Everybody loves kicks and between all the different styles of martial arts, there are two that are really known for their kicks. In this article, we explore and compare Muay Thai vs Taekwondo.
Taekwondo is known for its fast and flashy kicks, while Muay Thai is known for its more devastating, hard and brutal kicks. But just what are the more detailed differences between these two arts?
Read all the way to the end to watch an actual bout between a Muay Thai fighter and a Taekwondo black belt.
Note: There are multiple styles and governing bodies of Taekwondo. For this article, we will be mainly talking about what is known as WT or World Taekwondo. This style of Taekwondo is what is seen in the Olympics.
As always, let’s take a quick look at the origins and history of the two sport.
As you probably know, Muay Thai originates from the country of Thailand. It is derived from the ancient Thai martial art that is now known as Muay Boran.
Muay Boran was used by Thai soldiers in war when their weapons were taken away from them.
Muay Boran was slowly converted more into a sport of national pride instead of a weapon of war. This evolution occurred most prominently during the time of the Thai king known as Rama V in the 19th century.
The Muay Thai ropes (Kard Chuek) were gradually traded out for western boxing gloves and the rules were changed to make it more appealing to wider audiences.
For the detailed history, read this article: “Blessed with Venom: History of Muay Thai“.
Taekwondo (Korean: 태권도) is a martial art that comes from Korea and it actually has a martial history like Muay Thai.
Tae (태) means “foot”, Kwon (권) means “fist” and Do (도) is literally “a way of”. So Taekwondo can be translated as “The Way of kicks and fists”.
Taekwondo is derived from an ancient Korean martial art called Taekkyeon. Taekkyeon practitioners then took influence from Karate during the Japanese occupation of Korea, which led to the creation of Taekwondo.
Taekwondo then became the official martial art of the military and the national sport of South Korea.
Difference between Muay Thai & Taekwondo Techniques
Taekwondo focus on a wide range of kicking techniques and fast combos that are hard to predict. Muay Thai has a more diverse striking arsenal that includes kicks, punches, knees and elbows. The Thai art focus on landing impactful hits, quality over quantity.
In terms of just the kicking technique, there is more speed and control in Taekwondo kicks but Muay Thai has more devastating power.
A Muay Thai practitioner is known as a Nak Muay while a Taekwondo practitioner is called a Kwonkicker.
Let’s now compare the key striking techniques available to the two disciplines in more details:
In terms of techniques, Taekwondo is almost entirely focused on kicks.
Out of all the martial arts in the world, Taekwondo probably has the highest number of kicks in its arsenal. Between the snap kicks, axe kicks, side kicks, spinning kicks and all the variation on those it’s actually kind of crazy to think about.
To balance this out, Kwonkickers don’t use their hands so much. Basically, it just has what is known as a reverse punch, which is what most would call a straight right.
There is also no clinch fighting, sweeps or trips allowed.
The kicking techniques in Taekwondo are also more so based around speed, control and flash to a certain degree. The techniques utilize a snapping motion and chamber for most of its kicks.
Taekwondo fighters are also only allowed to kick to the body and the head. Leg kicks and punches to the head are banned. Taekwondo fighters also place a larger emphasis on dodging rather than blocking.
Taekwondo fighters stand in a very bladed stance, meaning that their feet are on the same line if there were lines between their feet. This tends to make them very fast and mobile, darting in and out.
Muay Thai by contrast has basically just two kicking techniques, the roundhouse (high, middle and low kick) and the teep. Maybe you can count knee strikes as kicks but still, that only brings you to three.
While there aren’t a lot of kicks, Muay Thai makes up for it with a heavier emphasis on the other limbs of the body as well as clinch fighting.
Muay Thai fighters are also allowed to kick, knee, elbow and punch pretty much anywhere on the body. There are some rules in place depending on experience and obviously no low blows.
The stance in Muay Thai is a much more forward stance and while it does limit mobility in some ways, it also allows for more powerful strikes and easier blocking.
Muay Thai places a large emphasis on powerful single strikes in contrast to Taekwondo’s focus on control and speed.
Now that you’re a little bit more familiar with both arts who are some fighters that you should check out?
There are a ton of Muay Thai fighters that you probably already know to look at. Here are a few lists to check out:
- Top Muay Thai Fighters You Should Know
- Top Muay Thai Fighters to Watch Now
- Best Muay Thai Fighters of Golden Era
- Best Foreign Muay Thai Fighters of All-Time
In terms of Taekwondo fighters you can check out Raymond Daniels in Bellator or Yair Rodriguez in the UFC for some pretty accurate examples, albeit modified for MMA.
Muay Thai vs Taekwondo: Which is Better?
Now you are probably wondering, Muay Thai vs Taekwondo: which is the better style for a self-defence/real-life scenario?
While we in no way condone street fighting, you might run into a situation where you need to protect yourself. There’s no shame in that as long as you didn’t instigate it.
For the most part, Muay Thai is going to be more effective for a street fight, as it covers more bases, with the focus on using all 8 limbs of the body, as well as clinching.
Taekwondo kicks are pretty powerful and should not be underestimated but if you aren’t able to properly throw hands, it’s a big opening to have.
The clinch is also a big part of any street fight and in Muay Thai, you train the clinch a lot. Watch any street fight video and you’ll see that they eventually end up in some kind of clinch so knowing what to do there is important.
The one downside to Taekwondo training is the competition rule that forbids punches to the face. This particular rule is maintained in training which leads to impracticality in real-life situations where everything goes. Taekwondo practitioners are not conditioned to getting punched in their face.
Both arts are great and you could really benefit from some cross-training in both styles. However, Muay Thai conditioning and its wide range of weapons make it a more practical self-defense art.
Muay Thai vs Taekwondo: Special Rules
Like almost every fight in the last century, martial artists of different disciplines want to challenge a Muay Thai fighter as long as he’s not allowed the full range of Muay Thai weapons. The rules often favor the other martial art as in this match from 1993.
Muay Thai legend Changpuek Kiatsongrit took on Taekwondo blackbelt, Shin Ushikoshi for a special K-1 tournament under karate rules. Changpuek was essentially stripped of half his weapons with no elbows allowed and no punches to the face, putting Muay Thai at a severe disadvantage.
All that while the Kwonkicker has his full kicking arsenal at disposal.
Even with the handicap, Changpuek was able to win by TKO (corner stoppage) using his destructive leg kicks.
Such modern match-ups actually serve little purpose except for entertainment value. However, the toughness of Muay Thai fighters proved the effectiveness of the Thai martial art and its conditioning methods.