Krav Maga vs Karate

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When deciding which martial art or fighting system to study for self-defence, it’s important to take an open, honest look at your options. Not all martial arts are created equally, or for the same purpose.

One of the most common martial arts in Australia and the world is Karate. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear novices refer to any martial art as Karate.

There is a big difference between Krav Maga and Karate. While both styles may market themselves for common purposes such as fitness and self-defence, when you take a hard look at Krav Maga vs Karate, the differences soon begin to outweigh the similarities.

Starting At The Beginning

When comparing two disparate styles of the martial arts, it helps to learn a brief history of each. By understanding where they started and the path they took to the modern form as currently taught, you get a better feel for the philosophy each one has. This is extremely evident when looking at the history of Krav Maga vs Karate.

A Brief History Of Modern Karate

Karate was developed in what we today call Okinawa as a mixture of native and Chinese martial arts. After Japan annexed Okinawa, it swept through the country, a pattern that would repeat itself after World War II as occupying Allied soldiers learned Karate and returned home to teach it.

Pop culture icons drove mass adoption as students flocked to schools to learn the flashy moves they saw in movies and TV shows.

Karate evolved into a form of point fighting, with participants working, much like in amateur wrestling to outpoint their opponents. As mixed martial arts became popular in the late twentieth century, some dojos began training for full contact or MMA-style competitions.

A Brief History Of Krav Maga

Developed by Imi Lichtenfeld from his experience as a boxer, wrestler, and streetfighter, Krav Maga was intended to help people have a means of defence against fascist groups leading up to World War II.

Post World War II, Imi moved to Israel and became the head instructor for the Israeli Defence Forces. Working with Eyal Yanilov one of Imi’s top students, the Krav Maga syllabus was created and started the framework of modern Krav Maga through Krav Maga Global.

Krav Maga remains a self-defence system grounded in real combat.

Krav Maga vs Karate In Practice

When evaluating Krav Maga vs Karate, it is important to understand that while Krav Maga instructors certified by Krav Maga Global may offer a consistent training regimen, many Karate dojos use either a style, regimen, or skill set particular to that school or chain of schools. As such, we can only speak about Karate in very broad terms. That being said, let’s take a look at some common differences.

Krav Maga

  • As it is a system based around real combat, its tenets are practicality, efficiency, and aggression
  • Emphasizes tactical thinking
  • Subdue or incapacitate your opponent as quickly as possible
  • Focus on simultaneous attack and defence
  • Target the body’s vulnerable points for maximum damage
  • Defence that has been tried and tested against armed attackers
  • Stress tested techniques and variations 
  • Third party protection
  • Scenario drills, which help the practitioner be better prepared for unknown situations


groin kick karate A golden groin kick opportunity.
  • Based on point fighting, its tenets are proper form and striking to score points
  • Emphasizes philosophical concepts such as wholeness of being
  • Uses set defence routines and maneuvers in attacking and defending
  • Focuses on copetitive fighting against the same or similar style
  • Targets scoring areas for competition

Weapons AND Krav Maga vs karate

Winter Camp Knife Defence
 Anything can happen on the street – including weapons. 
If you have never faced a knife attack or baseball bat attack before – even with years of martial arts training, how do you think you will respond?
Quite often – unless these weapons have been a primary focus of your martial art, you will (most likely) not know how to properly respond. Knives, baseball bats and guns are a major part of Krav Maga and quite often the techniques used are similar to the same drills we use for defending standard strikes – with a slight variation.
This keeps the entire Krav Maga System both simple and effective. HOWEVER what we normally teach is – with weapons you must at every instanced look for a way out rather than engaging. It is so easy to become the victim of a weapons attack because few of us face its intensity in real life.
But when comparing Krav Maga with other martial arts such as Karate, Kung Fu or Taekwondo ( given the same training time) – Krav Maga wins hands down. Because of the simple but effective disarm methods that are drilled over and over for COMMON street weapons – the chances of making the right decision (i.e. either run – or engage with intensity and knowledge) is much greater.

The Mental State AND
Krav Maga Vs Karate

The absolute worst state one can be in DURING a weapons attack is a state of AMBIVALENCE. You must either decide very quickly to FIGHT OR FLIGHT
If the attack has commenced then decide and commit – either get out and minimise damage – but if you are committed (because of no immediate escape option or your family is under imminent threat) then you MUST commit 100% to the counter and be prepared to be injured during the melee.
I cannot stress enough the importance of your mental state – you must be prepared to invest every ounce of aggression into your attack and not falter due to a counterstrike. 
This is combat – it’s your life or theirs and you must act accordingly. 
There is no one else but you and your attacker(s).  Good Krav Maga Instructors know the importance of the mental state and can train even the timidest person to bring out this natural instinct over time – it only takes one thing – your commitment.
Krav in this instance wins over Karate, Taekwondo and Kung fu because of its focus on the mental state during an encounter. Over time other martial arts teach this as well – but from the first instance, a good Krav Maga instructor will highlight and drill this mental state into their students.

Damage Control IN
Krav Maga vs karate

fighting training kmg

There is a catch-22 in modern society – even if you are being attacked you cannot be seen to be overly aggressive. This is a paradox so quite often good Krav Maga instructors will understand this issue and train you to keep within the boundaries of the law.

Krav Maga is savage – and effective when trained properly. No one can deny that – so it is drilled how to respond to initial confrontations – what to look for re body language and what to say. Also once the attacker is disabled how to ensure your safety without doing something to your attacker that you will regret longer term.

In the heat of an attack some people do not stop – good instructors will drill how to still disable someone without killing them because at this point – you can be just as legally liable as the attacker.

Other martial arts typically teach this scenario as well – and its just as well that they do. However I have seen many people not adhere to this principle because they loose control due to unfamiliar fight/flight emotions experienced AFTER an attack.

You can control it with discipline – remember you have to live with your conscious and potential legal liability – any unnecessary damage that you do another person longer term can haunt you for years. Not to mention the impact it has on the other persons life.

Womens Self-Defence IN
Krav Maga vs Karate


Krav Maga is an excellent self-defence for women who are not the same height, weight, or strength as their attacker – statistically, more likely to be male.

In this instance the mental state is even more critical – attacking in an instant could save your life. There are many groin, eye and throat/jaw strikes in Krav Maga – and when hitting these areas, speed and accuracy is more important than strength.

So the ability to respond immediately to any threat is critical because a stronger person could take advantage of the difference in strength after one or two strikes. Krav Maga will give you the mindset to do these actions and get away asap and a good instructor drills through multiple scenarios – i.e. attack from behind – hair pull or breaking free from a bear hug – what to do if you are thrown to the ground.

Krav Maga vs Karate in this instance wins hands down because of its primary focus on scenario training.

Overall Fight Skill
Krav Maga vs Martial Arts

Krav Maga is not going to make you a kickboxing champion – nor an MMA expert. But it will provide you with maximum impact counter first strike/response fighter.

If you engage someone who is a skilled martial artist in any of the other martial arts (assuming a competent school) then your chances of winning an initial confrontation are much less. 

If you go down to the ground with a skilled Jui Jitsu person – you are in trouble (this is why our gym also offers Sambo classes). 

If you do not win over instantly with a trained and competent kickboxer – then you can also be in trouble.

But these are unlikely scenarios if you are not looking for trouble, as most people skilled in these areas are generally not attackers. 

However in this unlikely scenario Krav Maga will give you a much better chance in the shortest possible training time because these other disciplines – while incredibly effective – do not focus on illegal strikes – and that’s ALL that Krav Maga focuses on.

Call Krav Maga dirty fighting if you will – but during a street or domestic violence attack it doesn’t matter.

Other martial arts in the sport category generally win in overall fight skill in this instance – however, with good cross training, striking, Sambo and sparring which is what SGS Krav Maga provides, a practitioner of our gym is well prepared. This does not necessarily determine the winner of a street encounter for the reasons outlined above.



If you are being attacked by a spaceship full of wooden planks, Karate wins.

Jokes aside, the short answer, yes, Krav Maga is better than Karate if you are looking for a realistic and effective self-defence system. However, this is dependent on who is also teaching you, as not all instructors are created equal.

Krav Maga is great for someone who wants to get up to speed on self defence ASAP – and one could think of Krav Maga as the original MMA direct due to its no nonsense manner and no rules approach to fighting.

If you are bullied or feel threatened it can be a disabling and horrible mental state to deal with. You can deal with it and face it head on by learning something like Krav Maga.

It will give you confidence, empower you, it will provide you with fitness and it will bring out instincts you never knew you had.  

Krav Maga is a more modern self-defence system that ensures that only effective techniques are taught.

There is no reverence within the system for tradition and as such, the system is capable to adapt as new attacks and problems show themselves out in the real world.