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What is the difference between Muay Thai kickboxing and traditional kickboxing?

Muay Thai is known by several names. The basic translation simply means, “Thai Boxing,” but it is often referred to as “King of the Ring” kickboxing or “the Art of 8 Limbs” by practitioners and fans. Muay Thai is different from modern kickboxing in that its rules allow the use of both hands and feet, as well as both elbows and shins, to apply force against the opponent. In American kickboxing, the use of the elbows, knees, and shins is generally not allowed in the sport. Japanese Kickboxing is directly related to Muay Thai, but combines some elements of Karate and Judo in the sport. Traditional Muay Thai fighting in Thailand was used for military training, Royal Guards, as well as for self defense. This lineage of Muay Thai was passed down through Buddhist monks in Thailand. As nearly every man in Thailand would become a novice monk for a period varying from a few months to a few years, there was a general distribution of the techniques involved in Muay Thai fighting across society. Muay Thai also involves ritual, dance, and music that are based in Thai culture, and are not found in the Japanese and American forms of Kickboxing.


“Pradal Serey” is the name for Muay Thai in Cambodia. The name is translated “Free Fighting”.
“Tomoi” is the name for Muay Thai in Malaysia. The name is translated from a term for “elbows & knees”.
“Muay Lao” is the name for Muay Thai in Laos. It is the national fight style of Laos.
“Lethwei” is the name for Muay Thai in Myanmar (Burma). This sport allows headbutting.

Both the Japanese and American forms of Kickboxing are derived from the tradition of boxing and karate promotions and exhibitions. These are ring fighting events with an audience and admission system. Japanese Kickboxing was promoted in the late 50’s and 60’s as an alternative form of Karate fighting that had more contact and excitement for fans. Japanese kick boxers began to fuse multiple martial arts styles into their fighting and boxing techniques as the sport became more popular. American Kickboxing is related more to boxing originally, but was also fueled by promoters looking for new and unique fighting styles for public matches. As Kickboxing grew in popularity worldwide over the last 20 and 30 years, the American and Japanese Kickboxing matches have attracted some of the largest audiences and prize awards. However, Muay Thai remains the national sport in Thailand, and its popularity is unrivaled by any other sport or form of fighting and martial arts in the country.

Countries with Muay Thai Kickboxing Associations:

Czech Republic

With the advance in promotions of Kickboxing and Muay Thai fighting across Asia and the world, various regulatory and licensing agencies have been established to govern the weight class systems and awarding of Titles. Many countries, such as Japan, America, and Thailand with large Kickboxing fan bases and promotions, will participate in International Title Matches in various weight classes such as Mini Flyweight or Super Heavyweight. The range of these classes may include upwards of 20 various divisions based on a Kick boxer’s body weight. Nearly 50 different countries have their own national Kickboxing association, but the Muay Thai is governed by a World Council based in Thailand itself. Muay Thai Kickboxing has also spread in popularity internationally following its depiction of its tournaments and matches in several popular movies and TV shows.


Points are awarded for the way a fighter upholds the traditional Muay Thai style, as well as for aggressiveness, and poise
Points are awarded for excellence in attacking and counter-attacking.
A maximum of 10 points is awarded to the winner of each round.
A Muay Thai Kickboxing match will last 5 rounds.
Each Round in a Muay Thai match is 3 minutes.
There is a 2 minute break between rounds.

Many kick boxers will train in Muay Thai along with other martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Capoeira, or Taekwando to mix styles in their matches. To find a Muay Thai kickboxing school or a traditional kickboxing school, please click here to use the Martial Art School Finder which has a list of all locations.