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Among all the popular combat sports, kickboxing seemed to be the one that successfully combined pure sport with martial arts tradition, at least before mixed martial arts came along. However, it must be said that kickboxing is more than just boxing with kicks included. In its genesis, it provided opportunities for different styles to clash and coalesce, paving the way to a more consolidated view of stand-up fighting and martial arts as a whole.
Kickboxing takes from many martial arts styles like Karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Savate, Kung Fu, and so on. As the name suggests, it’s the study of punching and kicking effectively. It is not an exclusive school, but the amalgamation of different styles and philosophies into an ever-evolving form. It also happens to be a stand-up combat sport that we have come to know, initially made popular by movies like Kickboxer and Bloodsport but had already existed decades prior to their release.
Similarities/Differences to Other Styles
Take note that it is similar to Muay Thai, another combat sport that has garnered some popularity in the western world in the past few decades. However, Muay Thai as a sport is not simply kickboxing with elbows and knees since the techniques and competitive rulesets are quite different. Despite that, both have taken much from each other over the years and practitioners have taken to cross-train in both Muay Thai and other kickboxing styles.
Same thing goes with Karate and Taekwondo. Their competitive rulesets are not similar to that of kickboxing, but those styles can then be adapted to kickboxing quite well. There are professional fighters have transitioned to kickboxing from a different style such as Muay Thai, Karate, Sanshou, and so on. However, plenty more have been rising to prominence from practicing kickboxing as their primary background these days.
The development of kickboxing as both a sport and martial arts style was an eventual process that took place in different parts of the world at different times, which resulted in different styles and variations, as well as different training methods and terminologies. The origin of kickboxing as it is internationally known today has different timelines, depending on which part of the globe you may be looking at.
During the 1960s to 1970s, there were the first correspondences between Japanese karate and Muay Thai. Challenge matches between the two styles were held in an effort to see which was superior and to exchange knowledge. Around the same time, there had been cross-style full-contact tournaments being held in the United States. Europeans were also getting into it, with the Germans first being exposed to American kickboxing. The Dutch were then looking into Japanese kickboxing, and then became enamored with Muay Thai.
This convergence was a seminal event in the development of modern martial arts, which paved the way for the emergence of mixed martial arts through further hybridization with grappling, although sports like shoot fighting and combat sambo had preceded it as well.
Organizations and Regulatory Bodies
There is no single international governing body that rules over kickboxing, but there are different organizations that represent kickboxing as a sport and a martial art in different parts of the world. For instance, there’s the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA), World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO), World Kickboxing Association (WKA), International Kickboxing Federation (IKF), World Sport Kickboxing Federation (WSKF), and many others.
As for professional kickboxing promotions, few are more well-known than K-1, which was founded in 1993 and grew to become the most popular kickboxing promotion in the world. However, it may be said that it had passed its prime since its ownership started changing hands, now ending up in the hands of the Hong Kong-based K-1 Global Holdings Ltd. They are still holding events today, although not as prominent as it used to be during its heyday in the early to mid 2000’s.
Right now, the most active kickboxing promotion is Glory, which has been holding events all over the world since 2012. There are also other promotions such as SUPERKOMBAT, as well as the famous Lumpinee and Rajadamnern Boxing Stadiums in Thailand.
Rankings and Uniforms
Since it’s not a traditional martial arts but merely a modern amalgamation of different styles, rankings are also adopted from them. While many would say that there are no real rankings in kickboxing, the more widely accepted belt rankings for it are taken from from budo, which are as follows:
- White belt for absolute beginners;
- Yellow belt for those with cursory knowledge;
- Orange belt for intermediate students;
- Green belt for those who can execute techniques with speed;
- Blue belt for those who can execute techniques with power;
- Brown belt for those who have virtually perfect technique;
- Black belt for those who have automatic technique.
Some ranking systems tend to vary in order of some belts and some even include a purple belt. There may be criticisms towards belt rankings, but they are a very useful tool for determining a practitioner’s level of proficiency and where in the curriculum he/she is currently at. It is best to understand that rankings are merely an indicator of progress and not overall skill.
As for uniforms, most kickbox
ers favor trunks derived from Muay Thai as they offer the most amount of comfort and freedom of movement. However, pants and tights are also worn by some. Most male kickboxers are expected to fight bare-chested, while female kickboxers wear coverings like sports bras and/or shirts along with some chest protection.
There is also other protective gear for training and amateur competition like headgear, shin guards, cups, and so on. For those who are into Muay Thai, they may also wear prajioud arm bands. But perhaps the most widely accepted wear in kickboxing are boxing gloves for hand protection.
Techniques and Training
Indeed, kickboxing is more than just boxing with kicks since the stances and footwork have to be different in order to combine kicks with punches while maintaining balance and not compromising defense.
Regarding stances, some maintain the side stance to offer opponents a smaller target while having good forward and backward movement, as well as side kicks with the front foot and power from the rear hand and leg. Others have adopted a squarer stance that can accommodate both linear and lateral movement, as well as power in both the lead and rear hands.
Footwork still retains the role of offensive and evasive movement while also generating power for punches, but it must also accommodate kicks and knees. There may be less peek-a-boo style bobbing and weaving like in boxing, but head movement and proper blocking and parrying are still important for defense. There are also defensive techniques for checking kicks, such as lifting the leg to check low kicks and forearm blocks to check high kicks.
As for training, much of the equipment and training methods from boxing are applicable to kickboxing as well. To train kicks, there is additional equipment like kicking shields, Thai pads, shin guards, and so on. Common methods like shadowboxing, heavy bag work, mitt work, and sparring are still pretty much the norm in kickboxing training for perfecting technique, building up power and speed, and refining reactions.
There may usually have less rounds in kickboxing than in boxing, but it can be just as exhausting—if not more—due to how physically demanding kicks can be. That is why cardiovascular training is also just as important in kickboxing. Classic exercises like running and jump rope are still a major part of cardio, but there have been more modern methods like circuit training with different exercises as well to get the heart rate up and build stamina.
Different Kickboxing Styles
All over the world, there are various kickboxing styles that were born from different disciplines and philosophies. Most of these kickboxing styles are categorized by geography as different countries had different mindsets for both practical and ideological standpoints, as well as different competitive rulesets, that gave birth to these styles.
Take note that they are merely the product of their varied origins and are not subject to comparisons as to which is superior over the others. There is no such thing as a “superior martial art”, only a style that best suits the practitioner.
Japanese kickboxing take much from Karate and boxing, which is why Japanese fighters tend to lean towards combination
The Japanese seem to have a disdain for clinch work that Muay Thai is known for, which is why their kickboxing promotions tended to restrict clinching, elbows, and sweeps as K-1 did in an effort to favor more dynamic striking. Knee strikes and some limited clinching are still allowed. Meanwhile, American kickboxing was based on point and full contact karate. It is somehow similar to Japanese kickboxing, but knee strikes and clinching are entirely forbidden in American rules.
Muay Thai is often mistaken for kickboxing due to their similarities. Perhaps it is simplest to say that Muay Thai is kind of a form of kickboxing, but kickboxing is certainly not Muay Thai. It puts great emphasis on the roundhouse kick that the style is famous for. There is also the plum clinch (also known as the double collar tie in wrestling) that controls the opponent’s head and opens up to elbows and knees at close range. There are also techniques for catching kicks, which can then be followed up by either counters or sweeps.
Most kickboxing rulesets restrict clinching and elbow strikes, so most Thai fighters who cross over to international competition have to adapt with not being able to use some of their best tools.
Various European kickboxing styles also exist, the most notable being Savate from France. Karate had been practiced in the continent for quite a while prior to the advent of kickboxing. In particular, Dutch kickboxing emerged from the hybridization that Karate and Muay Thai stylists in the Netherlands and nearby European countries experienced. It is all about putting everything together, which resulted in dynamic punch-kick combinations that combined powerful low kicks with crisp boxing.
Sanshou is not a new style, but merely the application of Chinese kung fu into a more practical and consolidated form. It’s the official combat style of the Chinese military, which is its main source of credibility. It puts great emphasis on kicks, including side kicks that seem to not be as favored in other styles. Sanshou rules also include takedowns and throws, kick catches, and even wrestling in some competitions.
There are plenty of other styles like Cambodian Pradal Serey, Burmese Lethwei, Filipino Yaw-Yan, and so on that have major kickboxing elements. The martial art founded by Bruce Lee known as Jeet Kune Do also takes a lot from kickboxing. Just about any martial arts style that has anything to do with striking at any significance has had much taken from and contributed to kickboxing. It can be both a gateway martial art and a refinement of previous proficiencies, making it a staple in today’s combat-conscious world.
Kickboxing has become a global phenomenon since its rise to prominence, and it has spread martial arts practice to the common folk while also being the style of champions. Whether it is practiced for fitness, self-defense, or achieving glory in the ring, kickboxing has done well as both a sport and a martial art.