Kung Fu vs. Kickboxing Differences

Kung Fu vs. Kickboxing Differences

Kung Fu and Kickboxing are two prevalent martial arts practiced by millions all over the world. They are both primarily striking arts and use some similar techniques. But, they have much more differences than similarities, and you should know what they are before choosing one or the other. So, what are the differences between Kung Fu and Kickboxing?

Kung Fu emphasizes the traditional philosophy and form in its practices and doesn’t focus too much on sparring and actual combat. On the other hand, Kickboxing is known to be one of the deadliest striking martial arts in existence. It emphasizes sparring and power the most.

Note that this doesn’t mean that Kung Fu can’t be great for self-defense, too. It has some other advantages and will teach you many different things, apart from learning how to fight. Kickboxing has its own advantages and a completely different philosophy, which means you’ll learn different things outside of pure fighting. Let’s dissect the two to help you determine which style suits you better personally.

What are the differences between Kung Fu and Kickboxing?

To determine which of the two is the better choice, one must learn what characteristics each of the arts possesses. They have many similarities, which we’ll mention, but the differences are what will ultimately lead to you choosing one or the other. They have a different philosophy, techniques, approaches to training, and combat and will provide you with a different skillset overall.

We’ll get a bit deeper into both Kung Fu and Kickboxing individually to see which one is the best option for you, based on your personality and preferences.

A bit more about Kung Fu

Kung Fu is one of the oldest martial arts in existence. We can date the first forms of this Ancient Chinese martial arts right around 3 thousand years ago. It is believed that the craft was developed in a Shaolin temple by the monks.

At first, it was designed to combine meditation and exercise to help the monks get in better physical shape. However, the temples’ constant attacks prompted the monks to modify their craft and make it more effective for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. That’s how Shaolin Kung Fu was developed.

Shaolin Kung Fu is still by far the most popular form of Kung Fu that has hundreds of variations and sub-styles, so this is the one we’re going to talk about in this article. Also, this ancient martial art is the root of many other arts developed from it, such as Karate, Kenpo, etc. 

So, you can easily argue that Kung Fu has a lot more in common with Karate than it has with Kickboxing. Also, Kickboxing is more similar to Karate than it is to Kung Fu. However, they are still very much different, both in style and philosophy.

In Kickboxing, the focus of your training will always be combat. Sparring, learning combinations, technique, and getting as strong as possible physically to overpower your opponent with brute force. That’s not the case in Kung Fu, especially in modern Kung Fu that you can learn in most of the gyms today.

Traditional, ancient martial arts such as Kung Fu have all had a different purpose back in the day. It was not only meant for fighting, but for keeping your mind healthy as much as your body. Therefore, there’s an emphasis on form and execution, while sparring and combat come second. 

Some techniques and methods are quite complicated and require a lot of time to master. Some of them are quite ineffective in a real battle, simply because they take too much time to execute. By the time you’re finished with your move, you’re getting knocked out three times by a Kickboxer.

That is because their focus and movement are much more straightforward. The striking is more simple, with much less flashy moves. You don’t need to look good while banging a low kick to your opponent; you just need to be protected from damage at all times and be as forceful as you can while maintaining your balance. It seems simple, but it is not.

Hence, Kung Fu is more focused on form end representation, having much to do with your state of mind and spirituality. You learn discipline, focus, and execution much more than you learn real combat. You will also meditate a lot and try to find peace of mind and body.

That being said, if you want a taste of real, traditional martial arts, there is nothing better for you to choose than Kung Fu.

A bit more about Kickboxing

Unlike Kung Fu, Kickboxing is designed to deliver as much force and damage as possible, in the quickest way possible. There’s no flashiness, no dancing around, no showing off. You need to be aggressive, direct, and forceful if you wish to compete.

We can say that it is way more aggressive in nature than Kung Fu. Most of the Shaolin techniques are focused on working from the back foot, countering incoming attacks with brisk combinations.

Kickboxing movement, on the other hand, is much more straightforward and active. You’re always seeking to advance and get the opponent at a disadvantage.

Also, there are no elbows and knees in Kickboxing, while some can be found in Kung Fu. To add to it, you won’t learn flashy, ineffective techniques. Your training will be focused on what you can actually do in a ring and how to destroy your opponent.

It’s a much younger martial art that has roots around 500 years ago. However, as known today, Kickboxing developed in the 1960s, when they implemented gloves, shin guards, etc., and turned it into a real, deeply regulated sport.

To conclude, Kung Fu, focuses more on form and spirituality, while Kickboxing focuses more on real combat and physicality.

Which is better for self-defense: Kung Fu or Kickboxing?

If we were talking about Kung Fu that was practiced at the beginning of the art, it would be a whole different answer. The methods and techniques were more direct and effective, and sparring was an unavoidable segment of each training. But, if we’re talking about Kung Fu that you can learn today, then Kickboxing is undoubtedly the better option for self-defense.

That doesn’t mean that there are no schools where you can learn proper Kung Fu, which is highly effective for self-defense. The problem is that Hollywood has extremely commercialized Kung Fu, and now most of the Kung Fu teachers are not really masters of the ancient art. They will teach you all the flashiest moves, but when push comes to shove, you’ll see that they are abysmally ineffective, especially compared to other martial arts.

Take Kickboxing, for example, or a variation of Kickboxing called Muay Thai. They aren’t exactly the same thing but are, in reality, two variations of Kickboxing with a slight difference in the ruleset. There are numerous examples of Kung Fu masters claiming their craft is superior and then falling flat on their face in real combat against Muay Thai athletes.

In the early 20s, there were a dozen of Chinese vs. Thai martial art combats held. Kung Fu masters were all knocked out by their Muay Thai opponents in a matter of minutes. 

Some better-documented battles occurred in the 70s. Kung Fu masters Huo Guang and Kuang Han Jie traveled to Thailand to square off against Muay Thai opponents. They both got put to sleep in the first round.

The next year, planning their revenge, a five-person team from China went to Thailand again to battle, only to lose by knockout- all five times. The list of these instances goes on and on.

The conclusion: if you want to learn self-defense, you shouldn’t think too hard between Kung fu and Kickboxing. Sure, some Kung Fu schools can teach you proper fighting, but those are very rare and very hard to find.

Today, Kung Fu is more focused on looking good than being effective in real combat, while Kickboxing is completely the other way around.

Which one should you choose: Kung Fu or Kickboxing?

In the end, it all boils down to you and your personality. You have to know what you are looking for out of your martial arts training. Only then can you rest assured that you’ve made the right choice. And, since we’ve already discussed what both Kung Fu and Kickboxing bring to the table, the answer to this question will actually be a short conclusion of the entire article.

If you prefer the mental aspect of martial arts more than the physical, choose Kung Fu. If you wish to learn how to meditate, how to focus and clear your thoughts, and how to get that peace of mind we all need, then choose Kung Fu. If you prefer form and style overpower and force, choose Kung Fu.

On the other side of the specter, if your goal is to learn how to defend yourself effectively, Kickboxing is the way to go. Your training will be much more focused on the combat itself and getting into pristine physical condition. You’ll get much stronger, too. Also, the sport’s nature will give you a lot more confidence and can work great for stress relief. It’s also a lot more aggressive, so if these characteristics are more appealing to you, choose Kickboxing over Kung Fu.

Gianluca Martucci, Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer.
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Gianluca Martucci

Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer. Since he was a kid, he has been a big fan of Martial Arts and Combat Sports: from Wrestling and now MMA to Karate and Kung Fu, for this reason he specialized in workouts for martial artistis. Our testing and reviewing method.
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