Find everything about Muay Thai in one place

Muay Thai Facts

Muay Thai Vs Kenpo: A Head-To-Head Comparison

muay thai vs kenpo comparison
muay thai vs kenpo

There are many great martial arts all around the globe, but I believe that a great Muay Thai fighter could piece up everybody on their feet. Street fights are stacked with cheap shots and hits to the weak areas of the body, but in the ring, Thai boxing gives you so many lovely options.

Muay Thai vs Kenpo was one of the hardest comparisons I’ve ever made. Kenpo is an all-around fighting style, but it lacks lateral movement. Yeah, there are so many great long-range, close-range, and ground strikes; plus their fighters are always ready to take part in toe-to-toe brawls.

It’s time for a detailed analysis. There are four very popular styles of Kenpo, but a new, modified style works in MMA combat and gains more and more popularity.

What Makes Kenpo So Different?

It is believed that Kenpo was created in ancient India, but it exploded around 1500 years in China. Yet, there are four most famous versions of this ancient martial art at the moment:

  • Shorinji Kenpo – a modified version of Shaolin kung fu, a lot of double-fist strikes. It is a combination of quanfa and jujutsu.
  • Nippon Kenpo – the most popular version of this martial art, there are competitions with protective gear. Throws, strikes, and ground fighting are allowed.
  • Okinawan Kenpo – there are similarities with Shorin-Ryu Karate.
  • American Kenpo – popular across the pond, especially in the USA, known for very strong linear punches and kicks, and joint locks. You’ll also notice weird strike names and circular movement patterns in advanced athletes. Hawaiian Kenpo is the MMA modification of this style.

Every style offers good and bad sides. I will focus on the breakdown of American styles against Thai boxing. Muay Thai vs Kenpo comparison officially kicks off … now!

Which Are The Greatest Muay Thai Vs Kenpo Stance Differences?

Kenpo fighters are turned frontally towards their foes, with knees flexed and weight shifted evenly on both legs. When fighting, some masters of this discipline will rather rotate their leading and rear legs to the outside. It turns them into a harder target. There are vulnerabilities but it depends on the style. Hands are open, so there are similarities in MMA and Kenpo stances too.

Muay Thai guard is generally good for stuffing takedowns and all kinds of straight-line counters, but Kenpo’s stance is awesome for it too. Both martial arts are pretty much based around the central line.

Thai boxing works great in the clinch, but Kenpo’s stance lets you trip, sweep, slam, or even punish the opponent with the knee from close range. Also, Kenpo’s stanza works well against aggressive strikers and it’s not much defense-based.

Yet, the greatest difference is vulnerability to low kicks. You can easily piece up Kenpo fighters via leg or calf kicks as they rarely check strikes under the belt. On the other hand, Thai warriors can check all kinds of leg strikes by raising their shins in the air, and their thighs are made of iron too!

The master of an ancient Siamese martial art could defend Jon Jones’ oblique kick too (it would be a death sentence for a Kenpo dude).

Another very big difference is blocking. Kenpo could work better in an MMA battle and grappling exchange, but the Thai stance is more efficient in protecting from all kinds of strikes.

Are There Similarities In Movement?

Well, both martial arts focus on step-drag backward and forward. Only masters move laterally and try to confuse their opponents with angle changes.

When Kenpo fighter moves, the weight is shifted on both feet equally. In Muay Thai, your weight mostly remains on the back foot, unless you fight toe-to-toe with a very defensive opponent.

Muay Thai vs Kenpo comparison is stacked with similarities. Lateral moves are alike, too. Muay Thai stance is narrower, but despite the greater distance between the feet, there is not much difference between Thai and Kenpo pivot and sidestep.

Both martial arts offer similar movement patterns in the clinch. Yet, there is one very significant difference – in Kenpo, your center of gravity is low because of takedown offense, wrestling, and slams.

Does Kenpo Stand A Chance In An MMA Bout?

Oh, American Kenpo showed its great sides in the early stages of the UFC! Keith Hackney was the modern pioneer of this discipline. His UFC 3 outing was against 600 lbs Emmanuel Yarborough was spectacular. Hackney circled his opponent, dropped him with a big right hand to the chin, and scored a TKO finish, but was unable to advance to the next round of the tournament because of a fist injury.

Unfortunately, many people relate Kenpo with dirty nut shots. Groin strikes were legal until UFC 7, and Hackney faced Joe Son at UFC 4. When they fell to the canvas, Hackney started unloading a flurry of punches to Son’s family jewels to set himself free from a guillotine choke attempt. He won the bout via TKO, but BJJ fighter Royce Gracie stopped him in the semi-finals.

Hackney had so many weaknesses – very poor takedown defense, weak lateral moves, and bad strike blocking. Yet, offensively, Keith was way ahead of his time. His submission defense was pretty much on point for the early stages of the UFC. He survived more than 5 minutes on the ground with Royce Gracie, the best BJJ fighter of that era!

Unfortunately, Kenpo is stacked with throat shots, eye gouges, fish hooking, and groin bombs. MMA doesn’t want any of that smoke!

Two famous UFC names are black belts in Kenpo – the former 205-pound champ, legendary knockout artist Chuck Liddell and the reigning defending light heavyweight title owner Glover Teixeira. Glover rarely strikes people as his game is more focused on BJJ and ground game, but Chuck is a whole different story.

You can see Chuck’s stance and massive powerful punches. These are not kickboxing or Muay Thai fists, their trajectory is different and they are extremely strong and fast. Chuck turned the lights out on many fighters thanks to his great stand-up game, but his bottom-ground skills have always been his weakness. Even today, he’s known as one of the greatest knockout artists in the history of the sport.

Both Glover and Chuck are masters of Hawaiian Kenpo, which was technically derived from American Kenpo (more emphasis on legal strikes due to rules). That new style is the most suitable for an MMA bout at the moment.

Which One Is Better For A Street Fight?

Surround matters a lot, as Muay Thai competitors got used to sanctioned bouts and ruleset. Imagine you’re attacked in the mud or the field. Well, the old-school versions of Kenpo are designed to protect you by disabling the opponent’s vital spots.

Muay Thai works in the street, and as long as the fight remains on the feet, it should have the advantage. But here comes the problem – as soon as fighters end up on the canvas, Muay Thai guys are not trained in the ground game and potential submission attempts.

A basic Kenpo fighter will have better chances on the ground, while a Muay Thai fighter potentially pieces him up on the feet. And there’s one more good side of Kenpo – it also teaches you self-defense against weapons.

Muay Thai Vs Kenpo comparison is so tricky here. Thai warriors should get the advantage on the feet, but when you’re dragged to the ground or attacked by a blunt object, ancient Chinese martial art might be a better choice.

Muay Thai Vs Kenpo – Who Would Win?

It depends on the ruleset. If it’s an MMA fight, Muay Thai fighters would have good chances with basic anti-wrestling and takedown stuffing knowledge. Otherwise, it’d be 50-50.

For the stand-up fight, it depends on the fighter’s experience level, but Muay Thai fighters could seriously harm Kenpo master’s legs with violent strikes under the belt.

You will say that I am biased, but I vote for Muay Thai as they are more prone to eating shots. I am sure the Muay Thai vs Kenpo bout wouldn’t last for long, as both martial arts tend to fight on the central line. They rarely move sideways and rather choose to stand and bang inside the pocket.

But again, there are no rules in the street. The environment matters so much, that Thai fighters would have to keep the bout standing by any means necessary! Kenpo has stricter competition rules, so the toughness advantage goes to Muay Thai!


I hope you learned something new today. Muay Thai vs Kenpo is an interesting comparison because there are so many similarities between ancient Siamese martial art and the modified Japanese style of fighting.

If a Muay Thai expert meets a Kenpo master, you’ll watch toe-to-toe exchange for sure until one of the fighters goes down. No surrender, no retreat, one man gets knocked out! I think both martial arts can help you defend in the street. Which one do you prefer, Kenpo or Muay Thai?

Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Deni

Picture of Deni


Hi, I started training Muay Thai back in 2016 and fell in love with it. So I decided to create this blog in the pursuit of this passion and share my experience with you.

Related Articles

muay thai vs savate

Muay Thai Vs Savate: A Head-To-Head Comparison

Hello again, I am here for the Muay Thai Vs Savate comparison. Before you start saying that I mixed apples and oranges, I must say that I understand your arguments. Different pieces of training equipment and rules are a perfect argument. But have you ever thought of the similarity between

Read More
muay thai vs jeet kune do

Muay Thai Vs Jeet Kune Do: A Head-To-Head Comparison

I am aware that many people are going to say “wait, stop mixing apples and oranges”. You’re trying to compare Bruce Lee’s kung fu with an ancient Siamese martial art? Well, my answer is “yes”, and I know what I’m doing. I have already compared the most popular sport from

Read More
muay thai vs pencak silat comparison

Muay Thai Vs Pencak Silat: A Head-To-Head Comparison

I’ve always been fascinated with the defensive aspect of Pencak Silat. The Indonesian martial art turns you into a real ninja. It was very useful before firearms, as Silat masters were trained to battle with and against all kinds of weapons. They would’ve had a solid chance of defending themselves

Read More
muay thai vs mma gloves comparison

Muay Thai Vs MMA Gloves: A Head-To-Head Comparison

Muay Thai and MMA are different disciplines. There is a huge equipment difference between the two martial arts. Yet, I’ve heard many people saying that an MMA glove could be similar to a Thai boxing product. Well, you can train the similar aspects of the game in the training session.

Read More

Health habit

Download Your Free Printable Fitness and Nutrition Schedule!