Krav Maga vs. Kenpō for Self-Defense: Which Is Better?


Kenpō Karate, sometimes called Kempo, is a classic form of Japanese Karate that offers many benefits. Krav Maga, on the other hand, is actually designed for down and dirty self-defense. So I wondered: Krav Maga vs. Kenpō for self-defense: which is better?

Here’s what I know from looking into it:

Kenpō Karate is lethal. It’s a style or extension of Karate. As such, it’s essentially a striking art. But, it offers a lot more. Krav Maga is better for self-defense because it’s a combo of effective techniques drawn from different martial arts.

KM is more lethal because of its ethos of “whatever works.”

There’s striking, grappling, and all sorts of “illegal” moves, too. Both are kind of similar, but Kenpō, for all its power and effectiveness, is still largely a scripted system, while KM is a “by any means necessary” kind of style. For this reason, I believe that Krav Maga is better.

I have been involved in martial arts on and off my whole life and seriously for the past 7 years. In this article, we’ll check out two killer self-defense systems.

Let’s get to it…

How does Kenpō compare to Krav Maga?

Kenpō refers to several different styles of Karate from Okinawan to American, which include classic Karate katas, as well as hard strikes and kicks. Krav Maga, by comparison, is a self-defense system that employs the most lethal techniques from a variety of martial arts designed to disable an opponent.

So in a way, they’re both designed for self-defense.

Both systems are open to borrowing from other styles and, they’re focused on effectiveness. So, they’re not filled with the usual dancelike moves we’ve come to associate with martial arts.

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So, you could almost substitute Kenpō for KM if you’re constrained in terms of time or money. This is a testament to how effective Kenpō can be. Some of the moves that are considered illegal in some other styles are allowed in both systems.

Kenpo, like KM, stresses quick and powerful strikes to weak parts of the body.

But they differ in the sense that Kenpo is more scripted — there are patterns to practice over and over. There are also competitions, and there’s a ranking system. You know the belt system. KM has techniques, too. But they’re more fluid.

In fact, it’s about doing whatever is necessary to defend yourself and your loved ones.

There are no competitions and no ranking system, such as exists in Kenpo and other martial arts. (Strictly speaking, KM is not a martial art. It’s purely a self-defense system.

The last point, which I believe gives KM an edge, is the fact that it’s a combo of many styles/techniques. KM guys are often hip to a variety of effective techniques. Kenpō fighters are good, but they don’t have as many options.

They’ve not been exposed to as many styles.

Is Kenpō good for self-defense?

Kenpō Karate is good for self-defense. As a form of Karate, it’s essentially a striking art involving several lethal techniques. Kenpō utilizes grappling too, but grappling makes up 25% to 30% of the curriculum, while the rest is striking.

As we noted above, there are similarities between it and Krav Maga.

It’s a self-defense system that’s also focused on fighting as efficiently as possible. It’s a smart way to fight. Instead of the usual “all over the map” and loud moves we often see in other martial arts,

Kenpo fighters are trained to focus on an opponent’s weak points.

Why? In a street fight, an average Joe would probably punch or strike you any which way. It’s probably natural and instinctive.

But, a Kenpō fighter knows that certain parts of the body are low-hanging fruits. They know they can do more damage and end the fight faster if they focus on those weak parts of the body. This is one of the beauties of Kenpō.

These parts include:

  • The ribs
  • Solar plexus
  • Nose
  • Neck
  • Face

Interestingly, groin kicks are also legal in Kenpō.

Groin kicks are arguably the best way to defend yourself. Or, at least, it should be one of the sharpest weapons in your self-defense arsenal. Some Kenpo fighters would unleash repeated or consecutive groin attacks as soon as a fight starts.

On the surface, groin kicks look easy to execute. They’re not.

The secret is that they must be surprising. If they’re not. Your opponent would most probably block it, and they’d become more enraged because they’d know you were going “for the kill.” But, if you can surprise them and also make sure the kick is power-packed. You can flee once they double over.

Karate. Interesting. You might think: “I’ll just get started teaching myself Karate at home.

But, can you? And, should you? I actually wrote about exactly how to learn Karate at home by yourself in a recent article of mine. While there are a few moves that require a partner, you can actually learn a lot by yourself.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Krav Maga more effective in a street fight than Kenpō?

Krav Maga is better in a street fight than Kenpō. Street fights are not based on rules or rigid choreographed techniques. A Kenpō fighter is used to specific techniques, which are patterns. While they would beat an untrained fighter, a Krav Maga practitioner has no patterns, and their movements can’t be anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong; they’ll be deadly.

But, a KM fighter would likely crush a Kenpō fighter who had trained the same amount of time. The KM guy knows many of the basic moves that the Kenpō guy knows.

Some KM techniques are also found in Kenpō. So, a good KM fighter would be able to counter most Kenpō moves.

But, the Kenpō fighter may not know all the techniques the KM fighter knows.

It’s a huge disadvantage when you’re fighting someone savvy to almost all your moves because they can block or avoid them. It makes it more difficult when they have been trained to attack you even while countering.

The Kenpō fighter would most probably rely on striking.

The KM fighter is good at striking and grappling. Kenpō fighters are often taught to pace their strikes in increasing order of ferocity. Against a KM dude who’s out to end the fight as soon as possible, the pacing may be the Kenpō fighter’s undoing.

When a person who’s ready to use any means to destroy an opponent is fighting someone whose instinctive moves are trained and constrained by patterns they believe are fair, you don’t need to be a soothsayer to know who’s likely to win.

You’re probably thinking: “Okay, okay, I get it, Krav Maga is highly effective.”

But a boxer should be able to trounce a Taekwondo fighter, right? Well, well.. why not find out? I covered that in a recent article. What really surprised me was how limited the Taekwondo techniques could be in certain cases.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Can a Krav Maga fighter defend themselves against a Kenpō Black Belt?

A Black Belt Krav Maga fighter could defend themselves against a Kenpō Black Belt, but in most cases, the Kenpō fighter will win. This is due to the fact that a Black Belt in Kenpō takes considerably longer than it does in Krav Maga, and there’s no substitute for more years of experience and practice.

But a KM fighter can defend themselves, no doubt.

For all its power and danger, Kenpō is essentially a Karate system. As we’ve seen in the previous sections, it’s effective. But a really experienced Krav Maga fighter who has trained equally as long as the Kenpō Black Belt probably could beat the Kenpō fighter.

Why? They have an edge over the Kenpo black belt.

They have more techniques to play with. We’re likely going to see something similar to when two really tough fighters have a go at it. They’ll seem equally able for some time. That’s until one executes a technique that gives them an edge.

It’ll be a tough fight.

And, because there are similarities in both systems, one expects a lot of counters.

But, I could see the KM fellow realizing that grappling would probably give them an edge. So, they’ll take the fight to the ground. Mount the Kenpo dude as they pummel him, and then apply the “Dagestani Handcuff” and they’ll have the Kenpo black belt submitting quickly.

Don’t forget that KM’s ethos is “whatever works.” I haven’t even mentioned eye-gouging. Yes, eye-gouging.

But a boxer would trash a Krav Maga guy, right?

Not so fast, champ. If a boxer and a KM fighter were to clash, I’d put my money on the Krav Maga fighter. By now, you’re probably sold on the value of Krav Maga.

A recent article of mine goes into greater detail on the value of learning it. But I also got into specifics on what you’ll learn, how long it takes to get good, and what you can expect to pay.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Can you learn both Kenpō and Krav Maga?

Learning a martial art such as Kenpō in addition to a non-martial fighting system like Krav Maga is a very smart strategy. The combination will give practitioners a wider variety of techniques to employ in addition to greater fitness, flexibility, and situational awareness.

So yes, you can learn both…

..if you’ve got the time. In fact, the more martial arts or self-defense systems you can learn, the better you’ll be overall.

The truth is that there’s no perfect martial art. When a person learns two or more, they’re able to multiply their skills, as it were. But, time and money could be constraints.

I’ll suggest that you get started with Kenpō. Why?

It’s arguably one style. It’s a form of Karate. In contrast, Krav Maga is a combination of several techniques drawn from various styles. Getting started with KM might be overwhelming and may rob you of a strong conceptual foundation.

In a sense, KM is kind of like a shortcut.

I actually believe it’s better for self-defense, but at the same time, it’s really awesome to master a fighting style such as Kenpō, a form of Karate. The good thing about Kenpō is that it’s not only ancient (read: tested); it’s also modern.

In fact, an American, Ed Parker, founded, refined, and codified American Kenpō to what it is today.

By which, I mean the American variant. Mr. Parker was a great teacher. You could see this in the fact that he used a logical and sequential approach to teaching Kenpō. He also used a lot of interesting expressions, which helps with recall.

Considering what we’ve been checking out, what do you think will happen if a Krav Maga fighter were to fight a Kung Fu fighter?

Who’s going to win? I explored which fighting style is better in a recent article of mine. Kung Fu can certainly be deadly. After all, who wasn’t thrilled with watching Bruce Lee in action before? But could a Krav Maga person take him?

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

We’ve compared Kenpo and Krav Maga.

We looked at their similarities and where KM has an edge. We looked at what’s likely to happen if a Kenpo fighter and KM guy have a go at it! I believe that both are so similar that it’ll be a tough contest. But the KM dude will most probably come out tops.

We saw that if it’s possible, it’s better to learn both.


Photos that require attribution:

Latvian soldier instructs U.S. paratroopers in Krav Maga by U.S. Army Europe and The Bunbukan by Rukia13 are licensed under CC2.0 and have been edited, cropped, merged, and had a text overlay added

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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