Do Karate and Grappling Mix?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: kick boxing
13 Oct 2008


I must be behind the times to be examining this topic. Today one can turn on any TV and see UFC, WEC, IFL and even Exite XC MMA fights! Modern MMA is way beyond the no-holds-barred matches of the 90’s where Jui-Jitsu came into its own. Today’s MMA can incorporate whatever mix of the fighting arts (yes I avoided calling it martial arts) that a fighter likes. This can include, boxing, jui-jitsu, karate, wrestling, judo, street-fighting and anything else that one can think of but generally a fighter has striking and ground work at a minimum.


The reason I am thinking about this now is the association I belong to has adopted grappling as part of its overall goals for future students. As I announced last week, the American Kenpo Karate Association that was derived from Tracy’s Karate, as taught by Richard “Dick” Willett, is having a seminar for beginning Jui-jitsu moves here. In this post I will explore karate vs ground fighting, area’s of compatibility, as well the future direction of fighting arts. Here is a beginning video I found of some MMA grappling moves.



Wow, Joanne and Lauren – the “MMA Girls” seem to have these moves down. The thing I am noticing so far is Jui-jitsu takes advantage of chokes and arm-bars and such easily where as the wrestling of my youth, I had to ad-lib to choke someone out later in life (yes I got to put someone in a then sleeper hold (now a rear-naked-choke) in a real fight). The MMA Girls can be found on their MySpace page here for anyone interested in seeing some of their other instructional videos. They also have a site at


Who am I to validate ground fighting in MMA? No one that counts as I am coming into this late in life. I am a lifetime sport karate and self-defense instructor/practitioner that has been around the block a time or two. For a time when I was younger I got in allot of fights because I was a bouncer at a bar. I estimate that I have been in about 100 real fights over the two year period I was bouncing (21 to 23 years old).


The hardest fight I have ever been in was against a wrestler that kept trying to get me to the ground. I was able to avoid the ground game because I wrestled in junior-high and knew how to keep my legs away!. I am so glad the fight did not go to the ground as I could tell I would have lost my first real fight! Now that I am 51 years old – I have a lifetime of experence to draw on and I will apply this to my evaluation.


Karate, boxing, mui-tai, and full-contact is commonly called striking in MMA. As I observe, a practitioner of MMA (can be any combination of styles) need to have some striking. If a jui-jitsu fighter tries to win at MMA nowadays, he or she will usually not get the title unless he or she has some striking ability. This is because of the ground and pound (from my observations). Jui-jitsu, judo or wrestling does not really have an answer for ground strikes.


A MMA fighter should also have a ground game becuase it is legal in MMA. Some leagues like WEC allow for more liberal elbow strikes and it is really exciting to watch! Now you can fight in MMA without a ground game but if you get taken down – what will you do? So it is smart for a MMA fighter to have ground skills too (or at the very least learn out to escape the ground game).


When does it make sense to be the striker? Just like any other fight – observe your opponent and see where he or she is weak! If your opponent cannot strike as well as you – be the striker! If your opponent is an excellent striker (better than you), become the grappler. 


When would you avoid the striking game? whenever you have a better advantage doing something else. Fighting is fighting, meaning just because you might not have a skill – if you are a great fighter, you can think your way to a victory providing you have the requisite fighting ability!


When would you avoid the ground game like the plague? When there is more than one attacker! When I was a kid, I challenged a couple of twins to a wrestling match. I was a good enough wrestler to take both of these guys who admittedly did not have much wrestling experience but did have height and weight advantage on me. That is not the normal situation; what will happen normally is one guy will tie you up and the other one will strike! You get the drift.


Now how are karate and jui-jitsu compatible? As I already stated, if you size up your opponent, you can use whatever the other guy/gal is open for and pound away at it! One example here (not really karate and jui-jitsu, but applicable) is when I was learning boxing, I fought a good inside fighter. By the end of first round I was almost asleep at the wheel! The second and third rounds I came back with a fury and used my reach to strike from the outside! My opponent did not have an answer for that (luckily) and I was able to recover. The point is you have to use your advantage in a fight so you should train with hands, feet, sweeps, arm-bars, (extrapolating jui-jitsu here), chokes and such to overcome your opponent.


So as you can see that even though until this seminar I will have no jui-jitsu experience, I think fighting is fighting and if I learn some new skills; I should be able to incorporate  them into any future fights. I think (yes I am way behind the times and any MMA practitioner will tell you) MMA type of fighting is where fighting is going. Will fighting stop here? No I don’t think so – future practitioners will continue to refine fighting skills and strategies such as Joe Lewis has done for full contact karate.


Now if you are in San Diego on Saturday, November 1st, and want to attend a beginner class in grappling, please stop by and take the class. I will be taking my first grappling class so don’t worry about looking dumb. It seems funny to start learning new skills but you never know when they might come in handy!


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7 Responses to “Do Karate and Grappling Mix?”

  1. Says:

    I think there are still some who seem to realise that to do well in MMA knowing either just striking or grappling is enough. MMA fighters have come along so much since the early UFC days and not even knowing the basics of each phase of combat is enough. You have to be really good at striking and grappling, and must also be able to blend it all together. People think that becuase they attend a striking class and a grappling class that they know enough. You have to train MMA to be a MMA fighter, meaning youre sparring should invlove striking and grappling, standing and on the floor, not just one or the other.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I generally agree with you but want to point out some seem to favor either striking or grappling and seem to do ok. These fighters do not seem to get the titles so that strategy can only go so far.
    One would have to be crazy (I think) to enter a MMA match with only a stand up or ground game. I used to wonder if Uriah Faber could hang with striking but noted his striking game with Jens Pulver. So I do think if you want to excel at MMA – you do have to have all of the skills.

  3. David Hays Says:

    Ok here we go, my (old) two cents……..

    Gracie was on one of the news shows the other night talking about the original UFC and sharing his views on fighters. After listening and watching him I’m more convinced then ever stand-up fighters we need to gain understanding of how people take you to the ground and of the ground fighting itself.

    He also talked about the “skill level” of a fighter being the deciding factor. He said, If you have two street bums fighting, the fight will most likely always end up in a wrestling match or go to the ground, however if you have one skilled fighter and one street bum the advantage will go to the skilled fighter. (Of course I paraphrased his comments)

    So where does that leave us on our discussion of the chicken and the egg, stand up vs. ground fighters (Transition to the ground or ground first)?

    I’m convinced that if you have a skilled stand up fighter against a guy with moderate to no ground experience (I believe this is most of the people you will face on the street) then him trying to take you to the ground will be a non factor in determining the outcome of the confrontation. Now, if we move up the ladder of experience, and you happen to get into the altercation with an experienced ground fighter, and you just know stand-up, then you have a problem.

    So I believe we need to break the training into two parts. If we are teaching a student with no formal training at all, then it is probably best to teach the ground work as we teach them the stand-up basics.

    However, we also need to consider the experienced stand up fighters. If they are already good on their feet, then the focus should be on transitional moves, quick simple defensive moves against someone trying to take them down and ways to get back up should be taught as we learn the ground.

    It comes down to playing to your strengths……… Example; I have long arms and legs and I’m best on my feet where I can kick and strike people. Why would I not want to stay there and be able to fight from my position of power?

    My personal goal is to become good enough on the ground so if a fight goes there I do not get my ass kicked, however I no desire to abandon my stand up. And from that view point I need the middle ground filled in for me as I’m learning the ground…..

    Your thoughts????

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Well stated Dave – I’m looking forward to learning transitions and how to keep my preverbal head above water if the fight transitions to the ground!

  5. David Hays Says:

    Thanks John,

    Looking forward to working out with you at the San Diego seminar in Nov.


  6. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi Guys, I started training in Jujutsu here in Australia shortly after watching Royce Gracie dominate guys much bigger and stronger. It sold me. When I started, I found that if I could remain standing, my boxing and Kenpo skills kept me in good shape. But they invariably got me to the ground, where I lost to guys 20 lbs. lighter and weaker physically than me. They tied me up like a boa strangles its prey. It was a real eye opener. After training there for over a year, I just got to the point where I could neutralize their skills on the ground, but it took a long time. It takes much more stamina on the ground than people realize. I am of the belief that you must do a lot of sparring on the ground and standing up to get good enough to fight in both areas. It has a lot to do with relaxing and going with the flow, which conserves your energy and gives you more stamina. Any bit of training on the ground is good, but I feel it takes a long time to get really good at it.

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks for your insight Matt. I just took the seminar at Todd’s studio (American Kenpo Karate in San Diego) and am real sore and humble today! :)
    I echo Terry Crook’s statement that there is allot of thinking involved in jui jitsu, way more then I had to do in karate. With karate, after I became good at it, I would economize motion and save wind for the flurries… relaxing the rest of the time. I rolled with Mick Leone and found I was exhausted in short order. I could not just rely on muscle memory (I had no memory) of striking the openings as I could in karate.
    Anyway – I agree with you that ground fighting should be part of any overall fighting strategy – even if you don’t end up on the ground.