September 4, 2022

Karate Vs Kung Fu: Differences & Effectiveness

Kung Fu and Karate are probably among the most popular martial art forms out there. Maybe because there has been so many made on the two.

Karate is a beautiful technique which involves hand to hand combat and has a strict code of conduct. In this code of conduct of the practitioners of the art form are told to uphold the moral values and always to respect their opponent. Kung Fu is a martial art form which uses hands predominantly. It mimics the movement of animals like tigers, etc and is further divided into various sub-segments.

Did you have an idea that they are so different? I bet you didn’t.

If you are confused between Kung Fu and Karate, here is an in-depth comparison between the two which will definitely help you decide maybe more easily.

Tracing the History – Birth

The history of Karate is very old. Some even say that it goes back 1400 years. Karate is said to have been born on the island of Okinawa in Japan from where it made its way across the rest of the world. People from Okinawa are said to be the founding fathers of Karate. These People later travelled to mainland Japan where they imparted their knowledge of the art to different people.

Kung Fu has its roots from China. It is an indigenous art to China and its people and has a very long history as it originated during the time of the feudal society. Kung Fu is said to have been more than 2000 years old and is said to have been first practised in the year 221 BC.


Karate made its way to the mainstream world as the globalisation of the world began, and people in many nooks and corners also got to know about the art through Hollywood movies. Now Karate is taught in almost every part of the world including USA, Europe, India and many more. Women are also encouraged to take up the combat art form as a form of self-defence.

The modern-day Kung Fu is an amalgamation of old and modern techniques developed in the course of more than 2000 years. The Chinese Government also regards Kung Fu as a part of their culture and encourages the people to try and master their skills. Training courses are organised, and many cultural performances are also set up to maintain and keep this rich and old combat form. 


Respect is something that is of utmost importance in Karate. Some veterans of Karate also go into lengths to say that Karate teaches spirituality and also helps them overcome the fear of getting into a strict regime.  Karate is all about discipline.

Apart from the gruelling training, which goes underway during karate training, diet is also given equal importance. A high protein diet is given importance as you need strong bones and flexibility to practice Karate.

Kung Fu is said to have been a result of the hunting needs of the people from the primitive society. Although in this day and age it’s not only used for defence but also for exercise, having a good regimen and also for fitness. The main philosophy of Kung Fu is spiritual solitude and humility.

Differences in Techniques

Karate is said to have been developed and formulated in the parts of Japan. Okinawa is the place in Japan from where it originated. On the other hand, Kung Fu is said to have originated from mainland China.

Karate and Kung Fu are very different art forms although they fall under the ambit of martial arts or combat sports. Both combat techniques are from the Asian Continent and are popular all across the world. But they are also different in numerous ways.


Karate is relatively a newer form of combat sport than Kung Fu as its history goes back to the 400 AD whereas Kung Fu has a more deep history and is regarded as an older and primitive way of combat training. Kung Fu is believed to have been formulated in 221 BC which makes it more than 600 years older than Karate.

Linear and Circular Style

In Karate, the style of combat is more linear in nature. This essentially means that in Karate, the fighting style features punches and chops, which follows a straight-line trajectory. The movements are straight, and you are expected to hit your opponent in a straight line.

Whereas in Kung Fu, the movements are based on the fact that you shift weight and diffuse any sort of attack by your opponent by using his momentum to your gain. Karate is more attacking form as compared to Kung Fu, which relies more on defensive tactics and can be used to stop an attack.


In order to identify a martial artist, the most important thing is their uniform or gear. In Karate, the uniform consists of a white jacket and white pants. They also have a belt of colours such as white, brown, green and so which tells us about their level. 

In Kung Fu, the uniforms are of different colours and comprise of buttons on their jackets instead of belts.

Similarities in Techniques

Hand to Hand Combat

Both Karate and Kung Fu comprise hand to hand combat between opponents. Both of these combat art forms involve the use of a person’s hands and feet to lay maximum damage upon their opponents.

Asian Roots

Karate and Kung Fu have the same Asian roots as both of them are born and brought up in China and Japan, which are parts of the Asian Continent.


Karate and Kung Fu are very old forms of martial arts. Both of them were developed a long time ago, and both of them have been able to maintain their relevance in the current world. These two art forms never lost their sheen and are still very popular among people. 

People from all parts of the world are practitioners of the art forms and still, to date impart knowledge to many budding youngsters who want to try their hand at the sport.

Which is More Effective in a Street Fight?

Kung Fu, obviously!

A street fight is something which we all want to evade. The best fighters and combat artists are also told to try to and diffuse any situation which involves any physical altercation. It is not possible all the time! 

Sometimes, no matter how calm you are the other person just attacks you and you have no other response but to react and fight.

Kung Fu is considered a complete form of martial arts as it combines many styles. These styles are also called animal styles like Tiger, Leopard, Chicken etc. In Kung Fu, a person learns a lot more techniques than in Karate.

Karate training features a more linear kind of training which has its limits. Karate is considerably easier to learn at the start but becomes harder as you move up the training. Karate becomes repetitive after one point of time, which results in your adversary detecting your moves and then countering them.

In Kung Fu, even an experienced adversary finds it difficult to detect and counter your movies as it features a large number of styles, and you can always change your fighting style depending upon the situation.

Kung Fu is regarded as a more holistic system compared to Karate as far as street fights go. But this too has a caveat. It does not matter which style you use but how proficient you are in your training and how much you are able to recall these techniques in the time of need.

Since Kung Fu features many styles, it becomes a little confusing to choose one. Whereas in Karate, the styles are limited so one can easily recall the one they want to use in a body threatening scenario and prevent themselves from any bodily harm.

Hence the central idea to all these is you and your training. It all depends on how you are trained and your own ability to implement your training on the ground level when it is required. Training and Practice are key.

Which is Better for Self-Defense?

In a street fight, the odds are in favour of a Kung Fu specialist as he has a plethora of moves and strikes to rattle the opponent.

Most people who get into martial arts are there for the purpose of defending themselves against any bodily harm from aggressors. This is also called self-defense. In the modern era self-defense is something which people deem very important and they want to learn and use the techniques when required.

So if you are here to find out which technique is better for self-defense, then you are in the right place.

Self-Defense is a right to everyone, and use of martial arts is an excellent way to defend yourself against any life-threatening situation. Karate and Kung Fu use many similar techniques, but Kung Fu boasts of more variations as compared to Karate. 

Karate is something which deals with defense and fitness, but it is more centred towards the sport and physical fitness. It is more inclined to the sport aspect rather than self-defense. While training, more emphasis is given to conditioning of the body, which helps students to get into a good shape. 

Calling Karate a sport does not mean that it can not be used in street fights.

On the other hand, Kung Fu consists of fluid-like techniques. In Kung Fu, an artist is trained to defend and counter an attack to give a suitable reply. Kung Fu relies on using the momentum of your opponent to reverse the force and then to use that energy to be used against him. 

Kung Fu also uses animal styles like the tiger or monkey styles which replicate the style of animals named after it. It utilizes numerous grappling techniques and ground techniques combined with striking and hitting. 

So, it can be said that Karate can be used in street fights, but Kung Fu is more dependable when it comes to self-defense and defending your body against any bodily harm. Kung Fu uses a wide variety of techniques such as grappling and striking to defeat your opponents. 

Which is More Popular?

In the graph above, the Blue line depicts Karate, and the Redline depicts Kung fu. This graph represents the popularity trend of both the combat art forms in the last five years as we can see that both of these are almost at par with each other when it comes to popularity and mentions in the last five years. Although Kung Fu is slightly more popular than Karate in the chart, there is not much of a difference.

Again, movies have played a very important role in the proliferation of Kung fu across the world. Artists and performers such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan took Hollywood by storm in the 1970s and ’80s with their aerobatic stunts and quick fighting techniques which made people take up this form of combat art. 

Which is Easier to learn?

If you want a short, one-line answer to the question then yes! 

Karate is easier to learn as compared to Kung Fu.

A student of Karate starts to find his feet in six to eight months at the beginning of their training. But to reach black belt, a lot of other variables come into play.

Some of these variables are –

  • Quality of trainer and Dojo.
  • Regularity.
  • Patience.
  • Hard-work.
  • Dedication.
  • Eagerness to learn.
  • Diet.

A student of Karate can become a black belt if he/she practices three or four times a week in five to six years. This again depends on how hard you train and how good you train. 

Kung Fu, on the other hand, is a sort of scientific thing. It takes a lot more time, around ten years to be a master than compared to Karate as there are a lot more techniques and aspects involved in Kung Fu. 

Most people who learn Kung Fu, start from a very young age of 5-7. By the age of 18-20 years, they become very proficient. Some of these people also go on to become masters. Kung Fu is a journey which is longer than that of Karate.

Another very important fact here is that it takes less time to understand Karate as compared to kung fu.

Cost Comparison 

The cost to learn Karate in the US varies from $75 to $150 per month. So in the span of six years, it will take anything ranging from $5400 to $10,800 for the whole course. In these six years, one will be able to reach the black belt of Karate and then you can build upon it.

The average monthly fee to learn Kung Fu in the United States is around $400 to $425. For the whole course extended over a period of ten years, the number we are looking at is somewhere between $48000 and $51000. 

Kung Fu is very expensive in comparison to Karate. The reason might be because there are a lot less Kung Fu schools that teach and impart authentic kung fu knowledge. You can easily find a decent karate dojo, but it takes a bit of searching and exploring to find a decent Kung fu school. 

Which one Should You Choose?

Now you have most of the preliminary knowledge required to select between Kung Fu and Karate. It will be a lot easy for you to find your choice of discipline. 

Are you still confused between the two?

Okay, then here is the deal-breaker. If you are looking to get into fitness and get into shape, then Karate is the way to go. It is cheaper, less time consuming, and a lot less heavy on the pocket.

Also, you can learn the basics of Karate in a shorter span of time as compared to Kung Fu. Karate will not only require less investment, but you will also be able to learn skills fast as there are a lot fewer skills to learn in Karate as compared to Kung Fu.

Kung Fu, on the other hand, is a form of combat art which comprises a plethora of skills and techniques which take a lot of time to master as compared to Karate. Kung fu schools are a little hard to find, but once you find the right school, then you are good to go. 

Kung fu will not only teach you to be fit but will also teach you self – defence skills, which are more relevant in street fights and real-life scenarios. Kung Fu costs a lot more than Karate to pursue but then like all good things in life, Kung fu also is expensive.

So make your choice. Find your passion and just go for it!! 

No matter which one you choose to pursue, you will definitely get fitter, stronger and more active. Plus, you will also get to learn and know a legendary combat art form. Be it KARATE or KUNG FU.


Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

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