Kickboxing (キックボクシング) refers to the sport of using martial-arts-style kicks and boxing-style punches to defeat an opponent in a similar way to that of standard boxing. Kickboxing is a standing sport and does not allow continuation of the fight once a combatant has reached the ground.
Kickboxing is often practised for general fitness, or as a full-contact sport. In the full-contact sport the male boxers are bare-chested wearing shorts and protective gear including: mouth-guard, hand-wraps, 10oz boxing gloves, groin-guard, shin-pads, kick-boots, and optional protective helmet (usually for those under 18.) The female boxers will wear a tank top and chest protection in addition to the male clothing/protective gear. In European kickboxing, where kicks to the thigh are allowed using special low-kick rules, use of boxing shorts instead of long trousers is possible.
In addition, amateur rules often allow less experienced competitors to use light or semi-contact rules, where the intention is to score points by executing successful strikes past the opponent’s guard, and use of force is regulated. The equipment for semi-contact is similar to full-contact matches, usually with addition of head gear. Competitors usually dress in a t-shirt for semi-contact matches, to separate them from the bare-chested full-contact participants.
Kickboxing is often confused with Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing. The two sports are similar, however, in Thai Boxing, kicks below the belt are allowed, as are strikes with knees and elbows.
There are many arts labelled kickboxing including Japanese, American, Indian, Burmese kickboxing, as well as French savate. The term kickboxing is disputed and has become more associated with the Japanese and American variants. Many of the other styles do not consider themselves to be ‘kickboxing’, although the public often uses the term generically to refer to all these martial arts. The term kickboxing was created by the Japanese boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi for a variant of Muay Thai and Karate that he created in the 1950s. The term was later used by the American variant. When used by the practitioners of those two styles, it usually refers to those styles specifically.
On December 20, 1959, a Muay Thai among Thai fighters was held at Tokyo Asakusa town hall in Japan.
Tatsuo Yamada, who established “Nihon Kempo Karate-do“, was interested in Muay Thai because he wanted to perform Karate matches with full-contact rules since practitioners are not allowed to hit each other directly in karate matches. At this time, it was unimaginable to hit each other in karate matches in Japan. He had already announced his plan which was named “The draft principles of project of establishment of a new sport and its industrialization” in November, 1959, and he proposed the tentative name of “Karate-boxing” for this new sport. It is still unknown whether Thai fighters were invited by Yamada, but it is clear that Yamada was the only karateka who was really interested in Muay Thai. Yamada invited a Thai fighter who was the champion of Muay Thai (and formerly his son Kan Yamada’s sparring partner), and started studying Muay Thai. At this time, the Thai fighter was taken by Osamu Noguchi who was a promoter of boxing and was also interested in Muay Thai. The Thai fighter’s photo was on the magazine “The Primer of Nihon Kempo Karate-do, the first number” which was published by Yamada.
There were “Karate vs. Muay Thai fights” February 12, 1963. The three karate fighters from Oyama dojo (Kyokushin later) went to the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Thailand, and fought against 3 Muay Thai fighters. The 3 karate fighters’ names are Tadashi Nakamura, Kenji Kurosaki and Akio Fujihira (as known as Noboru Osawa). Japan won by 2-1 then. Noguchi and Kenji Kurosaki (Kyokushin karate instructor) studied Muay thai and developed a combined martial art which Noguchi named kick boxing. However, throwing and butting were allowed in the beginning to distinguish it from Muay Thai style. This was later repealed. The Kickboxing Association, the first kickboxing sanctioning body, was founded by Osamu Noguchi in 1966 soon after that. Then the first kickboxing event was held in Osaka, April 11, 1966.
Tatsu Yamada died in 1967, but his dojo changed its name to Suginami Gym, and kept sending kickboxers off to support kickboxing.
Kickboxing boomed and became popular in Japan as it began to be broadcast on TV. Tadashi Sawamura was an especially popular early kickboxer. However, the boom was suddenly finished and became unpopular after Sawamura was retired. Kickboxing had not been seen on TV until K-1 was founded in 1993.
The sport has spread through Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and South America
Jan Plas, the Dutch kickboxer, founded Mejiro Gym with some Muay Thai pioneers in the Netherlands in 1978, after he learned kickboxing from Kenji Kurosaki in Japan. Plas also founded NKBB (The Dutch Kickboxing Association), which was the first kickboxing organization in Netherlands, in 1978. The sport took off in the U.S. with the popularity and success of Bill “Superfoot” Wallace” in the 1970s. In South America the kickboxing was introduced by martial artist and kickboxing champion, Hector Echavarria, who brought the famous Joe Corley’s Professional Karate Association, the International Sports Karate Association, and the United States Karate Association to Latin America.
Arts labelled as kickboxing include:
- Adithada (Indian kickboxing) – A form of kickboxing that uses knee, elbow and forehead strikes.
- Lethwei (Burmese kickboxing) – Traditional Burmese martial arts of which has now grown into a popular kickboxing event with strong emphasis on knee, elbow strikes and headbutt. Any part of the body may be used to strike and be struck. It us also known as Bando kickboxing.
- Pradal Serey (Khmer “Cambodian” kickboxing) – Possible predecessor of Muay Thai with an emphasis on elbow techniques.
- Muay Thai (Thai boxing) – Traditional Thai martial art of which has now grown into a popular kickboxing event with strong emphasis on knee and elbow strikes.
- Muay Boran (Ancient Boxing) – Predecessor of Muay Thai, allows the use of headbutts.
- Japanese kickboxing – Similar to Muay Thai, but different point system is taken (e.g. K-1).
- American kickboxing – Similar to Japanese kickboxing but a different point system is taken.
- Full Contact Karate – Most of the time padding and in some cases body armor is used and is the applicable component of karate like many other styles which also include routines training.
- Savate (French kickboxing) – Allows the use of shoes.
- Sanshou/Sanda (Chinese kickboxing) – The applicable component of wushu/kung fu of which Takedowns and throws are legal in competition as well as all other sorts of striking (use of arms and legs).
- Shoot boxing – A Japanese form of kickboxing which allows throwing and submission while standing similar to Sanshou.
- Yaw-Yan (Filipino kickboxing) – Sayaw ng Kamatayan (Dance of Death) is the proper name for Yaw-Yan, a Filipino martial art developed by Napoleon Fernandez. The art resembles Muay Thai in a sense, but differs in the hip torquing motion as well as downward-cutting of its kicks.
There are many additional derivatives of these forms, as well as combined styles which have been used in specific competitions (e.g. K-1).
Kickboxing in other combat sports
Kickboxing is popular in mixed martial arts and professional wrestling competition. For example, professional wrestler Kenta Kobayashi mixes his very experienced kickboxing style with wrestling to defeat his opponents.
These rules are almost same as Muay Thai rules:
- Time: three minutes × five rounds
- Allowed to attack with elbow
- Allowed to attack with knee
- Allowed to kick the lower half of the body except crotch
- Allowed to do neck-wrestling (folding opponent’s head with arms and elbows to attack the opponent’s body or head with knee-strikes)
- Head butts and throws were banned in 1966 for boxers’ safety.
- No ram muay before match
- No Thai music during the match
- Interval takes one minute only as same as boxing
- Point system:
- In muay thai, kicking to mid-body and head are scored highly generating a large number of points on judges’ scorecards. Moreover, kicking is still judged highly even if the kick was blocked. In contrast, punching is worth fewer points. In kickboxing punches and kicks are held in closer esteem.
These are the rules used in American and Australian Full Contact Karate.
- Opponents are allowed to hit each other with fists and feet, striking above the hip
- Using elbows or knees is forbidden and the use of the shins is seldom allowed.
- Bouts are usually 3 to 12 rounds (lasting 2 – 3 minutes each) for amateur and professional contests with a 1-minute rest in between rounds.
This is in contrast to Muay Thai, where the use of elbows and knees are allowed. In fact, some Muay Thai practitioners consider kickboxing a “watered down” version of Muay Thai. Fighters and promoters can agree to various rules including kicks only above the waist, kicks anywhere, no knee strikes, knees only to the body, and so on. American Kickboxing is essentially much a mixture of Western Boxing and Karate.
The round durations and the number of rounds can vary depending on the stipulations agreed to before hand by each fighter or manager. A winner is declared during the bout if there is a submission (fighter quits or fighter’s corner throws in the towel), knockout (KO), or referee stoppage (Technical Knock Out, or TKO). If all of the rounds expire with no knockout then the fight is scored by a team of 3 judges. The judges determine a winner based on their scoring of each round. A split decision indicates a disagreement between the judges, while a unanimous decision indicates that all judges saw the fight the same way and all have declared the same winner.
European-style kickboxing was formed with a combination of Muay Thai and Japanese kickboxing rules.
- Time: 3 minutes × 5 rounds
- Not allowed to attack with elbow
- Allowed to attack with knee
- Allowed to kick the lower half of the body except crotch
- Allowed to do neck-wrestling but frequency is limited.
- Headbutts and throws are not allowed