THE DOC IS IN : The Rules Rule | Inside Kung Fu Magazine / Sept. 2002

My first reaction when asked to write about rules, specifically kickboxing rules, was, what about rules? I mean everyone knows that rules are necessary to level out the playing field. They give structure to the event. Everyone knows that without rules we have only confusion and the potential for a riot. So, what about rules?

Despite the fact that rules are necessary, how many fans actually take the time to know the rules? How many have given any thought to why certain rules are legal in one style and not another? And lastly, why the hell does kickboxing have so many different rules?

The concept of rules began with the Ten Commandments. You remember...thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal and so on. It could be said that this was the first official rule book.

Nowhere are rules and regulations more evident than in sports competition. In point of fact, there is no organized sport that doesn't have rules. Even the original Olympic Pankration had rules against eye gouging and biting.

As civilizations evolved, thou shalt not became...NO. No left turn! No loitering! Etc. Now, while it's generally accepted that the Ten Commandments are a divinely inspired set of rules, the same cannot be said for the rules of society or those associated with kickboxing, or any other sport.

Just as we may think of society's rules as a recipe for living within that society, so to are the rules comprising a sport. Think of it this way; rules are similar to the ingredients that make your mother's recipe for meatloaf, pad thai, chitlins or tamales so special. Just enough makes it a memorable experience, too little makes it bland, and too much is overkill. So, let's try and answer the question, what is the best rules recipe for kickboxing?

Rules are made by human beings, for all kinds of reasons. First and foremost, a generic set of rules is used by all kickboxing styles to protect the competitors. These include, but are not limited to, no biting; eye gouging; rabbit punches; joint locks; groin-strikes; spine and kidney blows; judo-type throws; and hitting a downed opponent. Reasonable by any standard!

A second reason that rules differ is that certain styles are more reality based than others. Thailand is the birthplace of Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing. Because the sport is reality based, with a lineage derived from close-quarter battlefield experiences, the rules are significantly less restrictive than most other styles. Obviously, in a life and death confrontation you don't hesitate to use your elbows, knees or anything else you've got.

Now, at the other end of the spectrum from Muay Thai is Full Contact, originally known as Full Contact Karate. It is very sport oriented: all kicks are above the waist; a minimum of eight kicks are mandatory each round and penalties assessed for failure to make the minimum; sweeps are permitted to the front leg only from the outside in or back to front and to the boot or low calf only; foot and shin pads are mandatory. Needless to say, elbow and knee strikes are not permitted.

A third reason that rules differ so much from style to style can be attributed to the various State Athletic Commissions.

When Muay Thai was originally imported into the USA in the mid 1970's, it employed the full use of knees and elbows as well as hand and foot strikes.

Unfortunately, despite the popularity of kickboxing in Asia, most of the commissions had no knowledge or experience with any form of kickboxing outside of Full Contact Karate.

Some commissions, California for one, appointed a variety of martial artists to an advisory committee, hoping for clarity and direction. Unfortunately, many of the appointees were almost as clueless as the commission.

Now, although the contrasting styles of Muay Thai and Full Contact were included under the generic banner of "Kickboxing", that's where the similarities begin and end. In point of fact, they couldn't be more dissimilar from each other than they are from boxing. So the question remained, what rules could be implemented to regulate such dissimilar sports?

In an attempt to find a happy medium between the extremes of Muay Thai and Full Contact and to limit their injury liability, the commissions tweaked the rules of each style and produced a hybrid form of kickboxing. In other words, Full Contact dropped its pants and put on shorts, got rid of the mandatory kicks and foot pads, and allowed sweeps and kicks to the outside part of the legs. In most states, elbow and knee strikes to the head were prohibited, frequently to the body as well.

So, it's now 2002 and we're looking for just the right blend of rules and action. A compromise between a street fight and a sport fight. Something that fans can get passionate about. A kickboxing recipe that rivals your mother's recipe for tamales.

My personal favorite is traditional Muay Thai, complete with knee and elbow strikes. However, given today's social and political mentality in the USA, I know that most states will prohibit elbow strikes entirely and restrict knee strikes to the body only. Thankfully the rest of the world is more enlightened.

The international Muay Thai Rules style, a long-time favorite in Europe, and popularized by the K-1 promotions gets my vote as the best overall recipe for kickboxing. Essentially, it is Muay Thai without elbow strikes. It is equally popular with the fighters and fans alike. An exciting but regulated street brawl.

In my opinion, if kickboxing hopes to expand its fan base and become a major sport, it needs a recognizable product with unified rules. Unified rules convey a professional sport mentality to the general public and the regulatory agencies and commissions worldwide. International Rules style wins again!

In closing, I want to share the comments of Dean Juipe, boxing writer for the Las Vegas Sun, from his 11/02/01 piece. Although he was discussing mixed martial arts, the same can be said of kickboxing. "Boxing is something of an ancient sport and has at least a recognizable structure and merits a certain level of coverage, while the proliferation of mixed martial arts events is befuddling at best and downright confusing given their diversity and splintered proponents."