Under: karate
16 Mar 2009


Imagine you are a point karate champion with lots of trophys – you are at the top of your game. You take some well deserved time off an attend a party with your girlfriend. You happen to mention you are a champion and you start getting questions about MMA or Mui Thai belts? When you tell them that it is in one of the iterations of point karate, a practitioner of jui-jitsu or MMA ask if you have ever done any real fighting?


This may seem surreal to many but various types of sport karate and many martial arts do not seem to have the same level of respect as some of the other fighting arts. In this post I am going to limit the discussion to various point karate and full contact karate sport matches. The focus of each will be examined along with my opinion. One correlation for context might be the difference between fencing and sword fighting. Here is a quick video of fencing followed up buy a sword fight for your perusal.




I liked how quick the fencing thrusts were in this match. One could easily imagine that if they were using light swords, how easily skill with a foil might translate into winning a real sword fight! No disrespect to any fencers but it also looks like some of the points would not really do much damage. These are electronically scored I believe so just a touch to the trunk of the body will score a point. I would say fencing is a lot like point karate. Now lets look as some armored broadsword fighting that is my correlation to full contact karate.



These guys look like they were having fun! You probably noticed that the level of contact went way up in the broadsword fighting. I really liked that they did some hand to hand combat and used any weapon at their disposal. How do you think each group of fighters viewed each others sport?


I think both groups of fighters were good at what they did but I also think the broadsword fighters would probably be perceived as having the edge in a fight. Why? Because more contact seems to be closer to a real fight! Is this realistic? I don’t know for sure because the fencers do well with their rules and the broadswords men do well with theirs.


What would happen if the broadswords fought the foils? I think it would depend on the rules… would they be attached to an electronic point system? Would the broadswords forego their normal armor for light padding and dulled swords? Or would the fencers be made to wear armor without an electronic point system? I think you are beginning to see the perception issue. Either weapon without rules and protective gear would be deadly. Lets examine some point karate.



This was a match between a couple of point fighting greats, Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris. Did you notice that each attempt at a scoring point stopped the fight? The judges were trying to score who got the first kick or punch. Both of these men would be good street fighters and Joe Lewis went on to become the first heavy-weight full contact champion. But for my original question of how point fighting is perceived, lets look at a full-contact fight and review.



I slipped in one of my favorite all time fighters, Benny “the Jet” Urquidez! Did you notice in full-contact karate match – the fighting stopped when they were tied up? Each time a they scored a point, they still had to watch out for more strikes! The major differences between full-contact and point karate is the force of the head strikes and when the matches stop.


Now that you have had a taste of each sport, which one do you think is better in a real fight? Many would say the full-contact fighters have an edge. The rules are different in each type of fighting.


Point karate can be anything from non-contact to heavy contact with kiss contact (light contact) to the head. Non-contact depends on judges scoring likely point base on the first kick or punch with some bend in the elbow or knee that could have been a good strike.


A semi-contact point match is easier to score because one has to actually hit the other guy. In the lower belt divisions the head shots are out due to safety concerns. Some advance belts get to use varying levels of force to the head as well as full-contact to the body. Groin shots are legal in many open to all styles point karate tournaments.


Full-contact or kickboxing matches have varying rules depending on the governing body but generally there are no groin kicks or ground fighting allowed. Knockouts to the head are allowed and the matches are only scored if they go the distance.


Ok – who would win in a fight between a kickboxer and a point karate fighter?  Again as with the fencing vs the sword fights, what are the rules? The point karate fighter is probably good at kicking the groin. If the kickboxer had to use kiss-contact to the head – both the semi-contact point fighter and kick boxer are used to full-contact to the body (I’ve broken the ribs of my opponents in tournaments and won points). The only difference is the groin kicks and contact to the head.


What if the semi-contact fighter was in a full-contact match? Well were do you think kickboxers come from? There is a transition to be made. When I was learning kickboxing, I had to learn traditional boxing so my hands would hang with the kickboxers. I had to stop most of my lunging moves as the goal was no longer being first but rather getting the best strike. There is a transition just like the kickboxer would have to make in a semi-contact point match.


What if it was a street fight and there were no rules? Well both fighters would be out of their comfort zone. In a real fight (yes I used street fight as real fight), there are no rules. It is perfectly ok to throw sand at your opponents fact and then break his knees. I know many non-contact or semi-contact point fighters would say because of their years of experience at self-defense moves in formal karate, they would somehow have an edge. I kind of poo-poo this idea because all of the karate type disciplines have the same tools, and I would argue none of them practice street fighting… it is too dangerous.


What do I think about the who has the edge? It depends on the person. I don’t think the style or rules make too much difference but rather the individuals attempt at fighting excellence that makes the difference! I’ve seen some black belts that cannot fight their way out of a paper bag and I’ve also seen some full contact fighters that give me hope when betting on fixed fights (I don’t really bet on fighting)! :)


So the next time you see a kickboxing fight or point tournament match, remember that good practitioners deserve of respect if they are the top tier of their respective competitions.


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7 Responses to “Point Karate versus Kickboxing! Who has the Edge?”

  1. Markstraining.com Says:

    Great post. My background is in Karate. When I started training Mauy Thai I was asked the same sort of questions. “Do you fancy doing REAL fighting”. “Do you spar realistically in karate” etc. Just becuase the sparring is not always full contact, it was perceived as being bad and unpractical. Obviously they are wrong. Just becuase full contact sparring is not always done doe not mean it is unpractical.

  2. Blake Says:

    Interesting post. I remember a NASKA event called Battle of Atlanta, I believe it was 2006 although I may be wrong. They brought out one of the top point sparrers in the country, and put him up against a Brazilian MMA fighter.

    The Brazilian got dropped with a nasty hook kick in the first round. However, I’m not sure how good the MMA fighter was. I remember being unimpressed at the time.

    Self Defense Videos

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Blake,

    There is a lot of crossover between point and full contact, MMA, especially nowadays. I think it depends on the training and individual more so than what style or type of competition.

  4. Senseimike Says:

    It’s interesting that you used a video of joe lewis for point fighting. Joe was also one of the greatest kickboxers of all time. In the time of Joe Lewis and chuck norris point fighting was much different than it is now. That’s why Joe’s black belts are pivotal figures in the kickboxing and MMA world, and why mr norris involved himself with the WCL. Today if you see a point match it’s two guys bouncing around on one foot trying to graze the head gear of the other for a quick 2-3 points. It is disgusting. The worst thing karate ever did was divorce themselves from kickboxing (which they created). Kickboxing is about who is a better fighter, not who can tap the other guy the fastest. All the speed in the world ain’t worth a damn without power. Also, it’s not about full contact either. As a practioner of an okinawan martial art I’m the odd ball out amongst my instructor friends who all teach Muay Thai, very rarely they go full contact. Full contact sparring on a regular basis leads to too many injuries. Most kickboxers spar with moderate contact, they hit, and it’s hard, but not full. Semi contact kickboxing is also gaining in popularity, look at one of those matches and compare it to a point match. The difference is clear, the kickboxers still look like fighters. In closing I’d like to also say that any black belt in any style that can’t fight doesn’t deserve that belt. Yes I know that there is much more to karate than just fighting, but come on, we punch and kick things. If you want the benefits of karate without fighting, learn yoga instead.

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Sensi Mike,
    I gather you think point fighting in the era of Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris was better than today? I hope that is not the case as I have found fighting is continually evolving.
    In Joe Lewis’s day there were not as many skilled fighters in what he and Bruce Lee taught about initial movement and critical distance. Nowadays with the how many current and former Tracy’s karate (and branches) schools as well as the Lewis Fighting System and his (Joe’s) seminars out there – critical distance and initial movement are more common.
    I would not be quick to label today’s point fighting poorly… if as you say a graze constitutes a point (rather than the clear demonstration of potential power) – that is more a statement of the quality of judging I would say.
    I come from point fighting roots and found the mantra of “be first” has helped me in my many street fights I got in as a bouncer. I found if I hit the guy first, most were unable to respond. I should mention that me hitting first was more of a function of the other guy’s inability to bridge the gap and not a preemptive attack on my part.
    I have also trained in kick boxing and found I like that too. I have not done MMA as that was after my tournament days.
    The school I trained in endorsed semi-contact sparring, meaning as hard as you want to the body (also the tournament rules in the late 70’s) but kiss contact to the head. What ended up happening is the head contact was a little harder but doable. At the time I did not train with head gear.
    I found that point karate training put me in perfect position for street fighting (As I experienced working as a doorman at a low-life club).
    I tend to believe as you do that if a black belt cannot hold his or her own with other black belts – what was the point. That being said – all instructors did not and do not think that and allow some that are good at just kata to advance to black belt.
    Anyway Sensei Mike, That’s my 2 cents… by the way I did not think much of Chuck Norris’s WKL… I don’t think you could tell who the better fighter was by who won the match because they had to go for broke – all out the whole time or lose points.
    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Punch Bag Says:

    Totally agree that some intructors of Karate don`t train on pads, heavy bag etc to condition the fighter for real world situations, some just train kicking/punching thin air. Muai thai prepares the student for real world situations from regular sparring etc.
    .-= Punch Bag´s last blog ..Why workout on the punch bag? =-.

  7. t-bone Says:

    Appreciate the article and fair comparisons given sans judgement. Personally I will never be able to make sense of the questions “how a fighter with what contact-preference would dominate a fight in real life”, “which rules would come handy in a life scenario”, “is this a real fight?”, “is that a true warrior?” etc etc. To judge a highly stylized athletic movement, or the set of delimitations pertaining to its execution or evaluation on the basis of real-life applicability is plain redundant to me. Schools, styles, contact or combat techniques of any martial art or of a particular fight-organization are all matters that get shaped through time, tradition and cultures of sportsmanship, as well as of spectatorship. True that self-defense or combat in real life situations is part of the historical reality of the oldest forms of martial arts, but for all fighters amateur and professional, it is a matter of performance to be evaluated and refereed as well as to be realized mostly in the presence of spectators. As such, impact or force is not all there is to it- there are also focus, tactic, auto-command, management of one’s own energy as well as of the opponent’s to be considered as well. Ridiculous how ‘point-fighting’ is being used among some fans of kickboxing today, in the sense of
    ‘little or no KO, just plain boring fight to be determined by decision’. Anybody training hours and hours everyday, teaching his body how to handle his mind and his mind how to handle his body is a fighter, whether he be doing fencing, muay thai, or point karate. The fight is about one-self, with one-self. The training is the path, the fight the opportunity.