Muay Thai vs. Taekwondo: Which Is More Effective?

December 10, 2020

Muay Thai and Taekwondo are both incredible forms of martial arts. Each requires refinement and skill to conquer and is very taxing on the body. Both are good in their own way, but there are always people who prefer one over the other.

Muay Thai is more effective in a self-defense scenario as Taekwondo requires distance to be effective. Muay Thai has devastating techniques for close and far ranges. Further, Muay Thai makes use of 8 limbs for striking whereas Taekwondo makes use of 4.

There are more differences than similarities between these two martial arts. But before going into detail, let’s learn a little about the history of each.

History Of Muay Thai

History of Muay Thai

Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand. It is a form of close-combat that was developed several hundreds of years ago and uses stand-up striking along with different clinching techniques.

It is called “The Art of Eight Limbs” because it uses eight points of contact (two feet, two hands, two knees, and two elbows), unlike other forms of martial arts that mostly use two (two hands) or four points of contact (two hands and two legs).

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It started out all the way back in the 16th century, in the time of the Siam Kingdom. During that era, it was a form of martial arts that was used for the sake of keeping peace in the kingdom, and was mostly limited to the official soldiers of the army.

But from that, it evolved into a well-known and well-rounded form of martial arts that even became famous among the common people. But it wasn’t truly until the reign of King Rama V, in the 19th century, that Muay Thai became a highly promoted sport. His reign was dubbed as the “golden age of muay Thai.”

When it comes to worldwide recognition, though, it became more commonly practiced in the last 100 years, and nowadays has seven distinct styles.

History Of Taekwondo

Origins of Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a type of martial arts that started out in Korea all the way back in its Three Kingdom Era (c.50 BC). The word Taekwondo itself means “the method of kicking and punching.” Participants are only allowed to use their hands and feet to attack or protect themselves against an opponent.

The thing that actually makes taekwondo stand out and differs it from other forms of martial arts is its variety of combinations of kicking movements.

As stated earlier, Taekwondo started out all the way back in the Three Kingdom Era of Korea. It was developed by the warriors of the Silla Dynasty, called the Hwarang, and was originally called Taekkyon, which literally meant “foot-hand.” From there, it slowly started to evolve, and finally in the early 20th century, taekwondo was named the Korean National Martial Art.

After this, it started to gain popularity and finally the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was founded in 1973. And in the very same year, the first Taekwondo World Championship took place in Seoul, Korea.

What Is The Difference Between Muay Thai And Taekwondo?

what is the difference between muay thai and taekwondo

Now that we have gone a little into the origins of these sports, let’s get into their techniques, styles, and rules to determine what makes one different from the other.


There are a total of 55 techniques in Muay Thai, which include stances, punches, knee, elbow, and kicking techniques. There are also the master and complimentary tricks that have been perfected over the years.

Out of these, there are five punches, eight elbow, seven knee, and five leg techniques. There are a further 15 master tricks and 15 complimentary tricks.

These include normal techniques like jabs, straight punches, swings, round kicks, to moderate ones like striking elbows, levering elbow, rabbit knee, small knee, to master-level and complimentary tricks like impaling the stake, breaking the elephant’s tusks, giant steals the girl, etc.

Meanwhile, in Taekwondo, there are 3200 techniques. These include stances, kicks, and hand attacks, which include both punches and open-hand techniques. Depending on the positions of the shoulders and the legs, the stances have been named things like:

  • Sitting stance
  • Walking stance
  • Parallel stance
  • Rearfoot stance
  • L stance
  • Closed stance
  • Attention stance

Other than these, there is also a fighting stance, which is mainly used in sparring and combat. The open-hand techniques include strikes, which include attacking your opponent with a weapon or a part of your body.

What really sets taekwondo apart from Muay Thai are the kicks, which are an important part of the sport. They are executed in many ways, such as jump kicks, spin kicks, or multi-rotational spin kicks.


The basic rules of Muay Thai are:

  • A match can have 5 rounds at most, with each being 3 minutes long and having a rest of 2 minutes in-between each round.
  • There can be no more than the original 5 rounds per match.
  • Gloves are necessary for the fighters, each of which should weigh at least 6 ounces, and should be in their original shape and form.
  • Only fitted Muay Thai shorts or trunks can be worn.
  • Fighters can protect their groins and mouths by wearing supporters and gum shields.
  • No shirts or shoes are allowed, but the contestants can wear an ankle cap.
  • During the pre-fight ritual, opponents can wear a Mongkol around the head. But it has to be removed before the fight officially starts.
  • Harmful objects, such as weapons, metals, etc. are not allowed in the match.

The rules regarding Taekwondo are as follows:

  • Matches happen between opponents of the same gender and the same range of weight.
  • The competition takes place on a mat, which measures 8 meters squared.
  • There are 3 rounds, each 2 minutes long and with a rest of 1 minute in between.
  • Opponents try to knock each other out by blows to the head and torso.
  • Opponents can kick each other in the head and torso.
  • They are also allowed to punch each other, but only on the body, and not below the waist.
  • If the coach and the fighter think that there was a miscalculation or a mistake, they can ask for a video replay, which is looked at by the judges before the final decision is made.
  • Participants can lose points by getting penalties, which can be given because of things like punching the face, hitting with the knee, striking below the waist, going out of the competition area with both feet, turning your back to your opponent, feigning injury, etc.
  • The match is won when one of the fighters has knocked their opponent out or when one of them has more points after all the rounds.
  • In case the match is a draw, there’s a golden point round, in which the fighter who lands the first point becomes the winner.


When it comes to Muay Thai, there are seven known fighting styles. Each of these is detailed below.

  • Muay Bouk: These fighters use a variety of ranges and techniques and are also mainly aggressive fighters.
  • Muay Mat: These fighters are the ones that favor punching and low kicks and mostly work from medium and close ranges.
  • Muay Tae: These are aggressive fighters who like to use kicks and mostly work from long to medium ranges.
  • Muay Khao: These fighters are known to use their knees from medium to clinch range.
  • Muay Sok: These fighters primarily like to elbow their opponents from close to clinch range.
  • Muay Plam: These are mainly aggressive clinch range fighters.
  • Muay Fimeu: These are technical fighters who use elusive, counter, and tricky modes at long to medium range.

And in the case of Taekwondo, there are three main types of fighting, which are:

  • World Taekwondo Federation (WTF): This is known as the Olympic style and the most common one. It emphasizes using different types of kicks, with less emphasis on punches.
  • International Taekwondo Federation (ITF): This is a traditional style of taekwondo, which puts more emphasis on punching or using your fists than kicking or using your legs.
  • American Taekwondo Association (ATA): ATA is the most popular style of taekwondo in America. It is a hybrid of the WTF and ITF styles but places emphasis on using the legs. It also allows the use of weapons, such as nunchucks or bow staff.

Is Muay Thai Or Taekwondo Better For Self-Defence?

is muay thai or taekwondo better for self defense

In real-life situations, Muay Thai is deemed better than Taekwondo. That’s because, in Taekwondo, the general rule of defense is to keep your distance and not get hit. But that strategy does not work when you are unable to distance yourself from your attacker.

So Muay Thai is much handier in this case, as it uses slips, blocks, and clinches to defend oneself against the attacker. This is also because Muay Thai has less strict rules, which already make fighters more durable and versatile.

Should You Learn Muay Thai Or Taekwondo?

Both Muay Thai and Taekwondo are actually great forms of martial arts or sports in general. Both of them provide good self-defense, even if one is slightly better than the other.

But they also instill in their practitioners a sense of discipline, which helps them lead a more orderly and peaceful life. Overall, both are unique in their own way, so it truly comes down to the person’s own preference.

If you want to learn fancy kicking techniques and compete in more point-style competitions, then taekwondo may be best suited for you. If you want to learn how to break boards, this is another bonus for you.

If you want to learn one of the most effective striking arts for self-defense, then Muay Thai is for you.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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