What is the Difference between karate and Taekwondo?


Both Karate and Taekwondo are two very popular traditional martial arts that are studied by millions all around the world.

What is the difference between Karate and Taekwondo?

On the surface they both look nearly identical.

Bright white spotless uniforms.

Different colored belts to hold their pants up.

And techniques that are bear an uncanny resemblance to each other.

But what makes each of them better or worse then the other?

On this article, find out what the difference is between Karate and Taekwondo and which one you should choose to study.


difference between karate and taekwondo girl practicing martial arts by the beach

Karate has its roots based in Japan, more specifically Okinawa which is the birth place of Karate.

Chinese Kung Fu was introduced to the locals and later influenced in the development of Karate.

Back then, weapons were banned and thus the local residents developed Karate as a means of self defense after Japan annexed the islands of Okinawa.

Over the years, karate has evolved and now you may find many forms of Karate on the market such as the ever popular Kyokushin Karate which was actually invented by a Korean named Mas Oyama.

Taekwondo on the other hand, was born in Korea and has some Japanese and Chinese influence in its style.

The two most popular styles of Taekwondo include the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) and the ITF (International Taekwondo Federation).

The former tends to focus more on the sport aspect of Taekwondo that favors speed and agility, at the expense of self defense and perfect technique.

It is with this reason that many consider the latter, the more pure form of Taekwondo.


While on the surface both martial arts may seem nearly identical to each other, upon further examination one can see some differences between the two martial arts.

For starters, Karate tends to take a more balanced approach between hand and foot techniques, along with some elbow and knee strikes, and throws.

Because Karate tends to follows the philosophy of one strike, one kill, you will see a lot more single strikes in karate such as a karate chop or straight punch to try and take down an opponent.

Taekwondo on the other hand tends to be more heavy on the kicking, with punching acting as a supplement. Kicking is the weapon of choice, and often times a combination of different kicks are linked together to attack an opponent.

You will often times find a lot of kicks in Taekwondo that aren’t practiced in Karate such as a 720 spinning heel kick or a jumping back kick.

Those crazy death defying kicks that you see being performed in mid air such as a 540 spinning hook kick or a jumping back kick are all trademarks of Taekwondo.


The practice of forms help a martial artist develop muscle memory and reflexes, improve technique, and allows you to train using full force either without having to worry about injuring your partner or alone.

Both Karate and Taekwondo incorporate the study of forms in their discipline, however the type and style of forms are completely different.

In Taekwondo, forms are referred to as Poomse, whereas Karate refers to them as a Kata.

When comparing between the two, the katas in Karate tend to be much more sophiscated and difficult in their execution compared to their korean counterparts.

In fact, you will be hard pressed to find some of the moves that are practiced in a Karate kata in a Taekwondo poomse.


Taekwondo generally employs three main stances that you will see a lot of the time: a front stance, a horse stance, and a fighting stance.

There are a few additional stances in Taekwondo as well, however you won’t see them too much especially as a beginner. These three stances will make up a majority of your classes that you attend as a beginner and even an intermediate.

The front and horse stance is similar to its Karate counterpart.

In a Taekwondo fighting stance however, you will typically see a much narrower fighting stance compared to Karate with the exception of Karate tournaments.

Taking a narrower stance allows Taekwondo practitioners to quickly switch fighting positions to set their opponent up for either a strike or a counter strike.

You will also observe a skipping like motion in their stance which helps act as a spring for when they intent to either attack or avoid a strike and thus not a lot of weight is placed on the feet.

Typically one leg is placed in front to act as a lead leg that can be used to strike the opponent or act as a decoy so that their rear leg can be used as a counter attack.

In addition, because of the recoil like motion of their fighting stance, it makes it easier to dodge attacks by simply sliding or hopping back.

Karate practitioners on the other hand adopt a more wider stance compared to Taekwondo.

And if you watch closely, the stance is usually lower and has more weight placed on the legs and feet compared to Taekwondo.

Not only does this help give them more stability, it can also be used as a recoil to launch the fighter forward for an attack or to move backwards to defend against an attack.

Furthermore there are a greater variety of different stances that are employed in Karate such as the front stance, cat stance, crossing stance, or side stance. Each one of these stances serves specific purposes.


Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport for quite a while now, but now karate will also be joining its ranks at the 2020 summer olympic games in Tokyo.

One of the biggest differences between Karate and Taekwondo is the use of sparring gear especially the chest protector during sparring in Taekwondo that is absent in karate.

In addition, punching is rarely used except for trying to stop an attack from an oncoming opponent in Taekwondo tournaments. This is because kicks are rewarded much more points compared to punching, especially head kicks. Furthermore, punching is allowed in mid section and not in the face or head in Taekwondo Olympic style sparring. However, ITF style does allow punching to the face during sparring matches.

For this reason, people tend to choose to focus mainly on kicking rather then punching in sparring matches, especially going for head kicks as those reward the most points in matches.

You will tend to see a lot of high energy dynamic movements with spinning and jumping leg kicks in Taekwondo tournaments that leaves the crowd breathless.

Karate on the other hand, rewards equally as much points when punches or kicks are used depending on the style of karate.

This is why during competitions, you will often times see practitioners try to land a strike on their opponents face with their fists. This is especially prominent for point sparring tournaments.

However it should be noted that not all styles of karate tournaments allow punching someone in the face.

Kyokushin Karate does not allow the punching of someone in the head, but rather in the mid section.

You will typically see guys wailing away at each other’s chest and stomach for multiple rounds, leaving each person bruised and battered by the end of the match.

Promotion and Ranking

difference between karate and taekwondo: colored belts

Both Karate and Taekwondo employ a belt ranking system for identifying rank in their martial arts systems.

Schools and styles typically use different orders and colors for their rankings therefore it is impossible to give you a universal ranking order. Furthermore, some schools incorporate stripes or even tape to prolong promotion between ranks and to get a little extra revenue, which further makes it harder to follow a standardized ranking system.

Nonetheless, the order of ranking based on colors you will see typically follows the following order:

Colored belts:

Orange/ Green
Blue / Purple
Red / Brown

Black belts:

1st degree
2nd degree
3rd degree
4th degree
5th degree
6th degree
7th degree
8th degree
9th degree (usually the highest rank one can obtain)
10th degree (usually reserved for the founder of the art)

Which One Is Right for You?

This one will come down to personal preferences.

Both martial arts offer a tremendous amount of benefits and you really can’t go wrong with either one.

However if you enjoy learning how to kick more than punching, then taekwondo would probably be a better fit for you.

Likewise if you want a martial arts system that is a little more well rounded and focuses a lot on stance work and katas, then karate would be more suitable for you.

In addition, you may want to consider whether or not you would like to compete in competitions and even the olympics.

Taekwond has been an Olympic sport for decades now while karate is just starting to get its feet wet on the world arena.

Lastly, regardless of each style of martial arts that you choose, its important to select a good instructor and school above all else.

Teaching quality should be your #1 priority.

A great martial art being taught by a crappy teacher will lead to poor results. Its important to see whether or not the instructor and environment that you are studying in is a good fit for you as you will be dedicating a number of years into the study of these martial arts.

I encourage you to visit a few schools to test out before deciding on studying there permanently.


Both martial arts have quite a number of similarities and differences.

Here’s a recap of the differences between Karate and Taekwondo:

  • Karate was founded on the island of Okinawa, whereas Taekwondo was created in Korea
  • Karate places more emphasis on striking with the hand compared to Taekwondo which has a heavy focus on kicking
  • both Karate and Taekwondo practice forms known as kata in Karate and poose in Taekwondo, however, the techniques and styles are completely different from each other. The katas also are much more difficult to learn compared to poomse
  • Both Karate and Taekwondo adopt different approaches when it comes to competition. Taekwondo practitioners favor a more narrow fighting stance while not placing much focus on punching, whereas Karate places equal importance on it during competitions.
  • Both Karate and Taekwondo utilize a belt ranking system, however, the colors used will be different not only between the martial arts but also between styles and schools as well.

Regardless of which martial arts you decide to study, both martial arts will teach you self defense, self-discipline, and are great forms of cardiovascular exercise.

However the quality of instruction should come above everything else, and it’s important to take your time and select a good teacher.

Which martial arts do you prefer?

Let me know in the comments below.

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