Is Karate Good for Self Defense? Here Is What You Need to Know!

Is Karate Good for Self Defense? Here Is What You Need to Know!

Eastern martial arts have been growing in popularity ever since the first Bruce Lee films came out. The explosion of their popularity hasn’t been a short-lived one, however; there are more karate schools and karate practitioners than ever before. The point of training such art is usually for one to learn how to defend themselves and to become prolific fighters, but not for the sake of wreaking havoc, but rather of conserving peace. As MMA burst into the self-defense sphere, these traditional Eastern martial arts have been forced into the background and labeled as ineffective and useless. In this article, we will be elaborating on the topic of whether karate is good for self-defense or not.

Karate is a good self-defense method since it was developed for that very reason. Karate puts a very big emphasis on speed and agility, skills that can help you defend yourself from an attacker.

Karate has been beaten many times over in UFC fights and in other championships, which is one of the most reliable ways to analyze the effectiveness of any martial art, but then how come we still say it is effective? Read on to find out what in our opinion makes this Eastern martial art effective!

Is Karate Effective in a Street Fight?

In this article, we will be focusing on the effectiveness of karate in a street fight type scenario. The reason for that is quite simply that those types of situations are the ones where you will actually need your training to be effective in self-defense. A competition or championship does not portray the reality of real, street violence, and talking about karate as a self-defense art in a competition setting is just pointless. 

What Does a Street Scenario Look Like? 

First, we believe it is our duty to familiarize people with the type of confrontations and altercations that they might encounter on the street. The fact is, many people still believe the fairy-tale type of situations that are often depicted on the internet, especially under names like “self-defense for women”, since they are the most vulnerable population group to target. Although there are more and more channels and people online debunking these idiotic and potentially dangerous ideas, we believe we also have to add to the counter-movement. 

In a video like the previously mentioned “self-defense for women”, you usually see two practitioners standing face-to-face at a distance of about 2 meters, one of them usually a surreally large man, the other one a small woman. Then, the big man starts to punch her in slow-motion, but the woman catches his hand in some ridiculous movement and puts him on the ground. This is not the type of situation that happens on the street and believing it would be dangerous. In reality, a large majority of males could beat an even moderately trained woman if it came to a physical altercation, simply due to biological differences. 

A street scenario has none of the above-mentioned elements, maybe except for the fact that there are two or more people involved. Usually, it is rough, fast, unpredictable, and vicious. Depending on the scenario, it might start with some pushing and shoving, sometimes even by getting straight-up sucker punched. You will never have enough time to prepare an attack or defense, it doesn’t even really work that way. It isn’t a turn-based strategy game, it is violent, and a lot of other things that you wouldn’t want it to be. If you have multiple attackers, you will very likely lose. If there are weapons in someone’s pockets, they might get taken out. There is no smooth street fight, and it is better if you stay away from the so-called “bullshido” videos on Youtube for your own good. 

What Skills Do You Need in a Street Fight? 

Now that we have covered a very crucial topic, what fights actually look like, we can proceed to the skills you need to be more effective at winning them a.k.a. defending yourself. There are many factors that influence the outcome of any fight, especially on the street, so it is hard to make a definitive list of them, however, you can definitely increase your chances of being successful at defending yourself. 

First, and probably the most important step is situational awareness. This is the number one technique to master to be safe anywhere on the street. If you sense that there is something going on which might lead to a physical altercation, you should know when and how to leave the place, call the cops, friends, parents, or whoever in that given situation to be able to avoid an actual fight. Fighting is the last option because getting knocked out and getting your stuff stolen would be the bottom of the spectrum of potential negative outcomes. An integral part of this is knowing how to deescalate a situation. Young people will often forgo this part, but you have to swallow your pride if necessary and be able to calm the parties down to a point where you can solve everything verbally, at least until you leave the area. Rather be safe than sorry. 

However, there are unfortunately very many situations where physical confrontation is unavoidable. You might be cornered, or just quite simply face an opponent who isn’t willing to back down and won’t let you walk away. In these situations, all the talking and social skills won’t help you; you need to fight if you don’t want to be beaten up, killed, mugged, etc. The most important skill here (or at least the first one to mention) would most probably be spatial awareness. Even before the fighting itself begins, you need to know what is around you and how you can use it to your advantage, or perhaps how to move to avoid dangerous parts of your immediate environment. If you have some sort of a tool, may that be a glass jug, broomstick, chair, or anything you could possibly use, (or hit yourself on) be aware of it! Keeping the distance from your opponent and moving in a way so that they cannot corner you is crucial if you don’t want to be beaten. 

To move on from the somewhat more abstract concepts, the skill of delivering a solid punch is a must if you live in a region where running into a fight sooner or later is inevitable. You should be able to decide whether your attacker is going to want to fight and if so, to be the first one to deliver a good, strong punch in order to finish it before it starts. Many people have this idea of sparring for minutes in a street fight, but it just won’t happen. If you don’t learn to finish it early, your opponent will do it for you. 

And above that, there are some more specific things, like good kicks, blocks, grappling skills, avoiding being taken to the ground if there are multiple attackers or you aren’t skilled in some sort of ground fighting style, etc., but the basics are laid out: know your situation, know your surroundings, and be able to deliver the finishing punch to get the fight done quickly, otherwise, you will end up in trouble. 

The Art is Only as Good as the Person Training It

Before we dive into the topic of how effective karate is in a street scenario, we have to digress on a very important point that is made by most martial artists. It is wrong to ask “is karate good?” or “is jiu-jitsu better than judo?”, since it isn’t like a laptop or some car you buy. There are no specifications, no numerically defined characteristics to judge them by. You judge a work of art based on the specific artist and artwork, not the style they are painting in, right? The case is the same with martial arts. 

Though some systems and arts do have substantial advantages over others, none of that matters if you don’t train and use them properly. You can have the strongest Choku-Tsuki karate punch, but if you can’t block a side-kick to the head, a taekwondo practitioner will probably take you out in no time. 

All fights rely on a multitude of factors for their outcome, and the style of fighting is actually quite a small part of it. If you put together all the other factors, you see that the largest part has to do with general speed, luck, and timing. At the end of the day, just make sure you don’t get into any trouble, that is the best self-defense technique. 

How Does Karate Fare in a Street Fight? 

How well will you be able to defend yourself and develop the skills needed to do so if you train in karate? In this part, we will try to analyze karate and how well it can be used on the street in a realistic manner. If you want to start training karate but are uncertain about the efficacy of it, this part is for you. 

So we have made it clear that there are more important factors to winning a fight or defending yourself than the style you train in, but now we will talk about the advantages karate will or will not give you in a fight. One advantage you will definitely get from karate is toughness and speed. Karate is often depicted as a clumsy, jump-around art, but it’s not. Originally, it was created for self-defense purposes, not for sport or ceremonial purposes. It relies heavily on footwork and speed to deliver the most precise strikes reliably. The speed you develop is a core element of karate since speed is more important in a fight than raw power, so you will spend a lot of time trying to punch more and more quickly and precisely. Sparring a lot in classes will condition you to be able to take punches more easily and respond in high-stress scenarios better. 

In a street fight, karate can help you a lot. The fact is, your average drunk guy at the bar or the guy in the alley who wants to mug you (disclaimer: if they have any weapons, do not try to fight them) are usually not trained martial artists. Thus, training almost any art is bound to help you, but karate is definitely one of the better ones. You learn how to punch really well, also to kick and to try to block attacks. Karate makes you tougher and faster if it is trained well, so it is definitely going to give you an edge over any untrained fighter. 

Is Karate the Best Martial Art for the Streets? 

You might live in an area where street confrontations are an inevitable reality, which is the case for a lot of people, unfortunately. Or perhaps you want to learn the best self-defense method you can in order to defend your friends, family, girlfriend, etc. from any possible threat. Anyways, choosing a good martial art is crucial, since learning a bad one will just waste your time and money. How good is karate compared to other self-defense systems? 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of self-defense systems, but some of the most famous ones are boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, judo, karate, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, aikido, and krav maga. 

We will assert that these are all trained in their traditional form and by a proper instructor since otherwise, the analysis would be useless. Some of these are more grappling and contact-based martial arts, but karate is among the ones that are mostly made up of striking. Though original karate has a wrestling dimension, called Torite, it is a rare sight to see it practiced, especially in Western schools. 

In a street fight, you can never know whether you will end up throwing strikes or grappling, but knowing how to hit properly is your ticket to ending the fight quickly, without the possibility of being choked out or straight up ganged by your opponent’s friends while you are on the floor. In general, like in UFC, MMA-circumstances, jiu-jitsu and its variants end up being the most useful and effective martial arts, however, the street isn’t the place you want to try your grappling luck. It is great, all until you have only one opponent. 

Karate is among the top martial arts in terms of effectiveness as well due to the heavy emphasis on very strong and fast strikes and kicks. The layman doesn’t have a proper intuition when it comes to guessing the power of a well-placed karate punch or kick. UFC makes us believe we are supermen who can withstand a karate kick to the leg, however, if trained properly, a strong kick, performed with good technique, can easily sweep out an untrained person’s leg from underneath them, or render the leg which received the strike completely useless, maybe even break it. People aren’t made from metal, and a good punch will hurt a lot even if it is blocked. 

Any person who has been to a serious karate training will have seen some of the masters perform punches and kicks, and those are no joke. You would be sorry for standing in the way of one of them, even if you tried to block it with two hands. It is quite common for fingers to be broken or wrists to be cracked from the force of such blows, even in competitions, where your opponent is also a karateka with a similar skill level to yours. 


If you are looking for a great martial art which will help you defend yourself in a street fight, karate is definitely high on the list. Though boxing might be more geared towards effectiveness and modern-day use, karate practitioners can easily develop the skill, agility, and sheer strike force to debilitate any opponent who tries to fight them. Aside from the techniques and practice which will maximize your striking potential, you will also have better focus and mental clarity, just like a better overall physical fitness, which will all serve you really well in any street altercation and dangerous scenario. We do have to add that we are against any forms of violence, but if you live in an area where you will encounter it, or you work a job that requires it, karate is one of the best ways to increase your efficiency and confidence in any self-defense situation. 

If you stumbled upon this article, there is a big chance that you are still deciding whether to start with Karate or not. So, here are some of our articles that can help you decide:

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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