Are You Allowed to Punch In Karate?

Punching In Karate

You probably already know that karate involves the use of kicking techniques, but unsure if punching techniques are also allowed. So, are you allowed to punch in karate?

Generally, you are allowed to punch in karate as the art involves both punching and kicking techniques. Punching in karate competitions is however limited to specific techniques and certain areas of the opponent’s body.

Karate is a Japanese martial art that is predominantly a striking art that uses kicking, punching, elbow strikes, and knee strikes.

It also uses open-hand techniques such as knife hands, spear hands, and palm-heel strikes.

In this article, I will be explaining;

  • why karate frequently uses punches
  • the different karate punches and their uses
  • and the extent to which they are allowed in competitions

Let’s begin!

Can You Punch In Karate?

Yes, you can generally punch in karate since the art involves both punching and kicking techniques. However, punching in karate competitions is restricted to specific techniques and certain areas of the body.

When I started practicing karate, most people didn’t understand what the art training was all about or what the techniques looked like.

Although they know the art involves kicking but they generally thought the art would be exotic and tricky.

This was probably because most karate we read or see on TV screens portrayed karate differently.

They portray “chops” with the side of the hand, as well as fingertips pokes to secret nerve centers.

As a result, it came as a surprise to know that punching is at the heart of karate.

In most traditional karate schools, punching is in fact one of the first basic techniques to be learned.

Whether you are training (practicing basic techniques), sparring, or kata, expect to use punching techniques more often than most other techniques.

Note, however, that while karate allows the use of punches during competitions, it also prohibits attack to the face with open-hand techniques.

Also, punching techniques that make excessive contact, having regard to the scoring area attacked are not allowed.

Punching to the throat is also disallowed.

So, yes, karate punching techniques are used not only for kata or self-defense purposes but also during competitions.

However, the punches are usually restricted to basic punches with no excessive contact.

Where Can You Punch In Karate?

In karate competitions, you can generally punch the following areas of the body such as the head, face, neck, chest, abdomen, side, and back.

You probably already know that traditional karate has little or no restrictions as to where to punch.

However, in a karate sporting competition, there are restrictions as to the body areas that you are allowed to punch.

Punching is allowed in karate competitions with 1 point (YUKO) usually awarded for punches delivered to any of the seven scoring areas such as the:

  • Head
  • Face
  • Neck
  • Abdomen
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Side

The above is according to the Karate Competition Rules of the World Karate Federation which is the largest international governing body of sport karate.

Do not forget that it is the only karate organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee with more than ten million members.

Karate Punching Techniques

Tsuki translates to mean “thrust” and any thrusting technique can technically be labeled as Tsuki.

In Karate, Tsuki is a term used to refer to punches.

Traditionally, these attacks were delivered with the front two fist knuckles called Seiken (fore-fist).

The Seiken punching techniques are the most popular form of attack in karate.

Karate punches are simple and natural to execute since anyone can make a fist.

It is easier and more versatile to perform and is usually performed with both feet on the ground.

Now, Karate punching techniques are categorized into:

  • Basic Punches
  • Advanced Punches
  • Double-Hand Punches
  • Fore-Knuckle Punches

Basic Punches

Basic punches are the most often used form of attack in karate.

During training, where a punch is required, basic punches are used 99% of the time.

Basic punches are generally linear and require full arm extension. They have the longest range and are usually the most powerful.

You can also find other basic punching techniques in Kata.

Some of these basic punches include:

  • Choku-zuki – straight punch
  • Oi-zuki – lunge punch
  • Gyaku-zuki – reverse punch
  • Kisami-zuki – jab punch

Advanced Punches

These punches are usually non-linear, but not always, with many of these punches having elbows bent at various angles.

While they are generally not as strong as the basic punches, they are more suitable for close-range combat.

They are also very effective in working around the guard of an opponent.

Sadly, students find advanced techniques to be a lot harder to learn (expectedly) and they find it hard to harness power with them.

Some of these advanced punches include:

  • Ura-zuki– inverted punch
  • age-zuki– rising punch
  • kage-zuki– hook punch
  • mawashi-zuki– roundhouse punch
  • tate-zuki– vertical punch
  • uke-zuki– blocking punch

Double-Hand Punches

This is performed with both hands at the same time.

Although it is more difficult to coordinate power in both hands at the same time, double-hand punches are not as strong as single-hand punches.

This technique also has a much smaller hip rotation.

While this technique is rarely used as an offensive attack, it can be used to hit two targets at the same time.

Some double-hand punches include:

  • morote-zuki– double hand punch
  • yama-zuki– mountain punch
  • yumi-zuki– bow punch
  • awase-zuki– combined punch (U-punch)
  • heiko-zuki– parallel punch
  • hasami-zuki– scissors punch

Fore-knuckle Punches

The middle knuckles of the fingers are used to perform the fore-knuckle.

This is a sharper technique with a much smaller contact point.

As a result of the smaller contact point, there is greater penetration of force.

This attack is dangerous to the executor as it occurs in the fingers’ joints.

So, your joints will break if they are not strong enough to absorb impact with the target.

This, therefore, makes this technique most effective against soft vital areas or small targets.

But if you wish to use these techniques on solid targets, ensure to properly condition your fingers and knuckles before doing so.

Some fore-knuckle punches include:

  • Ippon-ken– oneknuckle fist
  • Nakadaka-ippon-ken middle finger one-knuckle fist
  • Hiraken flat fist

Note: Karate styles slightly have different ways of executing these punches.

While some are trained to deliver destructive maximum force from a single punch, others specialize in super-fast repetitive actions or hit a precise target with a force that is enough to subdue an opponent.

Can You Punch in the Face in Karate?

You are allowed to punch the face of an opponent in karate. However, such punches are not expected to be excessive or open-hand techniques. Throat punch is also prohibited.

Under the WKF Karate Competition Rules, an attack to the face with open-hand techniques is disallowed.

Also prohibited are techniques that make excessive contact, having regard to the scoring area attacked, and techniques that make contact with the throat.

The reason behind banning and controlling some of these techniques during competition is that karate competition is a sport.

The competitors are therefore expected to perform all techniques with control and good form to avoid fatal injuries to each other.

If they cannot, then a penalty or warning would be imposed regardless of the technique misused.

For senior competitors, light, non-injurious, controlled “touch” contact to the head, face, and neck is allowed (but not to the throat).

Where contact is deemed to be too strong but does not reduce the winning chances of the competitor, a warning (Chukoku) may be given.

But, a second contact under the same circumstances will result in keikoku.

Further offense will result in Hansoku Chui.

Any further contact (even though not significant enough to influence the opponent’s chances of winning) will still result in Hansoku.

The rule also takes particular care in cadet and junior competitions.

For cadet and junior competitors, no contact to the face, head, or neck, is allowed with hand techniques.

The above rules are contained in Article 8 of the Karate Competition Rules titled “Prohibited Behavior.”

Can You Punch in the Head in Karate?

Head punching is allowed in karate as the rules of the sports score point for punches to the head.

However, points awarded for a punch to the head are lower (usually 1 point) than points awarded for kicks.

What Do You Say in Karate When You Punch?

When punching in karate, you say “Kiai”. Kiai is a short shout uttered by Japanese martial arts (including karate) when performing an attacking move.

Karate students, as well as other Japanese martial arts such as aikido, Kobudo, kendo, or judo, etc, use Kiai to intimidate or startle an opponent, express confidence, or express victory.

The practice has now become a part of Asian martial arts in popular culture.


Without a doubt, punching techniques are an integral part of traditional and modern karate. It is in fact described by many as the heart of karate.

So, if you are someone who actively enjoys using your hands during combat, then karate is the right art for you.

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