September 5, 2022

Taekwondo vs Karate: Differences & Effectiveness

So you have decided upon learning a new martial art form?

You have narrowed down on Karate and Taekwondo, wondering about how they differ?

Good Choices, I must say. Now when talking about either, it is essential to have a basic knowledge about the two before making a decision.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that focuses more on the use of legs and kicks. The combination of jumping and spinning kicks can leave the opposite side completely flushed. Karate, on the contrary, is a Japanese form of martial arts focusing on punches, blocks, hand and arm strikes, and kicks. It primarily uses a stand-up style of striking.

Pumped up. Are you not?

Learning a new form of martial arts comes with its own yays and nays, but it is always better to have sufficient knowledge about what you are getting into. A general misconception about both is that people believe it is similar. 

Though the two share some similarities in style, continue reading to know how they are different and which one you should choose. 

Tracing the History

The word Taekwondo can be broken down into “Tae,” meaning to kick, “Kwon,” pointing to punch or destroy using the hands and fists, and “Do,” which means a way. While Karate means “Empty Hands.”


Taekwondo was born in Korea about 2300 years ago. The roots of Taekwondo dates back to the three kingdoms, namely Koguryo (37 BC-668 AD), Pakje (18 BC-600 AD), and Silla (57 BC- 936 AD), where it took form. The art also teaches punches and blocking techniques to counter any and all attacks, but kicking is emphasized more than anything else. 

Karate emerged in Japan, more specifically on the island of Okinawa. It prioritizes hitting the opponent much more than hands rather than knees. If the legend is to be believed, over more than two thousand years ago, Karate and its evolution started when Bodhidharma, a monk from Western India, arrived at Shaolin in order to teach Zen Buddhism.


In the mid-1900s, Taekwondo was first introduced in America, and it roared to popularity in the next seventy years. Similarly, Karate soared in popularity enough to be included as an Olympic sport, a place with Taekwondo also held.


Taekwondo’s philosophy talks about the right way of life and how to achieve spiritual salvation. Through rigorous mental, physical, and spiritual training, the practitioners are led on a pathway to enlightenment. The concept of Yin and Yang signifies harmony and balance. A fighter tries to improve himself daily in order to lead a better and more fulfilling life.

Based on the philosophy of “Budo,” Karate practitioners are always in search of personal improvement. They focus on ridding the mind and body of every evil desire and draining it of all vanities. While seeking to win, a Karate fighter works towards perfecting his character by imposing a strenuous exercise routine with a concrete discipline.


Karate has a considerable focus on strength, power, block, and a solid stance. It provides equal weightage to both the techniques of the foot and the hand while favoring the latter. On the contrary, Taekwondo focuses extensively on flexibility, speed, and mobility. This martial art employs the legs mostly and believes in the philosophy that the legs are always more robust than the arms.


The Japanese Kata used in Karate enables the practitioner to practice any technique without the fear of injury to the opposite part. The fundamental and basics of every move consist of a Kata.

The techniques that a Taekwondo practitioner learns when he/she progresses from one rank of the belt to another is called the Poomsae, meaning forms. The aim is to either strike the opponent or block them.

Movement of the Hands

When it comes to Taekwondo, the use of hands is mainly employed as a backup. But whenever it is used, the focus is on a lightning-fast delivery. 

On the other hand, Karate often uses punches, including striking using the knees and the elbows. The punches in Karate include jab, lunge punch, back fist, a thrust punch. Among others. Very frequently, the inclusion of knee and elbow strikes are seen.


The kicks in Taekwondo are fast and blunt. The practitioner targets the chest, collarbone, and head of the opponent from various angles using his legs. The smoothness and efficiency that is employed is just what is needed to win any altercations.

Taekwondo practitioners actively use the roundhouse form of kicks. Apart from the roundhouse, Taekwondo uses a wide range of kicking techniques which are different from each other. Some of them are listed below:

  • Front kick (Ap Chagi) – A mixture of fast and slow motion using the ball of the foot to strike the opponent. The knee should be high and the weight travelling forward.
  • Turning Kick (Dollyo Chagi) – Using the foot’s instep to attack the opponent while keeping the body upright and in a side stance. The important thing is to bring back the foot after striking the opponent quickly.
  • Side Kick (Yeop Chagi) – A short-range and powerful kick using the heels to strike the opponent.

Karate also uses kicks as a primary form of fighting technique. Although the kicks used in Karate never really hits the opponent above the waist. Karate kicks have the illusion of being cumbersome and slow, and it is true when we compare it to Taekwondo in which the kicks are swift.

Nonetheless, when caught up in an awkward and unpleasant situation, Karate kicks are among the most prominent forms of defense. Karate focuses a lot on footwork and uses various kicking styles to strike the opponent from different angles.

  • Front kick (Mae Geri) – Uses the balls of the foot for a high and impulsive strike.
  • Sidekick (Yoko Geri) – Uses the side or tha blade of the foot to attack the opponent’s lower body.
  • Roundhouse kick (Mawashi Geri) – It is somewhat similar to Mae Giri in the sense that it too uses the ball of the foot. The toes are curled, and the movement of the kick is sideways.
  • Hook kick (Ura Mawashi Geri) – Attacking the opponent on the right side from the right foot while leaning back. This is the reverse of the roundhouse technique.
  • Back kick (Ushiro Geri) – The practitioner employs his heels to kick the attacker while moving the leg backward. 


When it comes to Karate, only people who are at an intermediate to advanced level are allowed to train with the weapons. But Taekwondo has never used any weapon in its fighting technique. However, some schools prepare their students with the use of full staff, among others.

The students who are trained sufficient enough and have reached a higher level are taught the use of some weapons in Karate. These include a kama (small scythe), bo (long staff), spear, shield, nunchucks, sai ( three-pronged weapon), tekko, tambo( very short staff), among others.

Because Karate originated in Okinawan islands, weapons play a vital role in the training regimen. 


Some of the major organizations in Karate are:

  1. World Karate Federation (WKF)
  2. Japan Karate Federation
  3. International Karate Association
  4. European Kyokushin Karate Organization
  5. Kenkojuku Karate Association
  6. USA National Karate Federation
  7. Seido Karate Organization

Some of the most significant organizations in Taekwondo include:

  1. International Taekwondo Federation (ITF)
  2. American Taekwondo Federation(ATF)
  3. World Taekwondo Federation (WTF)
  4. American Taekwondo Association (ATA)

Similarities between Taekwondo and Karate

Teaching Place – Dojo

Both Karate and Taekwondo are taught in places which are known as “dojos.” Traditional Karate and Taekwondo dojos have the photograph of their respective founders hanging on a wall. You can also find many religious items like the statue of Buddha in the dojos. 

Young man and woman in taekwondo combat.

This is done to show respect and have the blessings of the almighty while practicing martial arts. Traditional Dojos are made up of plain, wooden floor while some other dojos have rubber mats or tatami going the modern way.

Karate or TKD dojos have photos of the founder or religious items such as the Buddha statues. 

Use of Weapons

The meaning of Karate, when translated in a literal manner, means “empty hands.” Therefore it does not employ the use of weapons, especially in the early stages of learning.

However, some schools and styles, such as Kobudo, are trained in the use of weapons but only when the practitioner reaches a very advanced level. 

Kobudo and Karate are very often taught in the same dojo together. It may be taught by the same master as well. But it depends from school to school.

A considerable percentage of Taekwondo schools, associations, and federations don’t train their practitioners in the use of weapons. However, you might find a few individual training schools which may use weapons, such as a full staff.

Choreographed forms

The fundamentals of Karate and Taekwondo is the form which is the foundation of their training. This helps them in progressing to further stages of learning.

Developing the body and the mind

Whether it is a full-body workout or a full-body movement, Taekwondo and Karate are both highly efficient and similar. Not only do they train the body, but they also provide training aiming at the development of the mind.

Both are good for kids

It is imperative to understand that kids will have to undergo rigorous training and scrutiny while learning any form of martial arts. But it is always better to start at a young age as it will help in both the spiritual and physical development of the child.

That being said, Taekwondo and Karate are both great martial art forms if you are looking to get your child in a lesson involving either.

Which is More Effective in a Street Fight?

It is a grey and dismal evening. You are walking back home on a marooned lane. All this while it’s raining cats and dogs. Suddenly, you feel a touch on your shoulder. You look around and find yourself in a confrontational situation.

What will you do? Whether Taekwondo or Karate will help you face your attacker?

The answer is both.

When it comes to street fights, Karate and Taekwondo are equally effective. The firm kicks and footwork that both the martial arts use can leave the opponent wholly flushed.

In Taekwondo, kicks are slightly more emphasized, and it can come in very handy. You can turn back and hit him on the chest before he can even see it coming. There he goes down, and you can run for your life.

The same goes for Karate; the powerful kicks and punches can help you overcome any situation of dire aggression, and you can completely bedazzle the opponent.

Taekwondo and Karate are both very well-rounded art forms and help you win any street fight kind of situation efficiently.

Which is Better for Self-Defense?

You will get different answers to this question from different individuals. But if you want a one-word answer, we should go with Karate.

Karate is an all-rounder. It uses both kicks and punches in its fighting techniques. The big plus in Karate is that it also teaches its practitioner to remain calm and composed. It focuses on the spiritual and mental being of its fighters as well.

In a real-life situation, that calmness can be the deciding factor.

Taekwondo is a great martial art form for self-defense as well. The powerful utilization of kicks can help in escaping any unpleasant citation. It lacks the fact that the arms are used only as a backup.

And this is where Karate comes out victorious.

Which is More Popular?

When it comes to popularity, as per the data gathered over a period of five years, Karate has seen more popularity over time and that too consistently.

A few years back, Taekwondo soared in popularity for a period of a few months, but of late, Karate has been the fan-favorite.

Figure: A comparative study chart showing the trend of Taekwondo and Karate in the last five years in the United States.

There may be a lot of reasons affecting the popularity equation between Karate and Taekwondo but the most prominent is that Karate is more widely known among all age groups. It is inherently more obvious for a child to pick up any martial art form than the adults. 

And for a child, an animated movie and a Karate movie makes more impact. You know which are the ones I am talking about! Bingo.

Even when it comes to adults, Karate is an all round and complete sport with focus on both the arms and the legs while Taekwondo is kind of only about the legs. Therefore, Karate has consistently remained popular.

Which is Easier to Learn?

Both Karate and Taekwondo take almost a similar amount of time to learn while starting from scratch and going upwards. But Taekwondo might take a few more months here and there.

In Karate, a student can get quite used to and comfortable with the techniques within six months of starting the training. But if you want to reach that coveted black belt spot, you will have to dedicate around three to five years of your life.

While talking about Taekwondo, in order to reach the first black belt test, a dedicated student will take around three to five years. In some schools of Taekwondo, the number can even be between four to five years.

Cost Comparison

Learning Taekwondo will cost you around $100 to $150 per month which when totalled up comes to around 44800 to $7200 for the whole course. The numbers for Karate look similar as well. The average cost per month ranges from $75 to $150 and for the whole course the total comes to an overwhelming $3600 to $7200. 

However, the cost aspect depends on a lot of factors ranging from duration, to school to master to the place where you are situated.

What One Should You Learn?

Taekwondo and Karate are very similar and yet so different. In order to learn either, the student has to be very dedicated and adaptive.

Regardless of whichever sport you choose, practice and consistency are the key factors in becoming successful in it.

Therefore it all comes down to your willpower, dedication, and capacity. It is crucial to have knowledge about what suits your purpose and how much you can invest. And don’t mistake me for talking in terms of money, instead invest in your sheer determination to learn.

In the end, whichever you choose, will help you throughout your life.

Therefore, make up your mind and Hustle!

More Comparisons

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 →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *