Muay Thai and karate both have their roots in Ancient Asia. Muay Thai comes from Thailand and karate originates in Japan.
People like to compare different fighting styles all the time and that is no different with Muay Thai and karate.
Having tried out both karate and Muay Thai classes, I found Muay Thai to be much more enjoyable, it was much tougher and a more hands-on workout. It was also faster to learn effective fighting skills that you can use in any situation. Karate on the other hand involves a lot of practicing strkes in the air and not really striking an opponent too much. If an advanced Muay Thai fighter and Black belt expert in karate have a fight, it may be a close one to call because both guys are so skilled, but in my opinion if you give the average person 6 months training in either discipline, all other things being equal, the guy who is trying Muay Thai will win 99% of the time.
There are a number of reasons why I think this but first, let’s look at the history of both these ancient martial arts.
Muay Thai history
Muay Thai was first developed by the military in ancient Thailand to defend the country from Burmese Invaders in a style known as Krabi Kaabong where they would fight with swords in each hand in the Muay Thai style and this then developed into Muay Boran, which was similar to the Muay Thai we see today except they wrap their hands in rope to protect their hands but this causes awful damage to the opponent.
Muay Thai went on to become very popular with the royal family in Thailand and exhibitions started popping up all around the country where they began to use gloves and a ring and the Muay Thai that we see today was born.
Karate originated in Japan around the 17th/18th century in the province of Okinawa and various different styles emerged that all come under the umbrella of karate which translates to ‘the way of the empty hand’.
Karate really became popular in the 20th century being included in various school programs and with public demonstrations happening all around Japan, the first American dojo opened in 1945 and now it is a worldwide sport regulated by the WKF with a distinct set of competition rules.
Muay Thai Vs Karate Styles
Muay Thai is a very aggressive, come forward style that basically looks to smash anything in its path with heavy roundhouse kicks, punches, elbows, knees and clinch.
The stance is square on and Muay Thai fighters are usually happy to take one to give one. They kick hard with their shins, and blocks are performed by connecting the elbow to the knee.
Karate is a much more elusive style, a karate master will look to evade attacks and then summon all of his power into one shot to inflict as much damage as possible with a single blow and end the fight as quickly as possible.
They mainly focus on straight punches and in a lot of competitions, punches to the head will be not allowed and for this reason, karate fighters may keep their chin up in the air instead of tucking it in like a boxer or Muay Thai fighter.
Muay Thai is a more effective martial art in my opinion
If you get two guys that have been training for 5 years in either of these disciplines, they will surely be tough competitors and be able to give each other a stern test. But if you walk into Muay Thai gym, you are going to be learning effective moves and practicing them with a partner from the very first day.
Karate classes will involve a lot of shadow striking and very nice light practicing with a partner.
In Muay Thai you will be hitting bags as hard as you can to build up your weapons for war, far more quickly than in karate.
Once you advance further in Muay Thai, you will begin to spar properly cause you will have shin pads, gum shields, 16-ounce gloves and maybe you will have a head guard to protect yourself, so you can practice a real fighting situation within 1-2 months of taking up Muay Thai, or maybe even sooner.
Since there are no punches to the head emphasised in karate, then it’s going to take a long time for you to build up your techniques to a level where you can really be competitive against someone that’s trained in Muay Thai.
Since Muay Thai has been infused with Western boxing, it has become an even more devastating martial art as you’ve virtually taking the best parts out of the 2 leading striking sports and combined them for the king of stand-up fighting in Muay Thai.
The focus on heavy punches to the head that you will train in Muay Thai from day one and training how to block both punches and kicks, will be far more suitable for a real-life situation than training lightly for karate and trying to avoid your opponent with that elusive style.
Muay Thai also has the clinch which is a form of stand up wrestling where the fighters will clasp their hands around each other’s necks and bodies and manoeuvre for position to land heavy knees and if they can get both hands around the neck and bring the head down they will quickly be able to end the bout with knees to the head.
With that being said, there have been some very successful karate Fighters in the UFC, but these are the highest level guys and they combine those techniques with Muay Thai training, grappling, jiu-jitsu and maybe even more fighting styles.
Lyoto Machida is probably the most famous karate fighter from the UFC who won a fight by knockout with a beautiful karate kick to his opponent’s chin once.
Chuck Liddell and Baz Ruten we’re also black belts in karate, but these guys are all also heavily trained in Muay Thai.
Virtually every fighter in UFC will train in Muay Thai and Muay Thai Fighters can rack up 100’s of professional fights in a career.
Two of the best to ever do it will include Saenchai who only a lost handful of fights out of around 400 and I had the pleasure of seeing him fight in Cork, Ireland.
Buakaw is also a very famous Muay Thai champion and he also fought in K1 and was champion of the world at K1 multiple times. He is a really tough fighter with all around great skills and some of the best conditioning we have ever seen.
Muay Thai training is a lot more fun
When you consider Muay Thai compared to karate, you’ve got a lot of things in Muay Thai that are really enjoyable and can get you in great condition like hitting the Thai pads, hitting Focus pads, practicing teeps on the belly pad, whacking the bags, practicing drills with a partner with all your protective gear, shadow boxing, sparring and even getting into amateur and professional fights and that’ll be closest thing to a stand-up street fight that you will get in any sport besides UFC.
If I had to pick one sport to train it would certainly be Muay Thai rather than karate.
Check out this exhibition between a karate expert and a Muay Thai professional, these guys aren’t really focussed on punches to the head, and it is more of a kicking contest.
You can see that the Muay Thai practitioner is able to land his low kicks much more easily and when he does throw a couple of punches to the head he quickly ends the bout.
If you include punches to the head in this bout, it is probably going to be over a lot more quickly as you can set up the low kicks much more effectively with a strong jab.
When everything is said and done, there is a reason that all the Muay Thai gyms in Thailand are packed with westerners and that is not the case with karate, because Muay Thai is the most effective stand-up fighting martial art that exists in the world today.