Activities Sports & Athletics Muay Thai and Karate Comparisons Share PINTEREST Email Print Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images Sports & Athletics Martial Arts Styles MMA & UFC Baseball Bicycling Billiards Bodybuilding Bowling Boxing Car Racing Cheerleading Extreme Sports Football Golf Gymnastics Ice Hockey Professional Wrestling Skateboarding Skating Paintball Soccer Swimming & Diving Table Tennis Tennis Track & Field Volleyball Other Activities Learn More By Robert Rousseau Robert Rousseau Facebook Twitter Robert Rousseau is a martial arts expert and a former senior writer for MMA Fighting. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 12/28/18 Karate vs. Muay Thai: Which one is better? The interesting thing is that today's karate is an all-encompassing term describing a ton of different martial arts styles originating in the island of Okinawa. These styles were generally a blend of native Okinawan fighting styles combined with Chinese fighting styles. From this, numerous different types of karate emerged. Muay Thai, on the other hand, comes from an ancient Siamese or Thai fighting style called Muay Boran (ancient boxing). Muay Boran was likely influenced by the Chinese fighting styles, Khmer martial arts like Pradal, and Krabi Krabong (a weapons-based Thai martial art). Today, it is considered a kickboxing style sport, although it was more based in self-defense in ancient times. Tony Jaa is a well-known martial arts actor who grew up practicing Muay Thai. Now, compare the two martial arts in more detail. Karate vs. Muay Thai Karate is primarily a stand-up style of fighting. It includes throws and fast submissions, but hitting the ground, joint locks and wrist grabs are taught to a minimal extent. Karate stand-up is generally characterized by mostly straight punches (reverse punches) and a variety of kicks. Though karate styles teach elbow and knee strikes, these techniques are not typically used in tournament action. Practitioners often demonstrate in-and-out footwork, as karate fighters tend to be elusive. They also focus on powerful strikes designed to incapacitate quickly. By and large, most karate styles profess to be self-defense oriented, meaning that the main focus is to end fights quickly and without injury. Karate fighters also tend to keep their hands lower in their stances; perhaps this is a result of the types of tournaments they enter. For example, point sparring (no contact or mild contact sparring) does not put a lot of emphasis on whether a strike lands to the head or body. Further, Kyokushin style tournaments tend to disallow punches (not kicks) to the head. Karate fighters often utilize wider stances and don't tuck the chin (something boxers teach to lessen the jarring action to the face when strikes connect there). As for roundhouse kicks, karate fighters tend to hit with the ball of the foot, not the shin. Their kicks tend to be quick and precise but less powerful than Muay Thai kicks. Muay Thai, like karate, is primarily a striking style. In Muay Thai, both a self-defense art and sport, the focus is on using the limbs—shins, elbows, knees, and hands—as weapons. Muay Thai fighters are highly adept at elbow strikes, boxing style movement (side to side), and a variety of kicks. What sets them apart, however, is their ability to compete in a stand-up fight. They do this by using the clinch, in essence grabbing the back of an opponent's neck, and then using their knees to the opponent's detriment. Thai fighters are also known for keeping their hands higher than karate fighters. They deliver roundhouse kicks, particularly to the legs, that connect via the shin. Thai fighters can often be seen toughening their shins by kicking trees. Some Thai schools teach takedowns and grappling. But Muay Thai mostly focuses on kickboxing. Mas Oyama vs. Black Cobra Mas Oyama reportedly challenged and defeated a Muay Thai fighter known as the "Black Cobra" in 1954 at Lumpinee Stadium, Bangkok. Accounts of the match vary, but one of the most repeated is that Oyama had difficulty with the welterweight champion's speed in the first round. However, he dropped him to the ground with an elbow strike in the next round and followed that up with an "aerial triple kick" to win the fight. Other accounts say that he won the fight with hard round kicks to the body. Regardless, it is widely claimed that the fight was very close. The lack of historical accounts surrounding this match leaves us in limbo as to whether it ever actually occurred or what happened if it did. Muay Thai vs. Mas Oyama (Kyokushin Karate) Challenge Back in the 1960s, Mas Oyama's dojo, which taught perhaps the first full contact style of karate (Kyokushin) received a challenge from Muay Thai practitioners. Oyama, believing his style of martial arts was best, accepted and sent three karate fighters to the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Thailand to fight three Muay Thai fighters: Tadashi Nakamura, Akio Fujihira and Kenji Kurosaki. The fights took place on Feb. 12, 1963, with Kyokushin winning two of three. Namely, Nakamura and Fujihira both knocked their adversaries out with a punch, while Kurosaki was knocked out by an elbow. Kurosaki was reportedly designated as a substitute since he was only serving as an instructor at the time and not a contender. This fight is arguably the most widely reported on Karate vs. Muay Thai competition. Tadashi Sawamura vs. Samarn Sor Adisorn In 1967, Tadashi Sawamura was a well-known kickboxer with a karate background. (Remember, standard kickboxing came from a mixture of karate and Muay Thai.) When he fought Samarn Sor Adisorn, he lost sorely. Adisorn used his knees and boxing skills to knock him around the ring. He finished Sawamura off by landing a knee to his body, followed by a right hand to the head. Daya vs. Yoshiji Soeno A student of Mas Oyama's, Yoshiji Soeno would one day found the style of Shidokan Karate. However, many years earlier, he traveled to Thailand in 1974 to fight Thai boxers and test his skills. After defeating several contenders, Soeno prepared for a fight with the Dark Lord of Muay Thai, or Reiba. Four days before that fight was set to take place, Reiba was shot and killed by a Thai gangster. That meant Soeno's earlier fight against Reiba's brother, Daya, would serve as the signature karate vs. Muay Thai battle of his career. The fight reportedly aired on national television. Daya apparently attacked Soeno before the bell rang, right in the middle of his traditional Wai Kru dance. It was a brutal fight. But in the fourth round, Soeno ended the bout by leaping in the air and striking Daya with an elbow to the top of his skull. Mauricio Shogun Rua vs. Lyoto Machida Mauricio "Shogun" Rua fought Lyoto Machida during the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC 113) on May 8, 2011. Was it a pure Muay Thai vs. Karate match up? No. Both Rua (Muay Thai) and Machida (Shotokan Karate) have practiced a variety of styles; after all, this was a mixed martial arts fight. But after a close and controversial first bout went to then-champion Machida, Rua proved his Muay Thai background by landing a right hand that dropped Machida early in round one.