Skip to Content

What Is The History of Kickboxing? – What You Need To Know

Kickboxing is a term that is a bit confusing to many people. First, it stands for a group of martial arts that mix punches and kicks. And second, it is a fighting system on its own, very popular in all parts of the world. 

Kickboxing has origins in Muay Boran, an art that would later become known as Muay Thai. The modern form emerged in the 1950s in Japan as a mix of Karate and Muay Thai rules and techniques. The founders of modern kickboxing were Tatsuo Yamada and Osamu Noguchi.

Keep reading this article to find out more about the history of kickboxing. We will also explore all of its styles, fighters, and see how it compares with other striking arts.

What Is the History of Kickboxing?

The earliest origins of kickboxing trace back to the 13 and 14th centuries and art called, Muay Boran which was a precursor to Muay Thai. This was a combat system used by the Siamese warriors that would later grow into a very popular sport. The biggest change came in the 19th century and the reign of King Rama V.

The King was a big fan of Muay Boran matches, and he assisted in the creation of the first rules. As a result, the matches got to be much safer, and the events became a part of various festivals and celebrations. From the 20th century, people would start calling this sport “Muay Thai”.

The story of modern kickboxing, however, started to unfold in the late 1950s. At a time when there was a big rivalry between Muay Thai and Karate. A karateka called Tatsuo Yamada was one of the first to start studying Muay Thai. And he also welcomed a couple of Thai fighters in his own dojo.

Tatsuo Yamada
Yamada Tatsuo(Left)

Though loyal to karate, Yamada was fascinated by the full contact rules of Muay Thai. Bear in mind that, at the time, Karate rules didn’t allow fighters to strike each other directly and with full power.

So Yamada started to experiment with karate and Muay Thai techniques and rules and in some way, he set an outline for a new fighting system that would later become Kickboxing. But as the fortune would have it, Yamada won’t be remembered as the father of kickboxing.

Who Is Considered The Father of Kickboxing?

The man who is often seen as the father or the inventor of kickboxing was a famous promoter, Osamu Noguchi. In the late 1950s, he created a new martial art and a combat sport where fighters from karate and Muay Thai could fight each other. Noguchi used karate as a base on top of which he added techniques and full-contact rules from Muay Thai. He named this new sport “Kick Boxing” because it was a mix of kicks and punches from boxing.

Noguchi went on to create the first “Kickboxing association” in 1966, and soon after, organize the first event in Osaka on April 11. He will go down in history as the father of the sport, and the first man to use the term “kickboxing”

How Many Styles of Kickboxing Are There?

Kickboxing is both, a fighting system on its own, and a term that stands for a group of martial arts that mix punches and kicks together. This means that kickboxing has many different styles. If you want to explore all of them in more detail, check out this article, “What are the Different Styles of Kickboxing? Simply Explained“. For now, here is a list of all styles:

Kickboxing Techniques Explained

Although there are many styles and forms of kickboxing, core techniques are nearly the same for all styles of kickboxing. They teach various kicks from karate and Muay Thai and how to mix them with western boxing techniques. Some other styles like Muay Thai add more weapons on this base like knee and elbow strikes. Here is a list of the most popular techniques from all styles:

JabRoundhouse kickSpinning elbowStraight knee
HookFront KickDownward elbowCurving knee
UppercutSide KickHorizontal elbowDiagonal Knee
CrossSpinning kickDiagonal elbowFlying knee

Is Kickboxing Hard To Learn?

Becoming a master in any martial art is a lifelong journey for most people. The same stands for Kickboxing which is an intense and difficult style to learn. You won’t achieve anything without hard work, dedication, and above all, passion. Still, how long does it take for an average person to master all the techniques?

On average, beginners need from 4 to 6 months to pick up all the basics and start sparring. They need one more year of hard training to reach an advanced level. This is also a level where they are capable of applying the techniques in a real fight or self-defense situation.

Kickboxing techniques are quite simple even for beginners. You won’t have a hard time picking up the basics, regardless of your athletic level. It doesn’t even matter if you have never thrown a punch before. The first months could be hard and even painful for some people. But it would all become much easier once you get stronger, more flexible, and learn how to throw strikes the right way.

Which Country Has The Best Kickboxers?

In modern times, the best kickboxers come from two countries: Thailand and Netherlands. Thailand is a home of Muay Thai and they are often seen as the best kickboxers on the planet. On the other side, the Netherland is home to the famous “Dutch Style” of kickboxing.

When it comes to modern kickboxing matches, it’s fair to say that Dutch-style has given the world the best fighters and most famous champions. This is notably true if we look at K-1, the biggest kickboxing promotion ever.

The biggest K-1 format was “K-1 World Grand Prix”, which was an open weight tournament. Out of 19 World Grand Prix champions, 15 of them were Dutch fighters.

The reason for this is quite simple, kickboxing is a national and one of the most popular sports in the Netherlands. It is the home of the best gym, top coaching staff, and fighters in the world.

What Is K-1 Kickboxing?

K-1 is the name of the famous kickboxing promotion from Japan that used to be very popular in the 90s and 2000s. In fact, K-1 was, at one moment, the most popular combat sport in the world, even bigger than MMA and boxing. K-1 was so popular that its rules became an official style called “K-1 Kickboxing”.

The man who created K-1 was Kazuyoshi Ishii in 1993. The letter K stands for “Karate, Kickboxing, and Kung Fu”, which is a mix of techniques kickboxers used at the time. Ishii wanted to create a combat sport where fighters from different striking arts could fight against each other. In some way, he wanted to find out which striking art is the most effective, and which fighter is the best.

K-1 was an instant success in Japan and would quickly grow in other parts of the world as well. Ishii enjoyed the best deals with the biggest TV networks at the time, and the matches were very exciting and packed with action. This was mainly because K-1 rules favor a high pace fight as there are only 3–3 minute rounds. Fighters didn’t have to worry too much about their stamina, and could compete at a high pace the entire fight.

What Is Dutch Style Kickboxing?

Dutch Style kickboxing emerged in the 1970s in the Netherlands. A couple of years before that, a Dutch martial artist called Jan Plas would travel to Japan to master kickboxing. He joined the famous “Mejiro Gym”, which was one of the first kickboxing gyms. Plas would travel back to the Netherlands and open another Mejiro Gym in Amsterdam. He would also found the “Dutch Kickboxing Association”, which marks the birth of kickboxing in Europe.

Jan Plas used the Japanese style as a base on top of which he added western boxing techniques. So Dutch style is a mix of techniques from three separate martial arts:

  • Kyokushin karate
  • Muay Thai
  • Western boxing.

The emphasis is on forward pressure, high output of punches, and hard low kick. Dutch-style fighters would rarely attack with a single power punch as the emphasis is on throwing combos. Some of the most famous Dutch Style kickboxers are:

  • Ernesto Hoost
  • Rob Kaman
  • Ramon Dekkers

What Is American Kickboxing?

American style of kickboxing started to develop in the late 1960s. The founder of this style was karateka Joe Lewis who also trained Jeet Kune Do with Bruce Lee in the 60s. Lewis wanted to change the rules of karate from point fighting to full contact which he did in 1970.

“Joe Lewis was twice voted as the Greatest Fighter in the History of Karate. He is one of the few true superstars of the martial arts and is widely acclaimed as one of the most influential martial artists of all time.”
Joe Lewis: Father of American Kickboxing

Together with the promoter Lee Faulkner, Lewis held the first-ever kickboxing event in which he fought in the main event against Greg Baines. Lewis was the first one to use a mix of boxing and karate techniques in a full-contact match, and he won by knockout in the second round.

This marks the birth of American style of kickboxing which differs from the other two styles because it doesn’t allow low kicks. It is a mix of karate and western boxing where the emphasis is on high kicks and hand strikes. Clothing is also different as fighters must wear trousers and kick-boots.

American Kickboxing style

What Is Japanese Kickboxing?

Japanese style emerged in the 1950s in Japan and it was the first version of modern kickboxing. One of the early pioneers of this style was karateka Tatsuo Yamada who had his own dojo called “Niho Kempo Karate do”. Yamada would start exploring Muay Thai, and even bring some of the fighters to his karate dojo. He wanted to create a sport that would be a mix of karate and full contact rules from Muay Thai.

But the man who actually did this was a promoter, Osama Noguchi in 1966. Japanese style is a mix of karate techniques (mostly from kyokushin) and Muay Thai rules. Fighters can use kicks, punches and knees to strike both above and below the waist. Limited clinch fighting is allowed and matches have from 3 to 5 rounds with each round being 3 minutes. 

What Is The Difference Between Muay Thai And Kickboxing?

These two striking systems have a lot in common because kickboxing has origins in Muay Thai. But at the same time, these two differ a lot when it comes to rules, emphasis, techniques, and many other factors. Here is a brief look at all the differences.


Muay Thai is a striking art where the emphasis is on hard kicks and fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees. The main goal is to throw each strike with a lot of power to hurt or knock out the opponent.

Kickboxing, on the other hand, differs a lot. The focus is on forward pressure, high output of strikes, and boxing combos. Kickboxers tend to use footwork and punches far more than Thai boxers and this is the biggest difference.


Muay Thai rules are simple and easy to understand. Matches have 5 rounds with each round including 3 minutes of action. Fighters have a 2-minute break between the rounds and they compete wearing full padded gloves and shorts. Matches can end via decision, knockout, or disqualification.

Kickboxing has many different rules. But in most, matches last 3 rounds where each round is 3 min long. There is a 1-minute break between the rounds, and kickboxers compete wearing full padded gloves and shorts.


Muay Thai is an art where fighters can use all limbs as weapons. They can strike with punches, kicks, as well as with elbows and knees at close range or in the clinch. On top of that, they also learn how to execute basic trips and throws from the clinch.

Kickboxing is not as versatile as Muay Thai since its fighters use “only” kicks and punches. Most modern kickboxing styles like K-1 or Dutch style have limited clinch fighting, while elbow and knee strikes are not allowed. The entire focus is on mixing kicks with the punches.

Is Kickboxing Good For MMA?

Kickboxing plays a big role in modern MMA fighting. In fact, you can’t expect to succeed or reach the high levels of the game without, at least, basic kickboxing skills. Some of the greatest UFC champions like Israel Adesanya have all had a strong base in some styles of kickboxing.

Whether we are talking about K-1, Dutch style, or Muay Thai, most styles of kickboxing fit well in cage fighting. MMA is a sport where fighters can use all limbs as weapons to fight at all ranges, including the clinch. Most styles of kickboxing cover all the ranges, and Muay Thai is the best when it comes to clinch fighting.

Muay Thai teaches you the best when it comes to how to better mix kicks with the punches, or fight in the clinch using knee and elbows. But the aspect that clearly stands out are vicious Muay Thai low and high kicks. In modern MMA, you can’t survive without knowing how to defend or throw legs kicks with proper technique. Sooner or later, someone would expose this hole in your game, and it would be a very painful experience. Leg kicks are a great way to neutralize the opponent’s movement, set up the attack, or keep your range.