What Is Japanese Kickboxing? Easily Explained For Beginners


Photo by K-1world.com

Kickboxing is a term that has two meanings. First, it stands for a group of arts that mix kicks and punches together like Muay Thai and Sanda. And, it is also a combat sport on its own created in the 1950s in Japan.

Japanese kickboxing is a mix of karate and Muay Thai techniques and rules put into one style of fighting. In some way, you can look at it as karate with full-contact rules. And the founders of this style were boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi, and Tatsuo Yamada.

Keep reading this article to learn more about Japanese kickboxing. We are going to explore its Japanese kickboxing history and see how it compares with other styles of kickboxing. 

What Is Japanese Kickboxing?

Japanese kickboxing is a martial art created as a hybrid mix of karate techniques and Muay Thai rules. It emerged in the 1950s in Japan as a result of a big rivalry between these two arts. In its initial form, most techniques came from Kyokushin while the rules were from Muay Thai. But over time, Japanese kickboxing has evolved a lot and now also includes advanced techniques from western boxing. 

The emphasis is on fast footwork, blitz attacks, high output of punches, and fast kicks. It is a clean style where all fighters are very technical when it comes to both offense and defense. Japanese kickboxers tend to be disciplined during the exchanges, always keeping their hands up and delivering fast counterattacks. 

In the initial form, Japanese kickboxers could also use dirty tactics like headbutts and powerful throws. The main idea behind this decision was to make it different from Muay Thai. But these moves got banned in 1966 to improve safety.

History of Japanese Kickboxing

The story of Japanese kickboxing begins in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At the time, there was a big rivalry among Muay Thai and karate, the two best striking arts of that time. Fighters from Japan used to travel to Thailand to compete in Thai boxing matches and vice versa.

A man who set things moving was karateka Tatsuo Yamada who began to study Muay Thai in more detail. He even invited a couple of Thai fighters to be his guests in his own dojo “Nihon Kempo Karate-do”. Back in those days, karate was all about light contact and there was no direct striking with full power. 

In some way, Yamada studied Muay Thai with the intent to upgrade karate as a system. He set an outline for new martial art and a combat sport that would come to be known as kickboxing.

Though Yamada was the first one to play with karate and Muay Thai, he is not seen as the only father of kickboxing. No, that title goes to Osamu Noguchi, a boxing promoter who was the first one to put together rules based on karate and Muay Thai.

He created a new combat sport and martial art which he called “Kick Boxing”. Yes, Noguchi was the first one to use this term and found the first “Kickboxing Association” in 1966. In the following years, kickboxing gyms would start opening up all across Japan. 

One of the first and most famous ones was “Mejiro Gym” which has produced many great kickboxers and where foreign martial artists could come and learn this new form of combat. One such man was a Dutch martial artist Jan Plas who would go back to the Netherlands and develop the famous “Dutch Style”. 

Is K-1 a Japanese Kickboxing?

No, K-1 is not Japanese Kickboxing. K-1 is the name of the famous kickboxing promotion from Japan that emerged in 1993. The letter “K” stands for Kung Fu, karate, and kickboxing, and this promotion is directly responsible for the rise of kickboxing in the 90s and 2000s.

The man who created K-1 was Kazushi Ishii, and he did it with one goal in mind: to find out which striking art is the best. Fighters from all forms of karate, Muay Thai, Kung Fu, and kickboxing used to fight against each other under the unique K-1 rules. The events were also a place where a lot of Japanese kickboxers used to compete.

K-1 events were among the most popular sports events in the 90s and 2000s. The matches were exciting to watch mainly because the rules favored a high pace action. Matches were 3–3 minute rounds, which means that fighters didn’t have to worry too much about getting fatigued. They could throw each strike with full force, and that’s why a lot of K-1 matches ended in brutal KOs.

Although there were a lot of fighters from Japan, it’s fair to say that Dutch kickboxers ruled the K-1 scene. For instance, out of 19 K-1 World Grand Prix champions, 15 of them were Dutch fighters. 

Who Are The Most Famous Japanese Kickboxers?

Japan has always been a home of elite kickboxers. Here are some of the most famous names from different eras.

  • Masato Kobayashi — is a retired Japanese kickboxer. In his career, he won the K-1 World MAX tournament two times in 2003 and 2008. He also beat some big names like Andy Souwer, Buakaw, and Albert Kraus. He retired with 55 wins and 6 losses on his record.
  • Tenshin Nasukawa — is a Japanese superstar and multiple champ in karate and kickboxing. In his career, he won ISKA and RISE world titles in two separate weight classes.
  • Yoshihiro Sato — used to fight during the glory days of K-1 World MAX. He won the 2006 and 2007 World MAX tournaments in Japan and was also ISKA, WKA, and WPKC world champion.
  • Satoshi Kobayashi — is a Japanese kickboxing legend who also fought in Muay Thai. In 2000 alone, Kobayashi won AJKF, WKA, WPKC Muay Thai world titles.

Is Japanese Kickboxing Better Than Karate?

The answer to this question really depends on: better for what? First of all, let’s not forget that Japanese kickboxing has origins in Kyokushin karate. In fact, the initial form was based on karate techniques mixed with Muay Thai full contact rules. So these two share a lot in common, but differ a lot when it comes to rules, concept of training and the way fighters execute techniques. All in all, you can look at Japanese kickboxing as a better version of karate. Its concept of training and techniques are more practical for real-life fighting and here is why.

Back in the 1960s, the emphasis of karate used to be on light contact and point fighting. There were no direct strikes, or heavy shots that could knock the opponent out cold. This was the biggest weak point of karate which got solved with the birth of kickboxing. Tatsuo Yamada improved karate and made it more effective by adding full contact rules from Muay Thai.

So when it comes to real fighting, yes, Japanese kickboxing is better than most forms of karate. It is more practical and teaches you how to throw each shot with a lot of power to knock the opponent out. Over time, this kickboxing style has evolved and changed a lot. In modern days, fighters also use western boxing techniques, have better movement, and are far more aggressive.

But bear in mind that it is easy to shift from karate to kickboxing because the techniques are quite similar.

What Is the Difference Between Japanese Kickboxing and American kickboxing?


Japanese KickboxingAmerican Kickboxing
History and originsJapanese kickboxing emerged in the late 1950s in Japan. The people who created this style were Tatsuo Yamada and Osamu Noguchi. 
Noguchi founded the first kickboxing association in 1966, and this marks the birth of Japanese kickboxing. 
American kickboxing got developed in the 1970s in the US. The original founders of this style were the karateka Joe Lewis, and promoter Lee Faulkner. 
They both organized the first full-contact karate event which would later become known as American Kickboxing. 
Strategies and emphasisJapanese Kickboxing is a mix of karate techniques (mostly from Kyokushin) and Muay Thai. 
But on top of that, it puts a lot of emphasis on western boxing and mixing hand strikes with low/high kicks and knees. 
The focus of American Kickboxing is on western boxing and karate kicks above the waist. 
Fighters use advanced boxing combos which they mix with kicks to the body or head. 
Length of the matchesMatches have 5 rounds and each round is 3 minutes long. There is a 1-minute break between each round. Matches go from 3 to 10 rounds where each round is 2-3 minutes long. There is a 1-minute break between each round.
TechniquesPunches, High-Kicks, Low-Kicks, Elbows, Knees, Clinch Fighting
Punches, High kicks, Spinning kicks
*Fighting in the clinch is not allowed as well as using elbows, knees and low kicks. 
Fight GearPair of boxing gloves Shorts Mouthguard
Pair of boxing gloves Pants  Mouthguard Kick boots
Notable fightersMasato Kobayashi, Tenshin Nasukawa, Masaaki Noiri, Satoshi KobayashiRick Roufus, Dennis Alexio, Bill Wallace , Demtrious Havanas

What Is the Difference Between Japanese Kickboxing and Muay Thai?


Japanese KickboxingMuay Thai
History and originsJapanese kickboxing has origins in Karate and Muay Thai. It emerged in the late 1950s and its original founders were Tatsuo Yamada and Osamu Noguchi. 

Muay Thai has origins in the combat system called Muay Boran. It emerged in the 19th century in Thailand where it is a national sport. 
Strategies and emphasisThe main goal in Japanese kickboxing is to learn how to use all limbs as weapons to strike with kicks, punches, knees and elbows.
The emphasis is on high output, speed, footwork, western boxing and attacking in a blitz.
Muay Thai fighters use all limbs as weapons to deliver each strike with a lot of power and violent intention. 
The emphasis is on hard kicks and dirty fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees.
Length of the matchesMatches include 5 rounds with each round being 3 minutes long and there is a 1-minute breakMuay Thai also has 5 rounds where each round is 3 minutes long. But the rest period between the rounds is 2 minutes.
Fight gearPair of full padded boxing gloves, Shorts MouthguardPair of boxing gloves, Shorts, Mouthguard, Armbands (optional)
Notable fightersMasato Kobayashi, Tenshin Nasukawa, Masaaki Noiri, Satoshi KobayashiBuakaw Banchamek, Somrak Khamsing ,Saenchai

What Is the Difference Between Japanese Kickboxing and Dutch Style Kickboxing?


Japanese KickboxingDutch Style Kickboxing
History and OriginsTatsuo Yamada and Osamu Noguchi are original founders of Japanese kickboxing in the late 1960s. 
This style of kickboxing has origins in karate and Muay Thai.
The Dutch Style of kickboxing emerged in the 1970s in the Netherlands. The original founder of Dutch-style was Jan Plas.

Strategies and emphasisJapanese kickboxers mix kicks, punches, elbows and knees together to fight at distance or in the clinch. 
The emphasis is on hard kicks, clean and precise striking, and fast counterattacks. 

Dutch-style is a mix of karate kicks and western boxing techniques. 
The emphasis is on forward pressure, high output of punches, and hard low kicks.

Length of the matchesMatches have 5-3minute rounds with a 1-minute break between the rounds.Matches include 3-3 minute rounds with a 1-minute break between. 
TechniquesKicks, Punches, Elbows, Knees, Clinch Fighting, Trips and throwsKicks, Punches, Limited clinch work (5 seconds), Knees

What Is The Best Kickboxing Style?

The best style of kickboxing is Muay Thai because it is the most versatile. It’s not that other styles are inferior, but Muay Thai is clearly above the others when it comes to weapons and damage you can do. It is a complete striking system that will teach you all about how to use all limbs as weapons to fight at all ranges. Apart from striking, it also includes the basics of grappling which can help you a lot in a self-defense situation for instance.

Muay Thai students learn how to mix kicks, punches, knees, and elbows in a fight. The emphasis is on heavy kicks, the famous “Thai Clinch” where the goal is to land knees and elbows and throw each strike with violent intention. There is no playing around in Muay Thai as you always need to push for a finish.

Muay Thai training is cardio intense and hard on your body. Classes consist of brutal cardio workouts and hard sparring. Although this sounds like too much, it is the only way you can prepare your mind and body for real fighting on the streets or inside the ring. And it is also a great base for MMA where it plays a key role in the standup aspect.

There is also an argument that Lethwei is more effective than Muay Thai in a real fight. Mainly because it allows notorious headbutt strikes and its fighters compete with bare knuckle, which adds more to the realism of the art. But bear in mind that Lethwei is far more brutal, dangerous, and it is not legal in most countries outside of Myanmar.

What are the Different Styles of Kickboxing? Simply Explained – This article explains different styles of Kickboxing in depth which will greatly help you distinguish one style from other styles.

Related Quesions

What Is Glory Kickboxing?

Glory is one of the biggest kickboxing promotions in the world that is based in Singapore. It is home to the best kickboxers on the planet, spectacular matches, and its events are very popular. It all started with the downfall of the famous Japanese K-1 promotion back in 2011. At the time, Glory owners wanted to buy out K-1, which they failed to do. Instead, they bought a famous Dutch kickboxing promotion called “It’s Showtime” which secured them a top production, and contracts with some of the best and most famous fighters. 

Glory events are very popular and you can watch them on the biggest sports networks like ESPN. In 2019, Glory signed a partnership with the UFC so the events are also available on the UFC Fight Pass platform.

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