September 4, 2022

Lethwei vs Muay Thai: Differences & Effectiveness

Lethwei and Muay Thai are major forms of martial arts with equal strength in a clash, although Lethwei is native to the land of Myanmar while Muay Thai is a sport which originates from Thailand.

The two fighting forms are scores apart in the techniques involved in fighting the opponent. Players engaging in Lethwei would often use just tape and gauze, wrapped around their knuckles. In contrast, those playing Muay Thai would often make use of hand wraps which go by the name of kard cheuk. Otherwise, they may usually also have a tape or a gauze under their fighting gloves.

As a combat sport, both seem to have garnered enough fandom among martial arts enthusiasts all over the world. By virtue of their fighting stance, neither one remains far behind at the use of impressive and tactical skills.

Let us dive into wider details about the two and explore how they are different from each other.

Brief History

Lethwei dates back to the era of the Pyu Empire in Myanmar. Records found from ancient times show that the armies in the country used it as a means of defence during war situations. Due to its similarity to several other forms of martial arts, Lethwei has gained enough popularity through the ages.

Fighter lands a kick to the reigning champion in a Myanmar Lethwei match in Yangon. Source: Flickr

Muay Thai dates back to the 18th century when dynasties from Burma and Konbaung used it to fight a battle. At that time, the sport was popular by other similar names such as toi muay or even muay. The martial art would often find use in actual warfare during fight sequences between opponents after that.

Since the time of their origination, Muay Thai and Lethwei have become popular as martial arts sports. Lethwei is also known by the name of Burmese bare knuckle boxing. On the timeline, Lethwei emerged even before Muay Thai.

The Similarities in Techniques

Stance and striking

Both Muay Thai and Lethwei centre around the aspect of stand up and involves hand to hand combat between the two players fighting the sport. Merely watching the two sports taking place between two opponents will give a fair idea about the similarities in combat.

Typically, the players would use a marching rhythm to take their positions in a fighting sequence in both forms of martial art. The formation of a square stance is synonymous to both players in Muay Thai and Lethwei as well.

Distribution of weight

Another prominent aspect of the two martial art sports is the distribution of weight. So, you will often notice players in the two sports placing weight on their rear leg. This helps them to remain light on the leg on the front.

By doing this, the players stand to react swiftly with their front leg. Thus, they are able to remain functional to perform a punch or kick as required. As a result, the players from the two sports are able to use many strikes and actions, which would otherwise be difficult.


Clinching is allowed in both sports. However, in Lethwei, there is a low tolerance for clinching action. Compared to Muay Thai, a referee is more likely to separate out two players if they see a longer period of inactivity. Clinching is a powerful technique which players will use in these martial arts to take down their opponent.

Similar to Muay Thai, there are 5 rounds of 3 minute duration each in Lethwei as well.

Differences in Techniques

Muay Thai is often given the name of ‘art of the eight limbs’. It draws this unique title due to the fact that a player can use a variety of striking techniques to play the sport. From using punches, elbows, kicks to pushing using the knee, a player can engage in combat using different limbs.

In addition to this, Lethwei progresses to make an expansion. This is how it came to be known as the ‘art of the nine limbs’. This is so because a player can also use their head to strike the opponent and gain a score.

Fighting technique

It is often said that the involvement of the head butts move gives a devastating tool to the opponent. So, it is common to observe a Lethwei fighter making use of a head butt attack. Commonly, they would set an attack with a combination of punches, while at the same time, trying to shorten the distance between them and the opponent. Then, at the right time, they are likely to launch a head butt move.

Nature of violence

Lethwei is more violent in comparison to Muay Thai. It lacks adequate hand protection which is usually available to a player of Muay Thai. So, ordinarily, you will see a Lethwei player clad only in tape and gauze wrap. On the contrary, players of Muay Thai fight with gloves around their hands.

Scoring system

Muay Thai makes use of a point system to award scores during a fight. However, there is a lack of scoring system in Lethwei. Traditionally, fighters in Lethwei need to knock down their opponent. Or else, they need to make them withdraw the match by causing an injury within the 5 rounds. If this does not happen, the match will come to a draw. In the absence of a scoring system, players usually tend to use more punches to strike their opponent.

Unique elements

In comparison to Muay Thai, there is an injury timeout element in Lethwei. Broadly speaking, fights in Lethwei tend to be more aggressive and reckless. Muay Thai does not promote this aggressive stance. This is why, during the first and last round of Muay Thai, players often fight just to feel the opponent. However, the same is not bound to happen in Lethwei, where not being aggressive is not an option.

Which is More Effective in a Street Fight?

If you are looking for an easy and effective way to engage in a street fight and come out winning, Muay Thai should be your choice of combat. When it comes to street fighting, you need something that does not involve rules and that is where Muay Thai brings you the win.

During a street fight, you need to be swift and tactful to take every lead possible. It is not a time to give much thought to the rules. Instead, it is time to take advantage of every possible situation. If you have been in a street fight, you would know that there is a need to fight at every possible move.

This kind of advantage is available in less measure with Lethwei.

Which is Better for Self Defense? 

When it comes to self defence, you will need something with the force of brutal power to your rescue. In this situation, Lethwei will prove to be more useful for you. With the combination of punches and kicks, along with the head butt attack, you are more likely to make a win against an opponent.

While Muay Thai is also a powerful form of combat, it may not be as effective when it comes to self defence in comparison to Lethwei.

So, if you are looking for something effective to use during self defence then Lethwei is a good choice.

Which is Easier to Learn?

Between Lethwei and Muay Thai, you will always find it easier to learn Muay Thai quicker than Lethwei. The simple reason behind it is the use of multiple forms of attack and movements such as head butt attack, which takes time to master.

Muay Thai involves easier formations and tactics which are easy to learn in less time. Lethwei on the other hand takes time to learn and requires immense practice to even incorporate the moves.

Which One Should you Choose?

When it comes to Muay Thai and Lethwei, you should decide the purpose for which you would like to train in the martial arts. If you are looking for a sport to help you get started in the domain of martial arts, then Muay Thai is the right choice for you.

If you are looking for a more serious form of martial arts, then Lethwei may be the right choice for you. It will introduce you to numerous fighting sequences which help you to face an opponent in open battle.

In Conclusion

In MMA fighting, Muay Thai and Lethwei have ample prominence. However, Lethwei continues to remain one of the most aggressive forms of fighting today in the world of martial arts. Muay Thai has also come to gain a lot of prominence in the world of martial arts today.

There is one slight advantage to Lethwei players over those who use Muay Thai in combat. Lethwei players are used to playing without boxing gloves. This impacts their movement and self defence tactics. When entering MMA combat, it can be really helpful for them because the gloves used in MMA fighting are not the same as those used in other sports like boxing.

Thus, a player must choose between either sport after considering these factors.

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