thai has very little, with very few counter-examples, most of which involve athletes that borrowed head movement styles from boxing.
On the other hand, kickboxing incorporates a lot of head movement, and fighters can duck, slip punches like a boxer, and incorporate weaving and slight bobbing in their movements. Most kickboxers will coordinate both their feet and head in order to evade punches. Some professional fighters will also lean forward at an angle when throwing the left uppercut.
While it is true that stances can differ greatly from athlete to athlete in both sports, there are a few important differences between the stance of a kickboxing fighter and a Thai boxer. For starters, Muay Thai fighters tend to have their elbows out more since they need to block kicks with their forearm and throw elbows without elbowing their thigh.
As mentioned above, in kickboxing there is a high volume of punches that an athlete receives and throws, which means that fighters need to have their elbows as close to their ribs as possible. This helps protect them from body shots as well as allow them to box more.
Furthermore, in Muay Thai a kick to the arm can allow the opponent to score. In the kickboxing world, kicks to the arm can sometimes count as “blocks” which means that fighters tend not to attempt to block with their forearm the way Thai boxers do.
There is also the fight pace that is quite different since, in Thailand (the place where traditional Muay Thai originates from), the first two rounds are very slow, with the fighters barely hitting each other. This allows the two athletes to feel each other out and get a sense of the skills of the opponent and see how he or she might react to certain attacks.
It is not until the third and fourth rounds that things start to become more alert, with the fourth round being weighed the most. There is a fifth round only if the two opponents have a close fight or if the losing fighter wants to KO his or her opponent in the hopes of securing a win.
In kickboxing, each round from the first to the last is fought at a much higher pace and often times every round is very hard and that can make it much more enjoyable for the audience to witness and more intense for the two combatants. Under K1 rules, in kickboxing, a fight can last anywhere between 3 to 5 rounds.
Can you jump between arts?
It all depends on what fighting art you are proficient in. Muay Thai includes everything that kickboxing has and more, so it is not uncommon to see Muay Thai fighters crossover and perform well in kickboxing matches. Thai boxers can also adapt very quickly to the K1 style rules.
Unfortunately, the same thing is not the case when it comes to a kickboxer switching to Muay Thai. Since the latter is viewed as a more ‘complete’ fighting art, the inclusion of the elbows and the knee strikes can change the game completely.
This means that an athlete that is a pure kickboxer will be out of his or her element when practicing Muay Thai for the first time without any past training.