What is the Difference Between Japanese Karate and Chinese Sanda?

In the world of martial arts and combat sports, Japanese Karate and Chinese Sanda (also known as Sanshou) are two dynamic and exciting disciplines. While they may look similar at first glance, these two fighting styles have different origins, techniques, and rules. This article will explore their unique characteristics and differences.

Understanding Chinese Sanda (Sanshou)


Sanda, also known as Sanshou, is a Chinese combat sport that incorporates simple techniques from boxing, kicking, grappling, and throwing. It has its roots in Shaolin kung fu as a form of combat and defensive sport with a long history, developed through the arduous efforts of Shaolin ancestors. Today, it is more commonly referred to as Sanda.

The main techniques in Sanda include:

  • Punching: straight punch, hook punch, uppercut
  • Kicking: front kick, side kick, push kick, front sweep, back sweep
  • Throwing: leg grab throw, waist grab throw, neck grab throw, etc.

Sanda embodies the international nature of Chinese martial arts. In Sanda competitions, two unarmed fighters face each other, employing various offensive and defensive moves, making it a highly aggressive sport. Unlike boxing or taekwondo, Sanda combines long-range kicking, close-range punching, and throwing techniques, making it a more comprehensive fighting style.

Sanda 2

Understanding Japanese Karate


Karate, meaning “empty hand” in Japanese, is a striking art that originated in the Ryukyu Kingdom, now known as Okinawa. This martial art emphasizes punching, kicking, and open-handed striking techniques. Karate’s philosophy extends beyond mere physical combat, incorporating mental and moral aspects that contribute to personal development.

Karate practitioners, known as karateka, train in kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring). The art is renowned for its powerful, linear movements and emphasis on proper form and technique. Karate has gained worldwide popularity and was recently featured as an Olympic sport in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Karate vs. Sanda





Okinawa, Japan



Centuries old

Developed in the 20th century

Primary Focus

Striking techniques

Striking, throwing, and wrestling


Generally higher, more upright

Lower, more flexible


Linear, Direct

Circular, adaptable


Punches, kicks, blocks, strikes

Punches, kicks, throws, sweeps, clinch work


Emphasis on personal development and discipline

Focus on practical combat effectiveness


Kihon, kata, Kumite

Pad work, sparring, wrestling drills


Point-based sparring, kata performance

Full-contact fighting with throws allowed


Gi (karate uniform)

Shorts and T-shirt or Sanda uniform

Belt System

Colored belt ranking system

No formal belt system

Key Differences Between Karate vs. Sanda

  • Cultural Origin: Karate has roots in Japan and Okinawan martial arts, while Sanda originates from China and traditional Chinese martial arts.
  • Techniques: Karate focuses more on striking with punches, kicks, and blocks, emphasizing form and discipline, while Sanda incorporates a wider range of techniques, including throws and takedowns, making it a more versatile and practical fighting style.
  • Rules and Competitions: Karate competitions often involve both kata (forms) and kumite (sparring), with a strong emphasis on precision and technique. Sanda matches allow more diverse techniques and scoring methods, including throws and takedowns, which are not typically seen in Karate competitions.

While Karate and Sanda share some similarities as striking-based martial arts, they offer unique experiences for both practitioners and spectators. Karate provides a disciplined and structured approach to self-defense and personal development, with roots deeply embedded in Japanese culture. Sanda offers a more diverse skill set that bridges the gap between striking and grappling arts, reflecting the practical and combative nature of Chinese martial arts.

If you are interested in Sanda martial arts, you can always consult the authentic Chinese martial arts academy—Xinglin Martial Arts Academy. Here, you will train with warrior monks in a temple setting, and receive professional guidance from masters who uphold the authentic tradition.

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