If you’re thinking about going into karate, you might be overwhelmed to find out that there are many different schools of karate to choose from. Each karate school, or ryu, typically specializes in a specific kind of karate.

The type of karate that is best for a student depends on their preferences with regards to striking style, aggression, speed, and stance. Students are also usually limited by the schools of karate that are available in their immediate area.

There are over seventy-five different schools of karate to choose from. This makes picking out a single fighting style to study pretty daunting. Read on to learn more about a few of the most popular schools of karate and how you can pick the best one for you.

Karate Styles Differ in Stance

A major way that karate styles differ from one another is in the stance that the fighter is supposed to take while attacking, defending, or evading a strike. Stance determines the fighter’s foot orientation, weight distribution, and the overall position of their body. Stances are divided into several types:

  • Open stance vs. closed stance: Open vs. closed stance is determined by the lateral position of your front foot to your rear foot. Generally speaking, the closer together or more “closed” your stance is, the more stable your footing and the harder you are to throw in a match. This makes closed stances better for defensive fighting. (Source: Bella Online)
  • Long stance vs. short stance: Long vs. short stance is determined by the parallel distance between your front foot and your rear foot. Longer stances are more stable but less agile. Short stances are good for fast footwork but are easy to throw off-balance.
  • High stance vs. low stance: High vs. low stance refers to how much the fighter’s knees are bent and how close they are to the ground. High stances are more agile and easier to reposition from, while low stances are more powerful.

Study the stances that each school of karate emphasizes to see whether or not that school would be a good fit for the fighting style you intend to cultivate.

If you’re interested in a high stance style of karate that emphasizes defensive movements, for example, you should look into Chito-ryu. However, if you want to study a more aggressive style of karate, you’d be better served with a more aggressive style such as Kyokushin. (Source: Healthline)

Karate Styles Differ in Philosophy

One of the reasons there are so many different schools of karate is because there are many different founding philosophies that go into each individual type of karate training. Some types of karate are intended to be as non-violent as possible, while others emphasize evasion over the attack.

Here are a few of the most prominent philosophies you’re bound to run into when researching which school of karate would be best for you:

  • Force: Some types of karate place particular emphasis on the application of force. These schools tend to follow the philosophy that the person who fights hardest will be the one who wins the fight. Some ryus that revolve around the application of hard forces and aggressive fighting styles include Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, and Kyokushin.
  • Evasion: Some types of karate emphasize the ability to dodge another person’s attacks rather than the ability to attack. These schools of karate are popular with students of self-defense since they are intended as defensive maneuvers. Some ryus that revolve around evasion include Kishimoto-di, Ashihara, and Wado-ryu. (Source: Kingston Wadokai)
  • Agility: Karate styles that focus on agility often combine both hard and soft blows with circular and flowing movements. These are balanced karate styles that focus equally on defense and offense. Karate styles that focus on agility include Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Enshin. (Source: Black Belt Wiki)

I have personally trained in Shotokan for 2 years and loved the aggressive, powerful style it represents. If they had a decent school nearby, I would entertain the idea of picking it back up.

Along with combat philosophies guiding their teaching style, many karate schools also feature philosophies that extend beyond the sparring ring. For example, Enshin karate emphasizes the strong bond between teachers and students, while Chito-ryu emphasizes pacifism.

How to Choose the Best Type of Karate

If there are dozens of karate schools and they’re all either different from each other in ways large and small, then how does a prospective student go about picking the karate school that is best for them? Here are a few things you should ask yourself if you’re trying to narrow down your choices for a karate school to study:

  • What karate ryus are available in my area? While there are dozens of types of karate, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to find convenient instruction in all of them. Some types of karate in particular, such as Kishimoto-di, are difficult to find instruction in simply because there aren’t that many masters around to teach it.
  • Am I taking karate for self-defense or competition? If you’re just interested in karate as a way to improve your self-defense and increase your general fitness, you’ll want to look at less competitive styles of karate. However, if you want to compete at the regional or national level, you’ll need to pick a popular form of karate such as Shotokan.
  • Am I taking karate as a secondary discipline for mixed martial arts? Studying karate can be a great boon for MMA fighters, but the type of karate you choose can make a big difference in how effective it is when you pair it with other fighting styles such as jiu-jitsu or judo. Full-contact karate styles tend to be better for MMA fighters.

The best type of karate is going to be slightly different for everyone depending on their individual goals as a martial artist. Deciding which one is best for you can be easier if you sit in on a few classes for each style you’re considering before you make your final decision.

All Karate Styles Can Be the Best One for Someone

At the end of the day, there is no single “best” style of karate in the world. While Shotokan is the most popular karate style in the world, dozens of other karate styles are just as or more effective when it comes to self-defense or the sparring ring.

Be sure to try out several different schools and watch some demonstrations online to figure out which type of karate is the best fit for your fighting style. Once you do, there’s nothing between you and your martial arts goals except the training.