Muay Thai vs Karate: Difference and Comparison

Muay Thai and karate are forms of martial arts derived from many ancient forms of self-defence and protective arts that have Asian origins.

Both are used for self-defence in two different methods and are also used in combat mode.

As with any form of ancient martial arts, both have varying methods of Demobilizing opponents and many strategic defences.

Key Takeaways

  1. Muay Thai is a combat sport from Thailand that emphasizes striking with the fists, elbows, knees, and shins, while Karate is a martial art from Japan that emphasizes striking with the hands and feet.
  2. Muay Thai allows clinching and grappling techniques, while Karate does not.
  3. Muay Thai has a greater emphasis on physical conditioning and endurance than Karate.

Muay Thai vs Karate

Muay Thai is a combat sport and martial art that originated in Thailand. It is also known as The Art of Eight Limbs because it uses fists, elbows, knees, and shins in strikes and blocks. Karate is a martial art that originated in Japan and focuses on striking techniques using the hands and feet.

Muay Thai vs Karate

Muay Thai is a method of martial arts that represents, in a major way, the modern combat method of kickboxing. It has since times immemorial been used as a self-defence mode and, later on, has been used as a combat sports event.

While the stance is about providing maximum effort directed to the feet, the elbows and knees play a major role in overpowering the opponent, rendering them weak.

Karate is more commonly known to a major part of the world population owing to its similarity with ancient kung fu, giving its roots be traced back to the old Japanese Empire.

As of late, it has been employed as a sports form for entertainment and pleasure just as much as horse riding or Polo.

This combat method is preferred by those seeking a self-defensive form while under attack to prevent hurting the opponent while simultaneously protecting oneself.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonMuay ThaiKarate
OriginThailandOkinawa Island, South of Japan
Also known asThai boxingTe
Similar toKick-boxingKung fu
Century of Origin16th century17th century
Use of Elbows and KneesYesNo

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is an old martial arts form that is a native of Thailand. Even though it was developed centuries before its actual introduction to the masses, it became known to all the people within Thailand by the year 1548.

By the time it was the 18th century, this self-defence method was ordered by the then-residing Empire that ruled over Thailand to be made mandatory in all school classes.

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Muay Thai is confused with the modern combat form of kickboxing, as the form and usage of the body are almost similar.

It was truly made to reach the world by the year 1921. The world acceptance leads it to be held in the form of matches and tournaments.

The initial fighting form was bare-armed, and it included bare fights that proved hard on the knuckles.

Gloves weren’t a part of the hand gear for combat games back then for Muay Thai, and instead, bandages were used to wrap around the hand to give cushioning protection to the wrists.

Most tournament-like matches back then had 11 rounds of 3 minutes each, giving the players a level of exertion that seemed brutal.

But now, modern martial forms have been incorporated into the olden methods giving the players an edge.

Professionals now use gloves; the matches are 5 rounds, each the same 3 minutes. Most rules remain the same as in the century-old form.

Muay Thai is one of the most brutal forms of martial arts, where the players tend to be tougher and use brutal means to overcome opponents.

The training series includes hard play-offs such as kicking trees down with the shins and being constantly hit on the gut for practice.

The elbows and knees are more readily used in Muay Thai, while it is a no-go area in most other martial arts. Other than these parts, the shins are the next most dangerous for Muay Thai professionals.

One common overpowering method is a low kick aimed at the opponent’s front leg that buckles, hence giving the kicker a head start.

muay thai

What is Karate?

Karate is quite a famous form of martial art followed by centuries of method modifications and strategies.

It has a common ground with that of kung fu.

The strikes are carried out with precision and effective speed to catch the opponent unguarded.

Theoretically, karate teaches the use of elbows and knees as weapons.

But once in a karate ring, all that theoretical lessons remain in theory, for in reality, karate doesn’t go beyond self-defence and into aggression.

Karate translates to ‘ empty hand’ which implies the fact that the techniques used don’t include weapons or unconventional fighting.

It was introduced and perfected on Okinawa Island, which is found South of Japan.

Okinawa island has had years of martial arts history due to the Shaolin influence on the island.

This created a massive Chinese martial arts collection on the island and eventually led to the creation of karate, then called “Te”.

By the time the martial arts had been perfected, they had reached the Japanese mainland.

In the year 1930, “Te” was recognized by the Japanese Emperor as a useful method for soldiers to enhance their physical stance and stabilize their mental fighting capabilities.

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Next, the Emperor asked the renowned martial artist from Okinawa, Gichin Funakoshi, to demonstrate the skill levels of “Te”. Funakoshi later added the prefix “Kara” to the martial form.

Funakoshi is today known as the father of modern karate.


Main Differences Between Muay Thai and Karate

  1. While Muay Thai is more in tune with the form of kickboxing, karate has a more familiar method that is in the form of kung fu.
  2. Muay Thai strategies include teaching the disciples to use the elbows and knees both as a defence mechanism and as weapons, whereas in karate, neither the elbows nor the knees are taught to be used for defence or attack as it is considered unethical in combat.
  3. While for Muay Thai, due to the kickboxing motions, the primary stance involves giving the feet a lot of concentrated effort to create a maximum impact by the feet while in attack mode, for karate, as the dependence on the ancient Chinese arts includes creating a greater stance on balance and fluidity of motion.
  4. Karate fighters are taught to use the ball of their feet as the major strategy for the attack that depends on leg strikes, and due to its less aggressive form, no punches to the face or head are targeted. Muay Thai includes kicking with shins and the use of elbows and knees with targeted attacks on the head and face aiming at the maximum injury.
  5. The techniques adopted by both forms are in vast contrast. While in Muay Thai, the opponent is beaten up with the thought of inflicting maximum damage, and karate methods are used only to defend oneself by using hands covering the face from the opponent’s blows.
Difference Between Muay Thai and Karate

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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10 thoughts on “Muay Thai vs Karate: Difference and Comparison”

  1. I find it ironic that a martial art called ’empty hand’ doesn’t actually involve the use of hands in combat.

  2. This article seems very biased towards Muay Thai, it doesn’t provide an objective view of both martial arts.


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