Karate Vs. Judo: What’s The BIG Difference?

Karate vs. Judo: How they compare - CraftofCombat.com

Karate and Judo are both very popular martial arts so it’s natural to wonder how they are different. Although both karate and judo are Japanese martial arts, they couldn’t be any more different! They are both popular

It’s hard to find two more different martial arts than karate and judo. Karate is a striking art and that means throwing punches and kicks to take out your opponent. Judo doesn’t do kicks and it rarely does any punches, instead it’s all about grappling and throws. So, when push comes to shove which is going to be the best for you?

What is the difference between karate and judo? The difference between karate and judo is that karate is a striking art. That means karate’s focus is on punching and kicking. Judo doesn’t do kicks and rarely punches because it is a grappling and throwing art.

When it comes to street fighting judo may have the edge but in MMA, it may be that judo has a very clear advantage over karate. This advantage is reversed in a professional fight. Let’s see why this is exactly.

A Brief Introduction To Karate

Karate, just like Judo, is a Japanese martial art. Despite the fact that they both come from Japan, they don’t have very much else in common.

Karate comes originally from a martial art that was just called “te”. That is “hand” in Japanese. Karate means “empty hand”. Te was practiced on the islands of the Ryukyu Kingdom. If you are wondering why you haven’t heard of the Ryukyu Kingdom, it’s because it became part of Japan (sort of on pain of death).

Karate is an offensive martial art which primarily revolves around striking the opponent. That is attacks are launched using hands and feet and involve punches, kicks, strikes, etc.

There are some unusual forms of karate which offer some training in grappling as well, but this is not the norm and karate is mainly concerned with strikes.

Te + Kung Fu = Karate

For the longest period of time, Te was influenced by Kung Fu and in Japan it was often known as “Chinese hand” or “Tangte”.

However, following World War 1 and diminished relations with China, in the 1920s, Japan made te their own and the name karate was brought into common usage.

Karate “open hand” is not concerned with the use of weapons and it is only rarely that it is practiced as a form of defense against weapons and weapons are never used for offensive purposes in karate.

Buddhist Roots

Karate has Buddhist roots and in particular it comes from Shingon, Buddhism which is different (but only subtly) from the Chang Buddhism of Kung Fu practitioners.

Because of this and because of a genuine acknowledgement of the dangers of fighting, karate students are taught to avoid real fights where possible.

In fact, a karateka might only be expected to fight once or twice in their whole life outside of the dojo!

Ranks In Karate: A Belt Sport

Karate took its cue from Judo and introduced a belt system in Japan during the 1930s. Those who choose karate outside of Japan will never have known a pre-belt karate as it was popularized during the 1960s and 1970s thanks to martial arts movies.

A black belt takes approximately 3-6 years to earn and is not a symbol of mastery (as it might be in Jiu-Jitsu) but rather than a karateka has attained a sufficient standard to commence the serious business of learning.

A Brief Introduction To Judo

Judo was invented in 1882 by its founder, Jigoro Kano. It was designed to offer a physical, mental and more tuition to its practitioners. It is a “modern martial art” in the sense that is has no long history though its grounding and basis is in old school Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Someone who studies judo is called a judoka. Judo is not a striking art; it is a grappling art in which the objective is to force your opponent to the mat and then deal with them. It is judo that inspired Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo and even the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga.

Originally, there may have been strikes and even some weapons training in judo but in the modern form, these have been cast aside in favor of grappling.

This is not to say that some schools do not teach “atemi waza” which are striking techniques but none of them are permissible in competitive judo.

The Underlying Philosophy Of Judo

Jigoro Kano did not draw from Buddhist principles when he developed judo, though it is possible that he may have been influenced by them, instead he turned to Confucianism (often, wrongly, thought to be a solely-Chinese philosophical system, Confucianism is, in fact, influential throughout East Asia and South East Asia).

He rejected any fighting techniques that he felt did not apply to the central tenet that a “maximum efficiency and minimum effort” were used. That is, each technique in judo must be usable by a smaller, weaker opponent who has mastery of their own balance to defeat a stronger, larger opponent who does not.

Ju means “soft” or sometimes gentle, soft, flexible, pliable or yielding. It is the same in Jiu-jitsu as it is in Ju-do. However “jitsu” meant art and Kano felt that this did not adequately describe his new martial art, so he substituted “do” for jitsu”. “Do” means “path”..

Thus, judo is the “soft path”.

The Belt System Of Judo: The First Martial Art To Rank Using Belts

The belt system was invented by Jigoro Kano in the 1890s. He wanted to be able to differentiate between judoka on sight. Previously, all martial arts certifications were awarded in the form of a paper certificate.

There were only white and black belts originally. With dan gradings (those above black belts) being added in the 1920s (black marks for lower grades, red and white check for higher grades). The colored belts were first introduced in judo when the sport was introduced to Europe because it was feared that Europeans would need a more immediate progression system in order not to get bored.

A black belt in Judo, as with karate, does not denote mastery but the attainment of a strong basic standard and it takes about 3-6 years to gain a black belt for most students.

The Main Differences Between Karate And Judo

Karate and judo are like chalk and cheese. They are completely different martial arts with very different objectives.


  • Is a “hard” martial art. That is the objective is to strike an opponent repeatedly until they are, quite literally, beaten into submission
  • Points are scored for accurate kicks and punches in competition
  • It is designed to be used in an offensive manner and you would expect a karateka to attack immediately if they found themselves drawn into a fight


  • It’s in the name, judo is a “soft” martial art. The objective is to use your body to lure the opponent off balance and then knock them to the ground or throw them to the ground.
  • Points are scored for winning grapples and for throwing an opponent successfully during competitions.
  • Judo was designed as a defensive art form and you would expect a judoka to wait for their opponent to come to them in a fight and to use the opponent’s strengths against them

This means that unlike many other comparisons between two martial arts that there are very clear advantages when the two martial arts meet each other whether it be in real life or in competition.

Are Karate And Judo Suits The Same?

There are subtle differences between the uniforms of the two sports and karate and judo suits are not the same.

They both have:

  • A jacket wrapped around the torso with a belt denoting the student’s rank
  • A pair of pants
  • No shoes

However, because of the nature of judo a jodoka’s “gi” will be thicker and more durable because it is designed to be pulled and pushed around during grappling. However, it’s important to note, however, that because of this a karateka may have a slight advantage when fighting a judoka because their uniform is a little harder to grab onto.

Judo Vs Karate: Which Is Best For Self-Defense?

Judo is by its very nature a defensive martial art and that means if a fight breaks out, then a judoka ought to have the advantage in self-defense. The judoka’s strategy will be to step back from the opponent, figure out what they intend to do and then close with them and use their strength against them.

However, if a judoka’s opponent immediately closes with him – he has lost no advantage because grapples and wrestling moves require closeness. A judoka is on solid ground in this instance and is unlikely to be severely troubled by this change in circumstances.

Karate, on the other hand, is designed for offense. A karateka given enough space can lash out with fists and feet and create a decisive advantage but if their opponent rushes in and looks to close down the distance between them – a karateka is at a distinct disadvantage.

Given that the fighter does not choose the circumstances of when they will be attacked by another person, it is clear that judo has the edge for self-defense.

However, this assumes that both the karateka and judoka are of a similar level, height and weight. Major differences in any of these factors is likely to substantially sway the outcome. For example, if Mike Tyson, the boxer, were doing Karate against Peter Dinklage the actor using Judo – things would not, generally speaking, turn out very well for poor Peter.

Karate Vs Judo: Which Is Best For MMA?

There can be very little debate when it comes to which martial art works best in the MMA leagues. The advantage is all judo’s. An MMA fighter that does not study an art that involves grappling and throws is at such a huge disadvantage that they will never graduate from the local leagues to the big time.

While BBJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) is the most favored grappling art in MMA, judo is not far behind and, in fact, much of BBJ is drawn from Judo and it is easy to switch from one to the other when in combat of any kind.

Karate, on the other hand, is much less popular. It’s not a pure outsider in MMA like Kung Fu but nor is it the preference for many of the bigger names in MMA, either. It can be very useful in MMA for punches and kicks and is possibly the equal of Muay Thai or kickboxing but if you had to ask an MMA fighter to choose between judo and karate – at least 99% of the votes would be for judo.

Judo Vs Karate: Who Wins In A Street Fight?

There is some debate here, but judo probably has the edge over karate in a street fight too. Most street fighting is likely to go to ground at some point or another and it is the judoka who is trained to drive their opponent to the ground and then put them out of the fight.

However, as some people rightly point out – it’s forbidden in judo to hit someone in the face. That means during a judo bout – a judoka will always leave their face open. Now, in a street fight this is a very bad idea and it’s not a mistake that a karateka is going to make because they are all about kicking and punching and they know that the face is fair game.

Is this enough advantage to make karateka the winner of our match up? Probably not. However, it does mean that many people underestimate the potential effectiveness of karate in a street fight. Given enough space in a street fight, the karateka can hold their own.

Karate Vs Judo: Who Wins In A Professional Fight?

OK, so far, everything seems to have gone judo’s way but is this true in a professional fight too? Here, it does not. While it is true that a judoka would have an advantage if they could get close to the karateka, the formal structure of a professional fight offers a karateka a lot of opportunity to keep a judoka at bay with their feet and fists.

A karateka of a high standard with the patience to time their blows ought to have a decent advantage over a judoka in a professional fight.

One More Thing

There’s one thing that we’ve ignored throughout this line up and it’s the fact that there are schools of karate which practice grappling, throws and holds too. These schools, whilst not being as skilled as judo schools, are likely to find themselves in very different situations when it comes to comparing their skills with judoka.


Judo and Karate are two martial arts are so different that there’s little basis for comparison apart from the fact that they are both Japanese.

When it comes down to it: Judo is a defensive sport and Karate an attacking one. Judo should have the advantage in a street fight and is the choice of MMA champions over karate. Yet, if a karate practitioner took on a judo practitioner one-on-one in a professional fight, there’s a good chance that the karateka would be the winner.

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