Where I am (Southern California), I see many gyms list Muay Thai and Kickboxing in the same line as if they are closely related or the same thing. I even had one guy I called at a gym say, "they're basically the same thing".

So can some explain to a layman (me!), what is Kickboxing and what is Muay Thai and what is the difference.



P.S. Bonus question, assuming there is a difference and you have the time, I have other questions, (1) which is better workout, (2) which is harder/easier for a beginner, (3) which is more practical for self-defense.

  • Thank you all for clearing that up. I can only pick one answer unfortunately.
    – Dave
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 16:41
  • Late VTC as being too broad, esp considering the "which is more practical" addition.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 6:32
  • Any gym that says that Muay Thai is the same as Kickboxing is a gym to avoid
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 21:31

7 Answers 7


Kickboxing is a generic term for fighting sports/systems that use kicking and boxing techniques, though the rules of some but not all kickboxing groups do allow additional techniques such as elbows and knees.

Muay Thai is a sports form distilled from the traditional Thai martial arts (Muay boran). Muay thai uses kicking, punching, elbows and knees, clinches and has some ceremonial aspects. Techniques like hammerfists and backfists, and palm strikes, have been incorporated - not many kickboxing organisations will allow all those.

So, you might say Muay Thai is one specific type of kickboxing, albeit supplemented with additional techniques. And indeed, kickboxing has historically emerged predominantly from a mixture of Muay Thai, karate and western boxing, though later on fighters with all manner of martial arts backgrounds have competed in kickboxing and any style is inevitably influenced a bit by whatever has been proven to work well within the rules.

It'd be time well spent if you read through the wikipedia articles on each....

(1) which is better workout, (2) which is harder/easier for a beginner, (3) which is more practical for self-defense.

There nothing inherent in either system that makes it a better workout, or particularly harder or easier (though learning to use and defend against elbows and knees is obviously an additional challenge). If the specific kickboxing system being offered doesn't happen to incorporate knees and elbows, it may be less effective for self defence, but not hugely so - you'll still learn close-range body punches.


The main difference between Muay Thai and kickboxing is that Muay Thai allows additional techniques, e.g. elbow strikes, knee strikes and clinches. A kickboxing referee will usually break up a clinch, but in Muay Thai, he will not. Kickboxing has a minimum and maximum number of kicks you must land during a round (I think it's 8 and 15 respectively but I'm not sure), Muay Thai doesn't care.

As for effectiveness, I'd say Muay Thai is slightly more effective because of the Clinch and additional strikes taught.

Better workout? If you want a good workout, join a Crossfit programme or whatever else is in vogue at your closest gym. I personally feel that sport and exercise has evolved to such an extent that a martial arts instructor doesn't need to spend his time getting his students fit. They can take aerobics and conditioning classes for that. I prefer(ed) teaching technique and sparring.

My reasoning being that if I spend 45 minutest teaching you how to fight instead of 15, I would have given you 3 times the amount of training.

  • Real kickboxing and muay thai classes were you're not going fit or is very physical demanding ain't not the real deal. You're going to get tired by skipping rope, kicking and punching pads & bags. I would say it is required to be really fit to compete in those sports, or even to spar in those. Or else you would run out of breath quite fast and you're techniques will run out of power, speed and effectiveness. Actually I believe top elite kickboxing/muay thai fighters are one of the athletes which has one of the highest cardiovascular capacity, almost in the same levels as cross-country skiers.
    – marko
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 18:14
  • Look at the workouts muay thai fighters are doing - tigermuaythai.com/training/muay-thai/muay-thai-training-program/… If that ain't physically taxing then I don't know what is.
    – marko
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 18:34
  • 1
    That's not the point. The point is that you can join a specialised fitness programme to get fit. That leaves the instructor to teach you how to fight instead of spending time on conditioning. Elite fighters may have 3 hours per day to train, but the regular student only has 45 minutes. It is extremely important to make the most of those 45 minutes and the best thing is to hand off the fitness portion to someone else. Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 8:52
  • 1
    I've never trained any martial arts class which is only 45 minutes. The normal is 90 minutes or maybe even 2 hours.
    – marko
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 12:13
  • 2
    Doing CrossFit or other fitness routines will not train you particularly well for Kickboxing. It will give you an overall level of fitness and conditioning, but the muscle groups and types of movements used in one doesn't translate to the other. Your advice becomes obviously flawed when applied to other sports. If someone suggested that instead of working out during soccer practice they should just go to the gym and lift weights, that would be bad advice. The two together is likely better than just one or the other, but one cannot replace the other
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 21:29

From experience in both, there is of course the addition of knees and elbows in Thai over Kickboxing.

Regarding technique, since both of these disciplines train you for ring fighting (rather than say self defense), Kickboxing uses more bob and weave and parry with counter strikes like boxing (you can't do this so much in Thai, since knees and elbows would risk you ducking into an elbow!)

With Kickboxing you also have to kick above the waist a set number of times per round, hence the kicks can be lighter (for points), more bouncy and drawn from less grounded positions (i.e., no need to switch footings) Also, you release kicks with the anticipation that they might not strike, so less weight and arm swing is used since you don't want to fall over if/when you miss.

Muay Thai encourages more a hands oriented defense that is further out to afford distance (almost like a pushing stance, than a boxing defense of chin and eyes). Thai kicks are more loaded (from torque/twist) & fired from a sure footing, same side arm swung back with the emphasis they will connect and thus cause more damage. Defense of Muay Thai kicks is to (painfully) clash shins, rather than kickboxing which is to avoid being kicked, or at least only allow connection to the defense stance of forearm and bicep (like boxing).

In a nut shell; Kickboxing requires more elegance, Muay Thai more brute power.

  • 4
    This is a really good explanation until that awful last sentence. Commented May 26, 2015 at 6:35

In traditional american kickboxing it was only allowed to punch and kick abowe the waist. Almost the same as karate but with boxing gloves.

But in muay thai it is allowed with lowkicks to the legs, knees and elbows, plus clinching and grabbing the opponents kicking leg. Muay thai is somewhat slower and puts a lot more power in each strike than in kickboxing.

But those lines between the sports are blurred and kickboxing as we see today borrow heavily from muay thai because they are the most effective techniques you can do with you're bare hands. So todays kickboxing is often the same as muay thai, with the additional of maybe more boxing and the occasional karate kick as spinning kicks, axe kicks, etc.


You got five very good answers above my own one. I will not repeat all in my own words, but I add this:

Muay Thay is a fighting art, not always focused on tournament-sports.

Original US Kickboxing is precisely that, a tournament-sport with rules like no hitting the back, only hit above the belt (waist-level) and so forth.

Self-Defense depends a great lot on your teacher (from life itself to dollar-grabbing brutes and poseurs), the specific situation, and the kind of attacker or attackers.

But technically Muay Thai teaches more, and trains tougher pupils. Like already mentioned above the clinching/grappling of Muay Thai is a precious skill. Except, of course, against a skilled knife-fighter, than it turns suicidal, as plenty of paramedics can teach you in gory detail.

Personally I was a bum, when I had my own first street-sparring against MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). I would have lost my arm, shattered break, because I was surprised once. After that only the brutality of my own kicks forced me to hold back, but Muay Thai clinching could suffice to counter, shake-off, and outmatch MMA.

Still such is brawling. Real self-defense is usually against real criminals or real combat doggies or real Islamist or Racist extremist/insurgent types who come to cripple or kill. More than awareness such needs the courage to stay calm and keep thinking, as otherwise only a brute could hope to win by toughness alone.

Nowadays documentations like these may inspire you: Krav Maga Street unlike Dojo

Threat Level of skilled knife attacks: Knife Attacks, a fiercer realism shown


In my opinion, to answer your questions: Both are a high calorie workout, you will be left with a soaked T-shirt at the end of 90 minutes either way. It uses as much energy to kick a high fast moving target (kickboxing) as it does power a low hard kick to the knees (Thai). Which is easier for a starter? depends on your shape and muscle ratio; long fast flexible legs or low powerful structure. For self defence, the most effective thing in this situation is awareness, which both offer you. Knowing your distance from an attacker, your vulnerabilities, the situation (a pub, kebab shop or by a taxi rank - kicks are useless without space btw, and no, despite the Hollywood implications, you can't kick well in a suit either). If you want self defence, then just looking fit is a big discouragement for anyone to attack you (fit is not Mr Protein shake; they have limited loci on movement or cardio). So if you want self defence, then take up self defence (wing chung etc). if you want self defence with a high work out then MMA might work, but go not to just wear the T-shirt from a famous gym. Most provoked fights start with a couple of punches and end in a grapple to the floor, as said awareness is the key to winning a fight, training can only offer preparation. Do what you enjoy most!

  • 3
    Why is this split in two different answers? You should pick one or the other and combine them.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 6:32

anyon engaging in this should be very physically fit . running and weight lifting are assumed and mandatory and plenty of it too.

amature boxing is a waste of time since all those dirty boxing tricks are not allowed at all. clinching is a high art form and is extra hard to find. fully qualified trainers- clinch trainers are rare . we got too many dirt rolling leg grabbers and they dont count none for clinch fighters !

kick boxering and full 100 % authentic high style muay thai are totally different . swindlers and cheats will try to convince you they are the same dont be fooled.

i will leave the sorting and discovery of the details to the serious reader . try watching k1 and glory fights and then look up thailand muay thai fights . if any reader doesn`t reconise the differances i cant help them. dont expect large heavy weights fighting in thailand , they dont respect elephants fighting !!!

its you choice , you have been told.


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