Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: A History of Rivals

There has been a long-standing rivalry between Muay Thai and Kung Fu in kickboxing. The two sides have occasionally met in big-time fights that millions of people watched.

Here is our comparison of Muay Thai vs Kung Fu. Detailing everything from the histories of the styles, their techniques, and what happened when the two sides met in combat.

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: The Histories 

Muay Thai and Kung Fu have histories that date back thousands of years. Here are brief breakdowns of the histories of both styles.

The History of Muay Thai

Muay Thai History

The art of eight limbs, known as Muay Thai, is the fighting style native to Thailand. Its history dates back to before the Kingdom of Thailand was established.

Ancient warriors practiced a fighting style that would evolve into Muay Boran and later modern Muay Thai.

During the 15th century, the King of Thailand would throw annual festivals. At these festivals, the kingdom’s best warriors would compete against each other in exhibitions to showcase their skills.

This tradition would continue for centuries until the 1900s when Muay Thai would become a formal sport. Thais were exposed to Western boxing during WW1 and would begin turning Muay Thai into a formal sport.

Establishing formal rules, setting fights in a boxing ring, where fighters would wear gloves and be separated by weight classes. The training would also become more formal, which led to the style becoming more effective. 

Today, Muay Thai is both Thailand’s national martial art and sport. It is practiced by millions across the world and is considered one of the world’s most effective fighting styles.

The History of Kung Fu

Kung Fu

If you’re knowledgeable about Kung Fu or Wushu as it’s also called, it isn’t one style but thousands. It’s a blanket term to encapsulate all of the martial arts styles of China.

Wushu or Kung Fu is said to have originated between 2,000 and 1,000 BCE. During the time in China, the Xia and Shang dynasties ruled the land.

Early forms of Chinese martial arts would begin to develop for warfare and hunting. Many of which were based on the movements of animals.

As times progressed, many different styles would be created. The Shaolin monastery was one of the most influential places where many Chinese fighting styles would be created.

Every region of China would develop its own styles of Kung Fu. Northern styles tended to be more long-range, while Southern styles were more close-range.

Over time, these styles would evolve and influence the creation of martial arts throughout the world. Some of the most effective forms of Kung Fu include Shaolin styles and Sanda.

Today, various Kung Fu styles are still among the most practiced fighting styles in the world.

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: The Techniques

Let’s compare some of the techniques of Muay Thai vs Kung Fu. There are many similarities and some vast differences between their techniques.

The Techniques of Muay Thai 

Muay Thai is considered one of the most effective fighting styles in the world. The techniques of Muay Thai have been developed to be optimally efficient and simple.

Thai fighters are proficient at striking with all eight limbs while being well-versed at close range striking. Being able to control an opponent with clinching techniques to land devastating knees, elbows, or sweeps.

The effectiveness of Muay Thai makes the style widely regarded as one of the best in the world.

The Techniques of Kung Fu

Kung Fu Techniques

Detailing the techniques of Kung Fu is more difficult than detailing the techniques of Muay Thai. With the thousand different Kung Fu styles, they each have different techniques and varying principles.

Some styles use long-range tactics,  some use short-range, while others use wrestling and various weapons. The techniques of each style are so vast that it would take an entire article to even scratch the surface of them. 

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: The Similarities

While Muay Thai and styles of Kung Fu seem widely different, Thai boxing does share some similarities with different Wushu styles. Here are some of the similarities that they share.

Storied Histories

Both Muay Thai and Kung Fu have the oldest and most storied histories. These fighting styles began being developed well over a thousand years ago. This makes them two of the oldest fighting styles practiced in the world.

The Techniques 

While Muay Thai is vastly different than most Kung Fu styles, it does share similarities with a few styles. The two styles of Kung Fu that probably have the most similarities to Muay Thai are Shaolin Kung Fu and Sanda.

Both of these styles are well-rounded striking styles that use techniques similar to those in Muay Thai. Sanda, in particular, also uses clinching throw techniques like those used in Muay Thai.

Both Styles Produce Kickboxing Champions 

Muay Thai and the striking styles of Kung Fu have both produced countless champions in kickboxing. Practitioners from each style have become successful fighters who have held world titles in different kickboxing promotions. 

Kung Fu Possibly Influencing Muay Thai

Some martial arts historians believe Kung Fu forms influenced Muay Thai’s development. Both certainly developed from early Indian martial arts, so it’s likely that this happened. 

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: The Differences 

Muay Thai and styles of Kung Fu have vast differences and share almost nothing in coming. Here are two of the biggest differences.

China vs Thailand 

The most obvious difference between the two is their countries of origin. Most all styles of Kung Fu were developed in China, while Muay Thai was developed in Thailand.

One Style vs Thousands

As mentioned before, there isn’t one style of Kung Fu practiced, but thousands. There are different specialty styles in Muay Thai, but they are all considered Thai boxing.

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: Times the Fighting Styles Competed

We don’t have to leave a Muay Thai vs Kung Fu battle to speculation, as the sides have met many times. Here is a breakdown of two of the most high-profile meetings between these fighting styles.

Buakaw vs Yi Long 

The most high-profile Muay Thai vs Kung Fu match was the kickboxing legend Buakaw vs Yi Long in 2015. Millions of people watched this match, which was considered one of the year’s best matches.

This fight was held under rules similar to Glory, where no elbows or clinching was allowed. Long would come out aggressive and take the fight to Buakaw in the first round. 

The two fighters would spend three rounds going back and forth, exchanging powerful strikes. In the end, Buakaw would win in a split decision.

Many were critical of this decision, but both fighters were respectful and showcased the power of their styles.

Buakaw vs Yi Long 2

The two fighters would meet for a second time with another controversial outcome. Many felt that Buakaw dominated this fight by getting sweeps and landing powerful leg kicks.

But Fong would be given the decision by the judges. Many fans claimed favoritism for Long since the fight was held in China.

The two have never fought again and is unlikely they ever will.

Saenchai vs Meng Quinghao

Another notable Muay Thai vs Kung Fu matched Saechai vs Sanda champion Meng Quinghao. This was another bout under rules similar to Glory, where elbows and clinching weren’t allowed.

In this bout, both fighters were very tactical, and where both fighters played it safe. They both showcased their skills and proved their two of the best in their sports. Saenchai would win on a close decision in this bout.

Muay Thai vs Kung Fu: Keys to Victory

In a Muay Thai vs Kung Fu battle, each fighter must follow specific game plans to beat their opponent. Here are the keys to victory for each fighting style.

Keys to Victory for Muay Thai 

A Thai boxer has the tools to beat a Kung Fu fighter in a Muay Thai vs Kung Fu battle. They will need to be prepared for their opponent to come out aggressive and have a good defense.

If the match rules allow clinching and elbows, this will be where the Thai boxer defeats the Kung Fu fighter. They will need to close the distance, wrap up their opponent, and deliver knees, elbows, and sweeps.

A Thai boxer should be fine exchanging kicks and punches with a Kung Fu fighter, but why take the chance? Their best bet would be to close the distance, use pressure, and break the will of the Kung Fu fighter.

Keys to Victory for Kung Fu

As we saw in the match between Buakaw and Yi Long, a Kung Fu practitioner must start the fight aggressively. Thai boxers are notorious for being slow starters and take at least a round to get going.

If a Kung Fu fighter allows the Thai boxer to get comfortable and find the range, this will be a problem. That’s why they will need to start a fight aggressively and keep a Thai boxer off-balance.

They will also need to prepare their conditioning before the match. Thai boxers are known for being well-conditioned and will take their opponents into deep water as the fight goes on.

The Verdict

In a Muay Thai vs Kung Fu battle, the result would strongly depend on two aspects. The match rules and wills of the fighters.

Muay Thai is one of the most effective fighting styles in the world, while there are also effective Kung Fu styles. You can learn a lot from both styles and become a more well-rounded martial artist.