Taekwondo vs Karate – What are the Differences? Which is Best for Self Defense?

One of the most vivid childhood memories that we have, is that of watching the infallible Chuck Norris battling it out with the great Bruce Lee in the Colosseum, on VHS. 

Chuck with his fluffy blonde locks, the crisp white suit and the razor sharp kicks introduced us to the world of east Asian martial arts. And we were hooked forever. 

Just like most others though, we didn’t know the difference at that time between two distinct martial arts like say Karate and Taekwondo. 

Neither did our parents to be honest. It all looked the same. If you were to ask us the differences of Taekwondo vs Karate we most defintely would be be stuck with an empty answer.

But as we grew and took baby steps in the world of martial arts, we realized how different these two forms were from one another. 

So when we recently overheard a parent comparing these two martial art forms, we figured that this was a great time for a blog post. 

If you were always confused between Taekwondo and Karate, then here’s an in depth explanation that will help you understand the key differences among the two.

Taekwondo vs Karate

Taekwondo vs karate

this is a common question that a huge amount of people (+90%) are confused about. Most people think these two arts of fighting are either the exact same thing or they just do not know the differences between the two. So lemme lay it out for you in simple terms.

Here you will find out just what the two arts of fighting are about, what the principles are, what the differences and similarities are and which art of fighting is best for self defense.

What is Taekwondo?


karate vs taekwondo - what are the differences?Taekwondo which translates loosely as ‘Way of the foot and the fist’ in Korean, is a hard martial art and self-defense technique that finds its origins in ancient Korea. 

It was officially recognized as a martial art more recently though, in 1955. 

It focusses on developing strength, agility and combat techniques using a series of punches and kicks, with the focus veering slightly more towards the kicks. 

Just like most hard martial art forms, it uses force against force. So a punch would be countered with a block followed by an offensive move. 

During practice, a series of these punches and kicks are performed in a choreographed form called ‘Poomse’. 

Taekwondo rose in popularity in the West during the martial arts wave of the 70s. Today, it is offered by most martial art schools around the world.

Also, it is now an Olympics martial art since it made an Olympic appearance for the first time in 2000, as a sparring technique called Gyeorugi. 

What is Karate? 

taekwondo vs karate - what are the differences?

Karate is a Japanese martial art that was practiced by peasants in Okinawa, who were restricted from carrying weapons by the invaders. It was brought to Japan much later in 1922, where it attained mainstream popularity as a self-defense technique. 

The term ‘Karate’ loosely translates as ‘Fighting with bare hands’.

Along with dynamic offensive and blocking moves that predominantly rely on the hands, Karate also focusses on vigorous training drills called ‘Kata and Kumite’.

Much like ‘Poomse’ in Taekwondo, ‘Kata and Kumite’ are set to make an appearance in the 2020 Olympics. 

Karate is one of the most dynamic martial art forms that emphasizes on hardcore practice drills until the karateka achieves a natural progression of technique, strength and co-ordination. As you advance in the ranks, your belt colors change to indicate progression. 

There are four distinct styles of Karate. 

That’s Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Wado-ryu. Each one is derived from the original Karate and varies from the other in the type of movements, stances and practice drills. 

Gjou-Ryu and Wado-Ryu for example, draws a lot of the moves from Ju-Jitsu. Shotokan on the other hand uses linear movements and force. 

Karate vs Taekwondo – What Are the Differences?

Fundamentally, there’s very little difference between both these martial art forms and both should be ideal for anyone interested in fitness or combat techniques.

Having said that, it is important to know some key differences that will allow you to make the right choice for your kid. 

Taekwondo Vs Karate: How Taekwondo is Different from Karate

  • In Taekwondo, the emphasis is slightly more on kicks than punches, whereas Karate uses hand strikes more than kicks. That does not mean that Taekwondo does not involve punches, hand locks and throws at all. Neither does this mean that Karate does not use kicks. It does frequently use kicking techniques, knee blocks and strikes. Both are well-rounded martial art forms. Just that Taekwondo builds upon kicks more than hand strikes and vice-a-versa. 
  • Taekwondo originated in Korea and is mostly taught by Korean Immigrants in the United States. So it’s a given that along with the ‘Poomse’, your child will learn a few bits and pieces of Korean. Karate originated in Japan but there are a lot of Americans who teach and practice it. 
  • The terminology differs greatly. While Uniform is called ‘Dobok’ in Taekwondo, it is called ‘Gi’ in Karate. School is called ‘Dojang’ in Taekwondo, while it’s called ‘Dojo’ in Karate. 
  • Neither are soft-styled martial arts like Tai Chi or Judo. 

Karate vs Taekwondo – Which is Better For Self Defense?

karate vs taekwondo street fight

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to this and most of the answers that you read or hear will be subjective, based on people’s personal perceptions about each martial art form.

For example, we have learned Taekwondo since we were 6 and hence, we might be biased more towards Taekwondo.

Having said that, we have had the fortune to spar and practice with some great karateka and we have been amazed at their agility, co-ordination and speed. 

So, if you are looking to defend yourself against an assailant, just about any martial art, be it Karate, Ju-Jitsu, Taekwondo, MMA, or even Aikido and Judo, can be invaluable. 

Is Taekwondo & Karate only for kids?

taekwondo vs karate - which is better for kids
A young Taekwondo student performs Koryo during a local tournament at Robinsons Placa Butuan.

Absolutely not.

The best time to learn a martial art was yesterday. The next best time is today. 

Irrespective of whether you are 4 or 40, 8 or 80, you can always get started with learning Taekwondo and Karate.

In fact, the progression is so well laid out that you will not even notice how soon you progress to advanced levels. 

Moreover, as an adult, you have better physical strength and fitness (hopefully), which greatly reduces the risk of injury, even if you spar aggressively or grapple on the mat. 

Which is Better for Kids? Taekwondo Vs Karate

With such a wide array of martial arts to choose from, selecting the right one for your child is not a cakewalk.

However, we highly recommend that you choose one based on their personal interests as well as personality.

Visit the nearest Karate and Taekwondo schools. Watch the instructors train their pupils and introduce your child to them.

Visit different classes. Supervise their safety drills. What is the SOP if a child gets hurt during practice?

Is it clean and hygienic? Does your child show a natural inclination towards either martial art? 

Ask for an introductory trial class (es). Take your time and make an informed choice

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