Muay Thai vs Karate: Understanding Basic Differences

(Last Updated On: August 2, 2019)

Looking for a sport or discipline that can be used in practical terms, like say self-defense, or as a prelude to a career path for MMA?  The Muay Thai vs Karate notion has always been fodder for debate.  Both are popular in their own rights, and have legions of followers across the globe.  Choosing one over the other can be quite difficult.  Here’s a blow-by-blow on each sport discipline to give you an idea, and to help you choose which one truly fits the bill for your goals.


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Karate is one generic martial arts word that carries hundreds of meanings.  Originally an Okinawan style, it has continually been criss-crossed with Chinese fighting styles like Kung Fu and the likes to emerge with different variations today.  Think: Kyokushin, Shotokan, Seidokaikan, Goju-ryu, Kenpo, Chito-ryu, Gosoku-ryu, Shukoki, Shito-ryu, Shorin-ryu, Yoshukai, Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, Hapkido, Judo, TKD and so on.  In the West, however, they are subdivided into three strands– full contact, traditional, and open.

Like Muay Thai, karate is also a stand-up style of fighting with straight punches and kicks freely being used.  It also teaches both elbow and knee strikes but technically, these are not allowed during competition.  Roundhouse kicks, however, use the ball of the foot– a deviation from Muay Thai’s use of the shins.  In most cases, karate is often used as a self-defense mechanism, and used with more stringent rules on safety and injury as a competitive sport.

Muay Thai

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Muay Thai is also a self-defense martial art sport, but more of its focus is on technical sparring and striking styles.  It uses the shins, elbows, hands, and knees as weapons.  It primarily uses the eight limbs, with concentration on elbow strikes, side-to-side boxing styles, and various kicking variations.  What sets it apart from karate best is the clinch.  Here, a fighter can grab an opponent’s neck and strike with the knees.  This is not allowed in most karate styles, particularly in competition.

Unlike karate, Muay Thai hands are always kept at high levels to block kicks.  Roundhouse kicks are also connected using the shin instead of the foot.  Much of its training is also focused on these three– heavy bag routines, pad work, and technical sparring.  While kicking and boxing are predominantly used as offense-defense mechanisms, take downs and grappling are also included in some training centers.

Which One Is Right For You

With this basic guide on Karate vs Muay Thai, you may have an idea right now on what to pick.  The bottom line is this– karate is more about form, while Muay Thai is about technical sparring and striking styles.  Karate also has a lot of variations, each carrying different forms of effectiveness.  Muay Thai, on the other hand, is more unified.  Choose well.