September 4, 2022

Shotokan vs Kyokushin Karate: Differences & Effectiveness

There are many types of martial arts around the world, and they are further divided depending upon their origin, styles, and techniques. Karate is probably one of the most popular and widely known martial arts forms around the globe.

But did you know that Karate is further bifurcated into different styles?

Oh, you did!

So you are confused between Shotokan and Kyokushin forms of Karate?

Both Shotokan and Kyokushin are Japanese in origin and are highly influenced by the Japanese style of martial arts. Shotokan relies on speed and strength rather than a skillful decision. It is a straight style with an intense training regimen. Kyokushin is probably the wildest form of Karate using full body contact. Practitioners are trained in Goju-ryu kind of deflections and Muay Thai kicking techniques.

In this post, we are going to have a cursory overview of Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate and how they differ from each other in terms of styles and techniques.

Tracing the History

Gichin Funokoshi is believed to have created the Shotokan style of Karate. The name is derived from the pen name that he used while writing poetry. After years of training and learning in Okinawa, he established this style in 1938 when he moved to Japan. The technique was advanced by himself and his son, and it gained massive popularity among the masses.

The founder of Kyokushin Karate is Sosai Masutatsu Oyama. He practiced the Okinawa Karate form in the dojo of Gichin Funokoshi. After the death of Japan in the second world war, Oyama practiced Goju – ryu under a Korean master. From there, the foundations of Kyokushin were laid.

Kyokushin had many followers despite the fact that it was probably the most aggressive style of Karate. In the early 1950s, the first Kyokushin dojo was established. Ever since then, it started getting recognition all around the world.


Kyokushin Karate requires exceptional strength, stamina, and a very high spirit to fight. Lyoto Machida is a student of Shotokan Karate. The practitioners use a linear movement to throw impressive and quick strikes employing the elbows, hands, knees, and feet.


Speed and precision is of the utmost importance when it comes to Karate. Quick and fast strikes in succession characterize Shotokan. It is instrumental in street fights because of the speed, evasion techniques, and sudden onset. Kyokushin Karate, on the other hand, is comparatively slow, and it depends on one fighter to another.

Rigidity and Strength

Kyokushin Karate, as mentioned above, is very aggressive and tough. It can beat any other styles of Karate ten times over in terms of rigidity, strength, and endurance. In contrast, Shotokan Karate clearly lacks in this aspect. It is not as rigid or strong in comparison during the fighting sessions as it depends on speed and utilizes linear techniques.

Skills of Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate

In Kyokushin Karate, players are not allowed the punch the opponent’s face. It employs kicks and punches in a short/close distance fight. Knees and elbows are utilized to target the vital areas of the opponent. The aim is to muster maximum strength to boost up the kicks.

Shotokan Karate aims at punching the opponent’s face with the use of sweeps and emphasis on Kata. Long kicks are rarely used in Shotokan while hitting the aggressor. It is essential to have the right angle while throwing any punches. Usually, despite impressive footwork, attacks to the leg area is not permitted during the fight.

Differences in the Striking Techniques 

The strikes in Kyokushin are targeted at the stomach and are very strong and powerful. The practice not only helps in building techniques but also hardens the fighters. On the contrary, the strikes are often minimal when it comes to Shotokan Karate. 


Through the use of consecutive punches and kicks, Kyokushin aims toward achieving full body contact. This is done to open all corners of the opponent’s body other than the head for hits during sparring. On the contrary, Shotokan karate has very limited to no contact with the opponent.


Kyokushin karate uses legwork actively as the practitioner engages in striking the opponent’s legs. In contrast, Shotokan karate focuses on very controlled strikes. They aim at the side body, face, neck, and head and omit the lower body of the opponent completely. 


In Shotokan Karate, the judge assesses the score after the strike of any of the players and then awards the points accordingly. The game concludes when the referee is happy with the technique employed by one of the plates. While in Kyokushin Karate, the fighter has to limp the opponent to gain a point.

Sparring or Kata?

Kyokushin Karate focuses on sparring and avidly practises it while Shotokan Karate puts more emphasis on katas.


The tournament styles in both the Shotokan style and Kyokushin style of Karate are different. The Shotokan Karate tournament styles can be divided into three major formats – Semi-contact point sparring, Kata, and Continuous Glove Full Contact Sparring.

The Kyokushin Karate tournament styles can be divided on the basis of four formats which include K-1 Rule Match, Kata, Full contact bare knuckle sparring and Non contact point sparring.

In Shotokan Karate minor scores or points are awarded for punches, throws, sweeps and kicks while in Kyokushin Karate major scores or points are awarded for knocking the opponent down.

Which is More Effective in a Street Fight?

There is no way around it – Kyokushin Karate is better.

When it comes to a real-life situation, the impulse is to survive. In order to meet the aggression from the attacker, you need to respond accordingly. Kyokushin Karate is more aggressive. Hence it is always a better choice.

This does not mean that Shotokan Karate is not effective. The knowledge of any form of martial art forms comes in handy when caught up in the middle of a confrontational situation. It is a straight style and does not focus more on skillful deflections.

But Kyokushin Karate believes in dealing with damage to the opponent as quickly as possible, and the practitioners are trained on the same line. The Muay Thai kicks also come in handy.

Therefore, when the question of effectiveness in the street fight comes up, Kyokushin’s form of Karate sweeps the trophy.

Which is Better for self-defense?

Voila! Kyokushin is magically conjured up again!

In real-life situations, the opponent is not in a friendly fight with you. His ultimate aim is to harm and incapacitate you. In order to meet that aggression, you will have to respond in a similar manner.

When it comes to Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate, there is no doubt that the latter is better for self – defense. The main reason for this is the techniques that it employs. The strikes are very powerful, and it comes in at various angles.

It is very important to deal as much damage as you can to get a chance to escape. It is always good to avoid such situations, but it might be totally unprecedented. The sparring techniques help in preparing a person for some untoward happenings.

The close distance helps in using both the hands and the legs and exerting more power to the strikes. Shotokan, however, lacks in all this.

Therefore, when the question of self-defense arises, Kyokushin Karate, undoubtedly, has the upper hand.

Which is More popular?

Fig: A comparative chart showing the popularity of Kyokushin and Shotokan Karate over a span of five years in the United States.

In the chart above, the blue line is representative of Shotokan Karate, and the red is representative of Kyokushin Karate. This picture speaks in favor of the Shotokan style, which has remained considerably more popular in the first three years. But, if you notice carefully, we see that both are somewhat 60-40 in terms of popularity in the last two years.

Shotokan Karate is more comfortable to learn as it does not require as much rigorous training regimen as Kyokushin does. It can be taught to children as well, and therefore it is more popular than the other.

The rise in the trend in favor of Kyokushin Karate might be because of the fact that people are realizing that it is indeed better for self-defense and will help you escape an unpleasant situation.

Which is Easier to Learn?

Shotokan Karate is comparatively easier to learn.

Shotokan Karate takes around three and a half to five years to learn. While Kyokushin Karate, on the other hand, takes approximately four and a half to seven years to learn. This comparison is based on how much time does it take to reach the black belt.

What One Should You Choose?

Now that we have finally arrived at the most critical question, it is important to keep a few things in mind before making a decision.

If you want to go all-in and downright aggressive something, Kyokushin Karate is your pick. Remember, it is going to be a tough one. But if you’re going to learn a martial art form but don’t wish something very rigorous to start – Shotokan Karate is your companion.

The fighting stance in both are different. Shotokan are non to semi-contact while Kyokushin is a full-contact martial art.

It all boils down to your capacity and how much you are willing to invest. Knowing your strength and weaknesses, explore your options, and decide what suits you better. 

Gear up and take it on!

More Comparisions

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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