Muay Thai vs Kung Fu — Which One is More Effective?

As fight fans, we often like to match two fighting styles against each other and discuss which one is more effective and why. One of the most popular styles vs style matchups fans like to talk about is Muay Thai vs Kung Fu. And we have made a decision to give you our view on which one is better between these two.

Muay Thai is often seen as the best striking style and more effective than Kung Fu as its techniques are more practical. It focuses on real combat using all limbs as weapons to deliver hard punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. The skills you learn in Muay Thai are all direct, simpler, more powerful, and effective. Modern Kung Fu, on the other side, puts a lot of focus on the fluid and beauty of the movement and forms.

Keep reading this article to find out more about how Muay Thai and Kung Fu differ from one another, and which one is more effective.

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Muay Thai vs Kung Fu — what are the main differences?

To find out which one is more effective, we must start by looking at how these two arts differ from one another. Since they do not share much in common, we will take just a brief look into the history of both arts and techniques they teach. Here is all you need to know:

History and origins

Even though it falls into a group of modern fighting styles, Muay Thai has a really long history. Its origins date all the way back to the 16th century the Siam Kingdom. At the time, Thai people used it to fight in wars, and for self-defense. In modern days, however, it is a national sport in Thailand that is rising really fast in other parts of the world as well.

Kung Fu is a much older style and its origins go all the way back to 3,000 years ago. Many believe that the first and original style of kung Fu emerged in Shaolin Temples. It is a style that has hundreds of forms with “Shaoling Kung Fu” being one of the oldest and most famous ones.

Techniques and emphasis

In short, Muay Thai techniques are advanced, practical, and very brutal. The art teaches you how to use all limbs as weapons to land punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. Students learn how to throw direct strikes with a lot of power, and violent intention to knock the opponent out. There is no playing around in Muay Thai as the focus is on real fighting and each technique you learn works in real life as well. The emphasis is on hard and fast kicks, as well as fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees. Here is a brief look into what students learn in Muay Thai:

  • More than 10 types of kicking techniques
  • Various elbow and knee strikes at close range or in the clinch
  • How to block punches and check kicks
  • Trips and throws

Kung Fu has hundreds of forms and the emphasis and techniques they teach differ a lot between them. Some styles focus on the hand to hand combat, while the other puts a lot of emphasis on weapons. A northern style, for instance, puts a lot of focus on the kicks, while the “Southern” style focuses on hand strikes. One of the most popular forms is the “Shaolin Kung Fu” which is often seen as an “all-around” system.

But in modern times, the emphasis is on the beauty of techniques and forms rather than real-life fighting. Here is what Kung Fu students learn in training:

  • They focus on stretching, endurance, and strength training
  • Various stances out of which the most famous one is “horse stance”
  • Various kicking techniques
  • Punches
  • They rarely do live drills with the partner or sparring
  • In some schools, students learn how to handle various weapons
Kung Fu

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu- which one is more effective for self-defense?

Muay Thai is far more effective for self-defense than any form of Kung Fu. This is mainly because Muay Thai as a fighting system puts far more focus on real fighting:

  • Muay Thai strikes are more direct, powerful, and advanced
  • Students learn better stances, footwork, and how to block strikes
  • Students spar on a daily basis and they also compete a lot

First of all, the concept of training in Muay Thai is better for self-defense. There is no playing around in training as every single technique you learn works in real life as well. Students spend a lot of time doing live drills with the partner and sparring which is the only way you can learn how to fight in real life.

Sparring gives you the same rush of fear and adrenalin you feel in a real fight. It trains you not to panic when someone lands a strike on you. And over time, you will learn how to keep your mind calm under pressure, which allows you to apply techniques you know.

Why Kung Fu is bad for self-defense?

Some elements of Kung Fu like kicks, for instance, work in real life. But the problem is, its students spend a lot of time training in pre-arranged forms. They will drill the same kick or combo alone over and over again instead of applying the techniques in sparring, which is bad. As Bruce Lee once said:

“Learning to fight without an opponent is like learning to swim on dry land”

Or in other words, you can’t learn how to fight without sparring with a partner who is trying to hurt you. It is the only way you can develop timing, reactions, or know how to stay calm in the heat of the moment.

Muay Thai simply focuses more on training you for real-life scenarios you may face on the streets.

Muay Thai Kick Pads

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu- which one is more effective for MMA?

Muay Thai is far more effective than Kung Fu when it comes to MMA fighting. This is because its techniques fit well within the rules of MMA, and are more practical. In some way, you can’t expect to succeed in cage fighting without Thai boxing skills, and we just can’t say the same for Kung Fu.

  • Muay Thai puts a lot of emphasis on clinch fighting which is crucial for MMA
  • Its strikes are more advanced and direct than the ones in Kung Fu
  • Muay Thai stances and high guard work really well in MMA

Why is Kung Fu bad for MMA?

The first problem with Kung Fu in MMA is the training. Kung Fu students rarely spar in a spontaneous action with the partner. Instead, they spend most of the time doing forms or live drills against a person who is not putting on any resistance. This is bad not just for MMA, but real-life fighting as well since it gives you false confidence in your fighting skills. You can’t develop timing, reactions, and feeling for distance or how to stay calm without sparring.

Kung Fu also teaches you techniques that are not allowed in MMA. Some forms of this style put a lot of focus on dirty tactics like strikes to the groin area, throat, or even eye-gouging. These moves are illegal in MMA and can get you disqualified.

The last thing we want to point up is the techniques you learn in Kung Fu. For instance, its fighters tend to stand in a wide stance while holding their hands extended in front. They do this because the focus is on intercepting the attack and fast counters. But doing this in MMA can end up really bad for them as the last thing you want is to leave your chin exposed.

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu Fight Results?

The earliest records of fights between Thai boxers and Kung Fu fighters date way back to the 1920s. These bouts were very one sided as Thai boxers won just about every single match. Kung Fu fighters simply had a hard time dealing with the power as most of them got KO’d.

One of the Kung Fu fighters named Tian Ling even died after receiving a brutal KO against a Muay Thai fighter. But, bear in mind that we have to take this info with reserve. Still, no one could argue against what took place in the 70s when two Kung Fu fighters came to Thailand.

This Muay Thai vs Kung Fu battle was even held at the famous Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok. But once again, both of these Chinese fighters got knocked out. They tried to even the score the next year by bringing five best Kung Fu fighters from China. But once again, Muay Thai fighters finished them all and proved once and for all that their style is better.

In modern times, we saw another, more famous matchup between these two arts. In 2015, Muay Thai legend we all know as “Buakaw” fought two times against Shaolin Kung Fu fighter, Yi Long. The first fight was very exciting with both fighters trading hard strikes and Buakaw winning a decision.

They met once again in 2016, but this time, Buakaw dominated the fight from start to finish. But due to unknown reasons, the judges awarded a win to Yi Long, which was shocking.


Muay Thai vs Kung Fu- who would win in a street fight?

In our view, Muay Thai fighters have a much better chance of beating Kung Fu fighters in a street fight without the rules. But this also depends on which type of fight we are talking about and what form of Kung Fu? Not all Kung Fu styles are good for fighting as a lot of them do not focus on real fighting at all.

But overall, the skills Thai boxers have are versatile and advanced enough to deal with anything Kung Fu has to offer in a fight without the rules. They have a huge advantage when it comes to real fighting experience. Kung fighters, on the other side, never compete and even rarely have a chance to test their skills in sparring. This is on its own is the reason why Muay Thai has an edge in our opinion.

The same stands when it comes to the actual techniques. Muay Thai fighters have better and more powerful tools to fight at distance, and their clinch game is insane. What they do best is wrapping their hands around the opponent’s neck to get a “Thai Clinch”. From that position, they would unload with the barrage of elbows to the side of the head and knees to the body. Kung Fu fighters would have a really hard time escaping without damage.

However, this doesn’t mean Kung Fu doesn’t have anything to offer. For instance, it will teach you how to use dirty moves like groin strikes and even eye gouging in a fight. You won’t learn how to use or defend against these moves in Muay Thai training. This may sound like a big advantage on paper, but in reality, it’s really hard to land dirty strikes against a skilled fighter.


Muay Thai vs Kung Fu — which one is more effective and why?

Muay Thai is more effective than Kung Fu in our view mainly because it is more versatile and practical. This doesn’t mean that Kung Fu is useless by any means, but, it’s not better than Thai boxing when it comes to most aspects.

Muay Thai is better for self-defense. Each technique you learn in training can help you get out of trouble on the streets, while we can’t say the same for Kung Fu. The training focuses on hard sparring, and simulating all the scenarios you may face in a match or on the streets. You won’t do this type of drills in Kung Fu as its students rarely do live drills with the partner.

The same stands when it comes to MMA fighting where Muay Thai plays a big role. Its techniques fit well within the rules of the sport, notably the kicks and fighting in the clinch. One of many reasons why Kung Fu is bad for MMA is because it teaches you illegal moves like throat and groin strikes.

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Sawasdee krap!
I'm Timmy and I'm the chief-editor and co-founder of Muay Thai Street. When do you don't see me kicking pads of heavy bags, you can also find me training BJJ and functional fitness. I created Muay Thai Street as a passion project and also to help grow the community and share this sport with the world.

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