Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Judo vs. karate

So many readers have enjoyed my aikido vs. judo article from last year that I figured I'd try my hand at doing a comparison between karate and judo. This is not a 'who would win' article but rather a pros and cons article from my point of view having studied both arts for some years. Who am I, anyway, to disabuse a bunch of poor karate guys of their fantasies about beating up judo guys ;-).
It's hard to guess whether striking or grappling is the phylogenetically older form of combat. In America, both judo and karate were, for a while, generic terms for unarmed combat methods. Judo's heyday was in the 50's and 60's and karate's heyday was in the 70's and 80's. In any case, both striking and grappling are extremely popular forms of combat as well as being ethnic cultural expressions.
Aspects that are considered pros in one art may rightly be considered cons in another. Also, nothing really keeps karate guys from learning some of the stuff in the judo domain and vice versa, so the following generalities might not apply to any particular, specific style or school - especially not yours, Dan ;-). But on the other hand, The following pros and cons of karate can in some cases be applied to similar striking styles, like taekwando or tangsooodo or some forms of kungfu.
Both karate and judo are great fun, great physical education, and great exercise. Both are applicable as sport, art, or self-defense. Both are somewhat oriented toward the single-opponent duel type of conflict and both can be disadvantaged by multiple opponents. Karate is probably better at the multiple opponent conflicts than is judo.
Judo pros
  • Ukemi (learning to fall safely) is emphasized from the beginning. Ukemi ends up being the most practical self defense skill that there is because you will fall down many more times in your life than you will be attacked.
  • Partners - Everything in judo is practiced with a partner, providing better feedback than solo practice. I have often wished that judo had some solo forms so that I could practice without a partner, but overall the fact that everything you do in judo is done with/against a real person instead of an inagined attacker is advantageous.
  • The randori (sparring) system in judo allows a limited set of "safe" techniques to be used full force and full speed against fully resistant opponents. This creates a very practical, testable martial art - if it doesn't put the other guy on the ground, it simply doesn't work. If you can reliably put your opponent on the ground then you can have some confidence in the validity of the art.
  • Standardization - Judo has an amazing degree of consistency/standardization throughout the world. What you practice in southwest Mississippi is about the same thing you would practice in Japan.
  • Cross-over - Judo guys share part of their niche with amateur wrestling, jiujitsu, and even gymnastics so judoka can benefit from studying how these other guys approach movement and grappling.

Judo cons
  • Competition rules - Because of the nature of judo randori, there have to be rules against strikes - the rules prevent even touching the face. Judo guys can become conditioned to this, learning to leave their head and face dangerously open during grappling.
  • Grappling problems? - Judoka may become too conditioned with the strategy of taking one opponent to the ground even at times when it would be better to remain in a standing, free-movement phase of combat (e.g. multiple opponents, vs. weapons, etc...)
  • Uniform - Unless your club does a decent amount of no-gi randori, you can become dependent on the uniform jacket for grip and leverage. There are great stories of teachers evening the playing field between white and brown belts by making everyone grapple without jackets.

Karate pros
  • Solo practice methods (kihon, kata) allow you to practice without a partner, thus allowing karateka to potentially get much more practice time than do judoka.
  • Strikers' effective and devastating atemiwaza (striking techniques) can shut down a fight instantly. For that matter, so can a judo throw, but the judo techniques can tend to overcommit the judoka more than the karateka's atemiwaza do.
  • Karate is vastly more popular in the USA than is judo, so you are more likely to find good quality karate instruction most anywhere you look. You might be hard pressed to find a good judo school except in a city or larger town.
  • Karate can be practiced in any environment and requires less special equipment (i.e. mats) than judo. This makes karate clubs cheaper and easier to operate than judo clubs.
  • Cross-over - Karate shares its niche with boxing, and karateka can benefit from studying up on boxing's conservative, practical footwork and striking techniques.

Karate cons
  • Sparring rules - In sparring, you have to pull your punches and kicks to avoid injury. This helps karateka develop great control of their limbs, but this type of sparring can become a game of tappy touches. If you subscribe to the idea that in a fight we behave the way we train, then this can reduce the karateka's potential combat effectiveness.
  • One punch one kill!? - Realistically, most people can take one punch from most opponents – especially under imperfect conditions (and no, I'm not willing to test that assertion). If the 'one punch one kill' karate theory fails, then you are likely to be outside of karate's domain of practice and into the realm of judo (ie. clinched or grounded).
  • Solo kata - Because of the solo nature of karate kata, unless you get a good bit of bunkai (kata application practice with partners) or at least one-step engagements (ippon kumite), the karate kata can allow practitioners to develop fantasies about what they are learning.
  • Fragmentation - There is a great deal of fragmentation in the art, creating a lot of diversity between dojos. This can be a good thing if you are able to crosstrain and take the best that multiple karate instructors have to offer, but on the other hand, if you move, it may be hard to find someone doing something similar to what you learned.
  • Lack of groundwork - The Gracies demonstrated dramatically that karateka are as helpless as anyone else when they are laying on the ground. There has been a lot of cross-germination of groundwork ideas since then, but still, ground fighting is nowhere near a specialty in karate.
Want to know more about my thoughts on karate-do?  Check out this thread of karate blog posts!

photo courtesy of Ambienttraffic
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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  1. Heh--I hope I don't end up causing the perpetual inclusion of a disclaimer every time you discuss karate. :) But thanks for the link, and the acknowledgement that not all karate systems quite fit the usual profile.

    For those wondering just what the heck I'm perpetually "on" about, here's a 24-second Youtube clip that can give you a quick look at the sort of thing we're shooting for in the old systems.

  2. Although I do agree with you on some of your points, i disagree on others. Proper karate (not what is taught in about 95% of dojos) is ment to get you ready for being able to defend yourself as quickly as possible on the street where you can encounter not just lunge punches (oi zukis) but grabs, grappling, swings and tackels. Real karate is savage, violent and not what like in a chuck norris movie. Although some karate schools advise the one punch one kill concept they should NEVER say that one punch is all you should throw in a fight. If one technique does not work then you must keep going until you are well defended.

    Youre right that a lot of karate schools dont use any contact in there sparring, and this should be changed. It will not prepare students to throw or receive a full on blow. The use of padded protection and contact sparring should be encouraged more.

  3. Ikken Hisatsu or One-Strike-Certain-Death isn't a magical bullet that you use to drop an opponent from a distance. It is about using extremely powerful techniques at the right distance and timing in order to drop the opponent with some certainly to the floor. To do this, some knowledge of power generation has to be acquired, some physical skill that allows you to use your entire body as a weapon, and significant practice against a makiwara or equivalent striking target. The ikken hisatsu will probably not be quite so developed in a sportive karate environment, and certainly not if the practitioner only practices in the air.

    To get to a point where such a powerful tool can be delivered, the hard stylist must be able to parry and return fire at a number of different distances, from long range to mid, to short. Some of these exchanges require the opponent to cover, to evade, to deflect and counter, and to deal with multiple opponents. The opponent will be traveling fast, and thus the practitioner has to be able to drilled in tools that allow him to deal with varied strikes and weapons. In the regular modern day dojo, these type of drills will not feature as highly as other kihon that may be reiterated on the line to build endurance, stamina, and strength.

    At mid to short ranges however, karate comes into its own. Anytime the opponent comes close, the karateka can apply huge amounts of shearing forces on limbs and joints. This is mostly not in evidence in many karate schools, especially those that deal with little children. However, I pity those opponents who think that the karateka is an easy target to take to the ground. A remorsely, non-rule bound, traditionally trained karateka will seek to break any and all joints before needing to attempt any ikken hisatsu move.

    As it was said, "Real karate is Savage."

    Of course all this also applies to Traditional Taekwondo. But you're lucky this post wasn't titled Judo v Taekwondo ... :-)


  4. Very interesting comparison!

    I can't speak to the striking arts, having only studied karate for a couple of years at what I would consider a sub-par dojo. Although, if Mark's assertion that 95% of dojos are not teaching proper karate, I guess it would be typical.

    A big part of what I like about BJJ is what you mention in Judo. If it doesn't work, you aren't there yet. Without the visceral execution honed by literally hundreds (or thousands) of hours of mat time against a partner, even a sound technique is likely to fail. BJJ is what it is.

    Or put another way, I can read about a technique and drill it, but unless I attempt to execute that technique over and over until I can get it to work consistently, I won't truly understand the setup, the transition, the execution and the exit strategy for that technique. I won't have a well developed trigger for that technique.

  5. A little background of myself. I have been a long time Shotokan practitioner and have participated countless tournament and semi-free street type challenges. Currently, I am training Tomiki Aikido and do go over some Judo type throws, chokes and pin down on top of what we do in Tomiki style. (Most of the black belts came from Judo and BJJ as black belts when they were younger.) The article have touched a lot of valid points. Just one item I would like to add. One punch one kill is real if the Karate practitioner trained it correctly. One has to understand, Karate not only training how to punch but using the least energy and delivering the most devastating punch at highest speed but also the arms have gone through years of conditioning (punching makiwara). Having being hit by any part of the arms will be similar to being hit by blunt objects. I have to agreed with another poster, 95% of the Karate Dojo in the US are fusion and students have been taught incorrectly. Lack of discipline and etc. For a well trained Karate practitioner, you will find it very hard to even get close. Just like Aikido, they will maintain their striking distance at all cost (strike and reclaim space for kick or punch). While of course, Judo player might try to close up the range in order to execute throwing or take down. So my dojo has fairly good knowledge of what Judo is. Look up youtube.com for "Shotokan Raw Power". That's how Karate practitioners suppose to be trained. The only guard you might see in MMA is glove. Every wonder why there is a glove? Because punches are dangerous. Opponent will get knock out in 1 hit and that will be no fun if the game ended in 10 seconds. With all these, I am not saying an art is better than another. I am a strong believer every art has its pros and cons. I have seen Judo and JJ in action. Just want to point out the one punch one kill.


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