The Differences between Okinawan and Japanese Karate

Karate is a popular martial art that originated from the Okinawan islands of Japan. The practice of karate is now spread all around the world, but the methods of training and techniques vary greatly depending on their respective origin. In this blog post, we will take a look at the differences between Okinawan and Japanese karate and how these two distinct streams differ from each other.

Origins of Karate

Okinawan Karate

Karate has its roots in the Okinawan islands of Japan, and its history can be traced back centuries ago. Okinawan karate, known as Okinawa-te, was the traditional martial art of ancient Okinawa and is still practiced today. This style of karate is rooted in the Buddhist teachings of self-protection and spiritual development, and its emphasis is put on defensive movements and unarmed combat.

Okinawan karate is further divided into tegumi, a type of grappling sport, and shuri-te, a type of kata karate that focuses on the performance of a sequence of moves to show skill and power. The practice of tegumi involves a type of stand-up wrestling with opponents attempting to throw each other off balance by tensing up their bodies rather than using strikes or kicks.

Japanese Karate

Karate started to spread to mainland Japan in the early 1900s and went through a transformation process as it was adapted to become more technical and modern over time. This resulted in Japanese karate or kyokushin karate, which is a hard-style karate that focuses on full-contact sparring and pressure testing of techniques. It is considered to be one of the toughest martial arts due to its emphasis on Strikes, takedowns and pressure testing.

Differences between Okinawan and Japanese Karate


The techniques employed in both Okinawan and Japanese karate are similar, but there are still some major differences. One noticeable difference is the presence of strikes in Japanese karate, which is absent in the traditional Okinawan style. Furthermore, variants of strikes, such as elbow strikes are more common in Kyokushin karate than in the Okinawan version. In addition, locking techniques are emphasized more in the Okinawan offering.

Self Defense

Okinawan karate emphasizes self-defense rather than offense, and is geared towards defending oneself against attackers or multiple attackers. This is accomplished through defensive strategies such as evasion, blocking and redirecting attacks rather than striking back. In contrast, Japanese karate puts greater emphasis on offense and sparring as opposed to self-defense.

The Use of Kata

Kata, or pre-arranged forms, is a core component of the training in both Okinawan and Japanese karate. However, the way it is implemented differs greatly between the two styles. In Okinawan kata, practitioners perform slow movements that allow for farther reaching techniques for self-defense but sacrificed speed for longer sequences. On the other hand, Kyokushin kata is more dynamic in nature with higher intensity movements to better prepare practitioners for full contact sparring.


Sparring is an integral part of both Okinawan and Kyokushin karate and an important factor when comparing these two styles. In Okinawan sparring, the emphasis is usually on defensive techniques and evasion to protect oneself from attack. Strikes are usually absent in the traditional methods. The emphasis in Japanese sparring is on offense or attacking and full contact sparring including strikes are regular practice in this form.


The popularity of karate today has resulted in various forms with different styles and focus points. Out of these two popular forms, Okinawan and Japanese karate is likely the most well-known style. As we have seen, they have distinct differences in terms of technical variations, self-defense efforts, kata methods, and sparring yet still relies on the same core tenets. Whether it’s Okinawan or Japanese karate that appeals to you, both are worth exploring for enthusiasts of this wonderful martial art.

The Differences between Okinawan and Japanese Karate: Frequently Asked Questions

Karate is an ancient form of martial arts that originated in Okinawa, Japan. Throughout history, Karate has evolved and branched into several different styles, two commonly known styles being Okinawan and Japanese Karate. In this article, we will explore some of the frequently asked questions about the differences between Okinawan and Japanese Karate.

1. What is Okinawan Karate?

Okinawan Karate, also known as Ryukyu Karate, originated in Okinawa, a small island in southern Japan. It is believed that Karate was developed in Okinawa in the early 1900s by Chojun Miyagi, who combined elements of Chinese martial arts with traditional Okinawan fighting techniques.

One of the main differences in Okinawan Karate is its focus on close-range fighting and grappling techniques. Okinawan Karate also includes the use of pressure point strikes and joint locks to disable the opponent.

2. What is Japanese Karate?

Japanese Karate, also known as Shotokan Karate, was developed in Tokyo, Japan, in the early 20th century by Gichin Funakoshi. It was introduced to Japan through Okinawan Karate and is similar in many ways to Okinawan Karate. Japanese Karate focuses more on long-range fighting techniques and emphasizes strong, fast strikes.

Japanese Karate also places a greater emphasis on competition and sport. As such, there are specific rules and regulations for competitions, including the use of protective gear.

3. What are the differences in training methods?

The training methods for Okinawan and Japanese Karate differ in some significant ways. Okinawan Karate training is generally characterized by a focus on realistic self-defense techniques, and it places a significant emphasis on stances and strengthening exercises. In contrast, Japanese Karate training involves a lot of sparring and conditioning exercises.

Another difference between training methods is that Okinawan Karate is taught primarily through kata (prearranged movements), while Japanese Karate is taught through both kata and kumite (sparring).

4. Which style is more traditional?

Both Okinawan and Japanese Karate have a long history and are deeply rooted in traditional martial arts. However, Okinawan Karate is generally considered to be more traditional than Japanese Karate because it has been practiced for longer and has remained mostly unchanged over the years.

5. Are there any differences in the uniform (gi)?

The uniform worn in Okinawan and Japanese Karate is very similar. Both styles wear a white or black karate gi, with a belt that signifies rank. One slight difference is that Okinawan Karate practitioners sometimes wear a shorter jacket, which allows for greater mobility during grappling techniques.

6. Which style is better for self-defense?

Both Okinawan and Japanese Karate are effective martial arts for self-defense. However, because Okinawan Karate places a greater emphasis on close-range fighting and self-defense techniques, it is generally considered to be better suited for self-defense situations.

7. Which style is better for competition?

Japanese Karate is generally considered to be better suited for competition because it has specific rules and regulations for sparring and kata, making it a more sports-oriented martial art.

8. Which style is more popular?

Japanese Karate is more popular worldwide than Okinawan Karate. However, Okinawan Karate is still very popular in its home country of Japan and has a dedicated following in other parts of the world.


In conclusion, Okinawan and Japanese Karate are both powerful and effective martial arts with their own unique qualities. While they share many similarities, there are several key differences in training methods, techniques, and rules. Ultimately, the choice between these two styles comes down to personal preference and the individual’s goals, whether it be self-defense, competition, or overall physical fitness.

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