Krav Maga vs. Karate

When deciding which martial art or fighting system to study, 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 America 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 defense, 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 American soldiers learned Karate and returned home to teach it to other Americans.

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 American 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 Jewish people have a means of defense against fascist groups leading up to World War II.

It was later adopted by the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli Security Forces as a means of unarmed self-defense. In 1981, Darren Levine became one of the first people approved to teach Krav Maga outside of Israel. He developed Krav Maga America and Krav Maga Worldwide to help further the martial art and provide certification for instructors. Krav Maga remains a martial art grounded in real combat.

The Difference Between Krav Maga And Karate In Practice

When evaluating Krav Maga vs Karate, it is important to understand that while Krav Maga instructors certified by Krav Maga Worldwide 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 defense
  • Target the body’s vulnerable points for maximum damage
Krav Maga side kick

Imaga Source: MMA-Today


  • Based on point fighting, its tenets are proper form and striking to score points
  • Emphasizes philosophical concepts such as wholeness of being
  • Uses set defensive routines and maneuvers in attacking and defending
  • Focuses on competitive fighting against the same or similar style
  • Targets scoring areas for competition