Boxer vs. Karate Guy–Who Wins?

Posted: March 1, 2010 in Boxing, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve lived in both of these worlds and this is the most common question I get: Who wins in a street fight?

The answer is an easy one.

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It depends.

It obviously depends on each individual’s skills and training. But let’s work from the assumption that we have two identically trained and talented individuals. One is a boxer and the other a karateka.

They get into in the street with no rules.

Here are the variables that I need to know.

1. Who gets the first shot in?
2. How much room do they have to fight?
3. Is the karate guy from a style who relies on kicks?
4. Has the karate guy trained in full contact?
5. Is the boxer a good mover?
6. Is the boxer a power puncher or a finesse fighter?

If the karate guy hasn’t trained in full contact, doesn’t get the first shot in and if he relies on kicks (especially high ones) he’s screwed. Not training in full contact puts him psychologically way behind. The boxer will able to take harder shots and not be fazed. The karateka will be in trouble when he takes a full shot.

If the fight is in close quarters the boxer MAY have an advantage because the ability to kick will be neutralized.

If the boxer gets hit with a karateka’s blow first he’s in trouble if it’s well placed. Boxers don’t train in chops to the throat, fingers to the eyes and elbows to the temple. If the boxer isn’t a big puncher, has poor boxing defense and isn’t good at movement, he’s also in trouble. If he relies on finesse in the ring to score points he’s in trouble.

When the fight evolves into holds or winds up on the ground there are many more variables. If the karate guy has experience in holds and pressure points, the boxer will be in trouble. If either combatant has grappling experience they are likely to win.

Here’s the thing about real fights. If you want to win one throw a sucker punch (or the equivalent sucker technique.) Catch your enemy when they aren’t paying attention and make it count. Incapacitate them by knocking them unconscious or by doing something that really hurts–then incapacitate them with follow up stuff.

Fair fights are for suckers.

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Comments
  1. Mark Terry says:

    You & I are on the same page with this one. I’ve never boxed, but I’ve been studying sanchin-ryu karate for 5 years and in college I spent a year studying the American Karate System. At the Powerhouse Gym where I work out a trainer used to work one of his pro boxers. He would have eaten me for lunch and most of the karateka I know … in a straight fight. I’ve seen some black belts and masters in sanchin-ryu that I’m sure could hold their own and given that at that level they do a lot more kumite (sparring) without pads, but not full contact, but our style also includes a fair amount of training in grappling, PLUS, it’s generally an in-fighting style (some call it SOS, for skin on skin), I’d give the karateka’s a slight advantage. I would say, particularly in a close-in situation, because there’s so much use of elbows and knees in sanchin-ryu. As we often comment, if someone grabs you, it’s a gift.

    In a ring? Boxers get trained to take hits. Generally speaking, most karateka don’t unless they’re doing kick boxing or some weird full-contact sparring. Boxers definitely have the advantage there.

    • HardKarateStylist says:

      I study the ‘Hard-Style’ karate of Tang Soo Do (TSD).

      “Boxer vs. Karate Guy–Who Wins,?” my answer is the boxer always wins,! (with one exception).

      The reason is that good boxers are tough, aggressive, well-seasoned strikers who train to both dish out as well as take punishment. The burden of proof is on the karate stylist to prove he/she can stand up to this type of ‘realistic’ opponent. So what’s the one exception?

      To answer that question, you have to agree on what karate is. To say that if the karate guy can’t kick, or tries kicking high, or hasn’t trained full contact, or the boxer is better with fast, close-in punches, or that a 5-year karate practitioner trained with a pro-boxer who could eat-him-for-lunch, etc. misses the big picture of what karate is. The people making these types of arguments don’t really understand what is involved in karate training and what it ability it gives you IF TRAINED PROPERLY.

      The premise that I train karate is THAT IN APPLICATION, I prepare to go into a confrontation and defeat a larger opponent, a PRO-boxer, an MMA fighter, a street fighter, a stronger opponent … whatever kind of opponent–PERIOD. The question then becomes how does karate training prepare one to prevail? Proper karate training does this by making you a stronger person–I leave it the readers to figure that one out for themselves, which is part of learning karate and doing the training.

      On the purely tactical side, for example kicking high; if kicking high is something that you can’t do proficiently or you assess that you can’t do successfully against you opponent–the you don’t kick high. The next question, perhaps, becomes should you kick low? One of the operational goals of karate training is to give you an arsenal of techniques and then you train to instinctively understand and finally decide what technique to use and when to use it–in order to win the fight. There is a whole list of skills and operational goals that must be trained to a standard, a standard of being a person strong enough to unleash sufficient destructive power to overcome your opponent–PERIOD. This is REAL karate in application. If you are doing something else, it’s not REAL karate.

      The boxer belief that taking punishment, prepares you for the karate stylist who has achieved the power and skill to kill or maim the opponent in a self defense situation, is ridiculous. The truth is a strong blow by anyone to a vulnerable part of the body such as the head, can cause a fighting-stopping effect including serious, permanent injury or death. Serious karate practitioners train to do this just like good boxers can easily knock someone out. However, another of karates’s big advantages is the emphasis on blocking and instantaneous counterattacks, as opposed to a contest of ‘trading punches’ seen in boxing.

      So the Boxer vs. Karate maxim remains that the boxer always wins! The one exception: UNLESS YOU REALLY DO KARATE!

      • tjs9261 says:

        Excellent stuff!

      • Josh says:

        After boxing for 20 years, I’m pretty sure I can throw a straight right with my palm or a hook with the flat of my hand and break a person’s neck. It’s not that a boxer is trained to take punishment, but instead it’s that they are tested and put into a situation where the elements are unpredictable. If I get hit and i’m in trouble, I have to deal with that. Fact remains in 95% of modern Karate, the likelyhood of being in a situation where you’re in serious trouble and have to work from there, changes a situation. As well, any full-contact fighter knows, you have to learn to deal with the circumstances of the body producing large amounts of adrenaline. The thing with boxing, is that like Judo, it makes the partitioner a walking wall. This is why I would say a Muay Thai fighter, because it is nearly guaranteed full-contact, will smash a boxer into the ground all day. It’s about that simple; this is why I see so many problems with Karateka finding range when it’s the real deal, or smashing into each other while each opponent throws a flurry. Point being, I’ve been hit so hard my body worked out a few rounds on instinct. You can train these moves till the day you die, but until you must utilize them against a very real, very focused, and very threatening opponent in a full contact 100% at it situation. This is true application, and any fool who tells you it isn’t has learned a martial art without learning how to truly apply it.

  2. D.B. Dean says:

    The person who can punch, kick, move and take a hit is the winner. That means its the Kick Boxer! You know I love my KB time…

    Also…my personal fave is the fighting dirty with a kick to the groin, then a forearm to the nose and then the face to the knee. Or an variation of the above – its all very effective.

  3. Robert Ward says:

    I only know one story about karate people. This happened to a woman I used to know. She trained up in Buffalo for years, and was very accomplished. She moved to NYC, was on Canal Street one late night. A big, mean, black dude came up to her and demanded her money. He didn’t have a weapon so she felt like she could deal with him. She aimed a kick at his genitals, missed, and the guy beat the living shit out of her, took her money, and she ended up in the hospital. So that’s another variable too. If you got one kick and yr small, don’t miss.

    • tjs9261 says:

      Classic…

    • D.B. Dean says:

      RW – we have had this discussion before. I am not small women. and you cant JUST kick – you gotta quickly follow up with foreamrms to nose and knee to ribs or face if the person bend over enough in pain cause cajones are smashed up into abdomen…quickly groin. nose…knee and then maybe a forearm again and then shove them to the ground and possible stomp on their wind pipe…

      But of course this is that man vs. women discussion again…not karate vs. boxer. Karate vs. boxer (two men equally matched or two women equally matched) has a different outcome. You can not compare a female boxer to a male karate person either. Men and women are structarlly different. I think I read somewhere that a womens SKIN has more nerve receptors. We actually feel pain more than men (why my husband can stick a screw driver into his hand and use electrical tape to hold it together and keep working and I bang my hand work on the same car with him and wanna throw up it hurts so bad(. I once read a SF book where they put a man into a womens body to torture them for that reason – to be tortured as a women envolves heightened pain and degration than as a man.

    • Mark Terry says:

      Unfortunately, I have a friend who had a little bit of karate training and he got jumped by 3 guys and he kicked one in the chest. The guy was wearing a parka, it was winter, and his reaction was, “Think you know karate, huh?” and the three of them beat him up. I guess from my perspective as a long-time martial artist, my recommendations would be:

      1. First, run
      2. Second, if that doesn’t work and you’re outnumbered, don’t kick somebody in the chest. Kick them just as hard as you can in the knee with the intention of taking it out so they can’t get up and chase you
      3. Three, you’re seriously outnumbered, the level of force you can legally use just went way up (a jury may feel differently); knees, groins, throat, eyes, etc., are completely fair game.
      4. One strike does not a defense make. I’m not sure who said it, but hit them hard, hit them fast, and hit them often.

  4. Speed more than strength is the big thing here. A skilled boxer is going to have very fast hand speed, and he’ll know how to use his body to throw devastating punches, as well as covering up. I have a black belt in Kung Fu and wouldn’t want to tangle with a skilled boxer with fast hands. If I had to I’d look for any opening I could at his knees, groin, eyes or throat, and I’d make sure keep all kicks at groin level or lower–any higher kick would be asking for trouble.

    • D. B. Dean says:

      But none of this applies if the Kicker is Billy Jack – One of my most favorite movie lines

      (Billy Jack is surrounded by Posner’s thugs]
      Mr. Posner: You really think those Green Beret Karate tricks are gonna help you against all these boys?
      Billy Jack: Well, it doesn’t look to me like I really have any choice now, does it?
      Mr. Posner: [laughing] That’s right, you don’t.
      Billy Jack: You know what I think I’m gonna do then? Just for the hell of it?
      Mr. Posner: Tell me.
      Billy Jack: I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face…
      [points to Posner’s right cheek]
      Billy Jack: …and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.
      Mr. Posner: Really?
      Billy Jack: Really.
      [kicks Posner’s right cheek, sending him to the ground]

    • HardKarateStylist says:

      HardKarateStylist (“HKS”) Response to Paul Brown’s Boxing vs. Karate Video.

      I am very impressed with the calibre of the boxing shown on this video by the two boxers. It appears to me that they are very strong, well-conditioned, well-coordinated strikers. Their punches and combinations are accurate, powerful, well-timed and well-placed. They are particularly apt at closing- the-distance through deft footwork and strong, leading jabs. From a martial arts perspective, HKS can only be complimentary of their performance.

      These boxers are the kind of fighters that commentator “Mark Terry” seems to refer to in his comment about training at “Powerthouse Boxing Gym,”–the type of boxers who, in his opinion, can pretty much ‘take out’ the “sanchin-ryu” [Okinawan karate?] and ‘Amercian Karate Sytem’ karate practitioners at his dojos. I wholly agree with Mark Terry that these [kind of] boxers are formidable opponents.

      The issue that I have with the depiction in this video is with the behavior of the karate students. Their movement are the typical ‘play-at-sport-karate’ jumping around, prancing around, basically landing non-commital blows absent of any real precision or power, more like kids doing ‘karate-tag.’ This is reducing karate to a game or some kind of play-sport which is in direct contravention of any readily accessible definition of karate or martial arts. Should those viewers with any first-hand knowledge of traditional karate training be suprised at the outcome?

      To me the, value of the video is that it presents the inevitable outcome of the “Boxer vs. Karate Guy–Who Wins,” question–The Boxer Wins Everytime … UNLESS YOU REALLY DO KARATE! The boxers in this video have set a very high bar to get over … We karate stylists need to get busy and do the arduous training neccessary to exceed the high fighting standard these boxers have so rightfully set.

      • abongo says:

        I have seen this video several times. I have to agree with almost everthing u said, except the boxing dudes in this video arent even that good. I do think if you took two twin brothers, same size hight, agressivness etc. and you put one in karate, one in boxing and they were the same ammount of dedicated. If you had them fight after one year of training i am fully confident that the boxer would win, because i have taken karate and taekwondo classes and then i became invovled in boxing and i cannot belive how much faster they teach you to actually fight. I will put my kids in boxing if they want to learn a combat sport or self defense. I can honestly say after taking boxing for 2 years now i can take any of the kids i started karate or taekwondo with, and they are way more into either of them than i am into boxing, but boxing is just such a simple concept, hit and not be hit.. none of this block block, back knucles, palm strike, kick, crap. its slip punch punch punch..

  5. Jersey Jack says:

    I saw my sensei break an arm and a leg — one punch, one kick — as two party crashers busted through the fraternity house door, pushing and shoving people. The tree guys behind them turned and ran. I don’t think anybody could take a well-aimed punch or kick from a truly proficient black belt. Not one. They are bone breakers. But once the wrestling starts, it’s anybody’s fight, and the guy with more experience fighting will generally win.

    But my sensei’s rule was always the same. When a fight starts, run away.

  6. le0pard13 says:

    This is one of those subjects that always draws interesting reactions and comments. When I was kid (and in my day, mid-60’s, Bruce Lee was alive at the time), this was one of THE topics on the schoolyard. I certainly do not have the experience and training of those here (I don’t think a couple of semesters of college judo qualify for much, except it did earn me my first concussion in a tournament). But IIRC, Lee recognized Western boxing for the martial art it was (and incorporated some of its strikes and footwork into his art). And even though Bruce Lee was known for his kicks at the time in his films, didn’t Lee’s art keep kicks below the waist and likely no higher than the knee? I do barely recall two films that did use the same theme of this post in their storylines. The first title thoroughly escapes me (a 70’s action fare cheapie with no-name actors in the cast). But, the second I can remember: Abel Ferrara’s Fear City. The latter is certainly worth checking out (with Tom Berenger as the boxer protagonist).

    I always remember a story that was reported in the Southern California news a couple of decades ago. There was an accident in the Inland Empire between a car and a big-rig. The truck driver, a big guy, was none too happy about it and went after the car driver when they stopped. The driver he wanted a piece of was a small guy. A featherweight (not highly ranked, but he did make the state rankings). He tried to warned the truck driver off, but when the big guy started swinging… I think the only thing that truck driver remembered was coming to. Tom, I think your points are well made on this subject. And your last line reminds of two known, and similar, quotes:

    Hell, I’ll kill a man in a fair fight… or if I think he’s gonna start a fair fight…” – Jayne Cobb, Serenity

    If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly.” – Col. David Hackworth

    Thanks.

  7. BD says:

    Great discussion.

    It’s probably a question that’s been hashed out in gyms & dojo(s?) since the 1st Air Forcemen & GIs came back and exposed the US to “the oriental arts.”

    Tom’s variables, and the many possible combinations of them all, are the answer…
    there ain’t no answer! If we knew, then teams wouldn’t have to play & fighters wouldn’t have to fight. Right?

    The first UFC in ’93 was a brilliant (although “brilliance” may be in the eye of the beholder) attempt to answer ONCE AND FOR ALL (yeah, right) what fighting discipline was most effective.
    It ‘twern’t no street fight (this ain’t a Mad Max world just yet) …but it got close. No time limits, no weight-classes and only eye-gouges, fish-hooks & biting were disallowed.

    Would aikido beat sumo? Would kung fu best boxing? Could karate beat judo?
    What kid hasn’t argued that ad nauseum?!

    Turned out that the announcers for the Thunder Lips v. Balboa fight had it right: if a grappler gets his hands on you it’s his fight.
    A 160lb-er choked the crap out of 3 guys to win. Total time: 5 minutes.

    He did the same thing at two subsequent events…and it wasn’t any ‘trick play’ anymore! The monsters he faced knew what he was going to do and couldn’t stop the little guy from going boa constrictor on their fire-hydrant necks or from taking one of their arms home with him.

    Fast forward 17 years (and add a few more rules for safety’s (and sanctioning’s!)sake) and all those UFC guys have learned to defend against the ground fighting and incorporate some themselves, they train in boxing, they train in muay-thai ‘kick boxing’…and the grappling guys aren’t winning every bout anymore.

    The saying goes, “When a jiu-jitsu black belt get’s punched in the head once he becomes a brown belt, twice and he’s a purple, three and he’s probably outta there.”
    Its been shown to be a fairly true statement. But Tom already mentioned the ability to take a shot as being necessary. Pure ground-fighting doesn’t work when everyone now has the playbook.

    Even with the cross training & Bruce Lee philosophy of using only that which works, and take it from any place you find it, seemingly, the best UFCers all have something in common: h.s. / college wrestling backgrounds.

    There are exceptions. There’s a pretty straight forward karate guy who is a 205lb champ (L.Machita). Although he is also a BB in jiu-jitsu, he hasn’t employed it much. But there’s the rub- if he were ONLY a karate guy, opponents would take him down and exploit his ground-weakness…so does he in fact ‘use’ his jiu-jitsu?
    If you concentrate only on Csonka, Mercury Morris will burn you every time. (I’m stuck in ’72. So sue me.)
    Machida’s an exception in that he is by no means traditional. His (seemingly) awkward, stuttering footwork & attacks are unique to him. Not something you’ll learn at the local strip mall TKD place.

    Fights are messy. It ain’t a well-defined, paced Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan fight. Leave the double-somersault-with-a-twist head-kick at home.

    In a real-deal fight between two identically trained & skilled dudes…. I think a tough s.o.b. with a dab of sociopathic tendencies (even temporarily due to him/her defending his child etc) will win.
    Feeling the ‘give’ of another human beings face is not something we relish. If you pull your attacks- no matter how slightly- because you’re holding onto polite society and ingrained decorum – I think you’re not going to fair well.

    The finality of throwing a punch/kick, slapping on a joint-breaker, sinking a knife, swinging the bat, pulling a trigger with truly bad intentions would give most a moment of hesitation as long as the opponent is seen as a fellow human being.

    I think a quote went something like, “It isn’t the size of the gun but the willingness to pull the trigger that determines who’ll be left standing.”

    Now that I’ve vomited all that well-reasoned speculation, I’m pretty confident of one thing: that we’ll still be arguing this out at the bars & in the playgrounds for the forseeable future!

    See you there.

    • tjs9261 says:

      Whoa…Jimi Chord at his finest…print it, put it in the book, that’s a keeper!

    • BD says:

      And just so I’m clear-

      Unless it’s a fight with a girlscout on 4 darvocets with one arm tied behind her back…I’m going to wet myself and end up K’dTFO in any kind of physical tussle.

      • tjs9261 says:

        You know the one ass I ever kicked and you have to disparage. It wasn’t a high dose of darvocets, either.

    • BD says:

      At the risk of beating a dead horse (stance) I just remembered something somewhat related.

      Way pre-UFC the (supposed) first ‘Combat of Styles’ was held in SLC in the early 60s.
      A boxer offered $1000 to any “judo/karte bum” that could beat him. (actually a reporter writing an article made the challenge. when fight time came, a real boxer was the man in the ring- and no slouch: he was a highly rated lt.heavyweight (#5 in Ring?)).

      Gene Lebell accepted (a national judo champ 7-8 years before). As Gene tells it there was some funny business involved (greasing, possibly loaded gloves, the bout was held in the boxer’s hometown…) and kicks were prohibited.
      Lebell choked Savage unconscious. He took many good shots in the process over 4 rounds so it was by no means a lopsided fight.

      Small world… it was Gene Lebell who refereed the Ali v Inoki fight in Tokyo in the mid 70s. It, too, was billed as another test of styles but by all accounts was a worked bout. Each had too much to lose face-wise should either win and it was called a draw- the wrestling judge picked Ali, the boxing judge picked Inoki & Gene called it even.

    • HardKarateStylist says:

      HardKarateStylist (“HKS”) on BD’s ‘non-traditional’ opinion re Lyoto Machida and MMA.

      In my opinion, Lyoto Machida’s MMA fighting is clearly based on Shotokan (Machida) Karate. HKS’s style is the Korean karate, Tang Soo Do (TSD), which shares much of what Shotokan offers–TSD is very close to Shotokan in many respects. Based on my knowledge Machida karate places more emphasis on feints & (BD points out) ‘awkard, stuttering footwork,’ and has developed this more in their curriculum, compared to what might be encountered in the average, traditional martial arts class.

      Non-karate practitioners, however, often mistake the basic training exercises and techniques in traditional martial arts as the same as applied fighting techniques and advanced tactics which are presented later as the student progresses. Karate practitioners can also become ‘locked’ into a training mentality.

      HKS also sees some adaptations by Lyoto Machida for the SPORT of MMA versus the MARTIAL ART of karate. I do see a number of boxing-type striking patterns at times. HKS thinks this is for safety and is entirely appropriate in a full contact & point match similar to regular boxing. I point out in my comment for “Paul Brown’s ” video clip [above] that REAL karate is readily capable of serious damage to the opponent; hence maybe one reason we see the karate ‘players’ completely ineffective ‘sport karate’ mode shown in that video clip. In conclusion, Lyoto Machida’s traditional karate base is definately there, with the ‘Machida karate’ & sport-based boxing adaptations BD (including BJJ) and I have spelled out.

      One final comment on BD’s grappler vs. striker outcome. HKS has an acquaintance in full contact fighting who trains up against a ju jitsu grappler–the scenario plays out just as BD mentions. Again, non-karate people don’t always realize that in REAL karate, the opponent is diabled very quickly and the aim is to rule out (generally) any protacted battle including grappling contact. Still BD is correct, the striker must be prepared for the ground game–you DO NOT want to be on the receiving end of the MMA ‘ground-and-pound’ or ‘submission-hold’ scenario!

  8. Rachel Brady says:

    I would like a resume of your street fighting experience, Tom, both real and via the 1990s video arcade games Street Fighter and/or Street Fighter 2, as applicable. Thankyouverymuch.

  9. Carl says:

    Kickboxing or modified Karate,defeats boxing ,just look at the K-1 guys,the boxers cant deal with the muay thai thigh kicks,or flying/jumping/standing knee kicks to the ribs/floating ribs, solar plexus and liver,kidney.And then a boxer has’nt experienced a round house kick to the neck,temple,ear or jaw either or round shin kicks to the sides of the forearms,upper arms or ribs,floating ribs,liver,kidneys.And then lets not forget a thrusting or jumping or running rear leg front kick to the stomach, solar plexus or liver or front snap kick to the chin (used like a jab).And banned techniques like spinning back kick to the kidneys or groin snap kicks or side knee kicks on the angle etc etc etc.Also the font push kicks to legs and mid section to keep the distance in karate’s favor.The Karate guy just has to train full contact and be a serious trainer like K-1 guys or muay thai guys.And with the deadly techniques the boxer has more than enough to worry about r.i.p boxer.

  10. Dman says:

    Karate doesnt only involve kicks it also involves high powerd punches hard training motivation dicipline stamina And mostly respect dont study it do it good website shindokarate.com

  11. vincent says:

    i think karate is in a big disadvantages if it’s sport-fight when there are rules. Because in my opinion, lots of karate moves were designed to kill or make the enemy suffer serious damage

  12. Jorge says:

    Well from personal experience I do boxing and wrestle in highschool I’m a bit of a show off so when some kid who is a black belt in karate said he could beat my ass I called him out this is what happened we both got in our stances he tried to punch me and I ducked and countered with a jab followed by a right hook and a uppercut he was stunned but he tried to do some weird kicks and I dodged them and hit him with a big overhand right he went down and tried to rush me with some sort of flying knee I caught him and got a single leg takedown on him when he was on the ground I landed 2 clean shots and the fight was over

  13. pedro says:

    I have done karate (kyokushin) off and on for 5 years. I also went to a few different boxing gyms off and on for 5 years. Kyokushin sparring does not allow punches to the head. When I would spar in Kyokushin, coming from boxing, and even fake to the head, these black belts would not know what to do. And I was doing it against black belts that had been studying for years. I am confident in a real fight a boxer would destroy a karate black belt.

  14. tjs9261 says:

    you are not alone…

  15. Corner Punch says:

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  17. don says:

    I am an amateur boxer/boxing coach and i started off by taking american kenpo…I know the best of both worlds.

    In an open area, if a karate fighter who practices point sparring and is good at it, can manage to utilize his time, distance, and speed he could possibly stay away from the boxer. He wouldnt hurt him but could confuse him. I still spar with 2 cousins who are black belts in kenpo, and things like throwing a hook into their blitz-reverse punch combo always throws them off, or even counering after they do any strikes becuase they are used to stopping, throwing flurries on them, and grabbing their legs when they kick throws them off their game.

    The advantage would go to a boxer…this is all from my perspective of course. There are plenty of elite competing blackbelts (who regularly compete against Raymond Daniels, etc) in their gym who would destroy me, the question is, would they be able to do that good against pro boxers? I would say no, IMO

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