Dutch Kickboxing vs Muay Thai: what are the differences?

Dutch Kickboxing and Muay Thai have been two of the most dominant striking arts in the past few decades. Whether it is in K1, Muay Thai or more recently MMA, many world class fighters have emerged from one of these two sports. We explain here how they are related to each other and what are the main differences between them.

What is the Dutch style of Kickboxing?

The Dutch style of Kickboxing isn’t a sport of its own, but rather a fighting style that emerged in the 70s and 80s in Europe. 

As the name implies, it has been developed in the Netherlands (more on the history of Dutch Kickboxing below) and has spread to the world in the 90s and 00s thanks to the performances of Dutch fighters in the infamous K1 events.

The Dutch style Kickboxing is known to be aggressive, to have powerful punches to kicks combinations and to have a unique footwork.

Fighters coming from the Dutch style of Kickboxing have been very successful in various disciplines: Kickboxing events such as the K1, but also in Muay Thai or in MMA. This style is currently the dominant one in all major Kickboxing organizations such as Glory, One FC (kickboxing) or Enfusion.

Famous kickboxers that used the dutch style of kickboxing include: Peter Aerts, Rob Kaman, Ernesto Hoost, Remy Bonjasky or Ramon Dekkers. More recently fighters like Rico Verhoeven, Badr Hari, Nieky Holzken or Giorgio Petrosyan have been dominating in their weight class with their aggressive Dutch kickboxing style.

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai, sometimes called Thai Boxing, is a traditional martial art and a combat sport of its own that has been developed since the 16th century in Thailand. Originally, there were no gloves used, no rounds and no referees.

The sport was westernized in the 20th to incorporate ropes to cover the fighters hands (then boxing gloves), rounds and the use of a referee. It became a popular sport in Thailand, and even its national sport.

Muay Thai popularity quickly spread to the world in the 80s and 90s, and more and more people outside of Thailand started to learn Muay Thai, while some of them decided to fight the champs directly in Thailand, often without success. 

The history of the Dutch style of Kickboxing and its relations with Muay Thai

Jan Plas, founder of Mejiro Gym and main creator of the Dutch style of Kickboxing

Compared to Muay Thai origins that can be traced back 5 centuries from now, the Dutch style of Kickboxing is very recent.

The Dutch style of Kickboxing is highly influenced by the Japanese Kickboxing, which was itself heavily influenced by Muay Thai and Karate Kyokushin.

Jan Plas, a Dutch kickboxer, was impressed by Japanese kickboxing and went to Tokyo in the 70s to learn it alongside Japanese Legends such as Fujiwara. The gym was then located in a neighborhood in Tokyo called “Mejiro”. 

When Jan Plas came back to Amsterdam he decided to found Mejiro Gym and started his own style of kickboxing incorporating all the best elements of Japanese Kickboxing with the Western boxing.

The ingredients of the Dutch style of kickboxing were now all blended into one: a strong western boxing style, the kyokushin “move forward” attitude and the powerful kicks from Muay Thai.

So while Muay Thai is more rooted into traditions and martial arts, the Dutch style of Kickboxing is a blend of several combat sports and martial arts that proved effective under numerous rulesets.

Kickboxing K1 rules vs Muay Thai rules: 2 slightly different rulesets

To understand more about the main differences between Dutch Kickboxing and Muay Thai, it’s important to understand the differences between the two most popular rulesets in kickboxing leagues: K1 rules and (full) Muay Thai rules.

K1 rules don’t allow the use of elbows unlike Muay Thai

The main obvious difference between Muay Thai rules and Kickboxing K1 rules, is that elbows are forbidden in the K1 ruleset and not in Muay thai. This changes slightly the dynamic of the fight. 

While Muay Thai is commonly referred to as the “art of 8 limbs”, K1 could be considered as the “art of 6 limbs”. 

To illustrate this, the “elbow range” in a Muay Thai fight is another punching range in a K1 bout. So at close distance, a fight under K1 rules is likely to look like a boxing match, involving hooks and head movements. 

Since elbows are very dangerous in Muay Thai, especially because they are very likely to cut you (which usually leads to stoppage), Thai fighters tend to stay further away, or to clinch, rather than going in a hooks or elbows battle.

K1 rules don’t allow extended clinch work unlike Muay Thai

The clinch work isn’t the most obvious difference between Muay Thai and Dutch Kickboxing, but it’s actually one of the most important.

In K1 rules, you can clinch, and for instance send a knee, but you can only do it once. After you hit, you need to let your opponent go. At best, you can catch, hit and release multiple times. But you always have to let your opponent go after a clinch.

In Muay Thai, you can clinch and go for endless knees unless the referee says otherwise. It’s not unusual for Muay Thai fights to have entire rounds mostly made up of clinching that almost look like standup wrestling.

This clinching rule changes a lot more the fight than the use of elbows. A good Thai fighter who is getting outboxed can “cancel” the good boxing of his opponent thanks to clinching. It is a bit similar in MMA where good wrestlers can sometimes “cancel” the skills of a good striker.

In a K1 rules fight, this obviously can’t be done, the opponent can only go out of range, go for a one strike clinch or go toe to toe with his opponent, which is why the punching volume is very different in both sports. 

Fight duration isn’t the same between Muay Thai and Dutch Kickboxing

The last key difference between K1 ruleset and Muay Thai ruleset that set apart Dutch Kickboxing and Muay Thai is the fight duration.

Muay Thai fights are long. Most of them are 5 rounds of 5 minutes. The first round is usually slow paced and allows opponents to discover each other. Then the intensity increases throughout the fight.

Kickboxing K1 fights are a lot shorter, and usually last 3 rounds of 3 minutes. There is no time to discover each other or to play it safe. You can’t fight a 9 min fight the same way as a 25 min one. K1 rules fights are therefore much more fast paced and intense than Muay Thai rules fights, but in a shorter duration.

Dutch Kickboxing vs Muay Thai: the main technical differences

Now that we know more about the history of Dutch Kickboxing and the main differences in rules sets, it’ll be easier to understand how the techniques used differ. 

Strong punches to low kicks combinations in Dutch Kickboxing vs powerful kicks in Muay Thai

The Dutch Kickboxing being a blend of Muay Thai, Western boxing and Karate Kyokushin, you can of course expect a lot of punching combinations. 

The Dutch have been famous to distract their opponents with their hands upstairs and finish their combinations with a heavy, soul crushing, low kick that gave their most notable fighters sweet nicknames such as “the dutch lumberjack” for Peter Aerts, or “Mr Lowkick” for Rob Kaman.

On the other hand, Muay Thai are famous for sending one or two kicks at a 100% power, without even trying to disguise them. Since in Thailand punches to the head and low kicks are not favored by the judges, you mostly see Thai fighters send very strong middle kicks from all distances. 

Most K1 Dutch champions are heavy handed, like Badr Hari and Rico Verhoeven

Muay Thai has a lot of clinching while Dutch Kickboxing involves a lot of boxing

Doing Muay Thai without being good at clinching is nearly impossible. Clinching is a staple in Muay Thai, and most western fighters who ignored that fact during the Muay Thai golden era learnt the hard way that they should have trained their clinch game more. 

On the other hand, it’s hard to do Kickboxing under K1 rules when your boxing skills aren’t good enough. There is no extensive clinch / stand up wrestling game allowed to make you cancel the attacks of a strong puncher. 

It's nearly impossible to have a Muay Thai fight without clinching

Footwork and head movement in Dutch kickboxing and Muay Thai: 2 different approaches

The fact that Muay Thai relies heavily on kicks and clinch while Dutch kickboxing relies mostly on boxing changed significantly the way their fighters stand and even move.

Muay Thai fighters tend to be very straight with their stance very narrow. A lot of weight is on the back foot. A great position to block kicks and to clinch, but not ideal for boxing and moving a lot.

Dutch kickboxers tend to fight on a much wider stance, somewhere between a boxing stance and a Muay Thai stance. This stance is great for moving with angles, generating power with their hands and upper body but it makes raising your legs to block kicks more difficult.

The stance and footwork also significantly change the head movements of both sports. Muay Thai fighters tend to mostly put their head back to avoid head chopping high kicks and punches, while Dutch kickboxers will have more boxing style head movements and rely more on their tight guard.

A head pull that you see often in Muay Thai, but rarely in Dutch style Kickboxing

The Dutch Kickboxing guard is very different from the traditional Muay Thai guard

One of the aspects that can easily be spotted while watching Dutch style Kickboxing or Muay Thai, is how different their guard looks.

Traditional Muay Thai fighters tend to have their arms high and loose, sometimes forward with their elbows outside. This guard is effective for catching kicks and avoiding elbows, but also to get ready for clinching. However, this guard isn’t very good when facing a strong puncher that is at a good distance to get your chin, jaw or ribs. Nowadays, many high level Nak Muay switched to a “tighter” guard more similar to the Dutch style of kickboxing, or they try to mix them up.

The guard used by Dutch kickboxers is quite different, but has also proved to be very effective, to the point it is now referred to as the “Dutch guard”. The Dutch guard is simply a boxing guard that has been modified for kickboxing. You keep your hands high at all times and your elbows tucked in to avoid being punched or kicked to the body. It is a very tight and very safe guard, especially for punching, but it can make clinching more difficult.

An example of a Dutch guard and a typical signature low kick

Training in a Dutch Kickboxing gym vs Training in a Muay Thai gym

The training style of the Dutch style of Kickboxing and Muay Thai has sparked a lot of debates, heat and misinformation in recent years. Here are the real differences between the two training styles.

Dutch Kickboxing involves a lot of drilling and sparring

The Dutch style of kickboxing uses drilling as the main means to train their students. In short, Dutch gyms students train their combinations on each other most of the time. 

The main advantages of this method are that the students train very early on good defense, as they need it to follow the lessons. The intensity of these drills vary widely depending on the student level. They can be very light for beginners to quite heavy for competitors and experienced kickboxers that want to be “fight ready”.

Sparring is also one of the staples of Dutch gyms. Most students are invited to spar lightly early on, and regular sparring sessions help them gain experience quickly.

Muay Thai training involves a lot of pad work and clinch work

Muay Thai training is quite different from the Dutch-style of Kickboxing. 

A lot of heavy bag and padwork are involved in Muay Thai, with much less focus on sparring and drilling. Clinch work is also a staple of Muay Thai training, sometimes it can even be done without gloves to really learn the intricacies of clinching and kneeing, which is rarely seen in Dutch gyms.

The main advantages of the Muay Thai method is that it can develop very good cardio and overall good physical fitness quite fast, and get their students to be good at clinching and kicking over time.

The main drawback is that it takes more time to learn good defense techniques in Muay Thai. 

Sparring: Dutch Kickboxing vs Muay Thai cliches

Sparring differences between Dutch gyms and Thai gyms are discussed on the internet, with a good dose of misinformation or simplification most of the time.

On average, it is true that Dutch style kickboxing gyms tend to spar quite hard, in a rather similar fashion as some boxing gyms. On average, it is also true that most Muay Thai gyms tend to spar lightly in comparison to their dutch counterparts.

But this is far from being a general rule, and it is not as simple as it seems.

The main reason why Muay Thai fighters in Thailand spar lightly is because they fight VERY often (ie: sometimes every weekend) and simply want to avoid injuries. In comparison, fights in Kickboxing are much more infrequent, which is also why they stay “fight ready” by sparring harder more regularly. 

Dutch kickboxers simply get an important part of their ring experience in sparring while Thai fighters get most of theirs on fight days

Hard sparring isn’t for everyone in Dutch Kickboxing gyms either. If you are a beginner or somebody doing it for fitness only, don’t worry, nobody is going to chop your head off

Likewise, don’t think all Muay Thai gyms spar lightly only. If you go to Thailand and want to challenge the best of your gym, you might be in for a spar that will be much more intense than a light touch!

Can Dutch style Kickboxers and MUay THai fighters compete in each other's sport?

Generally speaking, good Dutch kickboxers and good Muay Thai fighters can compete in each other's discipline and even be quite successful at it.

However, each of these fighting styles is designed for its specific ruleset. You will have an edge learning Dutch style kickboxing in a K1 bout, and you will have an edge in a Muay Thai fight if you come from Muay Thai.

A Dutch-style kickboxer will likely struggle with the clinch work, be surprised by the elbows and the push kick of a good Muay Thai fighter under Muay Thai rules.

Likewise, a Muay Thai fighter will likely be outboxed and will probably struggle finding solutions against a strong Dutch-style kickboxer in a K1 rules fight.

Once in a while, fighters with exceptional skills can bring their own style in the other sport and show others how it’s done…But they are the exception rather than the norm.

Ramon Dekkers brought his aggressive Dutch Kickboxing into Muay Thai and wiped out his division. Buakaw brought his devastating Muay Thai into K1 and reigned on the discipline for years.

There is not one style better than the other one, it’s all about the fighter. If you want to compete in both Muay Thai and Kickboxing K1, learning good boxing AND good clinch work surely won’t hurt.

How to choose between Dutch Kickboxing and Muay Thai?

Beginners are sometimes confused whether they should go for Dutch style Kickboxing or train Muay Thai. It’s of course up to personal preference but here is our take on the matter.

If you have only one gym nearby, go for either ones of the two

Some of you don’t have the choice and only have a Muay Thai gym, or a Dutch style gym nearby.

If you are in this situation, then just pick the gym that you have around you. It’s better to train in a combat sport rather than not training at all while dreaming at home. 

Whether it’s a Dutch Kickboxing Gym or a Muay Thai gym doesn’t really matter, if you are a beginner you’ll have a lot to learn either way. You can’t go wrong with these two options.

If you want to learn good boxing while kickboxing, pick a Dutch style Gym

If you have several gyms nearby, pick a Dutch style if you want to learn good boxing skills on top of your kickboxing.

If you are tall or heavy, Dutch kickboxing might also be a better option than Muay Thai, as the focus is more on the hands, which is generally more suited to bigger guys.

If you want to learn clinching and the sport of Muay Thai specifically, pick a Muay Thai Gym

Muay Thai gyms are clearly a must if you want to learn the “real” traditional Muay Thai, especially its clinch work or the use of elbows.

If you want to improve your boxing skills to be more rounded, you can always train in a Dutch kickboxing gym later on or even a normal boxing gym if that’s all you have around you.


The Dutch kickboxing is a style of combat sport that incorporated Muay Thai, Boxing and Karate Kyokushin and became famous for its strong aggressive punches followed by hard low kicks.

Neither the Dutch style of Kickboxing or the Muay Thai style is better than the other in absolute terms. The Dutch style is great for the ones liking boxing while Muay Thai is a more complete form of striking using extensively clinching techniques.

The Dutch style of kickboxing is very successful in K1 ruleset, while the Muay Thai style is the predominant style under Muay Thai rules. The elite fighters in each sport can sometimes move into the other and be successful at it.

If you are unsure of which of them is for you, try them both and see which one you like the most.

Wanna learn the Dutch style of kickboxing in a tropical location? Come to our gym in Bali! 

If you are in Bali, or plan to visit us soon, feel free to try out the one and only Mejiro Dutch style of Kickboxing in the iconic gym that started it all!

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