Muay Thai vs Taekwondo — Which One Is Better and Why? (Solved!)

Muay Thai and Taekwondo are two striking styles famous for putting a lot of emphasis on kicks. Although they differ in just about every other aspect, people often argue over which one is better. In our view, Muay Thai vs Taekwondo is a unique matchup with each style having pros and cons.

Muay Thai is the more versatile of the two. It focuses on using all limbs as weapons to land hard punches, kicks, and elbow and knee strikes. Still, the emphasis is on hard kicks and brawl fighting at close range.

Taekwondo, on the other side, is a very famous striking art. It has many forms out of which most focus on teaching you how to use four limbs to fight with punches and kicks. But, this is just on paper. In reality, the art puts a heavy emphasis on kicks, much more than Muay Thai. This is because of the idea that kicks are a longer weapon than punches, and they also bring you more points in the competition.

Keep reading this article to find out more about which one is better for self-defense, fitness, and many other aspects.

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Muay Thai vs Taekwondo — what are the main differences?

Even though both focus on striking, these two arts differ a lot from one another. The only aspect in which these two are the same is the fact they put a lot of emphasis on kicks. Here is all you need to know about Muay Thai and Taekwondo:

History and origins

Muay Thai is a fighting style that comes from Thailand where it is a national sport. Its origins date all the way back to the 16th century, and the era of the Siam Kingdom. People of that time used it to fight in many wars they had, and for self-defense. Over the years, it became a really popular sport not just in Thailand, but in other parts of the world as well. Still, it’s fair to say that its rise really exploded from the early 90s and the birth of modern MMA and K-1.

Taekwondo, on the other side, is a modern fighting style that comes from South Korea. The founder of this style is Choi Hong Hi, who created it shortly after the Second World War in the 1950s. It instantly became a very popular fighting style all around the world and it has been a part of the Olympic Games since 2000.

Techniques and emphasis

Muay Thai is a more versatile fighting style as its fighters use all limbs to throw strikes. They learn how to throw punches, kicks, as well as elbow and knee strikes. It also teaches basic elements of grappling like trips and throws, but those are not that important. The focus is on fast and powerful kicks, dirty fighting in the clinch, and throwing single power strikes. Fighters stand in a high stance and tend to press forward most of the time. Here is what students learn in training:

  • Various high, middle, and low kicks
  • Knee strikes to the stomach and head
  • Various types of elbow strikes
  • Basic boxing combos
  • Trips and throws

Taekwondo includes boxing and kicking techniques on paper. But in reality, the art focuses entirely on kicking techniques due to the rules of competition. In the past, Taekwondo schools (kwans) used to teach a wider set of techniques for self-defense, more than 3000 to be precise. But in modern days, the focus is on competition and learning how to fight under the rules which favor kicks. As a result, not a single martial arts out there will teach you better and more versatile kicking techniques. 

Students learn all types of spinning kicks, jump kicks, sidekicks, and many others. They stand in a bladed stance which allows them to move in and out really fast and throw fast kicks. Also, its fighters tend to hold their hands really low, since they don’t have to worry about punches to the head.

Rules of competition

Muay Thai is a very popular sport all around the world and the rules are very much the same in each promotion. Here are the most important ones:

  • Muay Thai matches last from 3 to 5 rounds, with each round being 3 minutes long. The rest period between the rounds is 2 minutes.
  • Fighters compete in a square ring, wearing full padded gloves (around 6 ounces), a mouthpiece, shorts/trunks, and a groin cup.

As said earlier, Taekwondo has many styles and the rules may differ between the organizations.

  • Taekwondo fighters compete on the open mat
  • Each match lasts 3 rounds, with each round being 2 minutes long. The rest period between is 1 minute.
  • The goal is to knock the opponent out or score points using strikes to the head and torso.
  • Fighters can use kicks to target both body and head. They can also land punches, but only to the body.
  • The match can end via knockout, decision win, or a draw.
  • In case of a draw, there is a golden point round in which a fighter who lands the first point wins the match.

Muay Thai vs Taekwondo — which one is more effective for self-defense?

Muay Thai is more effective for self-defense or any kind of street fighting scenario. It is a more versatile style and its techniques are more practical in street fighting. This doesn’t mean that Taekwondo is bad by any means, but, it’s not better than Muay Thai, and here is the short answer why:

  • Muay Thai is more versatile as it teaches you how to use 8 limbs as weapons
  • Students learn how to fight at all ranges and the focus is on damage
  • Muay Thai teaches better defense in terms of blocks
  • Its clinch fighting techniques work really well in street fighting

Muay Thai is close to ideal for self-defense as it teaches you all about real fighting at all ranges. This is mainly because the emphasis is on hard sparring, which to be fair, is the only way one can learn how to fight. It is the only way you can develop reaction time, feeling for distance, or how to stay calm in a fight. Once the fight breaks out on the streets, you don’t even have to think about what to do. Sparring trains your mind and body to react like a machine.

What really sets Muay Thai above the others is fighting in the clinch. Street fights are often chaotic brawls that include a lot of dirty fighting at close range. This is where Thai boxing shines with the famous “Thai clinch” position that allows you to hurt the opponent with elbow and knee strikes. Most average people don’t know how to escape from this position and avoid damage.

Taekwondo also includes a lot of sparring and is good for self-defense. But the downside is that it focuses too much on fighting under the rules where fighters are not throwing punches to the face. This is, we can all agree, really bad for self-defense.


Muay Thai vs Taekwondo-which one is better for MMA?

Muay Thai is better for MMA since it’s more versatile and its techniques fit well within the rules of the sport.

In fact, Thai boxing is often seen as the best striking base one can have for cage fighting. Taekwondo, on the other side, is also present in MMA and its kicks work really well. But Muay Thai is better because:

  • It teaches you all about clinch fighting which is crucial for MMA
  • Its fighters are doing a much better job in checking kicks and blocking punches
  • Muay Thai puts more emphasis on endurance
  • It teaches better boxing combos and stances

Muay Thai plays a key role in modern MMA fighting. In fact, you can’t succeed in MMA without having, at least, basic Thai boxing skills. Sooner or later, the lack of standup skills will backfire on you in a very painful way. What Muay Thai brings inside the cage are vicious roundhouse kicks and an insane clinch game. Whenever you see deep cuts and a lot of blood in MMA, don’t worry, that’s another day in the office for Muay Thai fighters.

Nowadays, we can see fighters finishing a fight using low and high kicks in just about every UFC event. This is because a single well-placed low kick carries the same power as hitting a person with a baseball bat. And the elbows to the side of the head and knees to the stomach can instantly open deep cuts or tire the opponent out.

Is Taekwondo good for MMA?

Some elements of Taekwondo work really well in MMA like a wide range of kicks and footwork. But, you can’t apply all the skills and techniques as you can with Muay Thai. Taekwondo doesn’t teach you how to block or throw punches to the head, clinch fighting, and its fighters tend to hold their hands really low.

Muay Thai vs Taekwondo — which one would in a street fight?

Fighters from both fighting styles have all the skills and weapons to beat each other in a street fight. The outcome really depends on the place of the fight, the style of Taekwondo, and many other factors. Still, we have to give a small edge to Thai boxers since they have more weapons in their arsenal.

If the fight is in an open space, Taekwondo fighters can use advantage in mobility and kicks to stay out of range. They are masters in bouncing from side to side, moving in and out fast, and attacking in a blitz. Still, Muay Thai fighters all know how to check most Taekwondo kicks, and can return fire using their own strikes, notably the punches. This is crucial because Taekwondo won’t teach you much about how to defend against punches to the head.

The chances of Taekwondo fighters beating Thai boxers drop even lower if we are talking about the fight in a small space. If these two fighters meet in a small room, a bar, or an elevator, Taekwondo fighters would be in a world of trouble. You see, most styles of Taekwondo won’t teach you much about fighting at close range, notably in the clinch. Since the emphasis is on kicks, students learn how to fight at long or mid-range most of the time.

The main focus of Muay Thai, on the other side, is on clinch fighting. The first thing they learn how to do is to pull a famous “Thai clinch” if the fight is at close range. The key is to break the opponent’s posture to unload with a barrage of elbows, knees, and even sneaky uppercuts. It’s amazing how much damage they can do in such a small space.

Muay Thai vs Taekwondo training — which one is better for you?

As we have seen in this article, these two arts differ a lot in every single aspect. But, we can’t escape the fact that Muay Thai is superior to Taekwondo in most fighting scenarios. Which one is better for you depends on many factors like age, or what you want to achieve with your training. 

Taekwondo is very popular among younger people and it is a great introduction to the world of martial arts. It is a great option for young teenagers or kids as it will teach them all about discipline and hard work. Training is cardio intense, fun, includes a lot of sparring, and is also good for your health. 

Muay Thai, on the other side, is very popular among people between 15 and 35 years of age. It should be your option if you want to learn self-defense, or if your goal is to shift to MMA later. The emphasis of training is on endurance, insane cardio workouts, and hard sparring. But the hard work always pays off as this type of training will get you in top shape in a very short time span. In fact, many people join Muay Thai just for fitness and weight loss.

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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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