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Kenpo Karate Vs: Kung Fu, Muay Thai, & Sumo (Compared!)

Kenpo Karate is an old martial art that’s evolved greatly over time. Here, we’ll look at how it has changed and how it stands up against a few other martial arts. The goal isn’t to say which is better than the other, but rather explain what sets them apart.

And predict who might win in a fight. Let’s get into the Kenpo Karate VS! And find out just how they compare.

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Kenpo Karate Vs Kung Fu

Kung Fu fighters battling on open ground

What’s interesting about this comparison is that Kenpo Karate and Kung Fu are very related.  Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that’s really an umbrella term for all martial arts from China.  Kung Fu is any skill or discipline achieved through study and practice.

Now, under that umbrella, there are many schools, like Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun, and even Tai Chi.  Many focus on different forms, movements, and deception in their techniques, but not one is exactly like the other.

Quanfa migrated to Japan a couple of hundred years ago, where it became known as Kenpo.  As it evolved over time, it also incorporated many aspects of Karate and Jiujitsu

In Japan, Kenpo became an umbrella term for many styles of Kenpo, like Kenpo Karate and Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu, as it evolved.

Eventually, it migrated to the United States, where it went through another transformation.  It started to focus more on “street” defense and less on katas and weapons sets.  Hard strikes and quick brutal movements would be handy if you had to defend yourself in an alley attack was the thinking.

Kung Fu has really focused more on maintaining tradition. The Kenpo of today really doesn’t resemble at all what arrived in Japan originally.

That’s not to say Kenpo doesn’t maintain traditions. Several schools still do weapon sets and katas. The rise of Kenpo’s practical self-defense style, though, has become more mixed-martial arts-oriented. 

Kung Fu does focus more on art as a way of life. It is a philosophy as much as a martial art.  That doesn’t mean they don’t fight. 

Another thing Kung Fu has over Kenpo is its popularity in movies. The Kung Fu movies of the 1970s are very responsible for not just Kung Fu, but most martial arts becoming hugely popular in the West and among minorities.  Everyone wanted to be like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee and Jet Li.

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This popularity and the rise of tournaments saw a surge of schools opening and students flocking to get trained.  Kenpo never got that kind of attention in films.  But it did from celebrities like Elvis Presley, which helped contribute to its own rise in public popularity.

In these modern times, Kenpo has embraced the world of mixed martial arts more, whereas Kung Fu has held on to many of its historical traditions while remaining more of a religious way of life.

Kenpo Karate Vs Kung Fu: Who Wins?

Kenpo.

This really comes down to the fact that Kenpo has just evolved more and embraced a more intense, violent style that is better suited to modern mixed martial arts.

Kenpo Karate VS Muay Thai

Muay Thai fighters practicing kicks outdoors

Kenpo and Muay Thai have a lot in common, nothing more than that they both believe heavily in striking. Both love to employ powerful kicks, punches, elbow strikes, and knee strikes.  Muay Thai is known as the “art of eight limbs” for this exact reason.

Kenpo has actually incorporated a lot of Muay Thai style into its own. Although Kenpo has always favored brutal strikes, the kickboxing style of Muay Thai is well served in Kenpo, especially in destructive roundhouse kicks that focus on targeting the waist-to-knee area.  A great number of Kenpo schools often teach modified Muay Thai as part of their programs.

For both arts, the primary goal is to completely overwhelm the opponent, if not totally, render them useless.  The biggest difference is a practitioner of Kenpo usually has no resistance in taking the fight to the ground.  This is, of course, seen more on the Kenpo Jiutsu side of the house.  

That being said, Muay Thai is definitely more popular in parts of the world for their kickboxing competitions. Kickboxing competitions, which have influenced the development and popularity of the sport in the West. Their competitions are on par with traditional boxing as a crowd spectacle.

Muay Thai practitioners tend to be well suited to mixed martial arts and a lot of MMA fighters incorporate Muay Thai into their repertoire, especially the kicking and elbow striking techniques.  Whereas Kenpo is useful in mixed martial arts for its speed and movement, Muay Thai is wonderful for kickboxing, including its use of clinches.  

It’s hard to compare them much more beyond that.  Kenpo is definitely a martial art that has gone through its own evolution but still has great ties to its past.  Muay Thai seems more like traditional boxing.  A lot of practice and definitely a lot of training, but not as focused on belt systems. Instead, it is an art of strikes and blocks and clinches. But also brutality.

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One more thing to mention about Muay Thai. Unlike Kenpo, which has become a more spread out art around the world with many cultures adding their own particular flavor to it, Muay Thai has remained very culturally oriented with little dilution. It’s also called “Thai Boxing” for a reason.

You would be hard-pressed to believe Muay Thai is not from Thailand. It is their sport, no doubt. And in other parts of the world where Muay Thai has become popular, practitioners often embrace the culture of Muay Thai.

Kenpo, especially in America, has become more and more homogenized.  Kenpo feels, like, well, Kenpo.  It has a style but Muay Thai FEELS Muay Thai, as much sense as that makes.

Kenpo Karate Vs Muay Thai: Which Comes Out On Top?

This is a close one but got to go with Muay Thai if only because it is more popular worldwide, has more funding, and is a violent sport.  It won’t be an easy fight, and it’ll be a bloody one, but Muay Thai is just as much a street-fighting art as Kenpo.

Plus, Kenpo has adopted a lot of Muay Thai into it, especially in the West.

Kenpo Karate Vs Sumo

Sumo wrestlers preparing to fight

Ok, ok. Kenpo vs Sumo?  Really?  Who would even consider that?

Because it’s too funny not to consider that.

Imagine it for a moment. Two fighters. One, someone like Chuck Liddell (Kenpo black belt, by the way) squaring off against a legit Sumo wrestler. The Sumo wrestler is in his mawashi (the thick belt being worn that everyone snickers at because it looks like a thong diaper), Chuck’s in his trunks.

Anyway, you need to understand a bit about Sumo wrestling. Matches are usually kept to four minutes in maximum length. You win by making your opponent touch any of their body outside the ring or any part of their body within the ring except for the bottom of their feet. Essentially, knock them down or push them out of the ring.

Okay, so basically all a Kenpo practitioner would have to do is catch the Sumo wrestler just right with a strike that knocks them down or manage to evade them for four minutes.

Easier said than done.

Although Sumo wrestlers aren’t all as big as many imagine, they are pretty stout and well-balanced.  They’re also pretty damn good in a clinch. But they’re not strikers.

Their biggest attack is basically a bull rush to try and get their opponent to step out of the ring, or get into a clinch, where they can possibly force something like a hip toss or just throw the other wrestler down.

Well, a Kenpo fighter is not going to take on a bull rush, and they sure as hell don’t want to get in a clinch with someone bigger and stronger than them.  But if they can avoid a rush and stay close enough where they avoid getting tied up, they might actually be able to pull off a hard punch to the face.

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If they could land a punch right in the mug, they’d have an open window for a follow-up face strike.  The goal would be to ring the Sumo wrestler’s bell just enough for them to stumble and just drop to a knee.  Remember, any part of the body other than the bottom of the feet hits the deck and it’s over.

Of course, a knockout would be even better.

Or the Kenpo fighter could basically just evade long enough to hopefully wear out the Sumo wrestler, get him tired enough, and maybe land some strikes at that point.  The main thing is staying out of a clinch.  If that happens, all that’s going to happen is a body slam.  Game over.

Kenpo Karate Vs Sumo: Who Has The Upper Hand?

A very tough draw.

If this were a street fight, the Kenpo fighter would still try to avoid getting tied up. He’d be using his speed and elusiveness for sure. If he loses his arms, though, he’s going to be relying on head butts and knees. Not a bad option.

But if the Sumo wrestler slams him to the ground, his weight advantage might be just too much. And if he’s not playing by Sumo rules, hey, he can start landing hammer fists of his own. Not looking good for the Kenpo fighter.

A Kenpo fighter, even if they are a master of their martial art, is not always a master of their opponent’s. They should have a knowledge of what that particular martial art brings to the table, not just in fighting style, but in its history and culture.

That always needs to be remembered.

This is another article from our Kenpo Karate series, where our Kenpo Karate Instructor, Erik, teaches you more about this historical martial art.

About the Author

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Erik is a former naval officer and defense contractor (but he's not allowed to talk about it). He is also the author of Demon, Guardian, Bigfoot Crank Stomp, and numerous small press works and short stories. He's also a certified Kenpo instructor in the Tracy Kenpo Karate system. You can find out more about him and his drivel at his blog.

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