I get this question from time to time. And I know it can be confusing, as the terms are often interchangeable.
Kickboxing usually refers to the “Western” martial art, which combines the traditional kicks of karate with the modern punches of boxing. Zen-Do is a western style.
Kickboxing (in the early days called full contact karate or sports karate) was born out of the frustration that some karateka felt with the limitations of the rigid fighting style of traditional karate.
Muay Thai is the national martial (and sport) of Thailand. It has nothing to do with traditional karate. Though there are similarities between kickboxing and Muay Thai, there are some fundamental differences. The main difference is that in Muay Thai, elbow and knee strikes are allowed, whereas this is not allowed in kickboxing.
Also, Muay Thai uses low kicks to the legs, which (in some cases) is not allowed in Western Kickboxing. But the truth is that there are so many different types of rules and kickboxing competitions that the distinction is not that clear cut. The term kickboxing is sometimes used to refer to any type of fighting that utilises kicking and punching with boxing gloves. So you could say Muay Thai is a type of kickboxing. But I don’t think Thais would like that definition.
The word “kickboxing” is sometimes also used to describe “kickboxing aerobics”, which is an aerobics class, done to music using martial arts moves. The most famous being Tai Bo.
The Power of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is generally considered the king of striking martial arts (i.e. not grappling type martial arts). I consider Muay Thai a deadly art, but the real power of Muay Thai does not come from the techniques themselves but from the way Thai boxers train. They start training at the age of five or six and have their first professional fight at around the age of eight. They fight their whole life and might retire in the their thirties, as their bodies would be too damaged to continue fighting.
Training details might vary from gym to gym, but generally speaking Thai boxers train around eight hours a day, including two several kilometre runs. They train hard because they have to put food on the table. Fighting might mean the difference between starvation and a relatively comfortable lifestyle for their families.
Over the years I’ve met guys who trained in “Muay Thai” and think that their hot shots. They think they’re as hardcore as the Thai guys. Don’t make me laugh! You can’t do a class or two a week and consider yourself a real Thai Boxer. Like I said, it’s the training, not the techniques.
I’ve easily beaten people who trained in Muay Thai. My brother has two. But if a pro fighter from Thailand wanted to fight me, I’d think twice about it – ok, more like ten times 🙂
Which Style Should You Train In?
That’s a difficult one to answer. And I’ll answer it like I answer many questions: it depends on what you want! But the most important thing I always advise people is to find a decent instructor. When you find an instructor who know what he’s talking about, and is patient, encouraging and not a tyrant, then stick with him. Instructors like that are hard to find. Focus more on the instructor than on the style. And make sure you’re having fun!
Talk to you soon.