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Karate vs Taekwondo: Exploring Their Differences

Karate vs Taekwondo Differences

Martial artists often find themselves debating the merits and differences of various styles, particularly when it comes to karate vs taekwondo.

Often enjoy debating (or playful trash talk) about who might emerge victorious in a fight.

These two disciplines are among the most popular martial arts globally, each offering unique philosophies, techniques, and benefits for both fighting as well as fitness!

But what exactly sets the two martial arts apart?

Origin of Karate

Karate originated from Okinawa, Japan, blending native Okinawan fighting styles with Chinese kenpo.

The word "karate" means "empty hand," reflecting its emphasis on hand strikes and defence without weapons. 

Taking it back Karate was systematised in Japan during the 20th century, where it became not only a method of self-defence but also a spiritual and physical discipline, influenced by both indigenous fighting techniques and Chinese kenpo. 

The style evolved as a weaponless means of defending oneself, emphasising mental fortitude and dealing with situations the right way.

Karate Icon

Origin of Taekwondo

Taekwondo emerged in the 1940s and 1950s when several martial artists blended elements of Karate and Chinese martial arts with Korea’s traditional combat techniques, such as Taekkyeon.

This fusion was driven by a vision to unify the diverse martial arts traditions of Korea, drawing significant inspiration from Japanese karate.

The name "taekwondo" itself means "the way of foot and fist," perfectly capturing the image of its practice with head-height kicks, as well as jumping and spinning kicks!

Taekwondo Icon

Karate vs Taekwondo Techniques and Fighting Styles


Karate embraces a more practical approach to its fighting style, focusing on grounded techniques.

It incorporates kicking, but these movements are typically lower and more controlled.

Karate emphasises a strong use of hand strikes, as well as knee and elbow strikes.

Legs in Karate are used with restraint, mainly to provide stability and to execute strategic kicks suited to specific situations.


Taekwondo is renowned for its impressive, high-flying kicks, which are a real highlight in the array of leg techniques it employs.

While the hands play a supporting role, mainly focusing on defense and enhancing leg movements, they are still quite effective when put into action—bet on that!

This dynamic style not only challenges one's agility and strength but also beautifully displays the art's aesthetic elegance.

Poomsae and Kata: These are patterns or forms used in practice to perfect one’s technique. Taekwondo practitioners perform Poomsae, while karate practitioners practice Kata.

Different Organisations for Karate vs Taekwondo

The organisational structure of karate and taekwondo varies significantly due to their different historical and cultural contexts. 

Karate has become popular worldwide with the help of key organisations that promote its development, lets take a look at them:


The World Karate Federation (WKF) boasts a substantial global presence.

In Europe, enthusiasts of the full-contact style find strong support through the European Kyokushin Karate Organisation (EKO).

Meanwhile, the World Seido Karate Organisation actively promotes Seido Karate. Over in America, the USA National Karate-do Federation serves as a hub for karate practitioners.

And naturally, in Japan, where Karate originated, both the Japan Karate Federation (JKF) and the International Karate Association (IKA) stand out as key competitions.


Taekwondo is primarily governed by two major organisations which include World Taekwondo (WT), which is closely associated with the Olympic Games, and the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), known for its emphasis on the traditional and self-defense aspects of the art.

In the United States, the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) stands as one of the largest bodies promoting Taekwondo.

Additionally, the Global Taekwondo Federation (GTF), founded by some of the original ITF members, offers unique patterns and techniques while preserving the core philosophy of traditional Taekwondo.

Different Rankings in Karate vs Taekwondo

Both karate and taekwondo use belt systems to indicate a practitioner's level of knowledge and skill.

However, the significance and symbolism of the belts can vary.


Practitioners start their journey with a white belt and progress through a series of colours including yellow, green, blue, and brown.

This journey culminates in the black belt, signifying expertise and the start of a deeper exploration and understanding of the art.


Taekwondo, they also start with a white belt. As they progress, they move through a series of colours, typically including yellow, green, blue, red, and finally black.

As students advance, their belts might also feature stripes or other markers.

These additions signify intermediate milestones within a belt level.

Note: It's interesting to note that the exact colours and their sequence can vary a bit from one school to another, depending on the style of Taekwondo being taught.

Self-Defence in Taekwondo vs Karate

Both martial arts teach self-defence as a fundamental aspect, but their philosophical approaches differ. 

Karate focuses on self-development, perseverance, and moral elements, whereas taekwondo emphasises peace and discipline as a way to enhance the spirit and life through training the body.

Difference in Equipment and Gear

When training in either karate or taekwondo, it’s crucial to wear the right gear. Not only does this ensure safety, but it also helps you master the proper techniques.

However, the equipment you'll need can vary slightly between the two.

Taekwondo uniforms are usually lighter, tailored to enhance fluidity and flexibility for high kicks.

Whereas karate uniforms tend to be heavier, built to endure the grips and the intense close combat found in kata applications.

Uniform Karate Gi Doboks
Belts Karate Belts Taekwondo Belts
Head Guards Karate Head Guards Head Guards
Shoes None (typically practiced barefoot) Taekwondo Shoes
Groin Guards Groin Guards (optional) Groin Guards
Additional Gear Karate Gloves, Karate Shin Guards None specifically additional
Protection in Competition Mandatory use of head guards, mouthguards, and depending on the rules, body protectors Mandatory head guards, mouthguards, and chest protectors for sparring competitions

How to Choose Karate vs Taekwondo

Deciding whether to train in karate or taekwondo may hinge on several factors:

- Personal Goals: If you're interested in a martial art thats more about hand techniques and defence tactics with deep philosophical roots, karate might be the choice for you.

- Physical Fitness: Both martial arts offer a great workout, but taekwondo often requires higher levels of flexibility and agility due to its focus on kicks and aerial moves.

- Cultural Connection: Some may choose a martial art based on cultural interest or heritage. Those with an affinity towards Japanese culture might lean towards karate, whereas those intrigued by Korean traditions might prefer taekwondo.

- Whats Local: If you're in an area with limited options for taekwondo or karate classes, you might find only one or two available. But don't worry! Martial arts are booming, and new training facilities with skilled coaches are popping up all the time.

GB Taekwondo Fighter


Karate and Taekwondo offer so much more than just the physical perks; they provide a transformative experience that imparts lasting lessons in discipline, respect, and perseverance.

Are you're drawn to karate, with its rich traditions and philosophical depth?

Or you gravitate towards the dynamic moves and competitive spirit of Taekwondo?

Ultimately, the choice might boil down to what suits your style: the high-flying spins and kicks of Taekwondo or the practical, grounded techniques found in Karate.

Each offers a unique approach to martial arts and self-defence, tailored to different preferences and goals.