A History and Style Guide of Kickboxing


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The term kickboxing is a somewhat generic one used to cover the combination of several different striking or stand up fighting styles that fall within the classification of sport martial arts. Though the term kickboxing was specifically initiated in Japan and evolved from full contact karate, its history and roots are in many ways tied to the Thailand martial art of Muay Thai Boxing as well.

The sport of kickboxing often takes place in a ring where combatants, depending on the style of kickboxing being practiced, may utilize kicks, punches, elbow strikes, headbutts, knee strikes, and/or throws against one another.

The History of Kickboxing

Muay Thai Boxing is a hard martial arts style that originated in Thailand. There is evidence that it can be traced back to a form of ancient boxing used by Siamese soldiers called Muay Boran. During the Sukhothai era (1238 – 1377), Muay Boran began the transition to a means of personal advancement for nobility as well as a style for warriors to practice, and its evolution continued when King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ascended to Thailand’s throne in 1868. Under Chulalongkorn’s peaceful leadership, the art transitioned to a means of physical exercise, self-defense, and recreation. Further, it began to be practiced at events like a sport, and rules were adopted which included the use of gloves and other protective gear.

In 1920, the term Muay Thai began to be used, separating itself from the older art of Muay Boran.

Many years later, a Japanese boxing promoter by the name of Osamu Noguchi came to know the martial arts form of Muay Thai. Along with this, he wanted to foster a style of martial art that held true to karate in some ways but allowed full striking, as the karate tournaments at the time did not. Along with this, in 1966 he pitted three karate fighters against three Muay Thai practitioners in a full contact style competition. The Japanese won this competition 2-1. Noguchi and Kenji Kurosaki, one of the fighters that took on the Muay Thai opposition back in 1966, then studied Muay Thai and blended it with full contact karate and boxing to form a martial art style that would eventually come to be known as kickboxing. Along with this, the Kickboxing Association, the first kickboxing organization, was founded a few years later in Japan.

Today there are several unique styles of kickboxing being practiced around the world. Interestingly, some of these styles do not consider themselves to be ‘kickboxing’ even if the general public tends to refer to them as such.

Characteristics of Kickboxing

The characteristics of kickboxing are quite varied. For the most part, it involves the striking martial arts and includes punches, kicks, blocks, and evasive maneuvers. In addition, depending on the style, kickboxing may also involve knee strikes, elbow strikes, clinching, headbutting, and even takedowns or throws.

Generally, practitioners use gloves and kickboxing competitions take place in a ring, as it is primarily a sport martial art. A branch of kickboxing called cardio kickboxing, which utilizes kickboxing style strikes for almost exclusively fitness purposes has also become quite popular in recent times. Tae Bo is an example of fitness kickboxing.

Basic Goals of Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a sport martial art that readily lends itself to self-defense. Along with this, the goal in kickboxing is to utilize any number of combinations of punches, kicks, elbows, and sometimes throws to disable an opponent. In most styles of kickboxing, participants can win either by way of judge’s decision or knockout, which is similar to American boxing.

Kickboxing Substyles

  • Adithada
  • American kickboxing
  • Gwon-gyokdo
  • Japanese kickboxing
  • K-1
  • Lethwei
  • Muay Boran
  • Muay Thai
  • Pradal Serey
  • Sanshou / Sanda
  • Savate
  • Shoot boxing
  • Yaw-Yan

Three Famous Kickboxers

  1. Toshio Fujiwara: A former Japanese kickboxer that won 123 of 141 matches, including an astounding 99 by knockout. Fujiwara was also the first non-Thai to win a national Muay Thai title belt in Bangkok.
  2. Nai Khanom Tom: A legendary Muay Boran/ Thai fighter that defeated a Burmese champion and then nine more in succession without rest in front of the Burmese king. His successes are celebrated on Boxer's Day, sometimes also called National Muay Thai Day.
  3. Benny Urquidez: The man they call “The Jet” achieved an impressive record of 58-0 with 49 knockouts from 1974-93. He helped champion full contact fighting in the U.S while it was still in its infancy.