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What Exactly Is Full Contact Karate? A Simple Explanation

Karate is among the most well-known martial arts, but most people aren’t aware that karate has various styles and forms. Most of these different styles of karate are semi-contact, using restricted power while focusing on speed and accuracy. But there is also another form called full contact karate.

Full contact karate refers to a karate style or any form of karate competition that allows practitioners to knock out their opponents. In non-full-contact karate, knocking out your opponent can get you disqualified. In contrast, knocking out your opponent wins you a match in full-contact karate.

We’ll go over some of the most well-known full-contact karate styles and discuss various types of full-contact formats.

What is Full Contact Karate?

Full-contact karate refers to any style of karate or any format of karate that allows competitors to knock out their opponent during a match.

In terms of techniques, most of these full-contact karate styles focus on stand-up fighting, utilizing striking with kicks, punches, and even knees. Other full-contact styles may include judo and wrestling grappling moves.

Full-contact karate is often referred to as knockdown karate or Japanese full-contact karate. This is because full-contact rules allow competitors to knock out their opponent to win a fight.

The origin of Full contact Karate

The exact origins of full-contact karate are not clear. Throughout history, many styles and schools had been experimenting with the full-contact concept and trying to adapt it to their teaching methods. The only fair answer is that this form started to become more and more popular in the 1950s in Japan.

At the time, the famous karateka Masutatsu Oyama had decided to open his first karate dojo called “Oyama Dojo” in 1953. His main goal was to teach the Goju-Ryu style, one of the four major traditional styles of karate. But instead of following a standardized learning syllabus and concept, Oyama wanted to create his own style called “Kyokushin”.

Like other styles, Kyokushin consists of three main elements: technique (kihon), forms (kata), and sparring (Kumite). But Kyokushin is full-contact, meaning that practitioners can kick and punch each other with full power.

The emphasis is on fast and powerful kicks and doing damage at close range with direct punches and knees. Punches to the head are not allowed.

But what makes Kyokushin brutal is the lack of protective gear. Students train and compete without wearing gloves, shin pads, or any other gear. However, this way of training is not socially acceptable in modern times. Thus, many dojos and promotions are changing their stances when it comes to protective gear.

Full-contact karate had existed long before the 1950s. But Kyokushin is the first official style to adopt this concept. Over the years, many other full-contact styles and sub-styles would emerge, with each one having its own sets of rules such as:

  • Shidokan karate
  • Ashihara karate
  • Enshin karate
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Is Full Contact Karate a style or a competition?

Full-contact karate is considered both a separate martial art and a form of competition. The most popular styles are Kyokushin, Shidokan, Seidokaikan, and Ashihara karate. On the other side, the most popular full-contact karate competitions are American, Gloved, Bogu Kumite, Point Karate, and Karate Combat.

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What are the different styles of full contact karate?

There are many styles and sub-styles of full-contact karate. Each style has its own unique set of rules, teaching methods, techniques, etc.

Also, it’s important to remember that most of these full-contact styles were heavily influenced by Kyokushin, which is thought to be the progenitor of full-contact styles.

The most well-known full-contact karate styles are as follows:

Ashihara karate

Ashihara karate is a modern full-contact style created by Hideyuki Ashihara. Muay Thai, Pankration, and Jujutsu inspired this full-contact karate style. The emphasis is on fast footwork and movement (Sabaki) to re-direct their opponent’s force against them while moving into an advantageous position (the opponent’s blind spot) to attack.

In Ashihara Karate, Sabaki describes the movement made by a defender stepping out of line of an attack, into a position from which he/she can launch a counterattack.

Ashihara Karate International

In training, students do various types of katas depending on the purpose. For example, there are sparring, fighting, and self-defense katas. Each strike, block, footwork, or other move is designed to be effective in a real fight and help you defend yourself in a real fighting scenario. The ranking system as well as the uniform are the same as in Kyokushin.

Enshin karate

Also known as “Enshin kaikan”, this full-contact variation was founded by Joko Ninomiya in 1988 in the United States. Ninomiya was Hideyuki Ashihara’s student, and he is a man who deserves a lot of credit for putting full-contact karate on the map in the US.

Enshin karate shares a lot with other karate styles when it comes to kicks, punches, blocks, and movements. But on the other side, it includes grappling techniques such as sweeps, grabs, throws, and takedowns from various arts such as judo and jujutsu. The main goal is to mix these techniques with sabaki (movement).

Shidokan karate

Shidokan karate was founded by Yoshiji Soeno in 1978 in Japan and in modern times, it has branches in over 68 countries around the world. In martial art circles, it is also known as the “Triathlon of Martial Arts” as it is a mix of full-contact karate, kickboxing, and grappling techniques.

The emphasis of Shidokan is on stand-up fighting utilizing kicks, punches, and blocks, and is similar to kickboxing. But the system also includes throws, locks, and sweeps from Judo, BJJ, and wrestling.


Seidokaikan karate is a full-contact style founded by Kazuyoshi Ishii in the early 1980s. Seidokaikan is famous for organizing the very first full-contact karate tournament called the “Karate World Cup,” which was the precursor to K-1 kickboxing. The system itself is very similar to Kyokushin in terms of katas, techniques, and learning syllabus.


Kyokushin is widely regarded as the first official full-contact karate style, founded in the 1950s by Mas Oyama. Kyokushin is also known as the hardest form because students spar and compete without wearing any protective gear.

The emphasis is on hard kicks and punching at close range. Punches can only be thrown to the upper body below the neck (torso), but practitioners can kick each other to the body and head.

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What are the different types of full-contact karate formats?

There are no unified rules for full-contact karate to which different competitions adhere. Full-contact karate rules vary greatly between styles, organizations, and competition formats.

The following are the most popular formats of full-contact karate:


The knockdown format is often referred to as “knockdown karate” or “Japanese full-contact karate.” Knockdown is regarded as one of the most prominent full-contact karate formats and was greatly influenced by Kyokushin karate.

Its rules allow competitors to fight with bare knuckles. However, grabbing, holding, and clinching are not allowed under knockdown rules. Under knockdown rules, competitors barely wear any body protection during the fight other than groin protectors.

In the knockdown format, a punch or kick that lands must have a visible impact on the opponent to score a point, regardless of how well the strike landed. As a result, hitting the opponent does not automatically earn you a point unless it has a visible impact. In addition, there’s no break in between the rounds as the bout is continuous until there’s a knockdown or sweep.

Full Contact Point Karate

In terms of rules, full-contact point karate is very similar to the non-full-contact format, which can be light or semi-contact.

You can get disqualified for knocking out your opponent in the no-full-contact format. But contestants are allowed to knock out their opponent to win a match under the full-contact point format.

Unlike other full-contact rules, the action stops whenever a contestant scores a point by striking certain areas of the body. Contestants have to wear padded gloves, shin pads, and footpads. This competition format is very similar to Taekwondo and Shotokan.

American Full Contact Karate

Joe Lewis, a Shorin Ryu black belt and one of the best karate fighters of all time, came up with the American full-contact format. Lewis didn’t like the karate point scoring system during his time, where the fight was reset after each point. Instead, he developed a set of rules where the two karatekas would battle in continuous action to a knockout. If there’s no knockout at the end of the match, the judges would sum up the scores and declare a winner.

Under its rules, contestants wear boxing gloves and are allowed to throw punches to the head. They can throw power kicks, but only to the upper body area above the waist, including the head. American full-contact karate is very similar to American kickboxing because they share the same rules.

Gloved karate

Gloved Karate is also known as “shin karate” and is very similar to modern kickboxing in terms of rules. This form is very popular across Japan, and among people who want to gain some experience before switching over to pro kickboxing.

Gloved karate adopts “knockdown rules” from Kyokushin but is modified to be more in line with kickboxing. For instance, competitors wear full-padded boxing gloves and can punch each other in the face. It visually looks like K-1 kickboxing with contestants wearing Gi uniforms, and they even compete inside the squared ring.

Bogu Kumite

Bogu Kumite is another full-contact form where competitors wear full protective gear (bogu) and can strike each other in a continuous action.

Each competitor must wear full-body gear that has origins in Japanese Kendo. They wear a helmet called “men” with a metal grille, gloves called “kote”, and breastplate.

Bogu Kumite lets competitors win a fight by knocking out their opponent, which doesn’t happen very often because of all the protective gear they wear.

Bogu Kumite

Hybrid Fighting Karate

This format of full-contact karate combines striking and grappling techniques. It is a form that focuses on freestyle combat and prepares a person for any scenario they may face on the streets.

The majority of striking techniques come from Kyokushin, while grappling techniques come from Judo and Jujutsu. Since hitting the facial area is allowed in the competition, the contestants have to wear face protectors for safety.

Karate Combat

Karate Combat is a professional league launched in 2018 with its own format. And, it stands for the most popular full-contact competition in modern times. From the production of each event to the promo materials, everything about Karate Combat is top-notch and aimed to bring in a new generation closer to modern karate.

Karate Combat rules require contestants to compete wearing trousers, padded gloves, mouthguards, and groin guards. The rules enable contestants to throw full-power punches and kicks both to the head and body, as well as knee strikes.

When a fighter gets knocked down to the ground, the opponent can continue to punch them for 5 seconds before the referee stops the fight or stands them back up.

What is the difference between Full-Contact Karate and K-1?

Full Contact KarateK-1
HistoryDeveloped in the 1950s in Japan. One of the very first styles was Kyokushin KarateDeveloped in 1993 by Kazuyoshi Ishii in Japan. Its origins come from Seidokakian karate.  
ConceptFull Contact karate is a martial art on its own that is rooted in Karate. It has many different styles, organizations, and competition formats. K-1 is a martial art organization responsible for promoting kickboxing matches under unique K-1 rules. 
UniformsContestants compete wearing a gi uniform with a belt around their waistK-1 contestants compete wearing shorts only. 
GearDepending on the style and form, full contact includes the following gear: 
Padded gloves, Shin pads, Breastplate, Headgear, Mouth guard, Groin guard
According to K-1 rules, all fighters must wear:

Mouth guard, Groin cup, Boxing gloves, Hand wraps
Techniques (not in all styles)Permitted techniques significantly vary between the styles. 
Punches to the body and head, High and low kicks, Knees, Trips, throws, and takedowns
According to K-1 rules, fighters can utilize the following techniques:

Punches to the body and head, High and low kicks, Knee strikes
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What is the difference between Full-contact karate and Muay Thai?

Full Contact KarateMuay Thai
History and originsFull Contact karate was developed in the 1950s in Japan, with Kyokushin being one of the first styles.Muay Thai origins come from the military system called Muay Boran. It became popular in the 19th century during the reign of King Rama V. 
ConceptFull Contact Karate is a martial art system that is also a very popular combat sport.Muay Thai is both a martial art and a combat sport where athletes compete under strict rules.
TechniquesPermitted techniques significantly vary between the styles. 
Punches to the body and head, High and low kicks Knees, Trips, throws, and takedowns
According to Muay Thai rules, fighters can use:

Punches to the body and head, High and low kicks, Knee strikes, Elbow strikes, Fight inside the clinch, Trips, throws, and sweeps

Related Questions

Is Olympic karate a full-contact karate?

Olympic Karate is not full-contact, as there is a limit to the amount of force karatekas can use in a match. Instead of power, the emphasis is on displaying a high level of technique, landing fast and precise strikes, and outscoring your opponent by winning more points. Here is how point scoring works in Olympic Karate:

  • Ippon (Three points)—for kicks to the head or other scoring technique on a thrown or fallen opponent
  • Waza-Ari (Two points)—for the kicks to the mid-section of the body.
  • Yuko (One point)—for punches to the head or body