I never think Muay Thai can be so misunderstood by foreigners. Muay means boxing and Thai is people of Thailand. And so Muay Thai means Thai boxing.
To start with, it might not be exactly right to call Muay Thai an art. It is more of a basic fighting tool for the Thai people. Any Tom, Dick, or Henry in Thailand would know how to do the kicks and punches Thai style. It is almost anything goes type of fighting style. You punch, you kick, you bang, and you do a dozen more other things save biting. The things we do in Muay Thai can hardly be translated into virtually any other languages because others simply do not do them. Muay Thai (closely link to Muay Wat or street fight) was once associated with hoodlum and still has a tainted reputation today.
Secondly, Muay Thai is not practiced in several Southeast Asian countries. It has never been. It is a unique Thai style boxing as the name Muay Thai suggests. Our neighbor Malaysia has what they called Fusilat, an entirely different boxing style, where fighters squat down the floor most of the time to fight. Philippines and Indonesia have different boxing arts.
Kick boxing did not actually start from Thai boxing or Muay Thai. It was Bruce Lee, the Hong Kong movie star legend, who started it all during early 1960. His Chinese boxing style with a few flying kicks drew fans not only East Asia, South East Asia but the Western World too. When Lee died a few years later in mid 1960, Hollywood could not resist the temptation of the profits raked in from the huge box office sales and joined in to make some Bruce Lee style kick boxing. It has exposed Bruce Lee’s kicking style to the Americans.
When the wind of Globalization begins to blow during 1970s, people moving around the globe in numbers it had never seen before in the history. East and West eventually meet. China was closed to the world at that time and the west could not learn Bruce Lee from China. They flocked to Thailand.
Then Vietnam War came with the substantial number of the I.G. moved in to station here, Muay Thai started to get popular and go international. More Farang (a term Thai refers to Caucasians) travelled to Thailand to learn Muay Thai. They gave Muay Thai a new name of kick boxing.
But Muay Thai is more of a rule less, ruthless, street types of fight; it would probably to dangerous to box as a sport for the Farangs. It was somehow being stripped off some deadly kicks, elbow and knee attacks and being developed into a more sport type of martial art.
The way Kick boxing kicks is not exactly Muay Thai kick. It looks mostly Thai with some 20 % Bruce Lee kick. Muay Thai can generally take on Kick boxing in a Kick boxing ring with Kick boxing rules. But Kick boxing may very likely not be able to fight Mauy Thai in the Mauy Thai ring with Mauy Thai rule. Simply put, Kick boxing is boxing 70 % of what Muay Thai does. Generally, kick boxing is Muay Thai in a Farang attire with a necktie.
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