Can You Use Karate in MMA?


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MMA fighters have been entertaining us for some time. And the idea of using a variety of martial arts instead of just one makes a lot of sense. But since I don’t see it used much, can you use Karate in MMA?

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Karate can be used in MMA as no martial art is banned in the UFC. However, it is more common to see boxing, wrestling, Jiu-jitsu, and Judo than Karate due to the fact that so many fights end up on the ground, and Karate has little to no ground movements.

MMA fighters can employ the use of any martial art to fight as long as these techniques comply with uniform MMA rules.

In other words, the UFC does not prohibit any martial art style.

However, many specific techniques, such as many from Krav Maga, are not allowed. I’m talking about things like eye-poking, groin kicks, or breaking of the fingers.

But Karate isn’t the only martial art rarely seen in MMA fights.

Take a look at my recent article about whether Kung Fu is effective in MMA and another recent article on why Aikido is almost never used in MMA fights.

Just click those links to read them on my site.

Do any MMA fighters use Karate?

There have been many fighters that use Karate in MMA. MMA fighters who use Karate include Henry Cejudo, Connor McGregor, and Stephen Thompson. However, Karate is always in conjunction with using other martial arts.

Let’s take a look at them in greater detail and see how much Karate they actual employ in the Octagon:

Henry Cejudo:

A wrestling master and virtuoso take-down fighter. And all these were enough to maintain Cejudo’s position as one of the best MMA fighters until he fought Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Joseph Benavidez.

After these major losses, Cejudo learned Shotokan karate to spice up his fighting style.

Having imbibed a side-on stance and far more explosive hitting, he never lost a fight in the UFC again.

Stephen Thompson:

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson started learning Karate at the age of three.

He is also a talented kickboxer who learned all and started competing by the age of fifteen.

Despite his relatively long reach, Thompson repeatedly uses a karate attack to hold back opponents and perform sharp jab kicks.

He has often shown uncomparable agility in counterattacks and spins, which is an advantage of his karate training.

Conor McGregor:

Another popular fighter with a “Karate” stance is Conor McGregor.

Although he doesn’t use kicks in the traditional style of Karate (especially with his background in boxing technique), he still exhibits classic karate fare, a wide traditional stance in Karate.

McGregor bounces back and forth with his legs. Due to this stance, he is defensively covered on all fronts, with room for well-placed attacks on the opponent.

Many other MMA fighters incorporate Karate styles and stances into their original styles to develop a balanced and tough MMA style for use. The UFC isn’t a place for the weak-willed, to be frank.

Other MMA karate-styled fighters are Georges St-Pierre, Lyoto Machida, Robert Whittaker, and Chuck Lidell.

Is Karate allowed in the UFC?

Karate is allowed in the UFC. In fact, while there are banned techniques employed by a variety of martial arts, no martial art style is banned in the UFC.

Karate is a Japanese martial art whose physical aspects try to develop defensive body movements and counterattacks.

The themes of traditional Karate are struggle and self-defense, although its mental and moral aspects are aimed at the general improvement of the individual.

Therefore, Karate’s passive forms of movement are generally accepted in the UFC (although questionably effective).

These supposedly defensive traits, strategies, moves, and tactics have helped develop many more forms of karate-style martial art attacks. Some examples are Kempo, Kudo, and many more.

But remember, the ultimate end of learning Karate is to develop a better form of yourself and know when to strike. And, most importantly, when not to.

But since the aim in UFC MMA fighting is to win, some martial arts can be used wrongly, especially to hurt, maim and in some cases, kill.

Thus, the perfect fighter is one who is in harmony with himself and is considered worthy of displaying the karate style with detailed elegance.

A more complex answer: No martial arts are specifically banned in MMA. Some techniques are not allowed, but the rules do not give preference to one art over another.

Therefore, there are no “banned” or “forbidden” styles.

However, there are some concepts, such as manipulating the joints, hitting downed opponents, eye-poking, stabbing, and dislodging opponents’ fingers, which are not allowed.

And if you have a style that focuses a little on these concepts, this art may not translate well and will not be allowed in MMA.

Therefore, some “moves” might not be allowed, but that martial art style is not prohibited in any way or form.

What is the best style of Karate for MMA?

The 2 styles of Karate used by MMA fighters who never lost a match are Kyokushin and Shotokan. But all styles of Karate will have their pros and cons if used in an MMA competition.

Today, there are 6 main styles of Karate: Shotokan, Kyokushin, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, Shorin-ryu, and Wado-ryu.

So let’s review the pros and cons of each:

  • Like the word Karate, Shotokan is made up of two different kanji: Shoto, which means “pine breeze,” and kan, which means “place”. Shotokan karate is characterized by strong linear techniques and strong, deep stances. This is a style taught in most American karate clubs.
  • The Shorin-ryu style of Karate places great emphasis on maintaining physical and mental balance.
  • Kyokushin Karate is translated as “ultimate truth” in Japanese. This is an aggressive style of Karate.
  • Goju-ryu karate is based on the complementary principles of hard and soft. Pupils learn techniques that include strong punches with closed fists and gentle hits with open hands. Goju-ryu was exhibited in the Karate Kid film franchise with a strong emphasis on honor, integrity, and the technical Crane Kick move. Impressive kick, right?
  • Shito-ryu Karate was founded by Kenwa Mabuni in the 1920s and is still one of the most popular Karate in Japan.
  • Wado-ryu Karate is translated in Japanese as “path of harmony” or “harmonious path”. This form of Japanese Karate was founded in 1939 by Hironori Otsuka and contained some elements of Jiu-jitsu. Wado-ryu is focused on avoiding attacks.

So who are the fighters who have been most successful with Karate in MMA?

There is a long-standing debate about which karate style is the best for the MMA fighting world. Georges St-Pierre, for example, employs the Kyokushin karate style and is one of the most successful MMA fighters with a “no-loss” record.

On the other hand, Lyoto Machida uses the Shotokan karate style and has a “no-loss” record.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson employs the Kempo karate style, a modern American karate style, and is widely regarded as one of the best fighters the MMA has ever housed.

So the goal is to be the best with the karate style you learn.

Why Is Karate not used much in MMA?

Karate gets utilized less in MMA fights due to the choreographed and predictable feel of some of the movements and the lack of ground techniques, as MMA fights often end up on the ground.

MMA fighters use evolved styles of martial arts!

No one uses only Judo, or pure Muay Thai, or strictly Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Fighters take what works and create a mix that best suits them, including techniques or unique versions of Taekwondo Karate, and Wing Chun.

In fact, when watching any MMA match, you won’t necessarily notice the martial art styles on display.

This is because techniques that work are common in many disciplines and art just because they’re effective. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether this step or that blow came from Western martial art or from elsewhere.

Picture a hook punch. Are these Chinese martial arts or Western martial arts? It can be one or both.

The same principle applies to other techniques that can be found in one or more Western martial arts and martial arts from different cultures.

In the same vein, just because someone does MMA primarily using boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and wrestling doesn’t mean they don’t have experience with some kind of Kung Fu or Wing Chun training or who do not cross.

All cross-training may or may not contain Chinese styles.

If you’re looking for special techniques that don’t appear in MMA, it’s because they’re not effective. 

Again, the ones that are effective are likely to be used in other martial arts, so it depends on anyone whose martial art “owns” the technique.

(By the way, Sanshou/Sando, Chinese mixed martial art, is derived from numerous Chinese martial arts.

There’s the same pragmatic approach as in MMA, so you usually see techniques that work and ones that don’t work. So, it is not only the West that employs this practical and combined approach.)

What are the best martial arts for MMA?

The best martial arts for MMA are more offense-based styles such as Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Taekwondo, and Boxing.

The most successful MMA fighters have combined two or more styles to create a unique and eclectic style that can be used during combat.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is sometimes considered a necessity as it has offensive and defensive qualities that can serve as the first base for any potential MMA fighter.

Demian Maia and Brian Ortega are solid examples of successful mixed styles.

The best martial art for MMA is the amalgamation of fighting styles mentioned above. After all, it’s called “mixed martial arts” for a reason.

MMA is a blend of all martial arts created around the world.

It’s the only sport that involves different cultures and backgrounds, which is why MMA is so unique. UFC fighters have achieved various styles, including those not mentioned here, such as Wing Chun.

It is important to remember the best martial arts for you, and the best martial arts for MMA may not always be the same.

Depending on your background and culture, body type and athletic physique, and even your genetics, a role plays a factor in deciding which way to fight is best for you.

The best MMA fighter is not made out of a choice of which martial art they know.

The majority of the factors are related to his natural abilities, obsession with martial art, and dedication to MMA. You also earn as a Karate dogi. 

Check my recent article on how to earn as a karate teacher. After all, while the average Karate black belt earns just under $40,000 a year, it is possible to get to 6 figures!

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

In this article, we have highlighted fighters who employ the karate style. We have also checked if karate styles are allowed in MMA.

Another thing this article tells us is that karate has loads of styles that are developed by different people. Karate isn’t a fixture for most, though. However, the goal of learning karate is for mental and physical development and not to harm people.

Get skilled at karate, and get protected first hand!


Image by Mirko Zax from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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