Muay Thai vs Silat — Differences and Comparisonsin 2021

People tend to mix Muay Thai and Silat with one another since they come from the same region. Still, these two arts differ a lot from one another, and they actually don’t share much in common. But, which one is better Muay Thai or Silat?

First of all, we must point up that Silat is not a fighting style on its own. No, it is a group of fighting styles from Southeast Asia, put into one style of fighting. It has many forms out of which most focus on striking, basics of grappling, and weapons.

Muay Thai, on the other side, is often seen as the best striking style and it’s really hard to argue against that. The focus of the art is on teaching how to use all limbs as weapons to do damage with punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. It is a brutal style that is all about power, damage, and hard sparring.

Keep reading this article to find out more about how Muay Thai and Silat differ from one another, and how they compare in various aspects.

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Muay Thai vs Silat — what are the main differences?

To find out which one is better, we must see how these two arts differ from one another. Here is all you need to know about Muay Thai and Silat.

History and place of origins

Silat is a fighting style that comes from Indonesia and its earliest records date all the way back to the 6th century. In fact, some evidence shows that Silat existed in countries all across Southeast Asia. People of various nations used it as a weapon to fight in wars and for self-defense. This one of the reasons why Silat has so many forms and we are going to mention the three most popular ones below:

  • Silat pulut– is a traditional form of Silat. It is a dance performed in various rituals like weddings for instance.
  • Seni gayong- focuses on the grappling aspect and beating the opponent using joint locks
  • Pentjak Silat– is, perhaps, the most popular form. Students learn how to use kicks, punches, joint locks, and even weapons to defend or attack.

Muay Thai is a much younger style with its roots dating back to the 16th century Siam Kingdom. It is the national sport in Thailand where it is also an integral part of the culture of its people. It became a well-known sport in the 20th century, which is one of the reasons why it is more popular than Silat.

Techniques and emphasis

The emphasis and techniques in Silat really depend between the schools. In general, the focus is on fluid movement, learning how to throw punches, kicks and use or defend against weapons. In a sport form of Silat, fighters are not allowed to strike the head. No, they can only throw strikes to the body. The weapons Silat students use are basic farming tools like:

  • Keris
  • Parang
  • Lembing
  • Sarong

Muay Thai teaches you how to use all limbs as a weapon and it is much more technical than Silat. Students learn how to strike using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. But, the focus is on:

  • Forward pressure
  • Hard low and high kicks
  • Fighting in the clinch using elbows and knees

And, it also includes some basics of grappling like trips and throws, but those skills are not that important.

muay thai fighter praying

Muay Thai vs Silat- which one is better for self-defense?

Both arts will prepare you for most fighting scenarios you may face on the streets, and how to fight in various places. Some forms of Silat even teach you how to deal with more than one attacker and weapons. But, Muay Thai is better for self-defense in our view, and here is why:

  • Muay Thai teaches more advanced techniques
  • It puts more emphasis on hard sparring, which is crucial for self-defense
  • It teaches better defense, notably how to block strikes
  • Silat has many forms and not all are good for self-defense

Muay Thai is also much better when it comes to techniques these two arts teach. On paper, Silat teaches a higher number of techniques, out of which some are similar to the ones in Muay Thai. But the skills you learn in Muay Thai are more practical in real life fighting. 

Its techniques are more advanced and they are all designed to deliver a knockout blow. There is no playing around in Muay Thai and each strike you learn works in real life as well. Silat can’t come even close to Thai boxing when it comes to punches, kicks, blocks, or footwork.

Don’t get us wrong, Silat also teaches some useful skills, notably when it comes to weapons. Students learn how to disarm the attacker or use weapons to attack. For instance, the knife techniques they teach are really good and can help you get out of trouble. But overall, there are many flaws within the concept of this art that makes it less useful than Muay Thai.

muay thai clinch

How the training differs between Muay Thai and Silat?

Muay Thai and Silat differ a lot when it comes to training. This is one of the reasons why they are not the same when it comes self-defense and other aspects of fighting. 

Muay Thai training is very simple. Beginners spend the opening months learning stances and basic techniques. For months, they will drill the moves on the heavy bag or hit the pads. Once prepared, they will start to spar before moving into competition. 

The emphasis is on endurance and doing a lot of cardio workouts. But the hardest part of training is the sparring which tends to be brutal and exhausting. This will put your body through a lot of stress, and might even take a toll in the long run.

But at the same time, sparring gives you the same rush of adrenalin as you will feel in a real fight on the streets. Over time, you will learn how to keep your mind calm and apply the techniques you learn in a real fight.

The concept of Silat training differs in many ways from Muay Thai, but not that much. Each class starts with students saluting their teachers. Beginners start by learning the basics of footwork and stances. They also learn how to execute various techniques in a pre-arranged form similar to the “kata” in karate.

Senior students can spar with or without wearing protective gear. These sessions are not as hard as in Muay Thai, as the focus is on light contact. But this also depends on the school as well. Depending on a form, students may spar:

  • Against several opponents
  • Against the armed opponent
  • In a tight space, slippery surface, or from a seated position

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

To be honest, fighters from both arts have all the skills to beat each other in a fight. Who would win really comes down to the type of fight we are talking about here. Is the fight in a close or open space? Do we have any weapons involved? 

The first question we need to answer is: can Silat fighters beat Muay Thai fighters under Muay Thai rules and vice versa? The answer is no. Silat fighters can’t just cross over and expect to beat Thai boxers in their own sport. And the same stands for Muay Thai fighters as the rules differ a lot between these two arts. 

But, Muay Thai fighters have better chances if we are talking about fighting on the streets. At close range, they can pull a famous Thai clinch and unload with knee and elbow strikes. It would be hard for any Silat fighter to escape from this position without receiving huge damage. And the same stands when it comes to open space where Thai boxers can use kicks and footwork to keep their range. 

They also spend much more time sparring in training, and have a lot of experience competing. Skilled Muay Thai fighters have used their skills and techniques in real fighting many times while Silat fighters usually don’t have the same level of fight experience.

Muay Thai vs Silat – which one is more popular?

Muay Thai is by far the more popular fighting style, notably in the western world. Even though Silat is big in Asia, it can’t come even close to Muay Thai when we are talking about the other parts of the world.

This is mainly because Muay Thai has become a really popular sport in the west which allowed it to grow in other parts of the world. We can now see gyms opening up in just about every town, while we can’t say the same for Silat.

If you are living in a western world, you will have a hard time finding a Silat school. And if you find it, we are not sure which form of Silat they are teaching. Not all forms of this art are good for self-defense or other aspects of fighting.

But on the other side, Muay Thai is growing fast and adapting to the modern lifestyle. We can see average people joining the gyms to learn self-defense, lose weight, or improve body strength.

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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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