Karate vs Kickboxing Differences

Karate vs Kickboxing: Which Is Better?

When it comes to pure striking martial arts, none are more popular and effective than Karate and Kickboxing. The two are designed and developed to use kicks and punches that incapacitate the opponent quickly and decisively. But, although both of these arts use striking as the primary weapon, just how different Karate and Kickboxing are?

There are many differences between Karate and Kickboxing. Not only technical differences but in other aspects as well. That includes philosophy, stance, rules, and equipment. It’s safe to say that the two have more differences than similarities.

There are several things you should keep in mind when choosing between Karate and Kickboxing. What are the goals that you wish to achieve with training? Do you want to learn self-defense, or do you want to compete and progress in the sport? Is your motivation purely recreational? You should know what to expect from both of these martial arts, and then determine which one is the better option for yourself.

What are the differences between Karate and Kickboxing?

When you compare Karate and Kickboxing, there are some obvious similarities between them. First, they are both primarily striking martial arts. Using takedowns, throws, grappling, and fighting on the ground is off-limits. There are some exceptions and circumstances in both where they are used, though.

In Karate, throws that lead to a decisive strike on the ground are common, but only specific techniques are practiced and permitted in combat. On the other hand, some forms of Kickboxing allow clinching and sweeps. But that is mainly the case in Muay Thai, which you could argue is a completely separated martial art derived from Kickboxing.

As for the differences between Karate and Kickboxing, it would be easier to divide them into several segments so you could comprehend what they are and what they mean in practice. We’ll cover philosophical differences, as well as the rules, used equipment, and technique.


Although aggression is something that’s commonly linked with martial arts, Karate is the complete opposite of aggression. Instead, it focuses on peace, meditation, calmness, and focus. The philosophy behind Karate stems from the roots on which Karate grew and evolved over the centuries.

At first, it was known as Te and renamed to Karate in modern times. Te was developed in Okinawa, Japan by Okinawans who trained ancient martial arts in China. Those old martial arts focused on meditation and peace, stemming from their background in Buddhism. Therefore, meditation is an integral part of every Karate practice, and it’s important to get into the right state of mind if you want to succeed in the art.

The philosophy of Karate states that you should avoid every conflict if possible. However, it is clear that conflict happens in life, and sometimes we cannot do anything to prevent it. Nevertheless, your opponent deserves respect, even if he/she’s in the wrong.

That’s why you should aim to finish the conflict quickly and briefly. Every strike or move in Karate is designed either to defend yourself from an incoming attack or incapacitating the opponent/attacker with as little damage inflicted as possible. The moves are quick, efficient, and brisk.

Kickboxing is a martial art you could call aggressive, but the purpose is self-defense, not attacking. Every strike is delivered with maximum force, using arms and legs as weapons. You move forward with aggression and striking to incapacitate your opponent by inflicting damage, not avoiding it.

Even though the philosophy behind Kickboxing is more focused on power and force behind strikes, it is mainly focused on self-defense. That’s why you’ll learn a lot of counter-attacks, enabling you to fend off any potential attacks.


When it comes to technique, there’s a difference in what you can learn, and what you can use in competition. For instance, Karate teaches a lot of techniques when it comes to kicks, but you can only use a handful of them in regulated competition. 

The same goes for Kickboxing. A lot of knee and elbow strikes can be taught in a gym, but those strikes aren’t meant for use in sport Kickboxing. And, the fact that you can use only limited techniques in competition affects the stance of the fighters. Karate practitioners will keep their lands lower, and sacrifice power for quickness and precision because it’s not important how hard you’re hitting, but where and how you do it.

The Kickboxing technique is developed in a way that maximizes damage. You put all your force behind virtually every strike and use not only your muscle strength but the entire body momentum to maximize power. Forward movement, hip rotation, and incredible footwork are highlighting the Kickboxing technique the most.

Karate, on the other hand, isn’t looking to move forward, but rather work from the counter. Reading your opponent and being able to react accordingly is crucial. Every move and strike is meant to finish the fight quickly, avoiding damage if possible. It should give you enough time to escape or call for help if attacked.

The main characteristics of the Karate technique are focus, calmness, precision, and quickness. It’s not about how hard you hit, but where and how you hit.


The most crucial difference when it comes to the rules of Karate and Kickboxing combat is the level of contact. While Kickboxing encourages full contact, sport Karate allows only mild, light contact. If you knock your opponent out, you’re most likely getting disqualified for excessive contact.

In Kickboxing, you win either by knockout or the judges’ scorecards when the time runs out. There’s a system in which the bouts are scored, but you don’t get points for each strike landed. Instead, your entire performance is scored.

On the other hand, sport Karate has a distinct point system in place, and the winner is the practitioner that scores more points. There are techniques worth 1, 2, or 3 points, and the winner is the one that takes an eight-point advantage first or has more points when the time runs out.

Also, low kicks are forbidden in Karate, while they are the most common kicking technique in Kickboxing. That’s the reason you see Karate fighters have a bit of trouble assimilating into MMA, while Kickboxers often thrive in those circumstances. The rules of Kickboxing are much more similar to MMA than they are to Karate.


Coming from the Easter Asian culture, Karate uses specific equipment both for training and combat. A traditional gi is a suit worn by all Karate fighters, encompassed by a belt. The color of the belt depends upon your rank in training, starting with the white, and ending with the black belt.

In combat, it is mandatory to wear a mouthguard, a helmet, body armor, and shinguards with instep padding. Groin guards are recommended, but not mandatory. 

Kickboxing has a completely different set of equipment, though. You’ll wear only shorts, but you need to have gloves on for combat. Also, shin guards are mandatory only in amateur competitions and aren’t worn in professional Kickboxing. You will also need a mouthguard and a groin guard.

Which is better for self-defense: Karate or Kickboxing?

Both of these martial arts are effective for self-defense. However, the power behind Kickboxing can’t be disregarded. Therefore, it is a bit more potent than Karate when it comes to being able to defend yourself from any attack.

You approach the attacker much more aggressively, disregarding the damage you might cause. You’ll incapacitate them with power, and avoid any chance of retaliation.

On the other hand, Karate is focused on avoiding unnecessary damage, and looking to end the encounter as quickly as possible. That is often the best course of action because you’re not only avoiding inflicting damage but receiving it as well. The shorter the encounter, the less possibility of you getting hurt.

To conclude, you can use both effectively but will be able to defend from a larger variety of strikes with Kickboxing.

Which one should you choose: Karate or Kickboxing?

Now that you know what features are characteristic of each, the right choice for you should be evident by now. It all depends on what your motivations are, and which of the principles you can identify yourself in.

If you are looking to be able to defend yourself peacefully while having peace of mind, focus, and compassion, then Karate is the right choice for you. A great thing about it is the strictness in code and respect you have to adhere to. It can be implemented not only in Karate but in everyday life as well. You’ll be able to improve focus and be a lot stronger mentally.

Kickboxing has a lot more aggressive approach, so if you prefer power over quickness, this is the way to go. It can also depend on your body shape. If you are quick and light, you will have a great start to be competitive in Karate, because the technique will fall right into your advantages.

Bigger folks with more weight and strength will have a great chance to be successful in Kickboxing, although it’s not impossible for you to be great in Karate if you have those features. In the end, it’s all about your state of mind and the purpose of your training.

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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