There are various styles of Karate practiced throughout the world. Shotokan and Kyokushin are two of the most prominent varieties and they share many techniques and ideologies. However, many people struggle to distinguish between Shotokan vs. Kyokushin Karate. 

The differences between Shotakan and Kyokushin Karate lie mainly in their focus and training. Shotokan consists of weakened contact and strikes to specific body parts and focuses on Kata. Conversely, Kyokushin is a full contact form of karate that focuses on effective strikes and sparring. 

Continue reading for an in-depth analysis of the differences between Shotokan vs. Kyokushin Karate. I will explore the advantages and disadvantages of both practices and discuss where practitioners in each discipline typically excel. 

Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate Differences

As mentioned, Shotokan and Kyokushin are both types of Karate. However, there are distinct differences between the two that are easy to note as long as you know what to look out for. 

See the table below for a breakdown of the main differences between Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate. 

Type of Karate ShotokanKyokushin 
FocusMind and body training with weakened strikes to specific areas Full contact training for competition and combat 
Training Training focuses primarily on KataTraining focus primarily on hard sparring against opponents 
Competition Rules Clean strikes to specific body areas score points only 
Hard strikes result in points taken away or disqualification 
No hard strikes to face or neck using the hand or elbow 
Points scored for effectively downing or putting out an opponent 
Full contact 
Primary Techniques Wide stance 
Direct straight strikes using elbows, knees, kicks, and punches from a distance 
Variety of stances 
Wide range of powerful strikes, including punches, hand strikes, kicks, knees, elbows 
Middle Shock Combat 
Attire White gi with belt White gi with belt 
Difficulty Transitioning to Other Martial Arts Difficult to transition to full-contact martial arts Easy to transition to other striking martial arts 
Efficacy Against Other Martial Arts Ineffective against other striking martial arts due to lack of training against opponents Effective against other striking martial arts, although the lack of grappling leaves fighters vulnerable to some martial arts. 

Let’s examine the differences between these two in more detail. 

Focus 

Shotokan focuses mainly on the kata of Karate. Kata is a combination of strikes performed to improve technique. When Shotokan practitioners train to compete against opponents, they use weakened blows to specific body parts. On the other hand, Kyokushin focuses on effective forceful strikes with less importance given to Kata.  

Training 

One of the most significant differences between Shotokan and Kyokushin is training. Kyokushin training is intense and entails full contact against an opponent. Practitioners also devote time to practicing techniques. However, Kyokushin focuses mainly on fighting against an opponent using force. 

Additionally, Shotokan is a form of karate that primarily trains techniques. Training in sparring rarely happens, and trainees spend most time practicing a variety of Kata. 

Competition Rules 

Another significant difference between the two martial arts is in the competition rules. In Shotokan Karate, participants can only score points for weakened strikes to specific areas of their opponent’s body. 

If you strike an opponent with too much force in the wrong place, you might lose some points. In some cases, fighters lose by disqualification due to hitting with too much power in Shotokan. 

Kyokushin Karate, on the other hand, allows powerful strikes. You need to down or land significant blows to score points in a Kyokushin competition. However, hard strikes with the hand or elbow to an opponent’s face/neck are not allowed in competition and training. 

Primary Techniques 

Kyokushin and Shotokan both practice a wide variety of striking techniques, including elbows, hand strikes, kicks, knees, and punches. However, the two differ when it comes to the approach and stances used during fighting. 

Shotokan Karate primarily uses a wide stance. Strikes are usually thrown straight and from a distance. Shotokan strikes also aim at specific body parts for each individual strike. There is little emphasis placed on power in Shotokan Karate. 

Kyokushin, on the other hand, uses a variety of stances. The angle and style of strikes vary depending on the posture and position of the opponent. Also, strikes don’t need to hit a specific body part. Still, elbow or hand strikes to the head and neck are not permitted. 

Attire 

Both varieties of karate use white gi and colored belts to signify rank. However, the color of the belt may signify a different rank in Shotokan or Kyokushin. Nonetheless, in both disciplines, a white belt represents a beginner and a black belt indicates an expert or experienced practitioner. 

Difficulty Transitioning to Other Martial Arts

Transitioning from Shotokan or Kyokushin to a grappling martial art is equally tricky. That said, transitioning to other striking martial arts like Muay Thai or kickboxing is usually easier. 

Transitioning from Shotokan to other striking martial arts poses a bunch of challenges. Shotokan training is rarely against opponents, and fighters have little full-contact experience. As a result, kickboxing and Muay Thai may be too physical for an easy transition. However, many Shotokan strikes are useful in other martial arts. 

Kyokushin fighters will find the transition to tiger striking martial arts more accessible. Kyokushin fighters spar, often bare-knuckle, regularly. As a result, they are ready for the physicality involved in other martial arts. Hence, many Kyokushin fighters also train in kickboxing to broaden their skillset. 

Efficacy Against Other Martial Arts

There is little debate about which of these forms of Karate is more effective against other martial arts. Kyokushin fighters are likely to be much more effective against other martial artists. They train for combat and competition, making them fierce, tough fighters and mean opponents. 

In contrast, Shotokan involves training for self-defense and as a way to access personal growth. Shotokan puts little importance on inflicting harm to opponents with force. As such, practitioners would likely fare poorly against other martial artists. 

How Long Does It Take To Obtain a Black Belt in Shotokan vs. Kyokushin?

It takes between 3-5 years to obtain a black belt in Shotokan and at least 4.5 years in Kyokushin. The exact time it takes to gain a black belt in each discipline varies from country to country and from fighter to fighter. 

There are 10 stages called kyu in Kyokushin that a fighter needs to undergo before attaining the black belt. Then once the fighter reaches the black belt, they still have another 10 levels of black belt called dan to progress through. While in Shotokan, there are 8 kyu followed by 5 levels of black belt. As a result, it usually takes less time to move through Shotokan. 

Differences in Philosophy Between Kyokushin and Shotokan

So far, I have discussed the physical differences between Kyokushin and Shotokan. In addition,  I have briefly touched on the differences in mindset and focus between practitioners in each discipline. I will now cover the differences between the philosophy of Shotokan and Kyokushin philosophy. 

Shotokan teaches students about the mind and body. Students learn an array of techniques, and study the martial arts way of life. They also learn how to  embark on self-improvement using Shotokan as a tool. 

On the other hand, in Kyokushin, practitioners purely learn how to fight and combat against an opponent. Kyokushin practitioners undergo conditioning to fight with little to no protection using full force. As a result, the philosophy of Kyokushin is much more combat-focused. 

Terminology 

See below for some helpful terminology relating to Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate, explained in detail. 

Kata 

Kata is Japanese for ‘form,’ and in a martial arts context, it refers to a choreographed sequence of movements. Practitioners perform as a group or individually. All forms of Karate contain Kata, although some varieties, like Shotokan, emphasize Kata. In Shotokan alone, there are 26 kata. 

Kumite 

Kumite is another Karate term. It means sparring with an opponent, although it’s usually complete contact in Kyokushin. Kumite takes place on a 26 × 26 feet ( 8×8 meter) square. Kumite is rare in Shotokan but an integral aspect of Kyokushin training as it prepares students to face an opponent. 

Middle Shock Combat 

Middle shock combat is a fighting approach used in Kyokushin. The approach involves using strikes and blows from a shorter range than in other forms of karate. For a fighter to be effective, they must generate power in a short distance to hurt or distract an opponent. 

Final Thoughts 

Kyokushin and Shotokan differ in many ways despite both being varieties of the same martial art. Kyokushin focuses primarily on fighting with full contact training and competition. In contrast, Shotokan focuses on self-improvement through training kata and low-impact combat. 

Kyokushin is the preferred martial art for competing in combat against other martial artists or self-defense situations. Shotokan, on the other hand, focuses on obtaining a balanced and better life.

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