What Kind of Fighting is the Best? Karate!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer

 

When I was a kid I remember wondering what was best, wrestling or boxing. At the time I thought boxing was the best but when karate became popular in the 60′s – the argument became boxing or karate! Well fast forward past the 90′s (was a very confused time) and now if you ask any kid… they will no longer say jiu-jitsu but mma! Why to a teenaged kid that would not even watch a boxing match – MMA is king!

 

So why am I not impressed with the flavor of the day? I am not out to challenge anyone or trying to get an accomplished martial artist in judo, muay thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, or boxing to come over the dark side. But what I do want to do in this post is to examine how effective various martial arts would be in a real fight for an average guy/gal that has a couple of years experience under his/her belt.

 

I also want to look at some other factors such as the point of each martial art… you know what is it good for anyway? Don’t get mad but if your martial art has lots of rules that don’t easily transition to a real fight – what good is it in a fight (unless you are a world class fighter – then it makes no difference what you learn… it will all work)?

 

 

Let’s look at boxing, wrestling, muay thai, jiu-jitsu, judo, aikido and karate (including kung fu with karate as both are similar) in light of how easy is it to learn, what is the goal of the martial art, and does it work in a fight for most people (is it effective in most situations?). Then I’ll look at karate and kung fu in general terms because our stuff is not immune to my criteria (80% of karate and kung fu as it is taught would not work well in a real fight).

 

Now that I have made a lot of friends and I don’t think I’ve excluded anyone I would like commenters to keep your responsive civil and to the points. I will not post personal attacks but please feel free to civilly disagree and make your points. I will be happy to respond comments.

 

Boxing is fairly easy to learn the basics but really hard to do it right. One has to get into great physical shape to excel in this sport. The goal of boxing is to win on the street or in the ring with one’s punches. All other strikes are illegal. I do not think boxing would work very well unless you were a good boxer in a fight with someone else that did not want to do anything but punches. Boxing can work in a mass attack if he can avoid the ground so I give boxing two kicks (out of five).

 

Wrestling is taught in school for most males at some point so there are many good basic wrestlers (as I would categorize myself). Again wrestling like boxing takes a lot of conditioning if one wants to excel at wrestling. The goal of wrestling is mostly sport as it has no defenses against striking unless the wrestler learns additional skills. While the UFC is awash in wrestlers that have transitioned to fighting, the average wrestler can win most fights if he can take the fight to the ground. As most untrained fighters have no defense against ground fighters – wrestling can be effective sometimes. However one cannot easily defend against a mass attack nor avoid a bystander punting a goal at wrestler on the ground so I would give wrestling one kick on my scale.

 

Muay Thai is a sport that is not easy to learn because of the conditioning. While muay thai does strike with hands, elbows, knees, and feet – the rules do not favor fighting as the groin is not open. I would say that muay thai does come closer to an effective method of fighting because it would work well against a mass attack so long as the fighter does not get taken to the ground. Because of the major conditioning of body parts (deadening the shins for instance) I would only give muay thai three kicks on my scale.

 



I’m going to lump in jiu-jitsu, judo, and aikido together as one came from the other and share many common moves. While it is true that judo is more dependent on transitional moves (getting the opponent to the ground), jiu-jitsu is more of a ground fighting method and aikido mostly uses ones attack against the attacker, none of these are easy to use and are not really striking martial arts. Practitioners would have to learn striking to effectively survive a real fight with no rules. I am grossly oversimplifying here but my point is still valid. I would say that none of these styles would come out well against a mass attack. So based on the complexity of learning and the lack of striking – I can only give these styles one kick on my scale.

 

Now let’s look at karate and kung fu as it is taught. No paneca here either. While karate can be a good fighting style – as it is taught it does not have the conditioning of many type of fighting – it is for the common man (read person). Karate learning styles can be easier than most styles as it does not take more than a couple of years to be proficient for most people. Karate can work if a student was taught by a proficient teacher. Karate/kung fu works well against mass attacks if the student is any good. Before I assign karate/kung fu a kick scale consider the types of schools and ways to teaching.

 

  • Some karate/kung fu styles do not allow sparring.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles teach non-contact sparring.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles teach semi-contact sparring.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles teach the equivalent of kick boxing.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles are old school – meaning no gloves and flat feet.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles are more modern and use pads and move around.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles have open groin shots in semi-contact.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles give more points for kicks and flying kicks than for punches.
  • Some karate/kung fu styles emphasize more conditioning than fighting (karate aerobics).
  • Some karate/kung fu styles’ instructors have never been in a real fight.

 

So let me opine about karate/kung fu styles and weed the 80% of karate that does not work.

 

If the style does not sparring or uses non-contact sparing I give that style one kick on my scale.

 

If the style does not have groin shots or gives more points (in training) for kicks or flying kicks than punches – I give that style one kick.

 

If the style is for yuppies wanting to get into shape (karate aerobics) I give that style no kicks.

 

If the style teaches kick boxing but no groin shots – I give that three kicks.

 

If you instructor tells you he thinks it will work if he ever had to get into a fight (meaning he does not know) – Run from that school. Why pay money for something the instructor does not believe in?

 

If the style allows groin shots in sparring, uses hand/food pads of some kind, moves around, uses semi-contact (can get hard at top levels), the instructor is confident and has fought before, counts the same for a kick or punch… the student has a chance…  that is only about 20% of the schools out there.

 

Lineage means nothing unless it works. All of the black belts, trophy’s, free karate babysitting services and such are just meaningless unless a student and learn how to fight pretty good in a couple of years.

 

So if you find a good school as I have outlined – I would give that school four kicks – on a five kick scale? Why not five kicks? That is up to the student. I cannot guess how hard the student wants it.

 

So I want to clarify I do not dislike other styles and I think very highly of them. And I think most any style can be very effective against most attacks – all I reviewed here is if a person only had a couple of years to invest – what would he or she need to learn to fight back!

 

I am interested in your opinion – please let me know your thoughts!


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15 Responses to “What Kind of Fighting is the Best? Karate!”

  1. David Hays Says:

    John,
    Great post and overall I agree. I do think we are a little bias. The karate system we learned from Dick Willett did have all of the tradition of the Martial Arts like forms and more self-defense techniques than any one person needs to know (LOL). But as you know we were thought to fight. In our studio we experienced knockouts, knockdowns, broken noses and many moments on the floor gasping to catch our breath after someone knocked the wind out of us.
    My opinion is that no matter what you are learning it needs to be reality based. I want the readers to understand that we were not, and today I do not teach at my school, a bunch of uncontrolled thugs, it is just a reality that if you train in a reality base system and school you will at times get hit hard. Most of the time the contact is solid and remains controlled. Safety is always top of mind, all of the safety equipment is used and we have mutual respect for our sparring partners. However, we train hard and as real as possible.
    One more thing to think about……… ask yourself this, when you are training have you ever knocked the wind out of your sparring partner and dropped them to their knees? Have you ever knocked them out? If not how do you know you can?
    Respectfully,
    David Hays

  2. Dr. J Says:

    Very nice discussion, John!

    I totally agree about boxing.

    Basically I feel Aikido is the hardest to get fight worthy at.

    Judo and wrestling, although not as martial as the others really make a person tough and strong so I might rank them higher. These are the types that look worse than the loser the next day but were the winner fight day.

    Although I like BJJ and think the concept is brilliant on many levels, the style has holes in it illustrated by how often MMA fights are stopped for illegal strikes or eye-pokes for example, and what’s wrong with a bite, head butt or two?

    The only problem I see with Muay Thai is how fighters take a terrible beating and permanent damage learning it. Ex Muay Thai fighters are basket cases.

    Karate seems to me to be the most bang for the buck in terms of efficacy and time spent learning as well as how a sixty-year old black belt can still be very effective.
    Dr. J recently posted..Three More Things You Can Be “Too Fat” For: Coolness, Color and CremationMy Profile

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Dave!

    Yes as the reality based it is catch phrase now but the meaning is old – if it really works then it is good. If it is just form that is not tested – who knows?

    Even though we came up using semi-contact – we had all of the targets and in the school – it was really full contact on Thursday nights. There were beginners sparring classes too for those who needed to learn the skill sets.

    Hi Dr. J!

    I like your evaluation but remember – I am not arguing what works the best – only what works the best in the short-term (if you have a couple of years to spend).

    While I am always going to be biased towards karate because I like using all of the tools that make sense (including groin kicks but no grappling) in a real fight – I would not argue that the better fighters in other disciplines are not great! They are…

    And I totally agree with you about older black belts in karate can still be effective (I’m getting there). :)

  4. Zara Says:

    Interesting post John, I’ll give you 4 kicks for that ;). I tend to agree with your line of thinking (simplicity over complexity, street techniques over pure sport techniques, sparring over theory) although I would rank boxing higher, for the following reasons: a) if you’re male the attack you’ll see most often in the street will probably be a punch (which boxing excells at), b) the training is very practical (lots of conditioning, pad-drills and sparring), c) it’s useful in crowded spaces (including short range with the uppercut, short hook and bodyhook) and d) it’s not hard to learn and use at all (especially against some who’s untrained). The most important reason boxing rocks is that a knock-out is still the single best way to solve a violent situation: if he’s unconcious on the floor he’s no longer a threat and the boxing punches (using superior body mechanics, fluid combo’s, reasonable protection compared to other styles) are, to me at least, the best tool for the job.

    It’s true that kicking gives you more options, is generally more powerful than punches and allows you to intercept the opponent at longer range but it’s also harder to learn and can cause you to lose your balance at very inopportune times. Still if you’re sensible and only kick below the waist and in combination with punches it’s a very good tool to have. Sadly a lot of kicking in martial arts is downright dangerous so it’s generally more of a risk than an asset: kicking with the instep (imagine hitting someone’s elbow), high kicking, bad guard while kicking, more emphasis on ‘looks’ than practicality… Also kicking for points is very different than kicking to really hurt somebody, this is why I rank muay thai as one of the best overall disciplines for SD since they don’t kick in the air but always on pads, body protectors or a bag so at least they’re used to actually hitting a target with power.

    Since we don’t have wrestling in our high schools (a shame, I probably would have liked it much better than basketbal or soccer) I have little personal experience with it so I can’t really judge its effectiveness accurately but they spar a lot and it helps to get people off you quickly when they’re trying to clinch so it definitely looks like a useful discipline.

    My background is classical jujutsu and it’s true it’s too complex and focuses too little on striking: in close and for controlling people it’s great but overall there are far better arts if you want to get a good base in SD quickly. If you’re good at it and if you have a good knowledge of striking to complement it jujutsu can be great but if definitely has serious downsides. I’ve never trained in aikido and my sensei said he met a Japanese aikido-sensei who would show him the four corners of the dojo when sparring (without any pre-arranged stuff and he was a mid-level karate student at the time) but it seems way too flowery and technical to be of any real use for the conditions you specified. Still I’d be weary of high ranking aikidoka: never underestimate anyone, least of all those who are dedicated enough to stick with one art for 20 or 30 years.

    What I find lacking with all these arts (except jujutsu) is training in weaponry: both in its use and empty handed defence. In the street weapons are a very real danger and while there are no garantees and you may still get killed even as a very skilled fighter familiar in weapon-defence at least your chances should be higher if you’ve actually trained in a weapon-based art. That’s why I value kali and krav maga so much: I’m not really worried about someone trying to punch my lights out (if I can’t take care of myself after over a decade of training I’ll never learn), it’s the thought of getting stabbed, shot or beaten (with an impact weapon) that gives me the creeps. That’s why I train what I train and also why I try to avoid violence of any kind: you never know what the other guy is capable of or what he has hidden on his person.

    To conclude: the experience of the teacher and the practicality of his approach is paramount, all the rest (style, technical characteristics) is just fluff really since there is so much varation between styles and training methods it’s almost impossible to make accurate comparisons. It seems you were lucky enough to come across a true teacher and fighter who took you under his wing and that’s why you can hold your own now. Not because of the particular style you trained. There are great karateka and there are horrible karateka: this is true for every style really. The trick is to find someone worthy of training under. That and training hard (not giving up, enduring pain and hardship) of course.

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara!

    You make some great points. I was probably too hard on boxing because I recall all of the conditioning I had to do to be effective. I did rely on the old one – two as a child.

    With the kenpo training – I never had an issue of how to defend against weapon attacks, as they included gun, knife, sword, and various club attack defenses. The focus is more on defense than use through.

    My biggest beef with how martial arts are taught is it should work in the short term for average folks if they really want to learn.

    Although mma and other sport fighting look great on TV – as soon as a fight goes to the ground for real – any 10 year old girl bystander – can end the fight with a football kick! – not my idea of planning a winning strategy (depending on your opponent’s mistakes).

    All of that being said I think karate/kung fu is a great first choice if someone wants to learn how to fight – if they want to be well rounded later (say they stick with it) – learning transition and grappling in addition to striking would be the best of all worlds.

    I totally agree with your conclusion and I am against too much fluff. :)

  6. Zara Says:

    My teacher has a DVD-set on kenpo (kenpo 5.0 by Jeff Speakman) and he lent it to me once and to be honest the weapon-defences shown didn’t strike me as particularly effective (way too complicated for one), especially the anti knife portion. Most Japanese karate styles (especially the modern ones) focus almost exclusively on empty hands: that’s why I said the styles you mentioned lacked weaponry. Certainly in your average, run-of-the mill karate school you probably won’t be taught weapons, at least not untill you reach black belt which takes a long time generally.

    What I like most is Jeet-kune-do (basically kickboxing geared towards streetfighting with elements from wing-chung although I’m not that keen on the latter) and Kali-escrima: JKD and panantukan (the empty hand aspect of escrima) are great for unarmed stand-up fighting (they employ the standard boxing punches and defences aswell as low kicks, kick-defences and manipulations of the limbs in order to strike more effectively) while the weapons portion of escrima (about 90%)is very practical in defending with and against various sharp and impact weapons. Throw in the gun-defences from krav maga and some basic BJJ (postional escapes) and you’re pretty much covered when it comes to SD. Jujutsu is good as an add-on: to add more depth to your knowledge and to be able to control someone without hurting them much. As a primary style it’s not great, at least not for SD. I could never go back to training just that.

    This is the direction I want to follow but of course each individual has to find his/her own way and again the quality of the teacher is still the deciding factor, not the style.

    As to weapon-defences: I believe it’s necessary to actually train in the offensive use of weapons in order to be able to defend against them. This I found sorely lacking in jujutsu with unrealistic attacks and defences as a result.

    As to boxing training: sure it’s tough physically (lots of conditioning) but you don’t have to train like a champ to make it work for you. In most situations a good cross to the chin is all you need and most people (including many martial artists) are totally incapable of defending against a boxing combo. The single best thing about boxing is that it’s so simple it can be taught in months and bring a student to a decent level of skill: sure he’ll still get beaten by experienced guys but at least he’ll master what he knows much better than someone who trained an equal amount of time in a more complex style.

    Sports MMA is not my cup of tea either but if you train in it (under a qualified instructor) you’ll surely learn the basics of fighting fairly quickly and if you keep your wits about you and know when and when not to go to the ground you’ll be well prepared for the street (absent weapon attacks obviously). The sprawl and brawl approach is basically what you want to use in a fight: lots of hitting combined with effective takedown-defences to avoid having your head used a soccerbal once you’re on the ground. Styles that have no groundfighting (or at least effective takedown-defences) whatsoever are weak in my opinion: in a fight you never know what might happen (you might slip on a banana or stumble and end up on the ground) and being on the receiving end of a ground and pound (which literally anyone can do with no training whatsoever) is no fun, especially if you have no clue as to how to escape.

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara!

    Wow – thank you for your well thought out reply. Before I respond to most of your points I would like to say again that any style that has real sparring in it can work – whatever method one likes. I would not disparage any one style whatever techniques they use so long as they work.

    Where I do disparage is the 80% of martial arts styles or instructors (like every other walk of life) that are nonsense and would not really work – weather the teaching method or if the instructor is not really a fighter.

    Having said that my article was specifically focused on an average woman, man or middle aged child to learn how to defend him/herself in two or less years in most situations.

    While I learned basically Tracy’s kenpo karate (Mitose/Parker/Tracy/Willett – Lewis), I have some knowledge of Kenpo 2.0 – Speakman’s offering that tries to put the jiu-jitsu back into knepo as Mitose originally taught. While I personally think it is the flavor of the month – it is probably no better or worse than any other modern marital art.

    What I trained in was 17 kata, 240 self defense techniques, and sparring (sparring was in blue belt and above) to eventually get to black belt in three years. In two years as a green belt I started working on the door at the local pub. I found no issue managing rowdy patrons from age 21 through age 23 (I was a black belt when I quit) using kenpo and semi-contact sparring techniques. Never lost a fight or even got hit – although I did lose my shirt once when I was fighting six guys.

    I’ve face pool sticks, clubs, knifes and one time I was able to thwart a shotgun attack after being warned by a sharp eyed customer (some guys I had thrown out of the bar earlier).

    So I do not come from a theoretical point of view or think what I could do back in the day over 30 years ago would be as easy now. I was in top shape back then. Now if I got in a beef – I would take some lumps but fighting wisely I would still win the day… I think until I’m in my mid-eighties that will be true – then maybe i’ll pack.

    So speaking of those similar to Parker’s kenpo karate complex techniques – one has to practice them to pass every test and learn the kind of moves one can use for any attack.

    I personally don’t like them to much because one would have to be inside ones critical distance but if all else fails and you are compromised… (someone makes it unscathed inside your critical distance – you have all of the muscle memory moves to fall back on… much like a boxer’s parry.

    I’ve seldom ever had to fight on the inside – even in a crowded bar. If I did I took the guy out fast with no holding back as I was exposed and knew it.

    Kenpo much like Krav or any other style shows techniques how to evade weapons but for the most part – as one progresses – you’d never use a whole technique – only the parts that you like from muscle memory.

    If I had to memorize how to fight – I’d never have done well as I pointed out to a policeman once interviewing me for a job – he asked me how I knocked guys out – I said a hand or a foot – whatever he was open for… you see fighting is fighting is fighting. the bells and whistles change maybe but it is the same… just different likes and dislikes.

    Like you I was trained in some Bruce Lee principles – through Joe Lewis. That is how I fight… while I learned all of the kenpo stuff from Tracy’s – we had seminars and my instructor Dick Willett taught Lewis techniques from Lee such as angular attacks (direct, indirect, and broken rythem), critical distance, and the three types of fighters, a blocker, jammer and an elusive runner.

    While full-contact training limited some of the what one was willing to commit to – the basics were the same. Try to hit your opponent without getting hit back, move around a lot until you have an advantage or make one and do not stand inside your opponents critical distance without attacking – in boxing lingo – stick or move.

    I have been leading up to weapon attacks – say you don’t have surprise (you cannot pretend your are scared to make your opponent over confident and make mistakes) on your side – you still have initial movement and critical distance. Most weapon attackers think the weapon gives them an advantage! It only works if the defender thinks so… you can still keep your distance and pick your shots and pile one when you attack. Most of the time that will be all you need – just not losing your cool.

    I don’t think much of cowards that hide behind a weapon and let them know with actions fast – all the while pretending to be scared. :)

    As I don’t really see the use of most weapons (I own a staff that I have fun with though) – I will have to disagree with offensive weapons – especially here in California where almost everything is illegal. I cannot even carry a pocket knife if I call it a weapon. :(

    While I loved boxing in my youth while learning kick boxing – I cannot see a teenage girl or woman ever excelling at boxing to defend against a larger man. So I’ll have to disagree as a self defense option that is good for most in the short term. I will say any world class boxer including woman would be a force to be reckoned with in a fight.

    Sure MMA would work for a trained practitioner but self defense in the short term with no eye gouging, groin kicks and such as part of the training – plus all of the training – not a good short term learn how to fight strategy.

    Point taken about stuffing a ground attack. Luckily most US kids have some experience in wrestling but could use some more training here. I did mention in a perfect world striking, transition and grappling or ground fighting would be the best of wall worlds.

    I do not think grappling is particularly effective in a self defense situation as any bystander can blindside either grappler and end the fight.

    I did beat two twins in the sixth grade wrestling by pinning one with my shin and the other in a choke.

    I also once tripped two guys shoving me at a pole – slamming their heads into the pole… I tend to view these as luck though.

    So as I said all of your points were valid but I’m not so sure they fit my hypothesis of having to learn how to fight in a couple of years.

    Also consider we approach this problem with different skill sets – perhaps if I had more jiu-jitsu and some jeet-kune do – I may have touted some of your positions Zara.

    I appreciate your well thought out responses. Thank you Sir.

  8. Dr. J Says:

    Great information! Thank you both!!
    Dr. J recently posted..10 Things to Stop if We Want Our Life to GoMy Profile

  9. MattKlein Says:

    A lot of good points already made here. I like boxing and have studied it in depth because it is very simple and very effective in close range. Most of your opponents on the street will be unskilled kickers in my opinion, and boxers footwork is excellent, so easy to attack and evade. Plus the conditioning and ability to take a punch is superior.

    As a wrestler and football player in high school, before I learned martial arts I would just rush at the attacker with my hands up take him down, and “ground and pound” just like they do in the cage. It was very effective, and despite taking a few glancing hits, no one hurt me. I have a lot of respect for wrestlers because of the toughness and conditioning. It has proven very effective in the cage.

    Currently studying BJJ, up to blue belt, and it can be devastating if only one attacker, but risky otherwise. I see how many of its moves can be performed standing up and there are many good self defense moves, particularly against grabs and chokes. Plus sparring is done against a resisting opponent so you learn to fight well and get in phenomenal shape. Also, the ground is an amazing weapon if you can cause someone to bounce off it.

    Last but not least, Kenpo has given me the “streetfighting” tools more than anything as it has no rules if attacked in a life-threatening system. I value all of the above and believe they are all necessary to build a formidable fighter. Well-written post John Zimmer!
    MattKlein recently posted..Six Ways to Gain and Keep Attention with Children in Martial Arts ClassesMy Profile

  10. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Matt!

    As you point out – many martial artists end up learning multiple arts and truly become lifetime learners. In your case I know you like to travel and mix vacations with training. :)

    One art I’ve not had time to learn yet is Aikido. I have plenty of fun stuff to learn after retirement i guess.

    Cheers Matt!

  11. norman wrigley Says:

    Morning All, I have been in martial arts for about 18 years now and have mostly trained in TKD. My first instructor was big into kickboxing through the 70′s and early 80′s (long before my time, so sad I missed out) so we trained in TKD but was more a kickboxing style for fighting and sparring.
    Now over the years I did a little training in Aikido, brazilian ju-jitsu, kenpo and had the opportunity to catch a Krav Maga seminar and another with Royron Gracie, both were very cool days.
    First I just wanted to point out how pleasing it was to read all the comments and hear infomation being shared and not personal agenda’s being shoved down each others throats. More times than not, anytime this sort of question comes up on many other blogs and such it always goes straight to “ell mine is the best” or “yours must suck, I’ve beaten up everyone”….blah, blah, blah.
    I don’t have a ton to add onto here that has not already been said but this:
    “In many cases, it’s the instructor and the student that wll make up the art.” I’m not all mighty or all powerful, and my wife will tell you i’m not all that smart half the times, but an example: Crappy brazillian ju-jitsu teacher and crappy student will give you crappy results. And every variation from there.
    Almost every art was created for a purpose in its time and still today. First you must ask why you want to train? Is it just fitness? Then boxing might be a great choice. Do I live in danger every day?? Then I might take up ju-jitsu & boxing or MMA.
    I just turned 40 this year and since then I have a strong desire to try to find time to learn Tai Chi. Maybe its old age but I think it wont directly give me any more self defense knowledge but I want to learn a soft art and to better educate myself in another art. Also I have been told it does wonders for our health.
    So thats all I have to add, each art is great for its purpose and I dont think any one art is better than another. A great Aikido practitioner might be able to kick a crappy MMA person’s but even on the ground.
    Have a great day…

  12. bob Says:

    as a judoka i think that judo helps a lot ib fighting

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