From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Kickboxing refers to sport-fighting using kicks and punches and sometimes throws and bows representing a certain martial art or can be practiced for general fitness, or as a full-contact sport. In the full contact version of the sport the male boxers are bare chested, barefoot and wear boxing trunks. The female boxers sometimes wear a tank top and shorts. Kickboxing is sometimes practiced as an independent style, but in many cases kickboxing is just an event and set of rules of by which martial artists of other styles may compete openly. Typically kickboxing in many competitions is a standing fight sport and does not allow continuation of the fight once the fight has reached the ground, however some styles may still train in this component for example; sanshou especially in the military and police and so must be adapted for kickboxing tournaments as well as many Japanese martial arts. Kickboxing can be attributed to K series of fighting styles. There are different rules for different kinds of kick-boxing. One can start at any age, but until 18 years old, a helmet is strongly recommended.

Forms of kickboxing that have been labelled under this term [1] include:

There are many additional derivatives of these forms, as well as combined styles which have been used in specific competitions (e.g. K-1). The rules of 'kickboxing' also vary between these different styles.

The term kickboxing is disputed and has come to become more associated with the Japanese and American variants. It must be noted that many of the above styles do not consider themselves to be 'kickboxing' as such, although the public uses the term generically to refer to all these martial arts. The term itself was created by the Japanese boxing promoter Osamu Noguchi for a variant of Muay Thai and Karate that he created in the 1950s; this term was later used by the American variant. When used by the practitioners of these two styles, it tends to refer to them specifically rather than the martial arts they were derived from.

The rest of this article deals with the Japanese and American derivatives of 'kickboxing'. For the other martial arts see their relevant articles.


Japanese Kickboxing

On December 20th, 1959, a Muay Thai match among Thai fighters was held at Tokyo Asakusa town hall in Japan. Tatsuo Yamada who had established "Nihon Kempo Karate-do" was interested in Muay Thai because he wanted to perform Karate matches in 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 planning which was named "The draft principles of project of establishment of a new sport and its industrialization" in November, 1959, and he put forward a new sport "Karate-boxing" which was a tentative name then. It is still unknown that 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 formerly as 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. For example, 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 3 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 from Muay Thai style. This was repealed later. 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 on TV until K-1 was founded in 1993.

In 1993, as Kazuyoshi Ishii (founder of Seidokan karate) produced K-1 under special kickboxing rules (No elbow and neck wrestling) in 1993, kickboxing became famous again. The sport has spread through North America, Europe, and Australia.

Spreading to Europe, Australia, and North America

Jan Plas, the Dutch kickboxer founded Mejiro Gym with some Muay Thai pioneers in Netherlands, 1978 after he learned kickboxing from Kenji Kurosaki in Japan. In addition, he also founded NKBB (The Dutch Kickboxing Association) which is 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.


Japanese Kickboxing

This is almost same as Muay Thai but there are differences between them.

  • Similarities
    • 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 boxer safety
  • Differences
    • No ram muay before match
    • No Thai music at the match
    • Interval takes one minute only
    • 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.

American style kickboxing

These are 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

Originally, European style kickboxing was formed with Muay thai and Japanese kickboxing.

  • 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