Karate vs. Boxing: The Difference And Why It Matters

Karate vs. Boxing: What's the difference? - CraftofCombat.com

If you’re thinking about getting involved in karate or boxing, you may be weighing up the differences between the two different art forms. Or perhaps you are just wondering how they compare. It is certainly an interesting (and complex) question!

What is the difference between karate and boxing? The difference is that boxing focuses on punching to take opponents down quickly. It is best for street fighting. Unlike boxing, karate is a complex system of traditional forms and techniques with an underlying philosophy. It is ideal for professional fighting. Both disciplines work well in MMA.

As you can imagine, this is a fairly complex question (and answer). To understand why there is such a big difference, let’s see how the two sports vary both in their development as well as their intent.


A Brief Introduction To Karate

Karate was originally developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom which was a collection of islands which now form part of modern day Japan. In the days of the Ryukyu it was simply called “te” which means “hand”.

It is an offensive martial art which gives most of its focus to striking. That is, it features punches, kicks, knee strikes, elbow strikes, palm strikes, hand strikes, etc. In some modern styles (and traditionally) there is also some emphasis on throws, locks, restraints and grappling.

The Rise In Popularity

There is, of course, a large element of Kung Fu (a Chinese martial art) in Karate and for a long period of time the martial art was known as “Tang hand” which means, quite literally, Chinese hand.

It is one of Japan’s most popular martial arts. It began to be taught widely in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s and adopted the formal name of “karate” (which means empty + hand in Japanese).

The world caught on to karate during the 1960s and 1970s because it featured in nearly every martial arts’ movie of the time. In fact, for the longest time your average Westerner simply assumed that if a martial art was Asian and involved striking – it must be karate.

The Philosophy Of Karate

Many people see karate simply as a form of combat but, in fact, it is based on the Heart Sutra of Shingon Buddhism.

The quote is “form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself”. This leads to the understanding within karate that you are meant to purge yourself of evil and/or selfish thoughts to succeed.

The concept is that a karateka (one who does karate) can only truly understand what the knowledge, provided from their study, is worth when they are focused on humility and gentleness.

The original karate teachers did not expect a karateka to be in constant combat, far from it. In fact, they expected it to come in useful maybe once or twice in a student’s lifetime in an actual confrontation!

Karate users are not meant to be easily led into a fight but rather to understand the true dangers of fighting (that a skilled or even lucky opponent might kill you with a single blow) and to avoid fighting unless it is truly essential.

Rank and Experience In Karate

Karate practitioners gain rank by demonstrating not just their skill in karate moves but also of their understanding of the underlying philosophy of the martial art. The idea is that they will then be able to show true experience and maturity in executing their obligations.

Rank in karate is symbolized by colored belts and a black belt (the mid-ranking belt which marks the beginning of a karateka’s real learning) takes 3-6 years to earn.


A Brief Introduction To Boxing

Boxing is one of the oldest martial arts, in theory. Certainly, the earliest evidence of fist-fighting martial arts, which held tournament style contests, come from the Near East back in the period 2,000 – 3,000 BC!

It’s also true to say that boxing, as an event, was held at the Olympics in the year 688 BC. However, it’s worth noting that modern boxing has absolutely nothing to do with these historic footnotes and boxing was really developed in Great Britain during the 16th-18th centuries A.D.

The Development Of Boxing

The 16th century saw the rise of “bare-knuckle boxing”, something that many modern day observers might see as “barbaric” but, in fact, there is growing evidence that bare-knuckle boxing may be safer and less harmful than boxing in gloves.

There were no written rules, no rounds, no weight limits and no referee. The men fought until one of them stopped fighting. It wasn’t until 1743, that some rules were introduced by Jack Broughton and many of them can still be found in modern boxing.

It was in 1867, however, that boxing was finally given a full set of formal rules by the Marquess of Queensbury and it is these rules that have stood the test of time. Yes, a minor British royal was once a keen boxer.

However, despite its once meteoric popularity – in the last few decades, it has fallen firmly out of favor with the wealthier classes. The best modern-day boxers tend to be drawn from street fighters in poor neighborhoods or countries.

Boxing Philosophy

There is no wider-philosophy of boxing. It is a fighting style which is purely concerned with fighting, and ideally, with winning.

Boxers lean to punch and to evade and while their coaches may try to introduce their own individual philosophy – there is no overarching philosophy for the martial art at all.

Boxing Rank and Experience

Boxing has no belt system and no certification system. In fact, there’s only one real way to deduce how good a boxer is – to look at their fight record and to see how many times they have won or lost.

Because boxing is a system of combat with no “higher purpose” nearly every boxer will be involved in amateur boxing at the very least. Professional boxers, of course, fight for some or all of their living. And that means there will be a record of their achievements in the sport.


The Main Differences Between Karate And Boxing

OK, now that we’ve seen how each of these martial arts evolved, we can now take a look at what separates the two.

Karate: A Huge Range Of Techniques

Karate is definitely the more complex of the two martial arts. That means there are many more techniques to learn in karate and this can lead to two issues with karate when comparing it to boxing.

Firstly, when you learn more techniques, by definition, you cannot spend as much time on each technique in practice. That means that while a karate participant may have a huge range of techniques to call on, they may struggle to have mastered any of them. That could lead to potential weakness in a fight in the future.

Secondly, it also means that karate takes longer to master than boxing. If you’re going to learn a lot of techniques, even if you don’t learn them in as much detail, you’re going to take longer to cover the learning points. That can mean that a beginner or even mid-level karate participant is lagging in mastery of karate when compared to a boxer of a similar amount of experience.

Boxing: The Focus Is On Punches And Getting Out Of The Way

When you box, you’re focused on two things. Punches because these are your only offensive moves. Boxers (classical boxers, at least, not kickboxers) do not use kicks. They don’t use throws and they don’t practice groundwork or grappling. They punch their opponents to do damage.

The other thing they focus on is getting out of the way of their opponent. Boxing matches are mainly a war of attrition and that means while you want to hit your opponent, you don’t want to get hit yourself.

Boxing is geared to knocking out an opponent and all practice is based around this scenario. This may mean an advantage when a boxer gets into a street fight because this knocking the other guy out is likely to be the objective in that kind of situation.

One Last Thing: Boxing And Safety Concerns

There is a growing level of concern that boxing is extremely dangerous to human health and that knocking someone out can, quite literally, lead to their death or permanent brain damage. The British Medical Association is not alone in voicing support for a complete ban on boxing for this very reason.


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

There is no clear cut answer to this. Self-defense is as much about learning to avoid trouble entirely as it is to whup the other guy when he looks at you funny. That requires learning to be self-aware and to engage preventative measures to discourage a fight. Neither karate nor boxing really teaches these skills and they are often learned through bitter experience.

However, let’s think about what might tip the balance in favor of either type of fighter.

Karate: Training For Self-Defense Should Produce An Advantage

A Karate participant will want to ensure that they are training at a dojo which has an emphasis on self-defense in their teaching. That is, they’re teaching with a strong emphasis on your fitness levels and they use full-contact sparring techniques (or at the very least they’re using low contact sparring if you can’t find somewhere using full-contact).

That means they are emulating the conditions of a street fight where you are likely to face more than one opponent and in a situation of high stress with high stakes for losing.

Now, if you can find a dojo which does this (and they are rare as most karate dojos are more about learning forms and discipline rather than learning actual fighting) then a karate participant ought to have the edge in a street fight.

One other thing to look for is a dojo where the emphasis is on mastering a smaller number of techniques rather than sampling a large number of techniques. Competence is a very big deal in a street fight.

Boxing: Attack Is The Best Form Of Defense

The biggest advantage a boxer is likely to see in a street fight is to get in first and start raining blows on their opponent.

Certainly, it would be a rare boxer who hadn’t got some sparring practice; the trick is to ensure that you’re not pulling your punches in a street fight. You want the other guy to go down and go down hard.


Karate Vs Boxing: Which Is Best For MMA?

Both karate and boxing use punches and both can be used in Mixed Martial Arts and, in fact, both are used by different fighters in professional MMA work, but which holds the advantage?

Boxing: Offers More Power

There’s no doubt that boxing means that a fighter can deliver straight line jabs which are either fast (to open an opponent up) or hard (to put an opponent down). Because jabs are much of a boxer’s art, you’d expect a boxer to be very good at this.

That means a boxer has a power and speed advantage when it comes to delivering jabs and when an opponent is opened up by a jab, the boxer can deliver a follow through punch (a type of punch which does not exist in karate at all) and put their whole weight behind a blow which is a much harder punch than you’d get in karate.

Karate: Offers More Focus

Karate’s punches, on the other hand, aren’t cushioned by gloves like a boxer’s and that means the punches tend to be designed to target much more specific areas than a boxer’s punch will be.

It can be harder to intercept a very targeted punch than a more general “I’m aiming for your face” style punch.

Overall, there’s no clear advantage between the two and, in fact, some fighters might choose to blend both styles of fighting in MMA in order to take the benefits from either type of punch.


Boxing Vs Karate: Who Wins In A Street Fight?

On average, boxers are trained to land punches and to make sure that they hurt and that the average karate participant simply is not trained this way.

The Boxer’s Got The Advantage

This can mean that boxers have a clear advantage when it comes to stepping into a street fight against your average karate participant. They’re going to go in fast and they’re going to go in hard and look to punch the karate-using opponent’s lights out.

Now, it is possible that if the karate-user attended a dojo which aimed to teach self-defense, they may be able to land a quick kick that puts the boxer down or to land a well-time blow which does the same but much of karate is kicking and that requires distance from an opponent – boxers, on the other hand, are taught to close distance and to ensure that the opponent has no room to fight.

Once a boxer closes down the karate-user, unless they are slow and have poor evasion skills, they ought to win a street fight.


Karate Vs Boxing: Who Wins In A Professional Fight?

Professional fights are not the same as street fights. A professional fight usually has rules about how you can hit, how hard you can hit, where on the body is fair game, there are periods of fighting followed by a break (professional fights have rounds) and they have referees.

The Advantage Of Doing Karate

This is important because it changes the way that a fight operates, fundamentally, from street fighting. Street fighting rewards aggression and fast take outs. Professional fighting, on the other hand, tends to reward style and there is a scoring element to take into account.

This hands the advantage squarely to the karate participant. That’s because a top-level karate professional should have mastered a wide-range of skills and will be fully trained to defend themselves in the ring.

The Limitations Of A Boxer

Now, a boxer has one avenue of attack – punching. Whereas the karate participant can kick and use many other attack strategies. This should be an overwhelming advantage for a karate-user, the only thing that might nullify this advantage would be a severe difference in height and/or weight between the two fighters.

Fortunately, in professional fighting, height and weight are kept within strict boundaries to ensure that it’s the skill of the fighter that carries the day and not the size of one fighter. This means that if you want to pick a winner in a fight between a pure karate-user and a pure boxer, your money ought to be on the karate-user.


Conclusion: Who’d win a fight – Boxing vs. Karate?

So who would win a fight if one fighter used boxing and the other used karate? There are a lot of variables to consider here: The length of time each fighter has been learning their art, the place where they learned their art, what kind of fighting they are doing, and so on.

However, in a street fight between two equally experienced fighters, you’d expect a boxer to have the advantage most of the time. This reverses, though, when you put the two fighters into a professional fight in a ring. There the karate-user has a big advantage over a boxer.

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