What Moves Are Illegal In Karate?

Karate is one of the most popular martial arts in the world and every year, more and more students take up the belt and start to learn this amazing sport.

However, just like with all other sports and arts, there are a bunch of different rules a karate student must learn and follow so they can legally win their combat matches. 

What Moves Are Illegal In Karate?

If you are learning karate then it’s important to know what kind of behavior and moves are banned so you can avoid making a huge mistake that could cost you the victory.

So, here we are going to cover all the illegal moves in karate so you know what you can and can’t do during a sparring session or competition. 

NASKA Banned Moves

The North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) is the body that makes all the rules and regulations followed for all competitions in North America. This means that they are the ones who decide what counts as an illegal move and why. 

Overall, NASKA decides what counts as an illegal move depending on what is best for the two karate students involved.

The moves and behavior they have banned are deemed illegal because they are either unsportsmanlike or pose a danger to the wellbeing of those involved.

As a result, most of NASKA’s ‘illegal’ moves are plain common sense – there can be no headbutts, no pulling of the hair, no biting, no scratching, or using your elbows or knees to strike an opponent, and no eye attacks. 

These kinds of ‘moves’ are deemed illegal because they pose a serious risk to the health of the opponent.

Some of them even go against the whole idea of karate – which translates to ‘open hand’ – and so things like pulling your opponent’s hair or biting breaks the rules of ‘striking’ to bring down your opponent. 

You also cannot slap, or grab your opponent for more than a second, nor use any uncontrolled techniques or throws as this is deemed unsafe and dangerous. Stomping (especially around the head area) is also illegal. 

NASKA have also made legal and illegal target areas where you cannot use moves to contact your opponent. This means that any moves that attack the spine, neck, throat, groin, legs, knees, or back of your opponent are illegal.

Again, this is because a serious injury to any of these areas can lead to life changing damage. However, it is legal to attack the head and face. 

When performing sweeps and takedowns, it’s important that you control the move and that you only execute it to the back of your opponent’s front let at their mid-calf point or below. 

So, overall, it’s not really about which moves are illegal in karate – every move is legal as long as it strikes the opponent in the correct areas. 

Full Contact Karate Illegal Techniques and Moves

If you are learning full contact karate, then you will already be aware that this form of karate is known for being far more aggressive. However, there are still important rules and regulations in place to help protect all competitors and students.

So, even though there’s a lot more leeway in full contact karate, there are definitely some illegal moves you need to avoid. 

These illegal moves are known as ‘fouls’ and there are plenty of them that you need to be aware of. 

For example, you cannot strike with an open hand or with your fingers – unless you are purposefully doing a ridge-hand strike.

This strike involves tucking in your thumb so make sure you know the technique well before performing this move or you might accidentally end up committing a foul. 

You also cannot strike your opponent using your knee, forearm, head, or elbow. So, headbutts are illegal moves in full contact karate along with kneeing and elbowing.

The same goes for any kind of unsportsmanlike behavior including biting, spitting, pinching, pulling your opponent’s hair, gouging, clawing, or sticking your finger into any of your opponent’s orifice to cause discomfort and distraction.

These are all known as ‘dirty tactics’ and will result in a serious penalty. 

There are also illegal areas in full contact karate that you cannot make any move against, just like in regular karate. These areas include the spine, back of the head, throat, neck, and groin.

Again, these areas are deemed ‘illegal’ target areas because a strike here can cause serious damage to your opponent. 

As for more specific moves, kicks anywhere above the mid-calf point is considered illegal. Single and double leg takedowns are also considered illegal moves.

Clinching, holding, and grabbing are also illegal techniques along with suplexes and throws that go over the head. 

Final Thoughts

So, in karate (both regular and full contact), there are no specific ‘illegal’ moves as you would expect. 

Whether a move is deemed illegal or not all comes down to where it strikes and how much control you have.

This is because illegal moves are banned because they pose a dangerous risk to the wellbeing of the opponent or competitor, thus they are outlawed to avoid any serious injuries occurring during sparring. 

So, certain kicks and strikes are allowed until they hit an area that is deemed an illegal target area (such as the groin or neck). 

The reason behind this confusion over illegal moves most likely comes down to the infamous ‘crane kick’ debate regarding the popular movie, Karate Kid.

In the movie, the protagonist delivers a crane kick which strikes his opponent’s face despite the referee earlier declaring that strikes to the face were not allowed.

However, according to NASKA rules, strikes to the face are allowed – but  the fact that the opponent was clearly dazed and in distress after the strike would call for a penalty. 

This has led many to believe that the crane kick itself was an illegal move in karate but it is actually legal – what causes the debate is how the crane kick was used in the movie.

Strikes that injure your opponent usually end in a penalty and any move can be deemed illegal if they hit an illegal target area – so be careful where you are aiming your strikes and kicks! 

Christopher Anderson
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