Guide to Muay Thai Vs Dutch Kickboxing – An In-Depth Look at Striking
Because of my constant travelling around the world with the Warrior Collective and my well known love of the striking styles, I often get asked my opinion on the topic of Muay Thai Vs Dutch Kickboxing. People also ask what the main differences are and how the styles compare, both in training and within the fighting arena. I have to say, I genuinely love both for different reasons. I have been going to the Netherlands since I was little and know the community there well. I also absolutely adore Muay Thai, for both it’s phenomenal community and it’s amazing history. My guide to Muay Thai and my guide to Dutch Kickboxing are not as similar as some might think.
With that in mind then, let me take you through what I think are some of the major differences, weaknesses and strengths when the two are compared side by side.
In the Gym
Now, I know there is no one actual Dutch style of Kickboxing, it is a bit of misnomer for the way a lot of the Dutch have developed their training i.e. give and take drills. Similarly, there can be quite a lot of difference between certain gyms in the way that they approach the coaching of Muay Thai. For now though, I am going to draw some lines in the sand for comparison sakes.
Dutch Kickboxing Training
One of the main characteristics of Dutch Kickboxing (and a training method that you will see utilised a lot throughout Holland) is the way they use give and take drills a lot more than any other style. So much so that people often refer to this aspect of training as Dutch Kickboxing Drills. These drills differentiate from pad work in that there is no need for one or two main coaches to be responsible for pad holding.
This style of training allows all the athletes to get constant work without having to wait for a coach to pad hold as they utilise each other to deliver the drill. This can be done in a couple of ways but the main one is to use the gloves as both pads for your partner to hit (similarly was you would when holding pads) and as a way to strike i.e. to make your partner cover or block. Once one person has finished the combination or drill, their partner would then repeat it straight back. This typically would be done for volume and aggression over a timed round.
This give and take drilling has, in my opinion, some fantastic strengths;
- All fighters get to train consistently
- Drills can be simple or made progressively more complex
- Countering and footwork can easily be added in
- Repetition is an ideal way to develop any technique or skill set
However, it can also lead to some weaknesses if the lead coach is not mindful;
- Fighters do not tend to correct each other as much when mistakes are made
- Creativity can be stifled if all training is just basic drills with no development
- Power can not be applied as well without the actual pads
- The coach loses the ability to deliver instant feedback or change strategy/range consistently
Some people will assume that Dutch Kickboxers don’t do pad work or that they do not do it that much because of the above. Although, it might be fair to say some gyms do not incorporate it that much, there are still a lot that utilise it regularly. There is quite a stylistic difference in the pad work when compared with that commonly found in Muay Thai. Because of the points system, rules and style, Dutch Kickboxing pad work tends to be very boxing into low kick orientated. Thats not to say there are no knees, body kicks or head kicks, it just means that the emphasis is on using volume to develop forward momentum and aggressive striking.
Again, as with the give and take drills, a lot of coaches like to use set piece combinations on the pads. It is not uncommon to see fighters working long string boxing based combinations or chaining multiple attacking sequences together in this discipline.
Muay Thai Training
When people think about Muay Thai, no matter whether it is in Thailand or any of the gyms that coach it, they picture hard training sessions where people hit pads with a lot of power. “Thai” pads or forearm pads, along with the belly pad, are the main tools of the trade in this area. Pad holding is not necessarily an easy skill. It can be developed of course but in most gyms you are more likely to see athletes training with other experienced practitioners or one of their main coaches.
Pad holders will often wear shin and instep protectors as well so that they can deliver kicks that their partner has to deal with whilst holding the pads. The beauty of pad work is that it can be done in a multitude of different ways. Most however will go for timed rounds and work a flow based, freestyle training approach i.e. no long set drills or repeating combinations.
This style of pad work has, in my opinion, some fantastic strengths;
- Fighters get an optimum workout as they can work directly with their coach
- Creativity and skill can be pushed as the pad holder can change rhythm, range and tempo
- Power can be worked easily alongside speed and balance as the pads protect the other person from harm
- You can utilise all your striking techniques effectively i.e. elbows, knees etc
However, there are restrictions to make note of;
- The pad holder needs be very good in order to develop their fighter or training partner effectively
- It can be hard to work on new skills if the focus is solely just on power and single shots/small combinations
- There can be potential wasted training time if there are few experienced pad holders available
- Poor pad holding can result in entrenching bad habits if not careful
One of the most style specific ranges of training in any combat sport is the Muay Thai clinch. Since it’s exclusion from or restriction of in most of the K-1/Dutch style rule sets, it is now only in the world of pure Muay Thai that it can be seen in high level competition (apart from the odd occasion in MMA). It is very rare to find clinch training for striking of any description in any thing other than a Muay Thai gym (although some MMA gyms have started to incorporate it more and more).
Most clinch work is done bare handed (although some will work it with their gloves on when it is incorporated into pad work) and in conjunction with a partner. The heavy emphasis on effect i.e. contact, sweeps etc in Muay Thai fights ensures that clinching is a much needed skill for anyone wanting to be successful in competition. Again, as with pad work, clinching requires a good level of skill and experience to be effective in it’s coaching.
Dutch Kickboxing Sparring
Ask most people who know about Kickboxing and they will no doubt tell you that the sparring in Holland is hard. This full contact approach to sparring has been typical of the Dutch style the world over since it’s inception. Given the history of how the style originated in the Netherlands, the influence of hard styles such as Kyokushin Karate, Japanese Shooto, Western Boxing and American Kickboxing are easy to thus spot.
Hard sparring is not every day (although there is typically sparring every day in a lot of gyms) but it does take place regularly. This has led to athletes from Holland or those training there to develop a fearsome reputation as highly effective, aggressive and forward moving fighters.
This style of sparring does have undeniable strengths;
- Fighters quickly progress to being able to cope physically in fights
- With an appropriate group of talent the development for some is huge
- Fighters feel more confident that they can handle whatever their fights bring
- Cardio, fitness and endurance are all typically high as a result
However, it has a lot of detractors in modern combat sports;
- Science has now highlighted the high risk of CTE from heavy sparring and repeated full force head contact
- The risk of injury is greatly inflated when sparring becomes akin to fighting
- It can be a erratic way to develop fighters of different weight classes, abilities and experience levels
- Skill development can be hampered when being forced to face consistent hard shots
Muay Thai Sparring
Sabai, sabai or relaxed is the approach traditionally taken by most Muay Thai schools. Although, in the West, this can often be influenced by those from other Striking based combat sports into being harder contact. The majority though keep it light and playful, with just a serious edge appearing on certain techniques or with particular training partners. This allows those taking part to not even need gloves or pads at times (which can be redundant when working hard hitting techniques such as elbow and knee from the clinch anyway).
The pace can be lessened when compared to other Striking styles but the emphasis is on skill and timing as opposed to contact. A lot of Muay Thai gyms will spar very regularly without any concern for their fighters because of this sabai, sabai mentality.
This style has won a lot of fans over worldwide;
- Fighters can spar regularly from day one without the fear of getting hurt or injured
- It allows the full range of weapons to be utilised i.e. clinch, knee
- Fighters can focus on small details, timing and tricks to develop their fight IQ
- Multiple abilities, experience levels and weight classes can happily train together
However, there are those that see it as not workable for them;
- Western fighters and coaches can sometimes feel the need to spar hard as they are not able to fight as often as those based in Thailand
- It is a slower development in terms of preparing physically for the early fights
- Boxing based attacks and defence can potentially be harder to train
- Unless the talent pool is high level, fitness and development may be stunted
Dutch Kickboxing Techniques
The punches within Dutch Kickboxing are very similar to those found in traditional Western Boxing. There are some variations and additional strikes such as the backfist or superman punch, but by the by, they have a lot in common. This then has an impact on the stance. The stance changes the way the fighter often moves, how they defend and in this instance, how they typically execute knees and kicks.
Heavy hands and volume striking are synonymous with Dutch Kickboxing. A lightning fast pace is often set from the start of each fight when fighters from this background are involved.
Because the clinch has been mitigated a lot in competition, Dutch Kickboxers will still knee the body when in range as an attack or counter to a punch or kick. However, it is their style of working the knee straight to the head which is one of the biggest stylistic differences. They will bring the knee straight up from the floor to their opponents head without leaning back or pushing their hip forward. Their aim is to get this in between the guard in the hope of a KO and chain off straight back into Boxing again if necessary.
There are of course fighters from a wide variety of combat sports backgrounds in promotions such as K-1, Glory Kickboxing, Enfusion, Bellator Kickboxing and ONE Championship. Those from the most common Dutch style though will favour kicks in a particular way. The low kick is typically full blown coming across at 90 degrees with the whole hip committed. The body kick and head kick will vary nowadays. In the past, from the hip would typically have been the way most fighters would have thrown it, no matter where the intended target was. In today’s world, there is a mixture of working from the hip across the body and just throwing the leg pretty much straight up (with a slight angled inflection).
Other techniques such as jumping knees, front kicks and spinning back fists or back kicks are slotted in fairly regularly by some but the bread and butter usually remains high volume combinations of the above.
Muay Thai Techniques
Muay Thai has a pretty different approach to how it’s fighters or practitioners execute punches (not all but most). This is due to both the use of the elbow as a legal Striking weapon and the dominance of the clinch within it’s rule set. As fighters often switch to elbows or can tie up in the clinch at close range, there is not always the same reliance on long string boxing combination work as you would find in Dutch Kickboxing.
Fighters stances typically are shorter and squarer (to allow the easier use of teeps and knees as well as the ability to defend low kicks better). This means that fighters don’t always sit into their punches as much and use their hips in quite the same way as other Striking sports. This alongside the different scoring system, means that a lot of fighters throw their punches long and don’t over commit them for power as regularly as a traditional Kickboxer or Boxer would.
Traditional Muay Thai allows the use of forearms as a Striking tool, which is often used to good effect when setting up the clinch. The elbow though is one of the defining weapons in the Muay Thai fighter’s arsenal. It can be thrown at close range in a multitude of different ways. Resulting in many a cut and KO, the elbow has to be highly respected when fighting at any level with full rules.
The use of the clinch in Muay Thai brings a whole other world to how the knee can be utilised. As with the elbow, the knee can thrown in many different ways and to a variety of different targets. Swinging knees and knees to the leg are commonplace in Muay Thai bouts but virtually non-existent in Dutch Kickboxing.
However, it might be in the area of kicking that one of the major differences between Muay Thai and Dutch Kickboxing appears. To the outsider, they can look virtually identical. They both allow low kicks. Roundhouse kicks are thrown a lot in each. However, a closer inspection reveals a lot of variation (in most parts) in the styles. The reduced likelihood of facing a high volume Boxing based combination in Muay Thai means that there is a lot of emphasis put on the kicking range as a weakener, opener to combinations and counter.
As such, teeps are used widely to attack the leg, body and head of opponents as they come into range. The rhythm differences mentioned above also allow for a greater variety of different applications as well, including those of push kicks, side teeps and scissor teeps.
The roundhouse though may well be the king of Muay Thai kicks. The low kick is so synonymous with the art, commentators from other combat sports (such as MMA) often refer to it as the Thai low kick when it is thrown in fights. The skill of executing hard hitting roundhouse kicks is a much needed one to be successful in elite level bouts. As with the teep, the roundhouse can be thrown in a multitude of different ways to a wide variety of different target areas.
In the Ring
Dutch Kickboxing Fights
The K-1 style rule set has slight variations across the world’s leading promotions but the crux of it favours striking to be high paced, frenetic and attacking. Most rule sets have reduced the ability to clinch so much, the point of it is almost non-existent, so any tie ups often get immediately split by the referee in order to ensure a fast pace is maintained. The Dutch Kickboxing style of heavy hands into low kicks can be seen globally across all promotions that utilise these style of rules.
Fighters coming from different backgrounds such as Boxing, Taekwondo, Karate or even Muay Thai have to adapt to cope with this faster, more aggressive pace or they risk not making a successful transition. A lot of fights are done over 3 rounds of 3 mins to keep this attacking style in place.
Dutch Kickboxing Champions who are historically known around the world for their skill and attacking style include the likes of Ramon Dekkers, Ernesto Hoost and Rob Kamen. Current day practitioners still fighting at a high level include elite fighters such as Rico Verhoeven, Badr Hari, Mohammed Jaraya and Andy Souwer.
Modern day promotions now sometimes have their fighters wearing the 4oz gloves you see in MMA but most of the time the traditional Kickboxing glove is still the primary equipment of choice.
Muay Thai Fights
Muay Thai differentiates itself in a number of ways at competitive level when compared to other striking sports such as Kickboxing. The first is obviously it’s allowed use of more attacking techniques including those of elbow and active clinch alongside the more typical punch, knee and kick. The second is that it’s scoring system typically favours fighters who get stronger as the fight goes on (unlike Kickboxing systems where each round is scored the same) and has effect at the heart of what is deemed a well delivered technique.
I won’t get into detail over what is involved in Muay Thai scoring but there is a clear hierarchy of what is deemed a higher score re techniques thrown. For example a body kick to the back is of more value than a punch to the body. Whereas in Kickboxing, all techniques typically are scored the same, irregardless of how or where they were thrown, if of course, they are thrown with the same level of aggression and impact.
This then can mean that fighters in Muay Thai can often play about with more different styles of engagement i.e. counter fighting, more use of the clinch or knee etc without getting penalised for lack of aggression. Couple this with the typical slower start rhythm to fights and the importance of understanding the gambling culture (when fighting in Thailand), and you have a scoring system which has often led the uneducated viewer more than a little confused when some winners get announced.
Dutch Kickboxing Drills
Training in Dutch Kickboxing, as mentioned above, often means utilising give and take drills i.e. both training partners wear gloves and shin/instep protectors. I have listed below some typical ones you could use in your own training as an example;
Drill 1 – Partner throws Rear Low Kick, Block with Lead Leg, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Low Kick to Finish
Drill 2 – Partner throws Rear Body Kick, Block with both Arms on the Same Side, Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Switch Lead Body Kick to Finish
Drill 3 – Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Random Lead or Rear Kick to Finish
Drill 4 – Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Switch Lead Body Kick Land Forward, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Low Kick to Finish
Drill 1 – Lead Jab, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Body Kick /
Add on / Partner throws Switch Lead Body Kick, Block with Both Arms on the Same Side, Rear Straight, Lead Leg Low Inside Kick, Rear Knee /
Add on / Lead Hook, Rear Straight to the Body, Lead Hook, Rear Low Kick to Finish
Drill 2 – Partner throws Lead Jab, Parry with Same Side Hand, Lead Jab, Lead Jab, Rear Straight /
Add on / Partner throws Lead Jab, Slip to Outside, Rear Straight, Partner throws Lead Hook, Roll under, Rear Hook, Lead Hook /
Add on / Rotate back to Lead Side, Lead Hook to the Body, Rear Low Kick to Finish
Drill 3 – Lead Jab, Rear Straight, Partner throws Lead Hook, Block with Rear Arm, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Straight /
Add on / Lead Hook to the Body, Rear Knee, Rear Kick to the Body /
Add on / Partner comes toward you, Parry with Lead Hand and Sidestep to the Outside, Rear Kick to the Body, Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Switch or Step Lead Knee to Finish
Dutch Kickboxing Pad Work
Drill 1 – Lead Uppercut, Rear Uppercut, Lead Hook, Rotate Body to Lead Side, Rotate Body to Rear Side, Rear Hook, Lead Hook, Rotate Body to Lead Side, Lead Hook to the Body to Finish
Drill 2 – Lead Jab, Rear Straight, Switch Lead Body Kick, Cross Step Back, Lead Uppercut, Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Switch or Step Lead Body Kick to Finish
For more in-depth Training, Coaching and Tutorials from some of the best coaches in the world, check out all the Dutch Kickboxing videos here on the Warrior Marketplace.
Muay Thai Drills
Training in Muay Thai is typically done on the pads as opposed to done in the give and take fashion gone through above. Most coaches formulate their system for working in this manner but all will have some bread and butter style combinations that they utilise more than others.
Drill 1 – Lead Jab, Rear Straight
Drill 2 – Lead Jab, Lead Teep
Drill 3 – Lead Hook, Rear Body Kick
Drill 4 – Rear Straight, Switch Lead Body Kick
Drill 5 – Rear Knee, Rear Elbow
Drill 1 – Lead Jab, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Body Kick, Lead Hook, Rear Body Kick
Drill 2 – Lead Jab, Lead Teep, Step Lead Knee, Control Hands, Rear Elbow, Partner comes toward you, Parry with Lead Hand and step to Outside, Rear Body Kick
Drill 3 – Partner throws Rear Body Kick, Block with Lead Leg, Switch Lead Body Kick, Rear Straight, Switch Lead Body Kick, Rear Knee, Control Hands, Rear Elbow
Drill 4 – Lead Jab, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Straight, Parter throws Rear Body Kick, Step Rear Leg Back to Lean Back and let the Kick Land in front, Regain stance, Rear Straight, Lead Hook, Rear Body Kick
For more in-depth Training, Coaching and Tutorials from some of the best coaches in the world, check out all the Muay Thai videos here on the Warrior Marketplace.
Hybrid Striking Systems
Of course, like anything, it can be hard to say that one thing is pure Muay Thai and another is pure Dutch Kickboxing. The styles themselves have now influenced each other quite a lot. No where is this more apparent in the ways that some fighters fight and some coaches coach. Those athletes who switch rule sets between Muay Thai, Kickboxing and MMA have grown increasingly accustomed to having to develop more of a hybrid style of striking.
A great example of individuals who are considered more “pure” Muay Thai, and who are both highly renowned coaches, are Panicos Ysusf and Richard Smith. Panicos plays a very Thai style of both rhythm/attack and Richard has produced multiple Muay Thai World Champions over a long period as owner/founder of the Bad Company Gym in Leeds. In the videos below you can see how they emphasise some of the points made above with regards to the training of Muay Thai.
It would be hard to find better examples of individuals who are considered “pure” Dutch Kickboxing than the globally renowned multiple times K-1 Champion Ernesto Hoost or fellow Dutch Kickboxing legend Ivan Hippolyte. Both are renowned for their aggressive boxing into heavy low kick attacks. In the videos below you can see how they emphasise volume, aggression and conditioning in the fighters they coach through the use of give and take drills.
It is hard to pigeon-hole some instructors though as they seem to sit somewhere in the middle when it comes to how they coach and the methods they use to bring out the best in their fighters. Two fantastic examples of this are multiple times world champions Damien Trainor and Kieran Keddle. In the videos below you can see how they mix their Muay Thai backgrounds in with more Dutch Kickboxing style drilling when it comes to training for fights.
Muay Thai Vs Dutch Kickboxing
So, after all of this, which do I think comes out on top? I don’t think it is as easy an answer as some people would like to believe it is. I think there are different pros and cons with regards to the way coaching can be done in both. They can be each others kryptonite under certain circumstances. For example, unless you count the likes of Ramon Dekkers, there have been very few Dutch Kickboxers who have been successful when fighting at the top level in Muay Thai in Thailand. On the same note however, there have been countless Muay Thai fighters who have struggled to adapt to Kickboxing rule sets and lost to arguably less experienced opponents when stepping out on promotions such as Glory Kickboxing.
Personally, I like both a lot. They have different demands and I think that rather than it be a case of one or the other, it should be a mutual respect and understanding of what both bring to the table. There is always going to be the argument that styles matter less than the athlete or fighter. This is of course to some extent, very true. However, if you want to succeed in any sport that has a pre defined set of rules and objectives, you are going to need to train as smart as possible, access a large number of great training partners and be looked after by the most experienced coaches you can find in order to fulfil your absolute potential in it.
Check out our full length instructional videos here
If you enjoy this article then you may well love The Hardest Fight in Martial Arts – Accepting the Decline of Remarkable Ability or We Bring The Fight – Dutch Kickboxing Documentary as already featured on this site.
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