I’ve been learning about and doing karate and martial arts for quite some time, and I noticed new people that I train with aren’t aware of how karate and martial arts are related and whether they’re the same thing. Based on my experience and research here’s what I found.
Is karate and martial arts the same thing?
Karate is a kind of martial art. Martial arts is a term used to encompass all the fighting arts. For example, karate, boxing, judo, kickboxing, and Brazilian jiu jitsu are all types of martial arts. They are each unique and some cover only a distinct aspect of a real fight.
You might be looking to start training martial arts for fitness and self-confidence, or want to get your kids involved to improve their discipline, and keep them safe. So, it’s a good idea to understand how all the different martial arts fit together.
Below, I’ll explain in more detail the main differences between them, and give a bit of insight into which is the best, and why.
Can karate be used for self defense?
There are many different styles of karate, and the way they are trained differs between instructors and styles.
But, the skills taught are striking, grabs, and holds to subdue an aggressor.
If during the training you get exposed to ‘live’ drills or do sparring then you will be better prepared than an untrained person. But, a fight is unpredictable, and there’s a risk of serious injury even for an extremely well-trained person.
On rare occasions, you may find yourself In a situation where you can’t get away, and you’re forced to defend yourself.
Having trained in ‘live’ situations you’ll have more practice in the common scenarios that occur in a real fight, and your skills and experience could save your life.
Grappling martial arts versus striking martial arts
A real fight is typically chaotic. But, a common way that fighting can be thought about is to distinguish two core aspects of a fight, striking and grappling.
Grappling refers to the part of the fight where you’re essentially ‘hugging’ one another. And each person is trying to get into a better position that makes the rest of the fight easier for them, and harder for your opponent.
Certain martial arts specialize in this aspect of a fight more than others and include:
- Judo – All about throws and joint locks that can break your opponents arms, legs, ankles. As well as, choke holds that can choke them unconscious.
- Wrestling – more of a sport, but can be used to hold an opponent down indefinitely, or in a position where you can strike them and they can’t strike you back.
- Brazilian jiu jitsu – a specific type of judo that was further refined. But, there are many different styles, some have more of a focus on competition and aren’t necessarily as effective for self defense.
However, some schools like Gracie Jiu Jitsu train self defense techniques for a real-life situation.
- Sambo – Sambo is a Russian martial art that is extremely popular in Russia. It has the core techniques of Judo, but is trained with strikes and kicks. Sparring and sambo matches look like an MMA fight.
- Karate – Karate sport competition resembles a kick boxing match. But, the art as a whole has grappling techniques. These aren’t used in competition but are trained at some karate schools.
Striking arts on the other hand have only a small focus on grappling, and by comparison, more emphasis is placed on standing toe to toe with your opponent and exchanging blows. These include martial arts like:
- Kickboxing – Muay Thai (from Thailand) and Dutch Kickboxing (from the Netherlands).
Muay Thai has the nickname the ‘art of 8 limbs’ because there are 8 major strikes, 4 on your left side, and 4 on your right side. Which are punches, elbows, kicks, and knees.
Kickboxing does train grappling, and there are trips and throws. But, they don’t train fighting on the ground or joint locks and chokes.
- Boxing – Only throwing punches, and punches can only be above the waist.
- Karate – Sport karate resembles kickboxing, but has aspects of grappling.
- Taekwondo – Most of the emphasis is on kicks.
- Brazilian Jiu jitsu – Traditional Brazilian Jiu jitsu also called Gracie jiu jitsu named after the Gracie family who spread it in Brazil incorporates strikes.
But, standing and trading blows is considered a bad fight strategy. And they only use strikes to set up getting in close and fighting from there (grappling).
Or, once in a dominant grappling position where the jiu jitsu practitioner can’t be hit, or where their opponent can only strike them lightly, in a way that doesn’t affect the outcome of the fight.
Here’s an interesting video that explains strikes as it relates to how close you are to your opponent:
Do you actually fight in karate?
Some karate schools will incorporate ‘live training’ or sparring where you and your partner are trying to hit each other and avoid getting hit.
But, pads are worn and during practice, most schools only tap each other lightly so that neither person gets injured.
On the other hand, some karate schools purely practice ‘kata’, and do punching and kicking drills independent of a partner which doesn’t give you the reflexes you need in a fight to avoid strikes and to hit your opponent.
Is karate useful in real life?
Sparring and sport karate are effective at developing the skills needed to protect yourself.
But, they don’t cover all aspects of a fight, for example, if you get tackled to the ground. Or, you get into a clinch. A clinch is a grappling term where both opponents are ‘hugging’ each other.
Certain karate schools teach and practice techniques for these situations but in sport karate clinching isn’t allowed. Much, like boxing where the referee will separate opponents when they start ‘hugging’ each other.
So, it’s important to do some research into the specific karate school to see what kind of training they do. To see if what they teach is right for you.
I recently wrote an article that explained some ways to do research and what to keep in mind when finding the best karate school for you. You can read that article by clicking here.
To sum up, karate is a type of martial art. Martial arts can be broadly separated into two major types, grappling and striking. Sport karate is primarily a striking martial art, but karate as a whole does incorporate some grappling, which covers all aspects of a fight.
Sport karate will give the reflexes for a real fight. But, you won’t have any skills on top of what an ordinary person would do when the fight goes to the ground, or you’re in close wrestling with each other.