by Andrew Bryan
It’s begun to die off now but in the hey day of K-1, there was plenty of discussion over which fighting style was better, Thai Style Muay Thai, or Dutch Style Muay Thai. This was a source of debate for years before the term Dutch Muay Thai gradually begun to die out and became replaced with Dutch Kickboxing.
Today we’re going to answer the question, what actually was Dutch Muay Thai, and did it even exist? And why do we not really hear the term anymore.
Where did the idea come from?
In the 90s through to the early 2010s, kickboxing was at the height of its popularity, while still certainly a niche sport – K-1 was huge in Japan and fighters from all around the world would travel to Tokyo to test their skills.
While there were successful fighters from all across the globe, including stand outs from Croatia and Brazil, the three best nations were undoubtedly Japan, Thailand and Holland. Thailand’s fighters were as you would expect, made up entirely of Muay Thai fighters, the great Buakaw being the most famous and successful. In fact outside of Jean Claude Van Damme movies, it was really K-1 that made Muay Thai famous as a style across the globe.
Despite this K-1 rules kickboxing had it’s roots in Muay Thai, with the sport originating from Kyokushin Karate pioneers like Kenji Kurosaki and the cross-style fights they had in Thailand.
Japan’s style was commonly just referred to as Japanese kickboxing, which you could best describe as a mix of Kyokushin karate, and Muay Thai when it came to knees and kicks, and fast combination based boxing. Fighters like Masato and Yoshihiro Sato were two of many great examples.
Finally Holland’s style somehow became a little mythical. ‘The Dutch Style’. It became so infamous that a google search for ‘dutch kicboxing’ will no doubt lead you to many forum threads of people outside Holland asking where they can find a dutch kickboxing gym. The answer always being the same ‘you go to Holland’.
The truth was Dutch Kickboxing wasn’t so much a style in of itself as much as it was a general trend in the training philosophies of Dutch gyms and dojos. In Muay Thai, low kicks didn’t score, in kickboxing they did – and so dutch fighters would simply use the simplest and quickest techniques, that being punches and low kicks and strongly emphasised them in their training.
So where did Dutch Kickboxing originate?
In Japan. Kenji Kurosaki, as mentioned earlier, took part in cross style fights between Muay Thai and Kyokushin Karate and this lead to him eventually founding ‘The Mejiro Gym’ named after the Mejiro District in Tokyo.
Toshio Fujiawara - Copyright Kyokushin World Union
The ‘Mejiro’ Style of kickboxing was based around punches and low kicks, and fighters like Toshio Fujiawara, who I have covered before, would go onto become very successful in Muay Thai and later kickboxing.
Jon Bluming with Alistair Overeem. Copyright – Alistair Overeem
Jon Bluming, a dutch Kyokushin black belt and friend of Kenji Kurosaki would send his students to train Japan. Jan Plas, one of his students would found a second Mejiro Gym in Amsterdam, from which fellow coaches like Lucien Carbin and Johan Vos would train, alongside great fighters like Rob Kaman and Andy Souwer.
Thom Harrinck, another student of Jon Bluming in Kyokushin would found his own kickboxing gym, Chakuriki. Kyokushin practitioner Cor Hemmers would do the same, founding the original Golden Glory Gym, now known as kickboxing.
So in short, one gym in Japan and one particularly influential dutch Kyokushin expert, would create a ripple effect that saw the founding of multiple kickboxing gyms in Holland.
So why is was it called ‘Dutch Muay Thai’?
This is where it gets trickier, as time goes on the term becomes rarer and rarer. This is a good thing as it means there’s a clearer understanding of what dutch kickboxing actually is – but it does make it harder to find clear information.
The misconception seems to stem from Ramon Dekkers time fighting under full muay thai rules in Thailand. Dekkers was far from a dominant fighter in Thailand, he would usually lose, but was very well respected for how fierce a fighter he was. As dutch kickboxing has some roots in Muay Thai, and Thailand was the best place to find fights in the 90s – dutch fighters would simply practise with elbows, do their best with the clinch and head out to Thailand to fight.
While fighters like Ramon Dekkers and Gilbert Ballantine weren’t exactly muay thai fighters, they were able to hold their own under the ruleset. This is where combat sports becomes murky, as every combat sport is technically a separate thing from it’s martial art. Fighting is fighting, and when Tyrone Spong and Nieky Holzken dominate professional boxers, we consider them boxers even though the majority of their combat sports experience and training comes from kickboxing. The same is true in this case, Ramon Dekkers was a Muay Thai fighter. What he wasn’t was Thai Boxer, or a Muay Thai stylist. He was a kickboxer.
This sort of nuance gets lost easy however, and for years dutch kickboxing was being referred to say ‘Dutch Muay Thai’ despite being a separate, yet related style.
The real question is to what degree do we consider dutch kickboxing to be a style that even exists rather than simply off shoots of the Mejiro style of Japanese kickboxing. Coaches like Lucien Carbin have worked tirelessly to create a well rounded style that covers all the major techniques of Muay Thai – while also innovating to create a style separate from Mejiro. We also see Duane Ludwig’s ‘Bang Muay Thai’ based upon the teachings of Bas Rutten, who was himself a Cor Hemmers guy. Yet despite being rooted in dutch kickboxing, it purports itself as Muay Thai – because it was born in the time where the two were misconstrued as being one and the same.
At the end of the day it could be said that none of this really matters – but it remains interesting, as martial arts moves further and further away from the rigid styles of the past, and evolves into a more fluid, meta-based situation.