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What Is Kyokushin Karate?  – An Introductory Guide for Beginners


Karate is a very popular martial art that also has many styles and forms out of which Kyokushin stands for one of the most effective. 

Kyokushin is the first full-contact bare-knuckle karate that was designed to make it realistic, created by Masutatsu Oyama in the 1960s in Japan. It focuses on close-range fighting where karatekas utilize kicks to the head, body, and legs as well as punches to the upper body area below the neck.

It is widely regarded as a brutal karate system where students and competitors perform bare-knuckle fighting without wearing any protective gear. Keep reading this article to learn more about Kyokushin karate. We will explain its history and what makes it one of the physically hardest martial arts.

What is Kyokushin Karate?

Kyokushin is a full-contact style of karate developed in the 1960s in Japan. The name translates to “ultimate truth” and its origins come from two main karate styles Goju-Ryu and Shotokan.

The history of Kyokushin begins in the 1950s when a famous karateka Mas Oyama decided to design a new style of karate. While most other styles emphasize light contact and focus on the point fighting rules, Oyama had a different concept in mind. His main goal was to create the first full-contact karate system that would be more realistic and effective than other styles.

Mas Oyama
Photo by Osufelipekl

The final result of his work was a style that focuses on:

  • Kicks (low kicks, body kicks, head kicks)
  • Punches to the upper body area below the neck
  • Knee strikes
  • Hard methods of training and a lot of full-contact sparring
  • Striking without wearing gloves or shin pads
  • Aggression, power, speed, and damage

In 1953, Oyama decided to open up his own dojo in Tokyo. He used his dojo to train new instructors and promote his new version of karate. In the following years, his dojo would gain a reputation for being one of the hardest schools in Japan. Students used to spar really hard and injure themselves constantly as a result. The concept and training methods were physically more demanding and brutal than in any other karate style at the time, and Kyokushin quickly rose to prominence.

The biggest moment came in 1964 when Oyama decided to found the “Kyokushin Kaikan”, an official organization. This also marks the birth of Kyokushin as an official style of karate, and from then on, Oyama would focus on expanding it in all parts of the world. By the end of the 1960s, Kyokushin was already a well-established style of karate, and in 1969, the world witnessed the first “All-Japan Full Contact” tournament.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Kyokushin Karate?

Training in Kyokushin karate has many advantages both when it comes to overall health and teaching a person how to fight in real life. But on the other side, there are more than a few disadvantages you should be aware of if you are thinking about enrolling in this style of karate. Here is a brief look into the pros and cons of Kyokushin karate.

Advantages of Kyokushin training:

  • A lot of sparring
  • Training without the safety gear (in most schools)
  • Self-defense skills

Hard sparring

Sparring is often seen as one of the best training methods for teaching a person how to apply martial art techniques in real combat. Knowing this, Mas Oyama put a lot of focus on this aspect of training while designing Kyokushin. In fact, he went even further by allowing students to spar without the gloves or shin pads.

Sparring is a part of training where two students exchange strikes while trying to simulate a real fight. You can’t expect to learn how to stay calm in a fight, judge distance, develop timing, and hit the target without many rounds of sparring. This is why Kyokushin students spend a lot of time doing all types of live drills and full contact sparring sessions. In fact, there are dojos where students spar every single day.

Training bear knuckle and without wearing shin pads

You can look at this as both advantage and disadvantage when it comes to Kyokushin training. Although hitting the heavy bag, pads and even sparring without the gloves sounds brutal (and it is), this method of training has many benefits.

For instance, boxers or Kickboxers are not trained to punch or block a strike without hand wraps and gloves. That’s why they often break their hands in a real fight because you can’t punch the same way and use the same force with and without the gloves. 

Kyokushin students know how to punch and how much force to use to not hurt their legs and hands. Their pain tolerance is also much higher simply because their bodies and minds are conditioned to absorb bare-knuckle shots. This gives them a big advantage in a real fight on the streets.

But it’s worth pointing up that, in modern times, more and more schools are starting to accept gloves and shin pads. 

Solid self-defense skills

All the skills and techniques you learn in Kyokushin are practical and may help you get out of trouble. But bear in mind that the system is not as technically advanced as some other striking arts like Muay Thai. Still, sparring all the time without wearing safety gear and learning how to mix kicks and punches to strike at a distance or close range will improve your self-defense abilities a lot. Above all, it will train your mind not to panic, and you will develop solid striking skills and automatic reactions.

Disadvantages of Kyokushin training:

  • Serious injuries
  • The lack of punches to the head and kicks below the waist
  • Katas

Serious injuries

Kyokushin training is cardio intense and it is very hard on your body. Training hard each day and sparring without the safety gear while throwing full power shots is an ideal recipe for serious injuries. If you are thinking about joining the classes you have to accept the fact that you are going to wake up every single day in a lot of pain. Serious injuries like rib, leg, wrist, knuckle, and finger fractures are quite common, along with concussions.

The lack of punches 

Kyokushin doesn’t teach you how to throw punches to the head as you can punch only the body area below the neck.

Pre-arranged forms (katas)

Like all other karate styles, Kyokushin also includes katas where students spend a lot of time doing pre-arranged moves alone. Although doing katas has some benefits, it doesn’t have much to do with preparing for real fighting.

Get the full report on Which Martial Art Has The Most Injuries?

Is Kyokushin Karate Effective for Self-Defense in Street Fights?

Kyokushin karate is very practical for self-defense as it teaches you a lot about the physical and mental aspects of real combat. In the end, Mas Oyama designed Kyokushin to be more effective in real-life combat than any other style of karate. Each technique you learn works in real life and may help you defend yourself and escape from trouble.

In training, students spend a lot of time sparring without wearing any gear. First, hard sparring trains your mind to stay calm, and it allows you to develop automatic reactions, feeling for distance, and timing. These are the crucial skills when it comes to any type of fight.

Next, all those hard bare-knuckle blows would make you both physically and mentally strong, and improve pain tolerance. Last but not least, you will develop solid footwork, kicks, and punches and learn many techniques that are highly effective, notably at close range.

The biggest downside of Kyokushin is the lack of punches to the head. You won’t learn how to properly block or evade punches, and attack using your hands, which is the main reason why it is not among the best martial arts for self-defense, but it is worth learning. 

Kyokushin Karate competitions

Is Kyokushin good for MMA?

Although Kyokushin is a full-contact martial art that has many benefits, it is quite limited when it comes to MMA fighting. If you are looking to develop a strong base and switch over to MMA after a couple of years of training, then there are better options like Muay Thai, or boxing.

Kyokushin is an effective martial art and some of its elements transition well to MMA. This is notably true when it comes to kicking techniques, footwork, angles, and fighters’ ability to sustain punishment. But on the other side, the cons are much bigger than the pros, and here is why.

Kyokushin is limited in the technical aspect of MMA because it doesn’t allow punches to the head. In training, you won’t learn much about how to block punches, dodge/slip, and counter.

Since they don’t have to deal with punches, Kyokushin fighters in MMA all have a bad habit of keeping their hands low and leaving their chin exposed. Due to the lack of guard, they often get struck on their feet in MMA. Not to mention the lack of grappling and ground fighting.

To sum it up, Kyokushin represents a solid base for MMA, but it is far from being the best or ideal.

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What is the Difference between Kyokushin vs Shotokan?

Kyokushin karateShotokan Karate
History and originsTime and place: 1964, Tokyo, Japan
Founder: Mas Oyama
Origins: Shotokan and Goju-Ryu
Time and place: 1928, Okinawan Islands, Japan
Founder: Gichin Funakoshi and Yoshitaka Funakoshi
Origins: Shorei-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu
Techniques– Kicking above and below the waist.
– Punching the upper body area, below the neck.
– Knee strikes.
– Blocks.
– Different types of stances.
– Punches to the body and head.
– Kicks to the body and head.
– Knee strikes.
– Elbow Strikes.
– Various types of trips and throws.
Protective gear*Kyokushin karatekas do not wear gloves or shin pads.– Headgear
– Padded gloves
– Shin Pads
– Mouthguard
– Groin cup
Concept and emphasisKyokushin is the first full contact style of karate where the emphasis is on pressure, power, and causing damage or knocking the opponent out with each kick or punch.

Traditional form of Shotokan karate focuses a lot on the self-defense aspect.
However, modern practice puts too much emphasis on competition, fighting under point fighting rules, and light contact.

What is the difference between Kyokushin vs Muay Thai?

Kyokushin karateMuay Thai
HistoryTime and place: 1964, Tokyo, Japan
Founder: Mas Oyama
Origins: Shotokan and Goju-Ryu
Time and place: 19th century, Thailand
Founder: /
Origins: military combat system called “Muay Boran”. 
Techniques– Punching the upper body area below the neck
– Kicking both above and below the waist including the head
– Knee strikes
– Blocks
– Kicking above and below the waist
– Punches to the body and head
– Knee strikes
– Elbows to the body and head
– Trips, throws, and sweeps
– Fighting in the clinch
Concept and emphasisKyokushin is a full contact karate style that embraces a hard method of training. It focuses primarily on hard kicking and fighting at close range without any gear.Muay Thai is a combat sport that focuses on striking using all limbs as weapons. The emphasis is on hard kicks, and fighting in the clinch utilizing brutal elbow and knee strikes. 
Protective Gear*Kyokushin karatekas do not wear gloves or shin pads.– Full padded boxing gloves
– Groin cup
– Mouthguard
– Shin pads (only in training)

What is the difference between Kyokushin vs Taekwondo?

Kyokushin KarateTaekwondo
HistoryTime and place: 1964, Tokyo, Japan
Founder: Mas Oyama
Origins: Shotokan and Goju-Ryu
Time and place: 1950s, South Korea
Founder: Choi Hong Hi
Origins: various Chinese martial arts, karate and Taekkyon. 
Techniques– Kicks (low and high)
– Punching the torso area below the neck
– Knee strikes
– blocks
– Dozens of different kicks
– Punching to the upper body are below the neck
– Knee strikes (traditional form)
– Elbow strikes (traditional form)
– Trips and throws (traditional form)
Concept and emphasisAs a full contact karate style, Kyokushin emphasizes hard kicks and direct punches to the chest, and fighting at close range. Kyokushin karateka compete and train without any gear, not even gloves. Taekwondo puts a lot of emphasis on all types of kicks while punches are seen as a secondary weapons. Although a traditional form is more versatile, the modern practice focuses too much on competition and point fighting. 
Protective gear*Kyokushin karatekas do not wear gloves or shin pads.– Headgear
– Gloves
– Hand wraps
– Chest protector Foot protector
– headgear
Still curious? Click here to learn about Karate vs. Taekwondo: Key Differences And Similarities

Related Questions

Do many schools teach Kyokushin Karate?

Yes, Kyokushin is one of the most popular styles of karate. Kyokushin schools(dojos) are spread all across the world and just about every town has at least one school. Yet, bear in mind that the methods of training, progress, intensity, safety and many other aspects vary between the schools and even countries.

For example, some schools allow students to wear gloves and shin pads in sparring, while the other don’t. Or the promotional criteria might be strict in one school, and weak in the other. 

Is Kyokushin Karate hard to learn?

Yes, Kyokushin karate training is very hard both physically and mentally. Most schools embrace a hard method of training where students spar on a daily basis. Like that is not hard on your body enough, students do not wear any protective gear, so minor and severe injuries are quite common. They also do a lot of grueling cardio and strength workouts to condition their bodies to sustain all of this punishment. When it comes to injuries, the only good thing is the fact that there are no punches to the head.

Further, Kyokushin includes a belt ranking system and the progress is quite slow. On average, students need around 4–5 years to reach a black belt rank, but the exact time you will need depends on many factors.

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What are the different styles of karate?

Karate is a martial art that has dozens of different styles and forms which many people outside of the karate world find a bit confusing. However, the crucial thing to remember is that there are four main styles of karate. The following four styles are seen as the original styles developed in the Okinawan Islands:

  • Shotokan Karate
  • Wado-Ryu
  • Goju-Ryu
  • Shito-Ryu

Other Karate styles that are derived from these four main styles are:

  • Kyokushin
  • Uechi-Ryu
  • Enshin
  • Shoring-Ryu
  • Shito-Ryu