Karate Styles: A Comprehensive Guide to Different Forms

Karate is a popular martial art that originated in Okinawa, Japan, and has since spread all over the world.

With its focus on self-defense and personal development, karate has become a favorite among martial arts enthusiasts.

However, what many people do not know is that there are different styles of karate, each with its own unique techniques and principles.

 Understanding the different karate styles is essential for anyone interested in practicing this martial art.

Table of Contents

karate history

History of Karate Styles

The history of karate can be traced back to the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 17th century.

At that time, the kingdom was under constant threat of attack from neighboring countries, and the local people needed a way to defend themselves.

They developed a form of martial art known as te, which later evolved into karate.

As karate spread throughout Japan and the rest of the world, different styles began to emerge.

Shotokan, founded by Gichin Funakoshi in 1936, is one of the most popular styles of karate.

Goju-ryu, founded by Chojun Miyagi in 1930, focuses on combining hard and soft techniques.

Shito-ryu, founded by Kenwa Mabuni in 1928, combines elements of several different martial arts.

Over time, karate styles continued to evolve, with new styles being created and existing styles being modified.

Today, there are dozens of different karate styles, each with its own unique approach to training and technique.

Understanding the history of karate styles can give us a better appreciation for the different techniques and principles that make each style unique.

In the next section, we will take a closer look at some of the most popular karate styles and their characteristics.

Types of Karate Styles

There are numerous types of karate styles, each with its own unique characteristics and principles.

Here are some of the most popular karate styles:

Karate StyleFounder and year of foundationCharacteristics
ShotokanGichin Funakoshi (1936)Strong focus on basics, emphasis on power and speed
Goju-ryuChojun Miyagi (1930)Hybrid style combining hard and soft techniques, focus on breathing and circular movements
Shito-ryuKenwa Mabuni (1928)Combines elements of several martial arts, focus on kata and open-handed techniques
Wado-ryuHironori Otsuka (1934)Combines karate with elements of jujitsu, emphasis on body movement and evasion techniques
Shorin-ryuChoshin Chibana (1933)Quick, agile movements, focus on breathing
KyokushinMasutatsu Oyama (1950s)Focus on full-contact sparring and physical conditioning
Uechi-ryuKanbun Uechi (early 20th century)Circular movements, emphasis on breathing
Isshin-ryuTatsuo Shimabuku (1956)Natural stances, emphasis on close-range combat
Chito-ryuTsuyoshi Chitose (1946)Linear and circular movements, emphasis on kumite (sparring)

These are just a small part of all the styles that are in karate, if you want to see a more in-depth list you can visit this BlackBeltwiki article.

Most Popular Karate Styles

The popularity of karate styles varies depending on several factors such as location and culture.

However, some styles are more popular than others worldwide.

Shotokan and Goju-ryu are among the most popular karate styles, with a large following in countries such as Japan, the United States, and Europe.

One reason why these styles are so popular is their emphasis on discipline, self-defense, and personal development.

They are widely regarded as effective martial arts for self-defense and are often taught in schools and community centers.

Other factors that contribute to the popularity of karate styles include media exposure and the success of karate practitioners in international competitions.

For example, Shotokan practitioner Luca Valdesi from Italy exploded the popularity of shotokan, or nowadays Sandra Sanchez from Spain did the same with Goju-Ryu.

Overall, the popularity of karate styles is a reflection of their effectiveness, versatility, and the dedication of their practitioners.

Hardest Karate Style

When it comes to the hardest karate style, opinions vary.

However, many practitioners consider Goju-ryu to be one of the toughest styles.

Goju-ryu, which was founded by Chojun Miyagi in Okinawa, is known for its emphasis on close-quarters combat and its strong focus on kata (pre-arranged forms).

Training in Goju-ryu is physically demanding, and practitioners must develop strong stances and the ability to deliver powerful strikes.

The style’s training methods also include body conditioning, such as pounding the fists against sand or gravel, to toughen them.

Other styles that are often considered challenging include Kyokushin, which is known for its full-contact sparring and the use of bare-knuckle strikes, and Shito-ryu, which blends elements of both hard and soft styles and emphasizes the use of circular movements.

street fight

Best Karate Style for Street Fighting

While all karate styles can be effective in self-defense situations, some are better suited for street fighting than others.

One of the most effective styles for street fighting is Kyokushin karate.

This style is known for its emphasis on full-contact sparring and the use of bare-knuckle strikes.

Kyokushin practitioners also train in grappling and takedowns, which can be useful in real-world altercations.

Another style that is effective in street fighting is Shorin-ryu.

This style emphasizes speed and agility and includes a wide range of kicks and strikes. Shorin-ryu also incorporates elements of grappling and joint locks, making it a versatile style for self-defense.

It’s worth noting that the effectiveness of a particular karate style in street fighting depends on the practitioner’s level of training and experience.

It’s important to train with a qualified instructor and practice sparring and self-defense techniques regularly.

Oldest Karate Style

Tō-te, a parent art of karate, is considered to be one of the oldest karate styles that originated in 15th century Okinawa.

However, martial arts were banned during this period, which forced practitioners to train underground.

It wasn’t until 1600 that the Okinawans began combining Tō-te with Chinese martial arts to form a new style known as Okinawa-te.

Another style that is often considered to be among the oldest is Shorin-ryu, which traces its roots back to the 17th century in Okinawa.

This style was developed by Choshin Chibana, who studied under several different karate masters and incorporated their techniques into his own style.

Shorin-ryu emphasizes speed, agility, and flexibility, and includes a wide range of kicks and strikes.

karate competition

Best Karate Styles for Competition

Karate competitions typically involve both kata (pre-arranged forms) and kumite (sparring).

Some of the most effective karate styles for competition include Shotokan, which is known for its strong stances and powerful strikes, and Goju-ryu, which is spreading more and more, especially among young athletes..

Another style that has been successful in competition is Shito-ryu, which blends elements of both hard and soft styles and includes a wide range of kicks and strikes.

Shito-ryu practitioners also train in grappling and joint locks, making it a versatile style for competition.

Ultimately, the most effective karate style for competition depends on the practitioner’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s important for competitors to train in a style that aligns with their goals and to continually develop their skills through regular practice and competition.


In conclusion, understanding the different karate styles is important for karate enthusiasts who want to deepen their knowledge and choose the style that best aligns with their interests and goals.

Throughout this article, we have discussed the history and evolution of karate styles, provided a comprehensive list of the different styles, and highlighted some of the most popular and effective styles for competition and street fighting.

It’s important to note that there is no “best” karate style, as each style has its own unique characteristics and principles.

Choosing the right style for you depends on your interests, goals, and personal preferences.

We recommend that you try out different styles and instructors before committing to one, and that you continue to develop your skills through regular practice and training.

Ultimately, karate is a diverse and dynamic martial art that offers something for everyone, whether you are interested in competition, self-defense, fitness, or personal development.

By exploring the different karate styles and finding the one that resonates with you, you can embark on a rewarding journey of growth and discovery.

Karate Martial Art Team

Karate Martial Art Team

The Karate Martial Art Team is made up of 3 contributors who have full-time job and in their free time are dedicated to martial arts and writing. Do you want to become one of the Team? Get in touch on the contact page.

Notify me
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

On this website we use first or third-party tools that store small files (cookie) on your device. Cookies are normally used to allow the site to run properly (technical cookies), to generate navigation usage reports (statistics cookies) and to suitable advertise our services/products (profiling cookies). We can directly use technical cookies, but you have the right to choose whether or not to enable statistical and profiling cookies. Enabling these cookies, you help us to offer you a better experience.