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


Muay Thai kickboxing has become one of the most popular combat sports practiced by millions of people worldwide. But despite its rapid rise in popularity, many people still don’t know what it is or how it differs from other martial arts.

Muay Thai is a combat sport that originated in Thailand and has been around since the 19th century. As a concept, Muay Thai primarily focuses on standup fighting and striking using eight points of contact: hands, legs, knees, and elbows.

This is just a brief explanation of what Muay Thai kickboxing is so be sure to read the rest of this article to learn more about its history, techniques, effectiveness, training, and how it compares to other martial arts. 

History of Muay Thai

Experts believe the earliest records of Muay Thai can be traced back to the 16th-century Siam Kingdom and martial arts such as Bokator. Initially, it was developed as a military hand-to-hand combat system used by Siam soldiers in wars against the nearby countries and named “Muay Boran.”

Muay Boran quickly became one of the most popular activities in the region, with people organizing matches and tournaments for various ceremonies, festivals, and other celebrations. The rise of this form of entertainment was noticed by King Rama V in the 19th century, who was also a big fan of fighting.

So much so that the King himself decided to regulate and standardize the sport by introducing official rules, safety gear, and standardization of techniques training, which ultimately made Muay Thai an official sport. The word “Muay” translates to “boxing,” so the full name “Muay Thai” means “Thai boxing.”

Later on in the 20th century, the sport expanded beyond Thailand’s borders, mainly thanks to the rivalry between Japanese Karate and Muay Thai. The matches between these two combat systems were very popular and also enabled people from all parts of the world to get to know the art of Thai boxing.

The popularity of the sport got even bigger with the rise of modern MMA, where Thai boxing became established as the most dominant striking martial art of them all. It proved to be more effective than conceptually similar arts such as boxing or Karate. Muay Thai’s popularity in MMA is one of the main reasons why many people choose Muay Thai over other martial arts.

What are the major Muay Thai techniques?

Following is a breakdown of all major Muay Thai techniques and elements:


Thai boxing puts a lot of emphasis on a diverse range of kicking techniques, very similar to the ones in other arts like Karate and Taekwondo

  • Roundhouse — is a popular kick fighters use to target the opponent’s body, leg, or head. They land with their shin and leg fully extended, which increases the power and damage. 
  •  Teep kick — is also known as front/push kick and is a popular technique used to disrupt the opponent’s balance, protect the range, or even do damage to the abdomen. 
Muay Thai teep kick
  •  Switch kick — is a signature Muay Thai technique that involves a quick stance change upon execution. This sudden switch creates an element of surprise, making it challenging for the opponent to anticipate the incoming kick.
Muay Thai switch kick


The punching techniques are mainly used for blocking, setting up the kicks, or closing the distance. However, with the evolution of styles and tactics, more and more fighters started to incorporate advanced boxing techniques and movement into their game. 

  • Jab
  • Cross
  • Hook
  • Uppercut
  • Superman punch


Knee strikes play a key role in Muay Thai, especially inside the clinch, where this type of strike can do a lot of damage to the opponent’s head or body. 

  • Straight knee  involves thrusting the knee directly forward, targeting the opponent’s stomach.
  • Diagonal knee — targets the opponent’s midsection at an angle, mainly the rib section or liver.
  • Horizontal knee — is executed by swinging the knee horizontally and can effectively disrupt balance. 
  • Flying knee — is an acrobatic technique in which a fighter leaps forward to deliver a knee strike to the head or body. This technique usually carries a lot of power and momentum.
Muay Thai flying knee


Muay Thai’s elbow strikes are devastating and diverse. Their impact often causes cuts and does significant damage, which makes them very effective. The most commonly used elbows in Muay Thai are:

  • Downward Elbow – executed vertically and effectively cuts through the opponent’s defense.
  • Spinning Elbow — involves a rotational movement and hitting the opponent with the back of the Elbow. The rotation increases the power of the shot, and a well-placed one usually ends in a knockout.
  • Diagonal Elbow  this technique involves striking the opponent at an angle to target vulnerable areas like the temple or jaw.
  • Backward Elbow  the backward Elbow is executed by thrusting the Elbow backward, typically used when the opponent is behind. It’s a sneaky maneuver, effective in close-quarters situations to catch the adversary off guard.
Variations of Muay Thai elbow strikings


Clinch positions in Muay Thai involve close-quarters grappling, providing opportunities for knee and elbow strikes. Four common clinch positions include:

  • Single Collar Tie—In this position, a fighter controls their opponent by gripping the back of their neck with one hand. 
  • Double Collar Tie both hands are used to secure the opponent’s neck, creating a more dominant and controlled position.
  • Over-Under Clinch — one arm is positioned over the opponent’s shoulder, while the other is under their arm.
  • Swan Neck Clinch this position involves gripping the opponent’s head from behind, resembling the shape of a swan’s neck.

What is the training experience like for Muay Thai?

Muay Thai training is dynamic, hard, playful, fun, scary at times, and adrenalin tense—all in one. Let’s look at the key elements that define the training experience in most schools worldwide:

Cardio intense

Strength and endurance are very important in Muay Thai. Learning programs in most schools include intense cardio workouts that will push your mind and body over the limits. This includes long-distance running, sprints, intense pad/bag workouts, HIIT exercises, bodyweight strength exercises, skipping ropes, etc. But as a consolation, you will get in top shape quickly.

Can be painful but rewarding

The key element of training is sparring, where students simulate a real fight. Although absorbing hard punches and kicks can be painful and cause minor to severe injuries, this training method is also rewarding. Students can expect to develop fighting instincts and timing, train their minds to respond to fear, and overall learn how to fight by going through a bit of pain and stress.

Positive and Supportive Atmosphere

Each Muay Thai gym is one big family that shares the same passion and supports each other through all the ups and downs of their journeys. The traditional Thai gym culture emphasizes respect and humility, promoting a constructive environment where individuals can learn and improve without fear of judgment, which creates a sense of camaraderie. There are no mistakes, just lessons to be learned.

Exciting and fun

Sessions are dynamic and fun. The challenge that comes with mastering the diverse moves, the joy in progressing, landing a well-executed strike, and building both physical and mental strength contribute to the overall enjoyment.

It is far more fun than any type of conventional gym workout.

What are the Pros and Cons of Muay Thai Training?

Following is an explanation of the key pros and cons that come with training in Muay Thai.


Proper fighting skills—in training, practitioners learn battle-proven techniques that work in real life. They learn how to apply them against a fully resisting opponent, which significantly improves their self-defense abilities in different combat scenarios they may face on the streets.

Physical Conditioning—training is known for its intense cardiovascular workouts, which improve overall fitness and endurance. The rigorous training not only strengthens muscles but also improves flexibility, agility, and coordination.

Mental Toughness—rigorous training builds strong mental resilience and improves confidence in the long run. This training helps individuals develop mental toughness and character, better preparing them to tackle personal challenges outside their comfort zones. According to popular belief, there is a close connection between physical strength and mental strength.


Risk of Injuries—the physicality of Muay Thai, especially during sparring and competition, carries a risk of injuries. Strains, sprains, and more severe injuries are quite common, and each practitioner needs to accept this. Sooner or later, all of them have to deal with some type of injury.

Impact on Joints — apart from repetitive impact on joints, especially during kicks and high-impact movements, this can lead to joint stress over time. Adequate warm-up, conditioning, and recovery practices are essential to minimize this risk and ensure longevity.

Steep Learning Curve — Muay Thai is a complex combat system that may pose a challenge for beginners. It takes a lot of time and consistent effort for a beginner practitioner to improve physical conditioning to the needed level and master all the techniques. The learning curve can be steep and potentially discouraging for those looking for quicker skill acquisition.

How long does it take to be proficient in Muay Thai?

The time it takes to become proficient in Muay Thai varies widely depending on individual factors such as dedication, athleticism, and consistency. In general, students need around 6 months to get in the needed physical shape and to acquire a fundamental understanding of Thai boxing techniques, and around 3 years of total training to be considered advanced practitioners.

During the initial phase, practitioners focus on developing proper form and how to combine basic offensive and defensive combinations with footwork. This stage of learning also focuses on improving practitioners’ strength and endurance with intense workouts, as well as flexibility with pre and post-workout stretching. Students may expect to stay at this level for 6 months to 1 year, depending on different factors.

The advanced learning stage primarily focuses on the practical application of techniques. In most schools, students engage in sparring on a weekly basis, where they simulate a real fight/match with a training partner in a controlled environment and at a controlled pace. This is also a stage where students compete in amateur matches, further improving their skills.

Regular class attendance and participation in sparring sessions and amateur tournaments contribute significantly to skill development.

On average, students need at least 3 years of training to be considered skilled Thai boxers, ready to enter professional competition.

Is Muay Thai Effective for Self-Defense?

Muay Thai is considered to be highly effective in self-defense situations due to its practical techniques and realistic training methods. Each technique practitioners learn is designed to be effective in real-life combat, and training puts a lot of emphasis on the practical application of techniques.

The concept revolves around using all your limbs to strike and cause as much damage as possible with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows, which enables you to fight at all ranges and in all places.

When you train in Muay Thai, you will be more spatially aware in combat situations. For example, if you get attacked in an open area, you will know how to land vicious long-range kicks and punches to back off the attacker. If the same happens in closed space, you will know how to secure a strong grip, position yourself inside the clinch, and then neutralize the attacker with knees and elbows or throw them down to the ground. This concept is suited for all types of fighting, such as those in bars, parking lots, on the street, and others.

Can children learn Muay Thai?

Yes, children can learn Muay Thai. Of course, safety is a priority, and children should not engage in sparring or any other activity that significantly increases the risk of injuries. The kids’ learning syllabus primarily focuses on improving physical fitness, coordination, and balance, as well as developing discipline and respect.

Classes are designed to be age-appropriate and emphasize basic techniques, movements, and live drills. This approach enables children to build confidence, learn how to protect themselves from bullying and learn many other valuable life lessons, such as how important it is to set goals and work hard to achieve them.

Apart from physical and mental health, training also builds character and improves one’s approach to daily activities outside the gym.

Top 3 Best Martial Arts For Kids

Is there a belt system in Muay Thai?

Traditional Muay Thai does not have a formal belt system like many other martial arts. In its country of origin, Thailand, progress is traditionally measured through a fighter’s experience, skill level, and achievements in the ring.

In traditional practice, fighters wear armbands known as “Prajioud” as a symbol of respect, tradition, and honor. Trainers traditionally give these colorful cloth bands to students as a token of acknowledgment for their dedication and progress. They also hold cultural significance, emphasizing the importance of respect and loyalty.

A Muay Thai fighter wears a white armband known as “Prajioud.”

However, in the West and other regions, many schools use color armbands as a ranking system similar to that of other martial arts. This belt system typically includes different-colored belts to signify a practitioner’s level of expertise. The number of belts and colors varies between schools, but it usually includes between 10 and 15 ranks and colors.

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Muay Thai Gear Explained

For beginners entering the dynamic world of Muay Thai, essential training gear is crucial for safety, performance, and comfort. Here is a list of Muay Thai gear.

  • Boxing Gloves — a pair of well-fitted boxing gloves is a fundamental requirement. Beginners typically use gloves with extra padding protection to protect hands during bag work and sparring. The gloves should provide wrist support to minimize the risk of injuries.
  •  Hand Wraps — are vital for wrist stability and knuckle protection. They provide an additional layer of support under the gloves, securing the hands and reducing the risk of sprains or fractures.
  •  Shin Guards — are crucial for those engaging in sparring as shin guards protect the lower legs from impact. They are essential for absorbing kicks and checking, ensuring a safer training experience.
  •  Mouthguard — protects your teeth and reduces the risk of oral injuries. It’s a small investment that significantly contributes to overall safety during sparring sessions.
  •  Muay Thai Shorts — are designed for unrestricted movement. They are comfortable and provide the necessary flexibility for kicking techniques.
  •  Groin Guard (Cup) — is essential to protect sensitive areas during training and sparring.
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