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What is Full Contact Kickboxing?

By Katie Schaefer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Full contact kickboxing, also known as American kickboxing, is a combat sport that combines Western boxing and traditional karate techniques. The sport was created in 1970 and differs from traditional karate insofar as opponents of similar weight are allowed to trade full contact jabs and kicks to the torso and head. While the term "full contact karate" has also been used to describe this sport, this term is essentially incorrect as it refers to any school of karate that incorporates full contact sparring. Full contact kickboxing is a sport in and of itself.

Competition rules can vary according to fighter-promoter preferences. Typically, opponents are allowed to strike with the fist and padded foot anywhere above the hip, including the head. Additionally, front leg sweeps to the inside and outside are permitted, while the use of elbows, knees, and un-padded shins are typically prohibited. This is in contrast to Muay Thai fighting where elbow and knee strikes are allowed unless otherwise specified.

Full contact kickboxing is distinguished in dress from other forms of kickboxing. Long pants and foot pads are mandatory, in addition to mouthpieces, hand wraps, gloves of eight to ten ounces, and groin cups for males. Shorts, bare feet, and head gear are strictly prohibited in professional full contact bouts.

Bouts between full contact fighters are typically three to 12 rounds of two to three minutes each, with a one minute rest period between rounds. Provided neither fighter is knocked out (KO) nor the fight is stopped by the referee declaring a technical knockout (TKO) the winner of the bout is determined by a panel of three judges. A split-decision results from a disagreement between the judges, while a unanimous decision indicates full agreement in regard to the winner. A winner may also be determined if the corner of one fighter literally throws in the towel as a means of forfeiting.

Similar to full contact kickboxing is mixed martial arts (MMA), a full-contact sport that incorporates ground grappling in addition to kicks and jabs. American MMA emerged in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship®, though events took place in Japan as early as 1989. Unlike full contact kickboxing, MMA fighters fight with small, open-fingered gloves that allow for open grappling. MMA bouts tend to be more brutal than full contact bouts, as the practice of ground-fighting allows for extensive manipulation of the body's faculties. The presence of women in full contact sports is one the rise, largely due to popular fighters such as Gina Carano and Megumi Fujii.

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Discussion Comments

By truman12 — On Jan 29, 2012

Has anyone ever heard of full contact women's kickboxing? I have seen lots of kickboxing events in the past but they are all for guys.

I have boxed a little in the past but I have always been more attracted to the full body contact of kickboxing. I also used to play soccer so I can really kick. I am not looking to kickbox professionally, but it would be nice to find some other like minded women who would like to train and spar together. Is this possible or am I out of luck?

By stl156 — On Jan 29, 2012

@jcraig - I absolutely agree. Most people that I know that participate in such events, like full contact kick boxing only do so as a hobby and have actual matches only about once every six months.

These types of regional events are a thrill for these people as most of them know that they will never make the big time and they can at least participate in some athletic event where the spotlight is on them and everyone is giving attention and watching.

There are even some small cash prizes for these events and it allows for someone to just get a small thrill and taste of what it is like to hear the crowd and get a bit of the attention that the professionals receive.

By jcraig — On Jan 29, 2012

@matthewc23 - Although most people have negative opinions of mixed martial arts, particularly American kick boxing, I find it to be something that is OK to do as long as the person knows the risks involved in participating in such events.

People say that only professionals are the ones that make money, but the fact is those professionals had to start somewhere and learn the trade before they could become as successful as they have become.

If someone is aspiring to be a professional in this industry they should keep in mind that the odds are slim that they will be successful and make a living at it, thus they should have a back up plan in place in case they do not succeed.

By matthewc23 — On Jan 28, 2012

@Izzy78 - To be totally honest I think that mixed martial arts have taken off so much because the scripted wrestling industry has been watered down since their height of popularity in the late 1990's and people looked more something more real and exciting to fill the void with.

The one thing about full contact kick boxing and mixed martial arts is that it is all real and that anyone can at least try to be a hack at it and participate in events without getting very seriously injured.

When I was a kid we would have wrestling matches in our backyard, but this was dangerous simply because those moves are designed by professionals not to hurt someone if done perfectly.

Mixed martial arts are simply something that can be done with some danger involved but usually not life threatening danger. I find it to be just simple fighting in a healthy manner that can have cash prizes involved.

By Izzy78 — On Jan 28, 2012

I have never participated in mixed martial arts before and I do so for good reason.

Although mixed martial arts have gained a lot of popularity recently, probably because it involves actual fighting, it is very dangerous for people to participate in and the people that are idolized on television are making hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so and are professionals.

I know many people that have participated in mixed martial arts, particularly full contact kick boxing and have incurred serious injuries as a result, which have kept them out of their normal lives and working their jobs.

I find this to be something that very few people can do for a living and do not understand why so many people want to participate in it.

By sunshined — On Jan 27, 2012

I wouldn't know much about kickboxing if it wasn't for my nephew. He is very involved in contact kickboxing and is quite good at it. He travels all over the place in different competitions.

Watching this combat type sport can be kind of tough if this is someone in your family. He has even participated in the WAKO kickboxing competition.

This is a world championship competition that is held every 2 years. I have been to a few of the local competitions and am not surprised at how seriously these competitions are taken.

By LisaLou — On Jan 26, 2012

Full contact kickboxing is too aggressive for my taste, but I have some friends who really enjoy it.

I like to do kickboxing exercises, but stay away from the full contact sport. The closet thing I have come to this is a kickboxing video I use when I want to get in a good cardio workout.

I enjoy doing the punches and kicks, but like to do this at my own pace and in my own home. The first time I participated in kickboxing was in a class at the gym.

I enjoyed the benefits enough that I purchased some videos to add to my exercise routine. Since I live in the country, I do most of my exercising at home and the videos work great.

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