I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.
Who says kicks don't work? Who says a hard punch doesn't work?
Well, some may argue that they don't work in no-holds-barred UFC and MMA matches where competitors deal with skilled grapplers who immediately grab tight and take the fight to the mat where they can tie up an opponent in knots until they squeal.
But the evidence contradicts this assessment.
Turns out even those who practice traditional hard style Karate can kick butt in the Octagon.
Lyoto Machida Using Shotokan Karate in the UFC
Traditional Hard-Style Karate
To those unfamiliar with martial arts talk, the term hard-style might be unknown. It simply means that the system relies on power and mostly linear technique: straight, hard punches and kicks. The idea is to annihilate the opponent with one shot. Total focus on power and accuracy.
Shotokan might be the epitome of this type of Karate. It is an old Japanese system of Karate with wide open stances, techniques focused on straight line strikes and kicks driven into the opponent, with minimal use of speed or finesse.
The idea is sound. That's how you defend yourself, you put the attacker out of commission as economically as possible. There are arguments against this approach, but this is a comparative study, I'm not interested right now in the merits or lack of merits of Karate. We are looking at how it compares to Jiu Jitsu.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has proven its worth in UFC bouts since the 1990s. It has become a phenomenon, as they say, and it seems there is no talk of martial arts, especially any comparative analysis, without talking about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is what Karate and Kung Fu was in the 70s and 80s.
Well, there's no doubt, there is great worth in grabbing a hold of an opponent, not letting them move, dragging them to the ground and locking up their joints or latching a choke on their throat. It works!
The reason it works is because it's logical. If you don't control your opponent, he's all over you.
Strangely, it works because it doesn't rely on power. In fact, it works on a foundation of a sound defense and some finesse. The game of chess, if you will: Knowing how to move and when. It's a smart man's fighting game, for sure.
Jiu Jitsu Rolling
Do They Both Work?
Yes, they both work. But, noticeably, if we go back to Machida and also look at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, they are both making use of a modified version of traditional arts. There must be modifications. Old ways and traditions are just not applicable to reality. Some of it is ornamental, some of it is just tradition, some of it is outdated. For this reason, Machida's family and the Gracie Jiu Jitsu family both made modifications to their respective arts as it would apply to the environment of Brazil where these two families lived. Turns out, there is a lot of fighting there in Brazil so it's a big testing ground for fighting. Shotokan had to adapt to that and so did Jiu Jitsu. But they kept a lot of the best of both, both systems worked as foundation for something new and innovative.
Shotokan at Work
Common sentiment is that UFC and MMA fights must have three elements: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling. While this generally seems to be true; most champion fighters, though have training primarily in one area, tend to be well rounded. They throw devasting Muay Thai leg kicks and also take the fight to the ground and choke people out. But some fighters have more an emphasis on striking or more an emphasis on grappling: Machida, Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell - these guys win fights pretty much exclusively with strikes, kicks and punches. The Gracies, Ronda Rousey, George St Pierre - these fighters will issue a choke or arm bar as their final winning move.
But certainly the best of fighters are good at both striking and grappling. Even Liddell who hardly used grappling was excellent at defending against it. Possibly a master at the sprawl, which is a wrestling stand-by defense.
With the exception of Royce, the Gracies are mostly skilled at both striking and grappling.
Noticeably, too, the downfall of some fighters is the lack of skill in one type of skill over the other. I think Ronda Rousey's loss to Holly Holm was due to being unprepared for Holm's exceptional boxing skills. Liddell periodically succumbed to the skills of extraordinary grapplers too.
Then there is Randy Courture falling to that unexpected Karate Kid Crane kick from Machida.
Karate Kid Crane Kick in the UFC
Not to be milquetoast, but it's safe to say that strikes and grappling both work and are needed in real hands-on fighting. This is shown in the Octagon and certainly is known in the street.