What is the difference between Karate and Taekwondo? 

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Karate and Taekwondo fights

When people discuss Karate or Taekwondo, many seem to always lump the two martial arts together. Not knowing that they are two completely different martial arts.

We’re going to cover this mischaracterization and tell you the difference between Karate and Taekwondo. Covering the many differences between these two martial arts.

We’ll also cover how Karate and Taekwondo were developed and list some of their similarities.

What is the difference between Karate and Taekwondo? The main difference between Karate and Taekwondo is where the two martial arts were developed. Karate was developed in Japan, while Taekwondo was developed in Korea.(Now just South Korea)

How was Karate developed? 

Karate is actually only a little over a hundred years old. The martial art was developed within the Ryukyu Islands of Japan and predominantly within Okinawa, which is within them.

Centuries before Karate was developed, the people of Okinawa developed their own martial art. It blended together parts of other martial arts like styles of Kung Fu from fishermen that would travel to the island.

This early form of Karate really began to be developed in the 1800s when Japan took over Okinawa. The new Japanese rulers implemented harsh laws on the Okinawans, which included a ban on the ownership of weapons.

Since Okinawans could not carry weapons, this forced many Okinawans to learn how to defend themselves.

Itoso Anko

Grandmaster Itoso Anko is considered to be the grandfather of Karate. Anko was taught an early form of Karate by his Master Matsumura Sokon.

In 1905, Anko was the person responsible for introducing Karate into physical education programs within Okinawa. He modified the early forms of Karate and made them more simplistic for school children to learn.

Anko’s students

Grandmaster Anko would teach three students that would go on to develop what we know as modern Karate. Masters Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Motobu Choki.

Gichin Funakoshi: Master Gichin Funakoshi is considered the father of modern Karate by many karatekas. Funakoshi would create the Shotokan style of Karate.

Kenwa Mabuni: Master Kenwa Mabuni was responsible for bringing Karate to mainland Japan. Credited for creating the Shito-ryu style of Karate.

Motobu Choki: Master Motobu Choki was an Okinawan Karate master that was famous for his match against a foreign boxer. This match sparked a lot of interest in Karate, which helped propel its popularity.

Karate’s explosion in popularity

Karate really started to gain popularity after the end of World War 2. The US had established military bases in Okinawa and soldiers saw the natives practicing Karate on the islands. 

Many of the soldiers were permitted to learn Karate while they were stationed in Okinawa. When their deployments ended,  the soldiers would continue training and begin teaching what they learned in the US.

Japanese Karate practitioners would also begin traveling across the world and teach the martial art. Before anyone knew it, Karate was practiced in nearly every part of the world.

It also began being practiced by celebrities and being depicted within TV and movies. This led to Karate becoming one of the most practiced martial arts in the world.

How was Taekwondo developed? 

Taekwondo is actually a little younger than Karate and had a similar meteoric rise in popularity. The origins of Taekwondo actually go back 1000s of years before the martial art was developed.

Archaeologists have discovered artifacts that depict ancient soldiers performing Taekwondo like techniques dating back to the Korean three kingdoms.

Japanese colonization

The main reason that Taekwondo is rather young is due to the Japanese colonization of Korea in 1910. Japan overthrew the Yi Dynasty and took control over the island and were ruthless rulers.

These Japanese overlords tried to erase Korean culture and implement Japanese culture within Korea. Outlawing the practice of anything Korean, which included martial arts.

Taekwondo begins to form

After World War 2, the Japanese colonization of Korea ended and the Korean people started to regain their identity. During this process, Korean martial arts practitioners that practiced in secret during the colonization began openly teaching again.

Numerous Korean martial arts masters began getting together for the next few years to discuss developing a national martial art. After decades of discussion, the art of Taekwondo begins to be formed.

The development of Taekwondo was possible thanks to masters like General Choi Hong-hi and Dr. Un Yong Kim.

General Choi Hong-hi: General Choi Hong-hi was considered one of the founding fathers of Taekwondo and actually came up with the martial art’s name. He was highly respected until he was excommunicated for spreading Taekwondo to North Korea.

Dr. Un Yong Kim: Dr. Un Yong Kim was the founder of the World Taekwondo Foundation(now World Taekwondo. Dr. Kim was also responsible for making Taekwondo an Olympic sport and was vice president of the Olympic committee until 2017.

Taekwondo’s explosion in popularity

A short time after Taekwondo was formed it exploded in popularity. It became the official martial art in Taekwondo soon after it was formed and the first world championship was held in 1973.

Then during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Taekwondo was highlighted as a demonstrative event. It would go through the approval process and Taekwondo would become an official Olympic sport in 2000.

Today, Taekwondo is practiced by millions across the world in nearly every country.

The differences between Karate and Taekwondo 

There are a lot of vast differences between Karate and Taekwondo. Here are some of the most obvious differences between the two martial arts.

Places of origin

The most obvious difference between Karate and Taekwondo is where each martial art originated. Karate was developed in Japan and Taekwondo was developed in Korea. Two different countries that are separated by the Sea of Japan(East Sea) and Tsushima Strait.

Belt Systems

Both Karate and Taekwondo both have belt systems, but they’re a little different from one another. Karate has a 7 colored belt system and Taekwondo can have 10-12 depending on the Taekwondo federation.

Karate Belt System

  • White Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Blue Belt 
  • Yellow Belt
  • Green Belt 
  • Brown Belt
  • Black Belt

Taekwondo Belt System(World Taekwondo)

  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Blue Sr Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Brown Sr Belt
  • Jr Black Belt(If student is under the age of 16)
  • Black Belt

Fighting Techniques 

Karate and Taekwondo have numerous differences within the techniques between each one. We’ll limit the differences to the two biggest ones.

In Taekwondo, there are numerous techniques that either involve jumping or spinning to increase the force on a kick. This isn’t really done in Karate as within most styles of Karate, you’re taught to never leave the ground.

Punch & Kick Ratios

If you see the data of the punches and kicks thrown in Taekwondo and Karate, their ratios differ a bit. Taekwondo athletes usually throw 80% kicks and 20% punches, while Karate athletes throw 70% punches and 30% kicks.

Fight Ranges 

Karate and Taekwondo fight at different ranges. In Taekwondo, fighters stay at kicking range and keep their opponent at this distance to land kicks. Karate practitioners fight at both kicking and punching range usually starting at kicking range and working their way in.

Stances

If you stand a Karate and Taekwondo practitioner in their stances next to each other, you’ll see obvious differences. A Taekwondo stance is a bit wider and sideways and they bounce back and forth.

In most Karate stances, your feet and a little past your shoulder width. They’re also more flat footed and based to the ground than in Taekwondo.

Types of Karate

A common misinterpretation when comparing Taekwondo and Karate assumes there’s only one type of each martial art. There are actually numerous types of Karate and only one type of Taekwondo.

Some of the most known types of Karate include:

  • Kyokushin Karate
  • Shotokan Karate
  • Okinawan Karate
  • Kenpo Karate
  • Shito-ryu
  • American Karate 

The similarities between Karate and Taekwondo 

Both are striking martial arts

Both Karate and Taekwondo share the similarity that both are striking martial arts

The techniques taught in both are a bit different, but both consist of punching and kicking techniques.

Both are linear martial arts 

Both Karate and Taekwondo are both linear martial arts. Meaning that both martial arts are designed to attack an opponent in a straight line. You fight an opponent straight on in both martial arts.

Both are forms of unarmed combat

The other most obvious similarity between Karate and Taekwondo is that both are forms of unarmed combat. Weapons training isn’t taught in either martial art with both styles relying on attacking with hands and feet.

Both are Olympic Sports

For the longest time Taekwondo held one thing over Karate and that it was an official Olympic sport. But Karate made its debut as an official Olympic sport at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The Karate competitions got great reviews and looks like it’ll be a permanent Olympic event like Taekwondo.

Both have a belt system

The last similarity between the two martial arts that will cover is that both have their own belt Systems. The belt systems are a bit different, but both use belt systems to grade the progress of their students.

Which martial art is superior? 

That is a really complicated question, because both martial arts have good qualities within each one. A fight between a Karate fighter and a Taekwondo fighter would have variable results depending on the skills of the fighters.

The Taekwondo fighter would have to keep the Karate fighter at kicking distance and avoid their power. Then a Karate fighter would have to cut the distance and get in punching range, where they have the advantage.

You can’t really definitively say that Taekwondo or Karate are superior over one or the other.

Is it good to cross train between Karate and Taekwondo?

It is definitely beneficial to train both Taekwondo and Karate and especially if you compete in kickboxing or MMA. The techniques in both mesh well with one another and answer flaws that each have on the feet.

If you’re a Taekwondo based fighter, you can learn a lot from training Karate. It’ll help you learn more hand striking techniques and learn to create more power on your strikes without jumping or spinning.

Then a Karate fighter can learn Taekwondo to be lighter on their feet. They can learn to switch things up and keep opponents at kicking range. 

If you’re serious about developing a good striking game, learning techniques from these disciplines along with Muay Thai would be ideal.

The flaws of Karate & Taekwondo

While both Karate and Taekwond are both great striking martial arts, they both have some major flaws within each system. Here are some of the most obvious flaws within Karate and Taekwondo.

The Flaws of Karate

Movement: Like we discussed in a previous section, Karate is a linear martial art. Meaning that all of the striking attacks within the martial art are performed in a straight line.

This means that a lot of the technique needs the Karate fighter’s opponent to be standing right in front of them. If a Karate fighter’s opponent is constantly moving this will make it harder for the Karate fighter to land their strikes.

Leg Kicks: Karate practitioners tend to stand more flat footed and right in front of their opponents. This can lead to big problems if they are fighting an opponent that knows how to perform leg kicks. You see this happen a lot in kickboxing matches when a Karate fighter faces a Muay Thai fighter.

Flaws of Taekwondo

Must Stay In Kicking Range: Most of the techniques within Taekwondo are only effective if the Taekwondo fighter can keep their kicking range. If they face an opponent that is constantly jamming them, they can’t create the space they need to throw their kicks.

Punching: To go along with keeping the kicking range, a Taekwondo practitioner faces problems when they are forced into punching range. Punching is taught in Taekwondo, but the martial art relies heavily on landing kicks. A Taekwondo fighter will have a hard night if they get forced to stay within their opponent’s punching range.

The flaw of both Karate and Taekwondo

Karate and Taekwondo share the same major flaw that both of the martial arts have. That is that both martial arts only work from standing.

Neither Karate or Taekwondo has an answer if the fight goes to the ground. You can’t do the techniques of either martial are if your back is on the ground.

Notable Karate and Taekwondo practitioners in MMA 

There are some really good to great MMA fighters that have bases in either Karate or Taekwondo. Here are some of the most notable ones.

Karate fighters in MMA 

Lyoto Machida: Probably the most know Karate fighter in MMA is Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. Lyoto used his Karate abilities to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. He currently fights for Bellator MMA in bother the light heavyweight and middleweight division.

Stephen Thompson: The current UFC fighter most known for his Karate background is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Wonderboy has used his Karate abilities to stay with the top 10 of the UFC welterweight division for the last decade. Even fighting for the title on two occasions.

Robert Whittaker: The former UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker is a black belt in Goju-ryu Karate. He has put his Karate striking skills on display in numerous fights and they helped him win the title.

Georges St Pierre: 

Chuck Liddell

Bas Rutten

Taekwondo fighters in MMA

Anderson Silva: The MMA legend Anderson Silva is the longest reigning middleweight champion in UFC history. Silva has a background in Taekwondo and is actually a 5th Dan black belt. He actually wanted to represent Brazil in the Olympic games, but couldn’t due to not being an amateur athlete.

Anthony & Sergio Pettis: The brothers, Anthony and Sergio Pettis grew up competing in Taekwondo before they got into MMA. Anthony even won the Wisconsin state Taekwondo championship one year. Both the Pettis brothers have become champions in MMA and wouldn’t be there without first training in Taekwondo.

Valentina Schevchenko: Valentina Schevchenko is arguably one of the greatest women MMA fighters of all time. Before she dominated the UFC women’s flyweight division and kickboxing, she started out in Taekwondo. Winning numerous major titles in the martial art before jumping to kickboxing and then MMA.

Edson Barboza: The longtime UFC vet, Edson Barboza. He holds a black belt in Taekwondo and has put those skills on display many times in the octagon. Including his spinning wheel kick KO against Terry Etim.

Raymond Daniels: Raymond Daniels not only had a background in Taekwondo, but has also trained in Kenpo. has been creating highlight reel KOs for a number of years. He is currently signed with Bellator MMA.

Are the arts of Karate and Taekwondo good martial arts?

Taekwondo and Karate are incredibly effective martial arts from standing. They have been proven effective and have millions of practitioners. Both of these martial arts will continue and grow well into the future.

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Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years. Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.

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