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What is Muay Thai Kickboxing? A Beginners Guide to Muay Thai

Although it may look similar to other striking arts, Muay Thai is a unique system. It’s very easy to spot what makes it different from other striking arts and styles of kickboxing, even if you are a total beginner. 

Muay Thai teaches how to use all limbs as weapons to fight at all ranges using kicks and punches, as well as with knees and elbows. It also teaches basic grappling moves like trips and throws. The emphasis is on hard kicks, fighting in the clinch, and throwing each strike with violent intention.

However, this is just a brief explanation, so be sure to read this article to find out more about Thai boxing. We will explore its history, techniques, and how it compares with other styles.

History of Muay Thai

The earliest records of Muay Thai go all the way back to the 16th century Siam Kingdom. At the time, people used Muay Thai to fight in wars against nearby countries. Two centuries later, this hand-to-hand combat system would grow into a very popular sport. The matches were part of various ceremonies, festivals, and people called it “Muay Khat Chueak”.

Although these events were brutal, the matches looked the same as in modern times. For instance, fighters fought bare-chested, wearing shorts and hemp ropes around their hands and forearms.

But it was in the 19th century and reign of Rama V that Muay Thai would start to grow really fast as a sport. This was thanks to the King himself, who was a big fan of Muay Thai matches. The key moment came when king Rama VII (1925-1935) decided to, in some way, regulate the sport and make it safer by creating a set of rules. From then on, fighters started wearing gloves, groin cups, and the training methods became much safer.

The sport would start to spread all over the world in the 1970s and 1980s. This was a time when foreign kickboxers would start traveling to Thailand to compete against Muay Thai fighters. Many of these fighters would later go back to their countries, and open up Muay Thai gyms to spread this combat sport in the west.

In modern times, Muay Thai is often seen as the best striking martial art. It is well spread all around the world, matches are very popular, and it also plays a big role in modern MMA.

What are the Different Styles of Kickboxing? Simply Explained

List of Muay Thai Techniques

Muay Thai is a versatile striking art that has a wide range of weapons. Fighters can use punches, kicks, as well as elbows, and knees to strike from the distance, close range, or in the clinch. They can also execute trips and throws from the clinch to throw the opponent down to the ground.

The most important weapons are powerful kicks and fighting in the famous “Thai Clinch” with knees and elbows. Fighters use basic boxing combos to close the distance with punches or set up powerful kicks. Here is a list of the most famous Muay Thai techniques:

Roundhouse kick (low-mid-high-)JabFlying kneeSpinning elbow
Push kick or “Teep Kick”UppercutStraight KneeDownward elbow
Jumping KickBackfist strikeCurved KneeHorizontal elbow
Switch KickHook punchDiagonal knee strikeUppercut elbow
Diagonal KickSuperman punchHorizontal kneeDiagonal elbow

Is Muay Thai Good for Street Fighting?

Yes, Muay Thai is good for self-defense or street fighting as it is one of the most versatile striking arts. In fact, it is often seen as the best as it teaches you how to use your entire body as a weapon to fight at all ranges. Each technique you learn works in real life and can help you get out of trouble and stay safe in a street fight.

Muay Thai training is intense and it pushes your mind and body over the limits. The emphasis is on grueling cardio workouts, and sparring with other students. This type of training makes you stronger both physically and mentally and improves fighting abilities.

Sparring, for instance, is the best way you can simulate fighting in real life. It gives you the same rush of fear as you would feel in a real fight, and this is notably true among beginners. But over time, you will learn how to keep the emotions low, your mind clear, and focus on dealing with the attacker. Out on the streets, the one that has the ability to stay calm is usually the one who wins the fight.

But the aspect that stands out is fighting at close range and in the clinch. You see, most street fights include a lot of grabbing and pulling at close range. And this is where Thai boxers feel like fish in the water. You will learn how to pull a Thai Clinch, from which you can control the posture of your opponent, and strike with elbows and knees. Or, you can throw them down to the ground. This is a very effective move because most average people don’t know how to escape from this position.

Is Muay Thai Hard to Learn

Learning Muay Thai is not that hard as the techniques are quite simple. As a beginner, you won’t have a hard time picking up the basics like stances, punches, and kicks. It might look awkward in the beginning because you are not fit or flexible enough. But it will all fit into place after a couple of months. Still, bear in mind that it takes a lot of time and effort to become proficient.

In some way, the beginnings are much easier in Muay Thai than in other arts like BJJ for instance. You will spend the first couple of months learning techniques, doing cardio and strength workouts, and hitting the heavy bag. Once you get in shape, you will start sparring after around 3–5 months and this will boost your progress.

On average, students need around 1–2 years of consistent training to develop solid skills. By this, we mean skills that you can apply in a self-defense situation or in amateur matches. But to call yourself a Muay Thai fighter, you must spend around 3–5 years working hard in the gym.

Are There Any Belts in Muay Thai?

Muay Thai, the one practiced in Thailand, doesn’t have any ranks which means that there are no belts either. This is because Muay Thai is a national sport in Thailand where fighters compete for money, fame, and glory. The level of skills depends on how successful you are in matches, and tournaments you won.

People tend to mix belt ranks with hemp straps fighters wear around their arms, which do not represent any rank at all. It is just a part of the fight gear and tradition, nothing more than that.

But, the story is a bit different in the western world where some Muay Thai schools have ranks. For instance, the US “World Thai Boxing Association (WTBA)” has a belt system that differs from the ones in Judo or BJJ. Fighters wear colored armbands on their hands which indicate their ranks. Beginner ranks have three colors, advanced six with black armband being the highest rank.

Thai Armband

However this ranking system is not official in the west, and the colors may vary between the schools.

MMA vs Muay Thai  —  What Is The Difference?

As its name suggests, mixed martial arts is a mix of grappling and striking techniques put into one fighting system. Fighters compete in standup using strikes, grapple, and fight in the clinch and on the ground. It is the most versatile combat sport where fighters need to be experts in multiple fighting styles like boxing, BJJ, wrestling or Muay Thai.

Muay Thai, on the other side, focuses just on striking, and it also includes some basics of grappling. Fighters compete in the standup only using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, and there is no grappling. To make all the differences clear and easy to understand, here is a detailed comparison:

Muay ThaiMMA
HistoryMuay Thai origins date all the way back to the 16th century Siam Kingdom. It started to grow as a combat sport from the 18th century and in modern times it is the national sport in ThailandMMA is a much younger sport that emerged in the 1980s in Japan. But it really started to rise in the 90s with the birth of the UFC promotion in 1993.
TechniquesMuay Thai is a total package when it comes to striking. It includes advanced kicking techniques, basic boxing skills, blocks, and vicious elbows and knees. It also covers some basics of grappling like trips and throws.MMA is far more versatile as fighters compete in the standup, clinch and on the ground. All fighters must know how to strike with all limbs, grapple, wrestle, and fight on the ground using chokes and joint locks.
RulesMuay Thai matches last 5 rounds with each round being 3 minutes long.  The rest period between the rounds is 2 minutes. Fighters compete in a squared ring Fighters compete wearing shorts and a pair of boxing glovesMMA matches last 3 rounds or 5 rounds if the match is for the title. The rounds are 5 minutes long and there is a 1 minute rest between the rounds. Fighters compete in a steel cage or in the ring. They wear a shorts and a pair of 4 OZ open fingered MMA gloves

Muay Thai vs Karate  —  What Is The Difference?

Muay Thai and Karate might look similar on paper as the emphasis in both arts is on mixing kicks and punches. But these two are a world apart when it comes to the emphasis, rules, and power of the strikes. Muay Thai is more effective for real fighting because the focus is on power, hard sparring, and full contact competition. Karate on the other side focuses too much on point fighting and light contact. Here is a detailed comparison:

HistoryMuay Thai is a national sport in Thailand that emerged in the 16 century Siam Kingdom. Karate emerged in the Okinawan Islands in Japan in 14th century. 
TechniquesMuay Thai is a versatile art that consists of low/high kicks, punches, and elbow and knee strikes. Fighters can also execute some basics of grappling like trips and throws.Karate has many styles and forms out of which the most focus on mixing kicks with the punches. Traditional forms include elbow and knee strikes, and basic grappling techniques.
RulesMuay Thai rules are simple and do not vary much between organizations:
Muay Thai matches have 5 rounds. All rounds are 3 minutes and there is a 1 minute break between. Fighters compete in a squared ring wearing pair of boxing gloves and a shorts. Each match includes one referee inside the ring, and three judges sitting beside the cage scoring the fight. The matches can end in a knockout, decision or disqualification
Karate has many organizations with World Karate Federation (WKF) being the most famous. Here are the general rules:
Matches last from 3 to 4 minutes The focus is on light contact and scoring points, not hurting or knocking out the opponent. Fighters can get 3 points for IPPON, 2 points for WAZA-ARI and 1 point for YUKO. Fighters compete wearing a GI uniform and pair of gloves.  The action resets after every successful strike landed.

Can You Teach Yourself Muay Thai?

Yes, you can learn the basics of Muay Thai by training alone at home. But bear in mind that you can’t reach the same level of skill as when you are training at the gym. Nothing can replace learning under coaches, and trading strikes with partners in sparring. But with some basic equipment like a heavy bag, pair of boxing gloves, and wraps, you can do a solid Muay Thai workout at home.

The first thing you have to do is to find a place where you can hang a heavy bag. The ideal place would be a garage or backyard where you have enough space to move around.

Before you start hitting the bag, remember that, as a total beginner, you can easily get hurt. It’s so easy to hurt your wrists, fingers, ankles, or foot if you don’t know what you are doing. Or in other words, if you have never thrown a punch before.

In this case, the best thing you can do is to go and find some good tutorials about Muay Thai basics. Learn how to stand in a proper stance, throw basic punches and kicks, and mix them together. Spend a few hours practicing these moves in front of the mirror before moving on to the heavy bag. And even then, be sure to keep it all light and slow until you get it right.

Muay Thai vs Thai Boxing  —  What Is the Difference?

In modern days, notably in the western world, these two terms have the same meaning. People would say Muay Thai or Thai Boxing thinking about the same thing. Even the name “Muay” means “Boxing”, so Muay Thai is “Thai boxing” in translation.

But if you go back in history, there is a small difference between these two terms. Muay Thai is a broad term that stands for a group of striking styles like “Mae Mai”, “Muay Kochsan” and “Krabi Krabong”. But at the same time, it is also a fighting system on its own.

On the other side, “Thai boxing” is a term adopted by western countries to describe the sport practiced in Thailand. Or in other words, people say Thai boxing to describe Muay Thai as a fighting system.

However, bear in mind that, in modern times, these two terms are interchangeable with each other. You won’t make a mistake or sound stupid if you use either of these two terms.

Related Questions

What Is K-1 Kickboxing?

K-1 is the kickboxing promotion that emerged in 1993 in Japan with an idea to find out which striking martial art is the best. The letter “K” stands for karate, Kung Fu, kickboxing, and Kempo, and fighters fought under the unique set of kickboxing rules. It was so popular during the 90s and 2000s, that the “K-1” set of rules later became the official style of kickboxing.

What Is Dutch Kickboxing?

Dutch kickboxing emerged in the 1970s in the Netherlands and it is a mix of Muay Thai, Kyokushin, and western boxing techniques. It differs from other styles because the emphasis is on non-stop forward pressure, high output of punches, and low kicks. If a kickboxer is using punches far more than kicks in a fight, that fighter is probably trained in Dutch Style. 

What Is American Kickboxing?

American Kickboxing style emerged in the 1970s that is based on both western boxing and karate techniques. This unique style of kickboxing prohibits striking below the waist, which makes it very different from other kickboxing styles. American Kickboxing fighters are also not allowed to throw leg kicks as well as elbow and knee strikes. Striking above the waist was for perceived safety reasons when American Kickboxing was created.