10 MMA Techniques Every Karate Practitioner Should Know

MMA is the world’s fastest growing sport.

It’s spreading like wildfire.karate_mma

But, what can Karate practitioners learn from it?

A lot – if they open their eyes!

You see, Karate is actually an original Mixed Martial Art.

Long before UFC and its octagon existed, old Karate masters collected, mixed and shared different fighting techniques in Okinawa – the birthplace of Karate.

So, today I asked my brother Oliver to write an exclusive article for you.

Oliver is a professional MMA fighter and a black belt in Karate. He’s trained at the world’s best MMA gyms in USA, Canada & Europe, as well as studied Karate in Japan.

This experience gives him a unique perspective on what Karate can learn from MMA.

(PS. Watch the episode 15 of Karate Nerd Insider™ to see Oliver teach #9: The Guillotine Choke on me, plus learn its escape & my kata application ideas.)

Now, without further ado…

10 MMA Techniques Every Karate Practitioner Should Know

By Oliver Enkamp

Last year Jesse wrote an article titled ‘10 Devastating Karate Techniques Every MMA Fighter Should Know‘.

This article is an answer to his – but the other way around!

As we all know, the original form of Karate was strictly made for self defense and consisted of ruthless techniques to inflict severe damage with minimal effort.

It was quick, raw and dirty! 

However, most of these techniques are hidden in traditional forms (kata) which are only understood by training applications (bunkai) to the forms.

This means that modern Karate practitioners are often unaware of the techniques that made Karate so effective in the first place!

(Unless they successfully decipher the bunkai of kata – which most people don’t.)

That’s why I want to teach you 10 MMA techniques today, so you can avoid getting your ass kicked like Jesse. 😛

Let’s go!

#1: The Jab


Arguably the most important weapon for a striker.

The jab measures your distance, keeps the opponent away and sets up power shots with the rear hand.

Although it might look similar to a kizami zuki from Karate, the jab is not the same. A correct jab is actually performed by staying behind your shoulder (as protection) and using your feet to push the fist in to your opponents face while keeping your weight steady on the back leg. It can be doubled up for variation, or mixed (head-body / body-head).

If you fight someone who throws a lot of jabs, watch out for their rear hand power shot. The jab is often used to disguise that hand.

Circle to the outside, towards your opponents back, to minimize your chances of getting knocked out.

#2: The Lead Hook


This is the most common K.O. in boxing, but not common in modern Karate.

Why? Because you don’t get points for hooks in most sport Karate tournaments (yet, it exists in very many kata, especially against the body).

You can generate ridiculous amounts of force with a correctly performed hook using all the power in your hips, legs and trunk. It’s an excellent counter attack to the head when combined with a side step – catching the opponent as he steps in and overextends his punch.

Be aware of this dangerous counter when throwing your straight punches against a boxer or MMA fighter.

#3: Shoulder Rolls


A defensive move not seen much in Karate dojos.

The shoulder rolls are often called “slipping” (against straight punches) or “rolling” (under hooks).

If you’ve ever sparred someone using good head movement, then you know how hard it is to hit them! Shoulder rolls are a great way of defending yourself when you’re close to the opponent, trapped in the pocket or unable to move your feet.

Karate practitioners often have great footwork, which could be combined with shoulder rolling to make you even harder to hit.

#4: Low Kicks


Low kicks aren’t usually seen in Karate either, as they’re prohibited in many dojos.

(Unless you practice a full contact style like Kyokushin or Uechi-ryu.)

A heavy low kick to the leg can be devastating and slow down your opponents movement a lot. It’s also effective for combinations as a low distraction when followed up with high punches.

The inside low kick is usually fast and snappy – good to start combinations with – while the outside low kick is heavier but slower and good to end combinations with.

Learn to block low kicks correctly with your shin to inflict more damage on the attacker than the receiver.

#5: Double Leg Takedown


This might be the signature takedown of MMA.

Basically – it is just a tackle, like you would see in rugby, wrestling or football.

From your kamae/fighting stance, lower your center of gravity and run through your opponent with a straight and tight posture. As you slam your shoulder into your opponent’s gut, keep driving forward and use your head to push him off balance. At the same time, grab and pull your opponents legs in the opposite direction.

It’s easy, brutal and very common.

Now that you know the mechanics of the double leg takedown, you can defend yourself using the sprawl!

#6: The Sprawl


A sprawl is the move used to defend against the double leg takedown/tackle.

It’s performed by throwing your hips back and stretching your legs out behind you, hindering the opponent from grabbing them.

Drop your weight on top of your opponent as he shoots in for the takedown and try to flatten him out as much as you can. Hook your arms under his arms to stop him from grabbing your legs again.

Finally, get away by putting your hand on his neck and push the head down as you circle out and stand up.

#7: Technical Standup


Every Karate practitioner has surely fallen down (or got taken down!) during training.

The safest and quickest way to get back up is called a technical standup. That’s why Jesse invited a world class expert to teach this at KNX15.

In MMA, when laying on your back, post a hand on the floor behind you and put the opposite side foot on the floor as well. Now use your free hand to push the opponents head away (unless your opponent is already standing), while pulling the free leg up under you – placing it far behind you. You are now on your feet!

As a side note, technical standups are great for warming up too.

Just put a timer on 2 minutes and start moving up and down, increasing the speed as you reach the first minute mark.

#8: Elbow Escape


This is used when your opponent has mounted you on the ground.

You must immediately start working the elbow escape before the opponent gets comfy and starts dropping bombs!

Turn on your side and use your elbows to push one of his legs down as you pull your own leg out under his. Once you free your first leg, turn to the other side and move your hip away from him as you repeat the sequence on the other leg to get in to a guard position (from where you can do the technical standup).

The more you practice this escape, the less likely you are to panic – like most people do when someone starts “ground & pounding” them.

#9: The Guillotine


The guillotine choke is a common submission in MMA.

It can be done from lots of positions, and is basically performed by pulling your opponents head down in your armpit while wrapping the arm around his throat.

Secure your grip by grabbing the choking arm with your free hand and lift the elbows high as you pull the bony part of your arm in to the opponents throat. If you are on the ground you can wrap your legs around him to make the escape harder.

I explained and demonstrated the guillotine choke step-by-step (along with how you escape it) in episode 15 of Jesse’s Karate Nerd Insider™.

#10: Leg Locks


Leg locks are getting really popular in MMA these days, and they are feared by many fighters.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), some leg locks are not allowed until black belt level, due to their devastating nature.

The most feared leg lock is probably the heel hook, which totally destroys your knee by trapping the leg and twisting your heel.

Being good at leg locks is a huge advantage if you end up on your back with your opponent standing up. From this position, you can actively attack him with leg locks instead of just being passive or trying to stand up. This will make your opponent go in defensive mode, even though he’s the one standing up!

There’s a whole bunch of different leg locks and escapes – if you have time you should investigate them thoroughly.

But since you’re more interested in practicing Karate, you could just remember these 3 principles to escape almost any leg lock:

  1. Clear the space between you and your opponent by peeling his legs away (if they are wrapped around yours).
  2. Try to put your exposed foot on the floor as you push yourself forward and bend your leg, while standing up on your free leg.
  3. Now you’re pretty much safe. From here you can either punch down on your opponent until he lets go, or kick your leg free from his grip. Don’t do fast rotational movements if your foot is stuck, since you might hurt your knee.

That’s it!

10 commonly used techniques in MMA that you, as a Karate practitioner, should know how to execute and defend yourself against.

It was NOT easy picking out ten moves… but these should get you started!

If you want to learn more about MMA, visit my own blog (which is now in English) and drop a comment. You can also find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Arigato gozaimasu!



  • Josep
    I just don't see why these are not called Karate techniques...
  • Peter G.N. GRIFFIN
    Dear Jesse, Good Article. Osu !
  • Dan Carter
    Awesome read, thanks Oliver. I'll definitely be practicing these with some of the guys at our university club!
  • Alex
    Brilliant! I've been doing a few of these for a while, so nice to have someone agree with me, and I'm gonna try the others soon... ?
  • These are all techniques found in every authentic Karate system...they are not MMA techniques and the title is a bit misleading based on the contents.
  • Patrice
    Jesse-san ! another great article, i am sure all theses techniques are also hidden somewhere in katas.
  • Jorge Garcia
    All those are karate! i can name a move from a kata for each technique shown, unfortunately sports karate and wkf are getting more attention than more traditional styles that will show you how to use any means necessary to defend yourself instead of point striking. Very good article though!
  • John Alex Temple
    I have to slightly disagree with you Steven Franz. In my admittedly short and perfunctory experience with various Shotokan clubs, NONE has addressed Karate's shortcomings (dealing with these sorts of attacks), and no Sensei was willing to discuss them (at least in class - outside it, they'd talk about anything MA-related, strangely).
  • Kevin
    I like the article overall, but it should be more appropriately called "10 MMA techniques" often overlooked in traditional martial arts. ALL of MMA is found in traditional arts.
  • Shaun Emery
    Oliver has a blog too?!? Sign me up!
  • Sooraj Kumat
    I like the article...really I feel, advanced sports Karate techniques have taken over the art of self defence. One day nobody gives a shit about Karate or karateka coz they know that, they can only be faster with "feather touch tsuki" but not stronger enough to save someone or save yourself.... I think we must stick to the Art of living rather than art of sport.
  • Hitorikko
    OMG, the locks -___-"
  • Lee Sui Co
    Wow I already encounter some of the techniques and I already used some of them. One of my fellow martial artist and also a karate nerd used this techniques against me. This blog is really helping me to do a counter moves and tactics for improving my karate techniques. Thank you Jesse-sama and Oliver-sama
  • ade
    With sports karate being the focus since funakoshi died there is a definite bias on what techniques are practiced. Sport created restrictions. id like to see karate go back a step into practical self defense making use of all the techniques we have and some solid kata study. What karate was about before hitting mainland japan. Im not sure the past masters would like the direction it has gone.
  • Nick Vázquez
    I've done Goju ryu and do Gracie jujutsu on and off. I think these are great techniques for any karateka to learn. Thanks, Jesse-san and Oliver-san. :D
  • Germán
    Jesse. PLEASE answer me a question. How can someone could block a muay thai´s low kick with his shin? It would be so painful for the defender. Someone could answer this please?
    • Nick Vázquez
      Germán, "checking" kicks usually doesn't cause the defender any damage. If anything, they usually hurt the attacker! See the second fight between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman for how devastatingly effective these blocks are.
  • Kurt Fischer
    Hey Jesse, a long time ago I commented on an article you wrote, where you said something like you were prout to have never been in a fight, or something like that. I asked you what kind of a martial arts practitioner you were if you didn't want to test your martial art. Now that you have tested it and got destroyed I hope you understand what I ment :) All I can say regarding Karate is - Choki Motobu Sensei! I hope you guys will understand what I mean.
    • Nick Vázquez
      Motobu Choki was a bad mother licker.
      • Kurt Fischer
        Just a practitioner of traditional, non watered down Karate, or should I say To-te.
  • Barnabas Nwankwo
    Ouss Sensei Jesse, pls I want to learn more about MMA, am enjoying all your acticles, am ever great full, pls keep me posted. Ouss! Barnabas Nwankwo Shotokan Karate practitioner
  • Michael Brown
    The double leg takedown is not just a "tackle"....and thinking of it as such will get you choked out at the very least. Leg locks are generally allowed at blue belt in BJJ.
  • francis
    gud staff
  • Matt Coleman
    This is all so true, I’m very blessed to be studying Uechi Ryu the traditional way by Conditioning, sparring and Kata every class and in our Dojo there are no handouts

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