What is the Difference Between Muay Thai and Kickboxing

While to the untrained eye it might seem there’s an overlap, Muay Thai and kickboxing are actually two completely separate sports. The national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai translates literally into ‘Thai Boxing.’ Its origin can be traced back to the combat style of 14th century Siam, but this is up for debate among historical scholars. Kickboxing, on the other hand, has its roots in Japan. Made famous by Bruce Lee, it is a hybrid martial art that borrows from the much older Muay Thai, but also from boxing and Karate. The two sports have differing rules and fighting styles; let’s break them down.

Contact Points

Muay Thai is known as ‘the art of eight limbs because of the eight points of contact that are permitted in the sport. The body is meant to become a weapon: the hands embody swords while forearms and shins are conditioned to become tough like armor. The elbow takes on the role of the hammer, and the legs become the axe. Kickboxing, on the other hand, allows only four points of contact. Kickboxing can be likened more to regular boxing with the addition of kicks; one can say it is akin to an extension of boxing.

Popular Moves

A main point of difference when it comes to Muay Thai vs kickboxing is the moves. What is allowed in one is banned in the other. For example, grappling is a big part of Muay Thai but is completely forbidden in kickboxing. Shin kicks have the same limitations on them in kickboxing but form an important part of the Muay Thai attack strategy. Powerful blows and kicks to the head form the bulk of Muay Thai fighting. The main move called the clinch where a fighter locks their legs around their opponents is also banned in kickboxing. Kickboxing, as it borrows heavily from boxing, has many elements of defense as boxing does. The typical blocking, weaving, and parrying [link to defensive boxing strategies blog] can be seen in kickboxing.


Kickboxing is highly defensive and Muay Thai is aggressive. People of various fighting styles take part in kickboxing tournaments because the rules are similar to boxing. In Muay Thai, the style and ways of fighting are unique to this sport so it is usually open to those who have trained in specific Muay Thai styles. It also focuses heavily on aggression and wounding the opponent; hence matches are al about the attack.


As the sports differ, so do the gloves. Muay Thai gloves and boxing gloves, which is what kickboxers use, are worlds apart. Muay Thai gloves tend to be more malleable and minimalistic. These are made with grip in mind for clinching moves. Muay Thai gloves tend to be more square at the top as well, unlike boxing gloves which are made to be aerodynamic. The thumb area on these is molded to fit. Muay Thai has moved which makes use of the fighters’ wrists to a greater degree, and because of this, the wrist on the glove is usually shorter to allow for movement. The biggest difference is the palm, where Muay Thai gloves are barely padded at all.

Boxing gloves have a different weight distribution because of the way their padding is placed. They are more protective to take care of both the wearer and the opponent. The thumbs in boxing gloves are usually held in position through carefully placed stitching. Despite boxing using the wrists much less than Muay Thai, boxing gloves offer a long, tighter wrist closure for better support.