Post image for Savate vs Muay Thai Kickboxing

Savate vs Muay Thai Kickboxing

by Tom Reynolds on December 2, 2010

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions and emails asking me about Savate and whether it is better to learn than Muay Thai. Asking whether Savate is better than Muay Thai is a lot like asking if Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is better than Sambo, if Judo is better than Wrestling, or if Karate is better than Kung Fu. It isn’t the answer that most people want to hear, but every martial art is different. “Better” is relative to the person and what their goals are.


What is Savate?

Savate is a form of Kickboxing that was created by sailors in France.  Savate is now a popular sport, but like many martial arts, it began purely as a form of self-defense. I’m not going to go to deep into the history of Savate.  If you want more history, here is the Wiki article.

The main emphasis of Savate is placed on the footwork and high kicks.   Although power is important, the key points that Savate tries to focus on are speed and accuracy. Some common strikes in Savate, that also go by different names, include the side kick, roundhouse kick and hook kick.

Notice that there is a unique (silly) uniform worn, and it is standard for specific Savate shoes to be worn in training and competition.  Some of the kicks in Savate use the toe kick to specific targets like the solar plexus and aren’t very effective without the shoes.


What is Muay Thai?

If the name doesn’t give it away,  Muay Thai is a martial art that was born out of Thailand.  It is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because of its use of the fists, shins, knees and elbows.  Muay Thai has been around in Thailand for thousands of years and is the national sport of Thailand.  For more history on Muay Thai, here is the Wiki link.

Muay Thai is known for it’s powerful kicks and the devastating strikes from the Muay Thai clinch.  It is also similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the respect that there is a huge focus on conserving energy.  You won’t see too many Thai fighters jumping all over the place.  The footwork is simple and the movement is generally at a slow rhythm until they explode into a strike or counter.

Many of the strikes are different from most martial arts.  For example, the Muay Thai roundhouse kick has a huge emphasis on power.  Their is a lot less snap as they focus on turning the hips as hard as possible to drive through their opponent.  Instead of kicking with the instep, Muay Thai fighters kick with their shins.

Another addition to Muay Thai is their clinch.  The fighter holds the back of their opponents head with both hands and has their elbows below their opponents chin.  He then can rotate, off-balance, and strike with knees, elbows, and even short punches.

The Breakdown: Savate vs Muay Thai

Footwork and Movement

Savate is known for their elaborate footwork and athletic movement.  It is great for getting out of the way of strikes and setting up good angles.  Thai fighters focus on rhythm and conserving energy.  Their movement and footwork is much less elaborate than in Savate.


Savate has an emphasis on speed and accuracy.  The strikes aren’t as powerful, but they are very precise and fast.  Muay Thai offers knees and elbows in addition to the kicks and punches.  There are less kicks in Muay Thai, but they offer more power.


The Thai clinch has brutal knees and elbows. There is little to no clinch work in Savate.

In the end, it only makes sense to combine the aspects from the martial arts that work for you.  Try different things out and add what works.  The footwork and speed of the kicks in Savate are a great addition to the techniques in Muay Thai.

Feel free to comment with any questions below!

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  • Ron Dubbs

    The top picture is hilarious. He looks like a sumo wrestler.

    Good breakdown. It actually train both at a school in California. Savate is definitely a lot more movement and precision oriented than Muay Thai.

    Good post!

    • Eric

      Thank you Ron, that actually is a sumo wrestler, Akebono vs Bob Sapp. You’re lucky to have found a school that teaches both.

  • Bruce

    Muay thai without a shadow of a doubt is the best striking/stand up fighting style…it is simple,efficient and brutal..savate kicks (like the fouette) are quite impractical ie extending the foot at face level savate can be likened to amateur boxing,wherein point generation is the focus..muay thai,on the other hand,is like pro boxing,where the focus is to damage the opponent (something they do quite well !!)

  • pon

    has a savate fighter ever fought under lumpinee staduim?

  • toni

    For MMA purposes i would not consider Assault/Combat Savate (the ring versions) but the original street-fighting versions they derive from. It is taught as Savate Defence and it includes knees and some grappling and a bunch of moves that are complete illegal in the sport versions

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