Difference Between Karate and Taekwondo

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Martial art styles teach children and amatuer martial artists lessons about self-defense, confidence, respect and discipline. Two well-known forms of martial arts are karate and tae-kwon-do. As people look through martial art classes to pick the best option for them, they often wonder what the difference is between taekwondo and karate. Or, they wonder if one option is better than the other.

While these are both very popular choices for martial arts classes, there are some key differences between these choices. The short answer is that these are both amazing martial arts to learn, which each offering their own benefits.

The main difference is karate focuses on traditional self-defense maneuvers, while taekwondo often focuses on competition skills. In this article, we will take a look at the differences, the similarities, and give an overall impression of both of them to help you make a more informed decision when deciding which one you would like to learn.

What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo, Tae Kwon Do or Taekwon-Do is a Korean form of martial arts characterized by punching and kicking techniques, with emphasis on head-height kicks, spinning jump kicks, and fast kicking techniques.

Taekwondo is derived from Korean words–“tae” meaning foot, “kwon” meaning fist, and “do” meaning way. So, taekwondo literally means, “the way of the foot and fist.” But the name taekwondo didn’t exist until 1955.

In Korea, Taekwondo began as a defense martial art called “Subak” or “Taekkyon,” and developed as a way of training body and mind in the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, under the name of “Sunbae.” In the Shilla period, it had become the backbone of Hwarangdo that aimed at producing leaders of the country.

Taekwondo today is similar to the martial arts in other Oriental countries and shares some features with them, because in the course of its evolution it has gained many different styles that existed in the martial arts of the countries surrounding Korea, like Japan and China.

Taekwondo is renowned for its heavy emphasis on showy kicks. It has about a dozen different types of kicks, and these are the primary fighting tool in sparring.

However, taekwondo does supplement kicks with other forms of striking, and it still places a strong focus on blocking, stances, and footwork. Like karate, it has form, or a set series of movements that students at each belt level are required to learn.

There are many different forms used in taekwondo, and many of them are exclusive to certain types of taekwondo. The three most common taekwondo forms are four-direction punch, four-direction block, and four-direction thrust.

Taekwondo Today

Taekwondo is more than a form of self-defense. It is also considered a sport. There are multiple defining characteristics of taekwondo, including the extensive use of kicks. As evidenced in the name, punching is also used frequently. There is no single way of practicing taekwondo. As it spread from Korea to Japan and China, it gave rise to the formation of different schools of practice. These different schools went to other countries throughout the world.

Taekwondo today has two primary types, titled by their respective federation:

  1. World Taekwondo Federation
  2. International Taekwondo Federation

Both sides like to fight over whose taekwondo is better, and it mostly comes down to a few different forms and a difference in the number of black belt levels. That said, both sides are more similar than different.

Many people use taekwondo as a workout, especially in the United States. It has particularly attracted people as a form of aerobic exercise. Some gyms have been established for the exclusive practice of taekwondo, and there are also general-use gyms that have incorporated elements of taekwondo into their exercises, creating ”taekwondo workouts.”

What is Karate?

Karate is a Japanese martial art originating in the Ryukyu Islands, specifically on Okinawa. Of course, at that time, it wasn’t called karate–it was simply called, “te”.

It came about when trade relations were established between the Ryukyu Islands and the Fujian Province in China. Families began emigrating from China to Okinawa and sharing Kenpo, a blend of Chinese and Indian fighting styles.

Three styles emerged in three distinct areas: Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te (to be fair, the differences were minor, as the three cities are close together).

As time went on and relations continued to strengthen between Okinawa and China, the blend of traditional Okinawan fighting styles and Chinese techniques became more obvious.

The karate we know today comes from Itosu Anko, colloquially called the Grandfather of Karate. He’s credited with creating simplified kata (or forms) for less advanced students, bringing karate into the mainstream.

Main Features of Karate

Karate, as it exists today, is referred to as a striking-style martial art. In other words, it teaches practitioners to disable opponents using kicks, punches, open-hand strikes, knees, and elbows.

However, the goal of karate is not to attack, but rather to defend oneself. Practitioners are taught to block attacks and disable opponents quickly. Many styles use weapons, though students are always taught to emphasize hand-to-hand fighting.

There are also throws, takedowns, and joint locks, though throws and takedowns are generally structured as finishing blows to end a fight.

Subtypes

There are several different subtypes of karate, each with its own distinguishing characteristics. A few commonly-practiced types include:

  • Budokan
  • Kenpo
  • Shito-ryu
  • Shorin-ryu
  • Shotokan
  • Uechi-ryu
  • Wado-ryu
  • Gojo-ryu

That said, they are all forms of karate and have more similarities than differences.

Karate vs Taekwondo: Key Differences

Points of ComparisonKarateTaekwondo
DescriptionA type of Japanese martial art that focuses on hand strikes.A type of Korean martial art that focuses on kicking techniques.
EtymologyKarate comes from Japanese words kara meaning ‘empty’ and te meaning ‘hand’. Karate literally means, empty hands.Taekwondo is derived from Korean words–“tae” meaning foot, “kwon” meaning fist, and “do” meaning way.
Alternative NamesKarate is also known as Karate-Do.It is also known as Tae Kwon-Do, Taekwon-Do, or Tae Kwon Do.
Main FocusIt mainly focuses on striking and blocking.It mainly focuses on kicking.
Other TechniquesPunching, knee or elbow strikes, kicking, blocking techniques like parries and takedowns, and open-handed.Punching and blocking with parries and takedowns.
Bowing StyleBending the torso down, keeping arms straight against the torso, and eyes on the opponents.Hands together or arms together.
PractitionersPractitioners of karate are recognized as Karateka.The practioners of taekwondo are recognized as Taekwondoka.
ClothingThey wear special dress or Gi with patches and perform Barefooted with colored cotton belts on the basis of their skill level.They use a special type of clothing or uniform known as dobok or tobo.
Olympic SportKarate made its first debut at the 2020 Olympics that was held in Tokyo, Japan.Taekwondo made its debut as a demonstration Olympic sport at the 1988 Seoul Games, and became an official medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Games.
InstructorThe instructor of karate is known as Sensei.Instructor of Taekwondo is named as Sa bum nim.

Key Takeaways

  • Karate was established in the early 1900s, whereas Taekwondo was established in 1955.
  • Both systems will train in and utilize effective pressure points, joint manipulation, chokes, throws, take-downs, grappling and ground-fighting techniques.
  • The core principles of both of these arts emphasize self-discipline and a high code of personal conduct. 
  • Both karate and TKD are (on average) the typical modern martial art: mass market, very easy to train and compete in, anyone can do it.
  • Taekwondo emphasizes kicking techniques, while Karate focuses on hand strikes.
  • Taekwondo originated in Korea. Karate originated in Okinawa, Japan.
  • In Karate, legs stay mostly grounded, but in Taekwondo, legs jump, spin and kick.
  • Prearranged sequences of techniques, generally known as forms, are referred to as poomsae in Taekwondo, and kata in Karate
  • Taekwondo is an Olympic sport.
  • The specific postures, stances, and movements differ significantly between Taekwondo and Karate.
  • The bow style of taekwondo is arming together or hands together. In karate bow is done by bending the torso down, keeping arms straight against the torso, and eyes on the opponents.
  • The instructor of taekwondo is named as Sa bum nim. On the other hand, the instructor of karate is known as Sensei.
  • The practitioners of taekwondo use a special type of clothing or uniform known as dobok or tobo. On the flip side, the practitioners of karate wear a special dress or Gi with patches and perform barefooted with colored cotton belts on the basis of their skill level.
  • There are many different forms used in taekwondo, and many of them are exclusive to certain types of taekwondo. The three most common taekwondo forms are four-direction punch, four-direction block, and four-direction thrust.