September 4, 2022

Karate vs MMA: Differences & Effectiviness

Should you go for Bruce Lee’s One-inch punch or McGregor’s low back-heel kick? Are you confused between the most traditional martial art, Karate and the most popular martial art, MMA? 

Let us discuss which one will suit you the most!

Karate literally translated, means “empty hand fighting”. It is the form of martial art which emphasizes concentrating all your body’s power at the point of impact. This form of martial art includes the usage of kicking, punching, knee strikes, elbow strikes, joint locks, grappling and vital points strikes. Mixed Martial Arts, also known as MMA is a hybrid combat sport comprising the techniques of boxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu, Karate, Muay Thai and other disciplines.

Wait till we reach the most interesting parts about which will be the best if you are someday caught up in the middle of an unpleasant situation.

Tracing the History

Various theories surround the origin of Karate. Very little is known of its origin before its appearance in Okinawa. Thus Okinawan Islands are credited with its birth. The modern-day Karate is an outcome of influence from Japanese, Chinese and Okinawan Karate. Mixed Martial Arts place of birth can be traced to the Olympics held in Greece.


As mentioned earlier, the history of the origin of Karate is subject to various theories. However, Okinawa Islands are believed to be its place of birth, and from there it travelled to mainland Japan. 

There is a lot of mystery and debate around the exact origins of Karate. It is believed that the history of Karate can be traced 1400 years back to Western India. 

According to one popular theory it is believed to have originated in India over a thousand years ago, brought to China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidarma known as “daruma” in Japanese This advanced and rigorous training system’s records were found in a book called ‘Ekkin-Kyo.’ The book is often referred to as the first book on Karate. 

Mixed Martial Art originated in the form of a hand-to-hand combat sport. The sport was earlier known as pankration. It comes from the Greek words – pan and kratos, meaning “all powers”. Later on, this style of fighting resurfaced in the 20th century in Brazil through a combat sport known as vale tudo (“anything goes”) with little to no rules. 

Its popularity rose by the efforts of brothers Carlos and Hélio Gracie, who began a jiu jitsu school in Rio de Janeiro in 1925. The siblings garnered attention by issuing the “Gracie Challenge” in area newspapers. Subsequently, it became so popular that they had to be moved to large soccer stadiums to accommodate the crowds. 


Anko Itosu, at the turn of the early 19th century, gained permission to lift the blanket of secrecy which had shrouded Karate forever. He began teaching Karate in Okinawan schools for the people who wished to learn. This was followed by further expansion by one of Itosu’s students and reached us after travelling hundreds of years.

MMA first caught the eyes of many in North America after the Gracie family decided to showcase its trademark Brazilian jiu jitsu in the United States in the 1990s. Hélio’s son Royce Gracie represented the family in a 1993 tournament in Denver, Colorado, that became known as UFC. The name was an abbreviation for Ultimate Fighting Championship, an organization that became the leading promoter of MMA events.


Karate is a way of life that trains a practitioner to be peaceful; but if the conflict is inescapable, Karate governs taking down an opponent with a single blow. For this, the fighter has to focus on speed and strength. 

Karate preaches the necessity of development of the body, mind and the soul, that is, the all-around development of a person simultaneously. The harmony born from the unity of mind and body is intensely powerful. 

Nothing can be compared to the perfect synchronization of mind and body. The core teaching of Karate is effortless action, confidence, humility, openness and peace, which is only possible through perfect unity of mind and body.

Mixed Martial Art educates one to train the body and mind with sheer intensity and dedication such that no resistance can overwhelm oneself and compel one to give up.


Karate training demands excellent concentration and poise to learn the technique of adequately using body and mind simultaneously. Karate in certain movies is glorified to be competitive and more about inflicting pain on the opponent. Still, in reality, it focuses on outwitting the opponent through a combination of fluid movements. 

While MMA is a combat sport aimed at knocking down the opponent or forcing him/her to submit with strong punches, kicks or holds, MMA borrows techniques from all other martial arts and functions on particular sets of rules.  


Karate requires its practitioners to balance their lower and upper body strength to deliver offensive as well as defensive moves. It comprises a technique that equally incorporates kicks and strikes into its different combinations and styles. 

MMA is similar to Karate in a sense that it’s a balanced discipline, but its assimilation of techniques from different martial arts sets it apart. Its practitioners train in a wide range of styles such as kicking, punching and grappling.


Traditional Karate is a form of martial art, born in Okinawa as an instrument of self-defense and self-growth. 

MMA is also beneficial for self defense, but it was not developed with that purpose. MMA has been managed effectively under specific rules. Some of the rules are one on one fighting; wearing protections such as gloves, mouthpiece, and groin protector; limited rounds of predetermined duration; and the prohibition against attacking the most vital parts of the body (eyes, groin, etc.).  

But in Karate there are many close-range techniques which may be considered illegal in MMA, like putting your thumbs into the opponent’s eyes, and grabbing and smashing the opponent’s groin. Traditional Karate has no rules because, in street fights, there are no rules.

Karate also focuses on training one’s body as hard as a rock, so the practitioners hit themselves with sticks, woods etc. But MMA fighters wear protection, so they do not indulge in such rigorous training.

 Two professional fighters posing isolated


The top Karate federations of the world are :

  1. World Karate Federation
  2. Japan Karate Association
  3. International Traditional Karate Federation
  4. Shotokan Karate of America
  5. European Karate Federation

The top MMA federations of the world are :

  1. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
  2. ONE Championship (ONE)
  3. World Series of Fighting (WSOF)
  4.  Bellator MMA
  5. Jungle Fight


The basics in Karate go under the name of Kihon. Some of the names of stances and movements included in Karate are sparring, punches, kicks and blocks. While in MMA, the moves consist of Jab, Overhand, Round Kick, Knee From the Double-Collar Tie, Double-Leg Takedown, Trip, Sprawl, Guard Pass.


Karate is literally translated to empty hand fighting. It does not incorporate the usage of any kind of weapon. MMA also does not use any weapons. MMA fighters require different protection equipment such as hand gloves, mouthpiece, groin protection etc.

Which One is More Effective in a Street Fight?

Karate and MMA give each other a tough fight in this one!

Both these martial art forms can be ineffective in street fights if the fight includes a large group of people or weapons. And the confidence gained in training in a cage for MMA or training your body as hard as a rock in Karate will help you overcome these two obstacles of street fighting.


Considering MMA first, since it comprises a wide range of techniques, it makes you a fighter ready for any kind of fight. The training includes neutralizing your opponent through ankle locks, punches, grappling, kicks etc. The Takedowns defenses can be 100% effective if used at the right moment. MMA basically teaches you to survive in one on one combat in a cage. 

Karate is used mainly for avoiding conflicts. The kicks, strikes, stances will be effective only if the opponent’s attack is well-judged and timing of one’s attack is accurate. Let us not forget one thing that Karate was developed by the street fighters and the street has no rules, so the practitioners are trained to punch in the eye and use groin kicks. 

At the end of the day, it all depends on the practitioner’s abilities and training. Both the forms of martial arts are equally effective if the one practicing it has acquired the right skills through absolute dedication.

Which One is Better for Self Defense?

Since MMA fighters are trained in a range of techniques, but Karate practitioners are taught in the control of both physical and mental aspects of being, the balance is inclined slightly towards Karate in the case of self defense.

In the situation of self defense, the one trained to have control over their mind can overcome it easily. Both martial art forms teach a great deal in self defense. MMA specializes in grappling, holds and throws while Karate masters in different stances of punching and kicking. 

Karate is sometimes overlooked due to the rise in popularity of the blood dripping combat sport of MMA, but its negligence in self defense is illogical.  

The main focus is the one having the calm and confidence in the life-threatening situation; a panic move of any form will be lethal while a perfectly timed action of any way will be life-saving. 

Which is Easier to Learn?

Mixed Martial Arts is more comfortable to learn, but it comes with its fair share of “ifs” and “buts”.

Most students adapt to the movements of Karate in six months to a year. There are quite a few variables when it comes to achieving a Black Belt, but it takes an average student somewhere between three to five years to learn Karate efficiently.

If you have any previous experience in other forms of martial arts, the time can be drastically reduced. Still, in general, two years is the amount of time that it takes for fighters to consider themselves accomplished at this sport.

Which One should You choose?

The answer to this question lies with you. Both the form of martial art requires physical as well as mental toughness and training, along with sheer determination and dedication. 

So it comes down to you to pursue the martial art which suits your capabilities perfectly. Your interest and admiration for a particular form of martial art will be the guiding light in your decision. 

Pursue any but give your best in what you do as both martial arts has one thing in common : 



Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

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