Muay Thai Vs. Karate: Understanding the Basic Difference

(Last Updated On: August 2, 2019)


Muay Thai Vs. Karate: Understanding the Basic Difference

Are you looking for a sport or discipline that you can use in practical terms, such as self-defense or a prelude to a possible career in MMA?  It is likely that you have heard about the Muay Thai vs. Karate argument, especially since it has been a topic for debate for years.  It holds true that both are prevalent in their own rights, and have gazillions of enthusiasts across the world.  That is why choosing which one over the other can be a difficult feat to overcome.

Much like others, you may have also been wondering which sport to take.  Should you go with Muay Thai?  Or perhaps Karate is a much better option to take?  To help you in this dilemma, let’s take a look at a blow-by-blow comparison on each sport discipline.  Not only will you have concrete knowledge about their basics and complexities, but you will also be able to choose one that truly fits your goals.

Today’s Karate has become a more interesting sport than it was before. This is simply due to the fact that it has become an all-encompassing term, Click To Tweet

A Breakdown of Muay That Vs. Karate

Today’s Karate has become a more interesting sport than it was before.  This is simply due to the fact that it has become an all-encompassing term, one that beautifully describes a handful of different martial art styles.

As for Muay Thai or Thai kickboxing, it is deeply rooted in an ancient Thai or Siamese fighting style.  It is basically called ancient boxing or Muay Boran.  The latter, in particular, was said to be influenced by some titular Chinese fighting styles, with Krabi Krabong (a weapons-based Thai martial art) and Pradal (a Khmer martial arts).  In modern times, however, Muay Thai has been heavily considered as a kickboxing style of sport, which is quite ironic as it was more based on self-defense in ancient times.

Anyway, let’s compare the two martial arts and look at them at a more detailed perspective.


Karate – This one right here is primarily a stand-up style of fighting.  While it includes fast submissions and quick throws, joint locks and wrist grabs are taught when you hit the ground.  This sport is generally characterized by its variety of kicks and punches (including reverse punches).  And although karate teaches you techniques that capitalize on the use of elbow and knee strikes, they are not necessarily allowed and/or used in official tournament action.

As a practitioner, it is expected from you to demonstrate in-and-out footwork – this will be your main skill in the sport.  You are expected to be an elusive fighter in the world of karate.  You will learn to focus on giving powerful strikes specifically designed to incapacitate opponents more quickly than any other sport.  By large, most karate styles express the idea of being self-defense oriented.  In other words, your main focus is to end the fight as quickly as you can and without any injury whatsoever.

Moreover, as a karate fighter, it is imperative that you keep your hands lower in every stance you make.  Although there is no complex reason behind it, this narrative has become more apparent as a result of the types of tournaments many karate fighters join.  For instance, when it comes to point sparring (either no contact or mild contact sparring), putting substantial emphasis on whether your strike lands on the body or head of the opponent is not really important.


Further, kyokushin karate techniques tournaments are known for disallowing punches to the head, except kicks.  Add to this the fact that karate fighters are typically fond of using wider stances and do not really tuck the chin, which is something boxers love to do in order to lessen the jarring action to the face whenever a strike connects there.

When it comes to roundhouse kicks, karate fighters love to hit the target with the ball of the foot instead of the shin.  This is actually a misconception amongst people who are new to the sport or planning to practice it.  By doing so, your kicks can be more quick and precise.  But keep in mind that despite the accuracy and swiftness, these kicks do not necessarily offer the kind of power Muay Thai kicks are known for.

With Muay Thai, your main focus will be using your elbows, knees, shins – your limbs Click To Tweet

Muay Thai – This one right here somehow shares similarities with karate, especially since it is primarily a striking style of sport.  In fact, Muay Thai is viewed as both a sport and self-defense art.  However, its focus is what makes it different from karate.  With Muay Thai, your main focus will be using your elbows, knees, and shins – your limbs – as weapons.

As a Muay Thai fighter, you are one that is highly adept in the field of elbow strikes.  Your opponents can expect you to use this technique every now and then.  Apart from that, you are also capable of performing any boxing style movement (i.e. side to side) and a variety of powerful kicks.

But if there is one defining element that differentiates Muay Thai fighters from Karate practitioners, it is none other than their ability to compete even in a stand-up fight.  This is where you will see professional Muay Thai fighters capable of using the clinch, which is basically the idea of grabbing the opponent’s back of the neck.  From there, they will use their knees to deliver a blow that is a detriment to the opponent.

Muay Thai fighters are well-versed in trying to keep their hands much when compared to karate fighters Click To Tweet

In addition, Muay Thai fighters are well-versed in trying to use their hands much more when compared to karate fighters.  And the delivery of their roundhouse kicks is more flexible, as they can lay damage on the opponent’s legs or connect it directly through the shin.  Believe it or not, toughening your shin is a must in the world of Muay Thai.  As a matter of fact, a popular practice in hardening it is to kick trees.

It holds true that some Thai schools are now teaching takedowns and grappling, especially since the sport has evolved to something bigger than it was before.  However, its main focus is – and always will be – kickboxing.

Which Style Is More Effective When It Comes To Fighting?

This is probably one of the biggest questions people have when it comes to Muay Thai Vs. Karate.  In reality, there is really no right or wrong answers.  It depends on how equipped and skilled you are at these sports.  For instance, a Muay Thai fighter can take down a professional Karate fighter any day as long as the weakness is exposed.  The same thing can be said for a Karate fighter defeating a professional Muay Thai fighter.

Still, let’s try to dig deeper into some interesting facts about Muay Thai and Karate.  A quick look at how each can be used to capitalize weakness in an opponent in a fight should give you an idea or two of which one better suits you.  And, oh, just a note: Muay Thai comes from Thailand, while Karate is from Japan (something you should have already known beforehand actually).

No Kata in Muay Thai – Yes, that is right – Muay Thai does not come with Kata.  Your main focus in Thai boxing is to put on pad work, technical sparring, and lots of heavy bag workouts.  Once you are able to advance enough in the training, you will soon be introduced to tough full-contact sparring.  And this is the only perfect time for you to learn how to go toe to toe with a strong opponent, one that can absolutely give you a “can kick back” attitude.  As for Karate, you will feel more pressure on training forms or Kata.  The same thing will be made on sparring or Kumite, though it is not necessarily a go-to tool in your training.

In Muay Thai, your training experience solely comes from a full contact sparring. Click To Tweet

Difference In Full Training Experience – In Muay Thai, your training experience solely comes from full contact sparring.  It is where you can really separate the wheat from the chaff.  But as far as Karate is concerned, semi contact and point sparring are enough to get you going.

Fighting Philosophy – The number one reason why it is difficult to tell which one is better than the other is that their fighting philosophy is different.  Sure, you can compare them all day, but you cannot just tell Muay Thai is better or vice versa – and that is because they differ greatly in terms of the philosophy of fighting.  Take for example Karate.  This is where you aim and stop your fist right at the face of your opponent.  In Muay Thai, you can punch your opponent with no holding back – like you are about to make a hole in his face.  Heck, you can even kick him like you want to slice his body in half.  It may sound too extreme, but this is what Muay Thai is all about – you must put more power into your strikes.

Punches – In most Karate styles, you are not allowed to go for punches to the head.  That is why a lot of Karate fighters tend to keep their hands low, allowing them to be exposed to possible head kicks.  And if you are a Karate fighter going toe to toe with a Muay Thai fighter, it can be a risky situation for you, especially since the latter is known for delivering deadly head kicks.

Leg Kicks – Sure, Muay Thai kicks can be fast, but Karate kicks are much faster.  Why?  That is because Karate fighters are more involved in accuracy and swiftness – they basically rely on speed more than power.  However, this is very well compensated when it comes to Muay Thai.  Kicks in this sport come with enormous power and are delivered with a shin, not with the foot (something that Karate is known for).

Leg Sweeps – When it comes to leg sweeps, a Muay Thai fighter may have the upper hand.  That is because a Karate practitioner is always vulnerable to leg sweeps thanks to having a very narrow stance.  As such, he can be swept down anytime by a professional Muay Thai fighter.

professional MMA fighters chose Muay Thai as their primary striking style. Click To Tweet

Muay Thai Vs. Karate In Modern World

It holds true that the Muay Thai vs. Karate notion continues to be fodder in every debate.  But if you want to compare these two different fighting styles and get a better idea of their pros and cons, you may want to look at MMA.  The idea is to simply understand which striking style is the most dominant in a fight (or cage).  And while there is nothing set in stone yet, one can argue that Muay Thai seems to be the top choice among many professional MMA fighters.  Take for example the likes of Rafael Dos Anjos, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and Jose Aldo, among many others.  What common denominators do you see?  Well, all of these professional MMA fighters chose Muay Thai as their primary striking style.  This is not to take away anything from Karate.  But in the world of professional MMA, Muay Thai seems to be a favorite.

Interestingly, there are a number of exceptions out there and they are worth checking out.  For instance, guys like Lyoto Machida are the great epitome.  Not only is he a great MMA fighter, but he is also a successful karateka.  His training jumpstarted at the age of three and his father was his number one trainer.  He loves to train in a hybrid karate style, which is better known as the Machida style.  It is really different from the usual karate practice.  And unlike the traditional one, the Machida style (donned by, well, Lyoto Machida himself) tends to put a lot of strain on a full contact sparring.  Only through this type of pressure can you actually learn and execute this hybrid karate style well.

Muay Thai and Karate is a good exercise for your body. Click To Tweet

The Final Verdict

Learning the fundamentals of Muay Thai and Karate is a good exercise for your body.  Whichever you choose, you are guaranteed to learn their respective morals and principles.  More importantly, you can learn to defend yourself properly.  If you love the idea of delivering more powerful strikes, then Muay Thai is a better option for you.  If you simply want to have a peaceful and mind-free martial art style, Karate can cover you.  So, at the end of the day, it is up to you to tell which fighting style is worth trying.