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Kicking Comparison, Muay Thai and Karate

Kicking Comparison, Muay Thai and Karate


How many different ways can you kick someone? Between two completely different styles like Muay Thai and Karate, a fighter can learn more ways to kick then they would probably use in a fight. Due to the major influence Karate has had on other major kicking arts such as Kickboxing and Taekwon-Do which are very similar in kicking techniques, this article will focus mainly on the similarities and differences of kicking techniques from Thailand’s famous martial art, and the ancient art of a traditional Japan.

Before we can get into the kicking comparison, we have to first acknowledge the difference in each style's fighting stance. Karate has a more bladed stance where the front foot is facing forward yet slightly the same direction as the back foot. Muay Thai on the other hand has a more squared stance, the front foot facing forward or even slightly outward in the opposite direction of the back foot. 

Starting with the front kick we immediately see the similarity in the name of the kick. To throw it properly in either art form, the kicker must bring their knee straight in front of their body. The other main similarity is that both styles tend to hit with the ball of the foot once the kick is thrown. Muay Thai fighters generally know this kick as a Teep Kick, a pushing kick where the knee is brought up as high as possible and the foot extends straight to the target hitting either the body or the face and pushing through the target.

In contrast, Karateka usually maintain distance between their knee and their chest by leaning back as they kick. The Karate front kick is a snapping kick in comparison to Muay Thai’s pushing kick, aiming generally at the gut area or directly under the chin and quickly hitting through the target before returning back to its chambered position. 

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The next kick is one that is much more commonly seen in fighting bouts, the round kick. In traditional karate, the round kick is thrown hitting with the ball of the foot, the same way the front snapping kick is thrown. However to protect the kickers toes when throwing the kick against a quick, dynamic target, the round kick is thrown by hitting with the shin, Karateka usually mobilize the hip by pivoting the standing foot, then driving the arm of the kicking leg in the opposite direction of where the kick is being thrown. The knee of the kicking leg will drive towards and point at its target before the leg snaps, just like the Karate front kick. Due to this style of pivoting the foot to create an open hip, combined with the snapping of the foot as if to imitate a whip, Karateka can throw an efficient round kick with both the front and back leg without having to switch feet.

The Muay Thai round kick varies significantly from the snapping kick. First, due to the nature of the Thai round kick, it is generally thrown with the back leg. As the Muay Thai practitioner prepares to throw a round kick, they will often step outward slightly with front foot to open the hip in contrast to the pivot in Karate’s version. Rather than pointing the knee and snapping the leg like a whip, Muay Thai practitioners lock the leg out while keeping it slightly bent, swinging the whole leg as if it were a baseball bat. Due to this variation of the kick, Muay Thai fighters will set up whatever leg they are planning to kick with by placing it behind them as the back foot, even if placing the foot back only to throw it right after as seen in Muay Thai’s patented switch kick.

Though not as versatile as the Karate variation, Muay Thai’s round kick is second to none in power, with devastating results upon landing. Both styles have the same common target areas being the legs, the body, and the head. 

When it comes to spinning kicks, there are minimal similarities between the two martial arts besides both styles hit mostly with the heel, and spin on this type of technique. Muay Thai’s variation of the spinning kick takes the heel, and hits anywhere with it. While there are some Thai fighters with creative and pinpoint spinning techniques like Saenchai, generally speaking most Muay Thai kicks that involve a spin do not go straight back at the opponent but rather aim towards the opponent as the fighter continues spinning, swinging the leg back to the floor and landing in their fighting position.

Check out this slick kick set up from Saenchai!


In comparison to this type of spinning technique, Karate has a much more technical approach. By chambering the knee to the fighters chest as they spin, Karateka have the opportunity to either throw a spinning hook kick, extending the leg out straight like a bat as it hits the target, usually the head, and then hooking it back in to chambering position, or the fighter has the option to extend the leg straight out as they line up their kicking hip to their opponent, throwing a kick straight to the side with a thrust of the hip, while hitting with the heel. 

There will always be a time where it will be more advantageous to throw a certain variation of a technique over another. This article is not meant to compare the effectiveness of each martial art, rather the different kicking techniques which have formed throughout two extremely varying styles. Fighters should take a look objectively at what techniques work for them instead of discarding a whole set of effective techniques because it belongs to a different style. 

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