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Why don't karateka train in any kind of ground fighting or takedown defense? Karate contains takedowns, throws, leg sweeps etc. yet I've never seen anyone teach sprawling in karate and getting up from the ground and back on your feet isn't practised in training very much.

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TL;DR - Karate itself doesn't include much grappling because ancient karatekas were expected to be proficient grapplers and would regularly cross-train in both karate and wrestling. Karate was transmitted, but not the wrestling, leaving modern karate with very little grappling defenses.


Other people have posted great answers as to why most instructors do not include ground fighting in their curriculum. Some of these are heavily oriented towards taekwondo which, while it has some roots in Japanese karate, it was created at a time when grappling had already been phased out. Thus, I feel it is important to add an historical perspective to this discussion.

While karate is definitely the most well know Okinawan martial art, it is not the most ancient, nor the most popular, at least historically. As in many other Southeast Asian countries, folk wrestling has had an incredible influence on the development of martial arts. Known as tegumi in Naha, or mutō in Tomari and Shuri, Okinawan folk wrestling includes grappling, joint locks, pins and strangles. Ancient karatekas were thus generally expected to be proficient in wrestling, the "primary" combat form of the island. Like most modern MMA gyms, they would alternate between karate and wrestling training and aspire to be well-rounded martial artists.

In the early 1900's, a reform of Okinawa's school curriculum tried to integrate karate into the physical education program of the island. Karate started evolving towards "fitness" rather than "self-defense", and the grappling side of the art was essentially removed from the schools' curriculums to avoid injuring the children. This process was further amplified when Funakoshi Gichin imported karate to Japan in the 1920's, as he tailored his shotokan to Japan's intellectual elite.

In most karate katas, traces of grappling can still be found. Tuidi-waza, or seizing hand techniques, are integrated into the forms to indicate ways of transitioning from striking to grappling. As I've mentioned earlier, ancient karatekas were expected to be proficient at grappling, and would thus know how to best take advantage of these opportunities.

However, most modern lineages have "forgotten" the grappling aspect of karate. Okinawan styles generally continue to train in tuidi-waza but, as most instructors are not proficient in tegumi, most schools simply stick to the striking aspect of karate. Japanese styles often eschew tuidi-waza altogether, despite vestiges of it being present in their katas.

For a slightly different take on this topic, I would suggest reading one of sensei Iain Abernathy's short article on the subject, in which he also provides a few interesting references.

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I can't speak for Karate, but Taekwondo has similar characteristics to Karate. In TKD, we don't emphasise ground-fighting or takedowns, because we simply don't have the time in one or two hour-long sessions a week to cover them.

This is often rationalised by saying that TKD is about keeping your assailant at a distance, hence the emphasis on kicks. In self-defence terms, we teach our students that awareness is vital. In other words, don't let any assailant close enough to actually grab you!

Equally, as the emphasis in TKD is on fighting on your feet, it is conceivable that instructors aren't confident enough in grappling or ground-fighting techniques to teach them effectively.

In summary, my reasons are:

  • Available teaching time
  • Rationale or philosophy of the art
  • Knowledge or experience of the instructor
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It is mainly going to come down to the instructor and the school.

For both karate and similar arts, the emphasis is on striking, and there is little emphasis on what is commonly called the "ground game". This is not a knock against the art, it is just the way that it evolved.

For many typical instructors, they spent a considerable amount of time learning and improving their technique, as well as learning how to teach and (hopefully) learning how to run an effective class and school. The more complicated the curriculum (weapons, forms, etc), the more time you have to spend on that aspect of it.

Unless the instructor goes outside their normal range and seeks out the groundfighting/grappling arts, they simply don't have the knowledge to teach it, much less teach it effectively. The common mantra of teaching to avoid the ground is somewhat of a rationalization, as if you have someone that is skilled at a ground based art, if they get in close enough to get hold of you, then you are most likely in a world of hurt, especially if they do manage to get you down.

The most common recognized single art that encompasses aspects of both the striking and joint lock/throws along with grappling is hapkido. If that is not an option, if you want to get the ground training, then you will need to find a bjj or similar style school to learn.

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  • Good answer. It evolved to be what it is. It's not a complete combat system, nothing is on its own. This part made me chuckle though, "especially if they do manage to get you down", they would, easily, because the karate folk aren't training takedown defense. And keeping distance isn't a defense. Remember the Gracie Challenge? – coinbird Jun 11 '18 at 22:11
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True Karate, like Taekwondo, is a complete fighting system, with grappling, striking, weapons, pressure points, meditation, and more. It's a complete lifestyle, really. Every aspect of one's training relates to life outside the dojo in some way, whether it is about respect to another, self-defense, competition, or what one does when no one is looking.

But, that is a tall order for most people. Who has the time to do all that, and still get in time for baseball, college, work, family, commuting to work or school, testing, girl/boy friends, and walking the dog?

Today's lifestyle is a very busy one for most people, and as a result, the classical martial arts have had to adapt as well, or else they lose students. Taekwondo nixed everything for the Olympics and doesn't do anything other than sparring (and that strange thing that nobody really understands, but we call it forms, hyung, poomsae).

And Karate is no different, and did the same. Except, by and large, they still retain their forms (although, it's common to find the same students here who don't have a clue about what they're doing in kata). Some still manage to get in self-defense practice. But that will change, come Tokyo Olympics, and - like Taekwondo - many schools will drop everything to focus on Olympic requirements.

As a result, our styles have become nothing by niche sports, and useless for their original applications. Did you know that boxing contained grappling and throws? That wrestling contained strikes? That Karate and Taekwondo contained weapons, grappling, pressure points, and throws? All of these styles nixed one element or another - or several - so that it morphed into what we have today.

The challenge for the serious martial artist is to find a school which embraces all or most of these original elements, and with less of an emphasis on any one of these things, like sport.

As classical-styles-now-turned-sport matures in the future, the classical ways will be forgotten entirely, as today's students become tomorrow's teachers. If today's students aren't taught, where (and when) will they learn, and what will they teach?

You wait. We in Taekwondo went through this, as we saw the ruination of our style collapse into this crap we call Olympic Taekwondo, and it is dragging in the other TKD styles like ITF and ATA into it. We are all betting the same will happen to Karate, and within one generation, what you will see in Karate will not look a bit like it looks today; indeed, what we see in Karate today looks nothing like it did a generation ago.

Perhaps my observations will give you some insight for what you are in for. In my town in Long Island, NY, there were 80 TKD schools within a 15-mile radius of us. Annually, we competed with each other in nearby school gymnasiums. We competed in striking sparring, some grappling sparring, weapons, and forms. That was 20 years ago. Today, there are about 150 by several schools' accounts in that same area, and all except maybe 5% of them focus only on Olympic Taekwondo. And some schools live no more than 2-3 years, then go out of business, usually because the instructor has no sense of business or can't keep students. Granted, part of their problem is saturation. And Karate schools? They estimate about 40 schools in the same area, and about half that 20 years ago. Those 40 schools today are also only doing competitive sparring: they do not do self-defense except as a cursory adjunct to their regular classes and nearly always involves the "here, grab my wrist" thing which is so ubiquitous. And no one ever falls on the floor.

The Kukkiwon - the governing body of the style of Taekwondo typically attributed to Olympics Taekwondo - is now officially a sport (and has been informally called a sport for the past 15 years) by - guess what? - The Ministry of Sport in South Korea. We don't call them Taekwondo-in anymore, we call them players. And refereeing is fast becoming a serious role in Taekwondo life.

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  • Very interesting answer! ' Did you know that boxing contained grappling and throws?' caught my attention, do you have some reference for this? Would like to know more. – AppliedAcademic Jun 12 '18 at 13:39
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    Yes. Today's boxing, commonly called "American Boxing" is an adaptation to the Marquess of Queensbury rules, with notable technical differences having to do with weight classes, size of ring, and the use of umpires (we call them referees). But Queensbury superceeds London Prize Ring rules, which allows throws. In fact, Queensbury rules explicitly forbid wrestling and throws, a notable difference between the two sports. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Prize_Ring_Rules – Andrew Jay Jun 12 '18 at 14:16
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    I'll probably get kicked for introducing irrelevant (to the OP) details, but here is more interesting info on boxing: britannica.com/sports/boxing/The-bare-knuckle-era#ref403493 – Andrew Jay Jun 12 '18 at 14:25
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I did Kempo when I was at school for about seven years. I can count on one hand the times we did ground fighting. It was there, but very rare.

Your average dojo today (and for a couple of decades) is more like an alternative to pilates or yoga for the mass of students who attend. They likely offer a competition track for those wanting a challenge, but the old martial side of things has been lacking for a long time. You can say nearly the exact thing for tkd.

WTF rules tkd is the number one "martial art" in China because of the ability to get medals for the State so the State heavily promotes it.

Now there is MMA which is feeding interest to new generations but MMA is just the new boxing, it's a heavily regulated sport where much of what traditional martial arts taught is not usable in the ring.

TKD sparring, what you see in more traditional organisations, bars grappling. So you can't grab someone's leg. That's because sparring was designed to train the use of the legs and arms in a combat situation but it was never the complete art. TKD has little grappling to begin with, but there should be a category of sparring where it can be used to remind people that in a real fight their wonder technique might be defeated by something as simple as their leg being grabbed before they can deploy it properly. You see this in MMA situations where grapplers, BJJ being the popular one, move in and shut down strikers before taking them to the ground. There are several techniques which could possibly prevent this but sport oriented clubs tend not to train to do so.

I should refrain from saying sport orientated because the real issue is that these clubs are too insular. They only train to fight against their own style and if that style has already limited what techniques it uses, like next to no grappling, then students are being given false confidence that their style works.

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From what I know, KARATE is not a fighting stlye.

Karate is the Japanese translations of “Fighting with empty hand”.

Please see Karate more as an concept then as a fighting style. In Karate concept as long as you fight with your empty hands, no matter what you do, is karate.

From the Japanese term point of view, even taekwondo is consider to be a karate fighting style.

Now. About grappling and sweeps. A fight can happen on a long, medium or short range. Most of the styles promote the long/medium distance. Reduce the risk of immediate danger for the practitioner plus add an extra reaction time to block/duck/run. In real life, the fights are BIG vs small. Not most people have the physical/mental straight to sustain a close quarter combat ( see a TKD fighter vs a Judo fighter) and is much easier to promote the DEFENSE part of the Art, just because the distance offer time and plenty of chances to escape.

Remember that the Art was adapted to serve for Self-Deference not Attack. There are Arts that have a more complete approach. Kudo Daido Juku for an example. Have everything from the distance point of view, both fist/kick and grappling/trows.
Now. For those who think to the Art as a sport, as Tkd, Judo, Vovinam Viet Vo Dao , etc. From competition point of view, is much more danger. You promote an Art. Is hard to show blood. In UFC is FIGHTING Competition. No Art involved. Marketing. How many techniques are not banned for being to brutal?

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    The "empty hand" definition of karate is fairly modern and originates in Japan's militarization in the 1920s. Prior to that, it was pronounced the same, but written with kanji that better translated as "china hand", and referred to the Chinese influence on Okinawan martial arts. It was common practice to simply call it "te", or to affix regional prefixes to differentiate between styles. Thus, ancient karateka did not practice "karate", but rather "Shuri-te", "Naha-te" or "Tomari-te". The term "karate" is the Japanese equivalent of "kung fu" and, likewise, it now covers many different styles. – Dungarth Jun 12 '18 at 23:11

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