October 27, 2020

Taekwondo vs Kung Fu: Differences and Effectiveness

When it comes to learning a new form of martial arts, whether Taekwondo or Kung Fu, it is imperative to have knowledge about both the forms before making a decision. 

Kung fu, comprising various forms of martial arts belonging to China, is generally structured around fluid, swift, and soft continuous circular movements using the hands. The technique used in Kung Fu is mostly related to the fighting styles of animals. On the other hand, Taekwondo is more structured around linear, choppy, and firm technique, which utilizes kicking as its primary fighting form with arms as a backup. It emphasizes on striking the opponent with legs and kicks from various angles aiming at the abdomen, collarbone, and head.

Now that you know a brief difference between the two, let’s get to the talking points like techniques, styles, variations that will definitely help you choose better.

Tracing the History

Taekwondo is celebrated as the national sport of South Korea, where it originated and traveled after undergoing a lot, to modern times. At the same time, Kung Fu is an ancient Chinese martial art that has varied forms under its umbrella.

Birth

Taekwondo originated in Korea about 2300 years ago and, as per some sources, goes back to as early as 50 BC. Developed in a Koguryo kingdom, its purpose was to treat both the mind and body. The word can be broken down to “Tae,” meaning to kick, “Kwon,” pointing to punch or destroy using the hands, and “Do” means a way or system of doing something. 

The nation of Korea, which was unified by Dongoon, the founder, was later split into three kingdoms, namely Koguryo (37 BC-668 AD), Pakje (18 BC-600 AD), and Silla (57 BC- 936 AD)

These places are where the roots of Taekwondo started to take form.

The term “Kung Fu” actually is a vast spectrum that comprises several fighting styles developed in China. However, according to many historical records and legends, Kung Fu originated outside of China. Some legends believe that it started in India and is a subsidiary of the Indian martial arts practiced during the first millennium.

The origin of Kung Fu is shrouded in legend with no substantial proof of a single origin. As per the most agreed upon saga, a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma was the founder of this form of martial arts. Allegedly, he developed Kung Fu in the early 5th or 6th century. The proof of this is found in a martial arts manual from 1624 called the Yijing Jing.

Journey

As per history, this ancient art form was banned by Japanese occupation when it captured Korea in the early 1900s. After Japan’s occupation ended in 1945, ‘Kwan,’ the first Taekwondo school, opened in Korea.

Hence, the Taekwondo that we know today started when the masters came together and decided to merge their different styles. Thus introducing a more uniform way of teaching, which now is known as Taekwondo. 

However, when it comes to Kung-fu, the history and how it traveled to modern times is a bit hazy. Many historians believe that accounts in the books are fabricated and inaccurate. For all we know, the most agreed upon thesis is that Kung Fu originated from Indian martial arts.

It was later developed further in one of the first Chinese monasteries. It started its journey and spread for the next thousands of years, diverging into hundreds of different styles from that point onwards.

Philosophy

Like in Taoism, on which the philosophy of Kung Fu is based, the purpose is to keep harmony and balance within the lives of those who practice this martial art form. It goes beyond the physical movements of the arts and serves as a guide to living a peaceful life filled with happiness.

Kung Fu Practitioners learn proper breathing techniques. They are trained on when to use soft (like the Yin symbol in Taoism) and hard techniques (like the Yang symbol in Taoism).  

Taekwondo’s philosophy represents the goals of martial art. Its symbol is a circle called an o-de-key. It is made up of three circles representing the Earth and the aspects of life.

Taekwondo teaches how students should conduct themselves by thinking right, feeling right, viewing right, conducting and behaving right, speaking straight, and the most important – by contributing directly.

Mural of two kung fu fighters, Shaolin Temple, China

Techniques

Taekwondo uses a defensive and striking strategy with powerful kicks and timely attacks in what is mostly long-range fighting. Kung Fu, on the other hand, integrates agile reflexes coupled with cardiovascular fitness. The strategy, in addition to kicks, blocks, both open and closed hand strikes, are also fundamental.

While Taekwondo teaches its practitioner the right use of the legs, Kung Fu teaches its practitioners with the ability to read your opponent’s mind by focusing on his movements.The techniques of Kung Fu depend on the style. Some styles focus on speed, others on power, or manipulating their opponent’s strength against them.

Variations

Kung Fu has many variations, such as the Wing Chun, Shaolin, Praying Mantis, Hung Gar. Each draws inspiration from Chinese religions, philosophies, legends, and various animal movements. At the same time, Taekwondo fighters practice multiple jumping kicks, sidekicks, spinning kicks, front kicks, and roundhouse.

Shaolin Kung Fu uses powerful punches and kicks while Praying Mantis uses speed and trickery. oN the other hand, Wing Chun uses manipulation of an opponent’s movements and energy.

The techniques of Taekwondo relies significantly on speed and precision. It is imperative to deliver all punches and kicks with high speed with force.

Weapons

Different schools of Kung Fu have various forms of combat. Some combat styles use weapons in their techniques. Taekwondo, on the other hand, does not use weapons, mainly traditional and original art forms.

Kung Fu practitioners use different weapons, including broadswords, long swords, spears, staffs, whip chains, hooks, and sickles, among others. If we look at Taekwondo, some schools have started conducting battles with weapons such as staff, nunchucks, and kamas.

Movements

The movements of Kung Fu are floating and in a circular motion. The concentration heavily depends on that specific action and move. The movement of Taekwondo is mostly associated with continuous kicks and punches and is linear in form.

Grappling

Kung Fu utilizes some grappling skills and techniques like take downs and joint locking in some instances. On the contrary, Taekwondo never employs any such grappling methods.

 Similarities

Kung Fu and Taekwondo share a colossal similarity in their philosophies. The purpose of both the martial arts goes past and beyond just performing the movements and the techniques. Both strive for students to be the best people and develop a spirit that carries over to every aspect of life. It is right to say that both the art form thrives for self-betterment and self-discipline.

Which is More Effective?

Both martial arts have outstanding elements and techniques that would be very effective in learning. The techniques strengthen the body, but Kung Fu and Taekwondo’s philosophies effectively enhance the mind and soul.

Hand Movement

Kung Fu uses many hand movements like the Long Fist, eagle claw, and monkey style. The Kung Fu practitioners are taught about the pressure points and death touch knowledge, which is very useful and practical. Taekwondo, in contrast, focuses more on footwork, with the hand being used only as a backup.

Footwork

Taekwondo puts hefty emphasis on the use of legs and kicks. It treats the legs as the best and the most proficient weapon. Kung Fu employs footwork such as deep crouching, which it derives from the movements of the animals.

Which is Better for Street Fight?

Taekwondo consists of a wealth of knowledge, technique, and skills. If taught correctly, studied diligently, and practiced with a significant focus, it works very well in street fights. With a multitude of open and closed hand-strikes, both in a straight and circular motion and that too from all angles, Kung Fu, again, is very effective in a street fight.

Taekwondo consists of a great combination of skills and styles. The use of various techniques – such as blocking, dodging, and the impressive footwork- also comes in very handy to foil the opponent’s attack.

Kung Fu would be more practical if it is a friendly fight, where the opponents respect each other’s boundaries. Kung Fu has more uncomplicated and effective strikes that have less margin of error. 

Which is Better for Self Defense?

The techniques employed by a Taekwondo practitioner is more practical and helps in defending and evading against an attack. While Kung Fu, with all its technicalities, does lack somewhere and hence remains an acrobatic sport. Therefore, Taekwondo techniques are much more helpful when it comes to a situation of self-defense. 

The biggest weakness Taekwondo has is the lack of grappling techniques. Most real-life conflicts or situations have grappling involved, and hence Kung Fu has an edge in this aspect.

This does not mean that Taekwondo is not adequate. A martial artist who specializes in Taekwondo has lethal strikes. He can handle himself very well in a real-life altercation. 

What is Easier to Learn?

Human Nature is not a mystery. We try to find a shortcut in almost everything be it studies or sport. But if you decide to pick and learn any martial arts, be rest assured that you need to go all in. Having said that, between Taekwondo and Kung Fu, the former is easier to learn.

As mentioned above, Kung Fu is a very broad term and includes numerous styles. To master each is nearly impossible. Even if you pick, let’s say Shaolin Kung Fu, practice, dedication, proper movements and everything in a correct way matters a lot. It requires a lot of training and discipline.

On the contrary, Taekwondo is a sport. Since it does not bifurcate into many styles, Taekwondo becomes much easier in comparison. But do keep in mind that this requires a lot of training and effort on your part too.

What One Should You Choose?

It is imperative for anyone looking to learn a form of martial art to understand his demands and needs before deciding which to choose. If you are looking to take it up as a sport, both are fine. If you want something balanced, go with Kung Fu. But if you are looking for something aggressive and unforgiving, choose Taekwondo.

Kung Fu is traditional, while Taekwondo is a bit more modern. In a sense, Kung Fu is ancient, a bit laid back with its smooth and challenging moves, while Taekwondo is aggressive and effective.

Taekwondo has undergone a revolution and now utilizes a modern-day defensive and attacking strategy, not to mention the enormous popularity; hence, it has the edge over Kung Fu.

Both forms have different teaching styles and cultures. Therefore, you must take an eye-opening approach to whatever you choose. Research, know what suits you better, what you will like to learn and then make a decision.

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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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