Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate - Differences and Comparisons in 2021

Both Muay Thai and Kyokushin Karate are often seen as the two hardest fighting styles you can train in. Both are pure striking martial arts that embrace a hard method of training, a lot of sparring and drilling of techniques. Although they look very much the same at first sight, these two arts differ a lot in many aspects.

Kyokushin is a full contact style that doesn’t train you for “point system” fighting like other forms of karate. No, the focus is on speed, power, and doing damage with every strike. In training, students learn how to use punches, kicks as well as elbows and knees.

Muay Thai, on the other side, also uses all limbs as weapons to strike with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows. But, there is a key difference between these two arts when it comes to emphasis. But more about that later.

Keep reading this article to find out how these two arts compare when it comes to self-defense, MMA, and other in other aspects of fighting.

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Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate — what are the main differences?

Even though they may look very similar on paper, these two arts differ a lot. In fact, they are a worlds apart when it comes to emphasis, history, and rules. Here is all you need to know:

History and origins

Kyokushin Karate comes from Japan where the great Mas Oyama created this form of karate in 1964. It is one of the best and most popular forms of karate in all parts of the world. There are millions of students, and it seems like every town has at least one Kyokushin dojo.

Muay Thai comes from the 16th century Siam Kingdom which makes it a much older style than Kyokushin. It is a very popular sport in Thailand, part of its culture and the identity of its people. It started to rise beyond Thai borders in the 20th century, notably in the early 90s with the birth of MMA and K-1 kickboxing.

Emphasis and techniques

Kyokushin teaches you how to use all limbs as weapons. But it differs from Muay Thai as it forbids punches and elbows to the head. Students can land these strikes only to the body area below the head. They are also not allowed to fight in the clinch, grab or hold the opponent. However, they can strike all parts of the body, including the head with kicks.

Muay Thai fighters use eight limbs to strike all body areas. They can throw punches, kicks, elbows, and knees both to the head and other parts of the body. It allows fighting in the clinch, which in fact, is one of the key elements of Thai boxing. The emphasis is on moving forward, landing hard kicks, and fighting in the clinch. And the art includes some basics of grappling like trips and throws.

Uniforms and protective gear

Like in other karate forms, Kyokushin students train and fight wearing a gi uniform. A gi consists of a cotton jacket and pants that look the same as in Judo and BJJ. But, the key thing about Kyokushin is that fighters train and fight without gloves, hand wraps, or shin pads. This gives you a good insight into why this form of karate is often seen as the hardest one.

Muay Thai fighters, on the other side, do not wear any uniform. They compete wearing shorts, padded boxing gloves, a mouthguard, and a groin cup. The same stands for training where you can train wearing whatever you want.

muay thai knee to stomach

Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate — what are the similarities?

Although these two differ a lot in many aspects, Muay Thai and Kyokushin actually share a lot in common. In the end, they both focus on striking and the way they perform certain techniques looks very much the same. Here are all the similarities you should be aware of:

  • The footwork is very similar as fighters from both arts tend to move forward all the time.
  • Both arts put a lot of emphasis on hard kicks which is often seen as the main weapon. They use punches just to set up kicks in most cases.
  • The stance and high guard are very similar
  • Fighters from both styles learn how to use all 8 limbs as weapons. This includes punches, kicks, elbows, and knees.
  • Both fighting styles are a good base for MMA and Kickboxing
  • They throw roundhouse low kicks in a very similar way.

Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate — which is more effective for self-defense?

Muay Thai is better for self-defense, but by a really small margin. You will learn all about real fighting training in both arts. They will train you for most fighting scenarios you may face on the streets. But here is why Muay Thai is better:

  • Kyokushin forbids punches and elbows to the head
  • It teaches you how to fight at all ranges
  • It focuses on fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees

Muay Thai trains you how to throw strikes using all limbs. It will teach you how to fight at all ranges using kicks from the distance, or elbows and knees in the clinch. Above all, you will learn how to throw each strike with a lot of power and violent intention. Or in other words, it prepares you to knock the attacker out as fast as possible.

Kyokushin is also good for self-defense but it has a couple of flaws. In Kyokushin, you are not allowed to target the head using punches and elbows. No, you can only strike the upper body area below the head with these strikes. This also impacts the defense as students don’t learn how to block punches. The only weapon you can use to knock the attacker out are kicks.

The good thing about Kyokushin is that students don’t wear gloves or protective gear in training. They all know how much power to use in each strike without hurting their hands. This is crucial for street fighting where even the most skilled fighters tend to break their hands.

Overall, you won’t make a mistake choosing any of the two when it comes to self-defense.

Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate — which one is better for MMA?

Muay Thai is the best striking style for MMA when it comes to standup fighting. Although less useful, there have also been many Kyokushin fighters who succeeded in MMA like Bas Rutten. Still, here is why Muay Thai is better:

  • Its techniques fit better within the rules of MMA
  • It teaches you how to fight in the clinch using elbows and knees
  • Kyokushin forbids punches and elbows to the head

First of all, Muay Thai is better for MMA because its techniques fit better within the rules of MMA. Each technique you learn, whether it’s a kick or punch, works well in cage fighting. One of the best weapons are roundhouse kicks from the distance. Those ones can do big damage when they land clean.

But the place in which Muay Thai shines the most is the clinch. Its fighters are masters in pulling a famous “Thai clinch” and unloading with hard knees to the body or elbows to the side of the head. It’s really amazing how much power they can generate in these short strikes that often lead to big damage. For instance, hitting a person with the tip of the elbow can open up a cut and cause severe bleeding which may force a doctor to stop the fight. This happens quite often in UFC matches for instance.

Kyokushin is less useful in MMA mainly because it won’t teach you how to target the opponent’s head with punches and elbows. But at the same time, some elements are really useful like kicks and stance for instance. It teaches you how to throw fast and powerful kicks from all ranges and angles. In fact, we dare to go even further saying Kyokushin is better in this aspect.

mma takedown

Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate — which one would win in a street fight?

Muay Thai vs Kyokushin and which one would win in a street fight is a topic that has been around for many decades now. Fighters from both arts have fought each other many times in kickboxing matches. But who would win in a street fight?

This really depends on many factors like the place of the fight. If a fight is in the bar, room, or any other close space, then Muay Thai has an edge. They can quickly pull a Thai clinch to blast a Kyokushin fighter with elbows and knees. Or they can even execute trips and throws to take the fight to the ground.

Still, this is all in theory as Kyokushin fighters know how to fight at close range. But in our opinion, Muay Thai fighters simply have more weapons at their disposal.

If the fight is in the open, then it’s fair to say fighters from both styles have equal chances of beating each other. They all know how to use kicks to keep the distance and mix them high and low to do damage. And the same stands for footwork and movement.

When it’s all said and done, we must give a small edge to Thai boxers. This is just because they have a better defense, and can use more tools and weapons. As said earlier, Kyokushin fighters do not throw punches and elbows to the head. This means they don’t spend any time learning how to block these strikes, which is bad for street fighting.

Muay Thai or Kyokushin Karate for fitness?

No matter which one you choose between these two, be ready to leave your body and soul on the mats. Both of these arts embrace a hard method of training that is often exhausting. Do not expect to earn or learn anything in training without putting in a lot of work.

Kyokushin is harder in our opinion since students train, spar, and compete without gloves or hand wraps. Most beginners have to go through hell before their bodies get used to absorbing hits. The concept of Kyokushin focuses a lot on body strikes as it forbids punches to the head. So it’s really important to work hard on improving your upper body strength. If you don’t, then sparring on a daily basis will take a toll on your body in a very short time span.

This means you have to perform strength exercises and a lot of drills in which you must take repeated hits to the body. And it’s not just kicks and punches, other students will often blast you with sticks. Although this sounds brutal, it is the only way you can prepare your body to take hits.

Muay Thai training is cardio intense, and as in Kyokushin, the focus is on hard sparring. Students spend a lot of time working on a heavy bag, hitting the pads, sparring, and doing a lot of cardio workouts.

In fact, Muay Thai is so cardio intense that a single session burns up to 1000 calories which makes it great for weight loss and fitness as well.

Muay Thai Fitness

Muay Thai vs Kyokushin Karate — which one is better for you?

As seen in this article, Muay Thai and Kyokushin are very similar, but they also differ a lot. Which one is better really comes down to what you want to achieve with your training.

Muay Thai is a better option if you want to learn self-defense or shift to MMA later. It teaches you how to use your entire body as a weapon to fight at all ranges. It is also great for fitness and weight loss as each session burns a lot of calories. We can see a lot of people joining gyms around the world just because of this.

Kyokushin should be your option if you want to develop good fighting and personal skills. Training allows you to grow into a person with great fighting abilities and good manners. But bear in mind that training is very, very intense and that you might have a hard time in the beginning.

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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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