I like full contact hard body sparring. I'm not much of a fan of a lot of katas, since I've been through enough of that in TKD. However, I wouldn't mind some kata. I'm also not a fan of karate joint locks. If I wanted to emphasize that, I'd take BJJ or Judo.

Taking these stipulations into account, would I prefer Shotokan or Kyokushin? Which one would be a better fit for me?

  • 6
    why not kicboxing? muay thai? mma? Nov 27, 2013 at 2:22
  • @KeithNicholas agree, do muay thai. Still the best.
    – marko
    Oct 24, 2015 at 17:27
  • You know that WTF Taekwondo ain't a fan of katas either, and there's full contact sparring. Just don't look at the Olympics because that fighting style is lame.
    – IEatBagels
    Sep 8, 2016 at 3:29
  • Karate is kata. Kata is Karate. Sep 17, 2017 at 9:47

10 Answers 10


Kyokushin sparring rules are almost always continuous and full-contact, with nearly the entire body as a target except that one cannot punch to the head. I've heard that some Kyokushin schools and offshoots incorporate boxing gloves and face punching. Generally, "full contact" sparring means "medium to hard contact" in class, titrated to one's partner's ability to take punishment, and "full contact" reserved mostly for competition. One scores by knocking the opponent down. Leg kicks are very, very common.

Shotokan kumite is generally light-contact (or "controlled" contact), stops or resets after a successful strike, and usually does not allow leg kicks. Sweeps, however, are generally permitted. One scores by landing a clean blow. As collected on E-budo:

  • Attacking areas are limited to the face, head, neck, abdomen, side of the body, chest and back (excluding the shoulders).
  • Skin touch control must be exercised with any techniques to the face, head or neck.

Note that "excessive contact" is prohibited in Shotokan, as are "repeated direct attacks to the arm or legs". This is dramatically different from Kyokushin.

Both styles wear the funny Asian pajamas, do the krotty dances, and have a lot of the bowing stuff. Whether they do joint locks is dependent on the individual teacher, but it probably won't be a major part of the syllabus in either style.

  • 1
    "krotty dances" sounds snide to me.
    – Anon
    Nov 27, 2013 at 15:04
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    @Trevoke Maybe that's because it's paired with "funny Asian pajamas" and is intended to critique the practice a little. The latter part of the term is not without prior art: see Peter Urban's classic The Karate Dojo. Nov 27, 2013 at 15:09
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    Well, it reminds me of the scene at the end of V for Vendetta, really. "You've got nothing. Nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy karate gimmicks." The pyjama bit is something I hear a lot. It's the intentional misspelling that irked me. Dancing and martial arts have a lot in common.
    – Anon
    Nov 27, 2013 at 18:14
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    @Trevoke - You need to lighten up. "krotty" has been an inside joke since I've been in martial arts (30 years now), as has fancy pajamas.
    – JohnP
    Nov 12, 2014 at 19:55
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    The problem with inside joke is that you have to be inside to get them. Inside jokes diminish the size of the audience that can find this answer valuable.
    – Anon
    Nov 12, 2014 at 20:04

If your preference is full-contact sparring, then Shotokan sucks and Kyokushin rocks, because Shotokan doesn't have full-contact sparring and Kyokushin does.


Kyokushin has a lot more focus on hard sparring. As Dave writes in his answer, for tournaments, Shotokan fights are usually stopped after a successful technique lands (much like fencing), while Kyokushin fights are only stopped when the technique is effective (i.e. the opponent is either knocked out or knocked down).

Knockouts are common in Kyokushin, while excessive contact is penalized in point karate.

As for the kata, I believe Kyokushin and Shotokan share many kata, although their interpretation may be slightly different. However, depending on the school, it might be possible to focus almost entirely on fighting and less on kata (or vice versa) once you reach a certain level.

If you enjoy hard sparring but not the kata, you might consider one of the Kyokushin offshoots.

Ashihara Karate is a direct offshoot of Kyokushin, and shares the same view on hard sparring (knockdown karate). However, their view on kata is different. While traditional kata are very stylistic, the Ashihara kata are more practical. The intention is, that the individual combinations can be transferred directly into fighting.

Example of Ashihara kata

Enshin Karate is in turn an offshoot of Ashihara, and is very, very similar. The only difference is that they have fewer kata.

There are other styles as well: Daido Juku/Kudo, Seidokaikan (parent organization of K1) and several more. Most of them are descendants of Kyokushin or Ashihara, and are grouped together as "Knockdown Karate".


I've been training in Kyokushin for 15 years and yeah, if you like hard sparing you'll get you hands full.

We still do some kata too as Kyokushin karate is based on Shotokan Karate, but they are waaayyy les pretty that the Shotokan one's.

Still, don't forget that Kata training is an important part in the pratice of Kyokushin, even if Kyokushin focuses more on full contact kumite.

As for the joint locks and stuff, it really depends on the Sensei that is teaching the class.

Osu !


I like the fact that Masutatsu Oyama, the fonder of Kyukushin, fought 50 bulls (or so the rumour goes).

I would pick Kyukushin as the better style because its mixture of Japanese straight and powerful attacks and Chinese "iron ball at the end of a chain" techniques make it much more well-rounded. Oyama studied Chinese martial arts as a youth, before moving over to Karate and you can actually see the progression when you look at the difference between the lower Kata's and the higher. The lower Kata's are more traditionally Chinese, while the later kata show a more traditional Japanese rhythm.

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    All the Oyama biographies report that he learned Chinese first, as a boy working on a farm, before learning Shotokan later. The fact that lower-grade Kyokushin kata are more rigid is, I would contend, a pedagogical choice. I would note that orthodox Shotokan shares that progression towards more circular, flowing kata at the advanced levels. Nov 26, 2013 at 12:50
  • That's what you get when trying to quote from memory something you learned more than a decade ago. Nov 27, 2013 at 14:13
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    Happens to the best of us. Nov 27, 2013 at 14:18

Just like some people answered before, if you like more hard sparring, I would go for the Kyokushin.

In Shotokan, katas play an important role, but so do they in any other Karate-do style. The point is that as far as they don't do so much sparring, the training of some technics is practice by training kata a kihon.

The combat in Shotokan is done using the WKF, which means they don't go for the KO but some points you earn by hitting the other one in specific zones, the number of points depend on the zone. Also you have to consider you can't hit too hard, because it is penalized.

As an example of Shotokan karate, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lOF7Dlzd7w

On the other hand, Kyokushin goes more for the KO, although they can not punch to the head (as far as I know) and as a example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYTy0rCxLoo

Although I like more the Shotokan (I used to practice it), I think you will enjoy more the Kyokushin one. But I would consider taking one leason of each (which usualy you can get for free) an see by your own.

Best wishes.



I do not think so that shotokan is best for kumite only. It is more suited for street fight because of their kumite practice to hit the face and body with punch or kick which is the reality in street fight. hitting just the body and kicking the face, as the kyukushin fighters do, is not street reality. The hardness of sparring should not be considered on the way the sparring goes for how many rounds despite the participants being floored several times. The consideration should be if the fist and kicks of the fighters can land on the face or body whatever is clear for strike. In shotokan kumite you can see players knocked to the floor by a punch to the face or a kick to the face. It is seldom that you can see a participant goes down with a punch to the body but mostly due to punch or kick on the face or a strong sweep to the lower leg followed by a punch to the floored participants.


I'm going to beat this old horse. I have to agree with Tobiushirogeri. Kyokushin does emphasis katas training, but incorporates lots of hard sparring. I'd venture to say it varies from school to school. In ours (MANY moons ago), we had full contact, but used headgear, hands, feet, cup and shin guards for white to orange. After that, you could opt out most gear, but it would take a considerable amount of time to get to that level. Even then, face was off limits. Full contact was reserved for Brown on. Though an Americanized system, it held practical purposes. UFC has popularized more full contact styles. You're more likely to find a Kyokushin school that starts full contact earlier on nowadays.

What was unique about our school was we also had a Shotokan instructor. I only knew him as Pedro. What was amazing about Pedro and his instruction of Shotokan was he was a very lanky and wiry man, but the power he drew and channeled through his strikes were borderline metahuman levels. He instructed mostly form, power from every strike and meditation (knowing your body). Kata practice is important for precision, focus and muscle memory. Thou shalt not forsake thy katas! OSU!

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    Please take the tour. Your answer does not directly answer the question asked; whether Kyokushin or Shotokan is more suitable for those with a preference for sparring over kata.
    – mattm
    Sep 14, 2017 at 15:43

I think that both JKA shotokan and Kyukushin are full contact karate because their kicks and punches will contact the parts of the body being hit. I read one comment stating that in kyukushin, the fight will only stop when one competitor gets floored, while in shotokan the fight is immediately stopped once a strike is effectively delivered. I have viewed many shotokan kumite where opponents were floored when hit in the face by a punch or kick and the fight was stopped and the winner was immediately declared.

I think the difference is in kyukushin, the fighters are allowed more rounds even when one opponent had been knocked to the floor, while in JKA shotokan once a player delivers an effective strike with a full point, the player wins and the fight stops. I viewed many kyukushin kumite and noticed that players use continuous punching to the torso, interspersed with kicks to the face. In JKA shotokan, the player can punch and kick to the face and body. This is, I think, the difference: the kyukushin have continuous attacks because they can endure the punch and kicks to the legs and body, but try punching bare knuckles to the face and surely the defender will quickly disengage from the attacker.

For me, both styles have their respective types of effective full contact karate.

  • From the JKA rules (pdf): "The following elements are forbidden: a) excessive contact, going beyond the target, 'wild' swinging techniques... In a match or event, all techniques – punches, kicks, strikes, have to be done with control. The distance required to do the techniques should be close enough to be able to be effective. There should be no damage done to the opponent. A light touch to the target is permitted." That is in every way the opposite of full contact. Sep 5, 2016 at 5:16
  • We do light touch point sparring in my style. We contact the body, but this is FAR FAR from "full contact".
    – JohnP
    Sep 6, 2016 at 14:53

If you like real karate then train Kyokushin karate. Shotokan is karate without spirit last 15 years im train Kyokushinkai karate. 20 years before Shotokan. Shotokan is beter only for kata.For real fighting spirit beter choice is Kyokushinkai karate. Karate is kumite.Best reguards. OSU!

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