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Taekwondo vs Karate: Kicks Or Punches For Self-Defense?

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Last Updated on July 16, 2024

Traditional martial arts training can be beneficial to both physical and mental health. You'll receive a full-body cardiovascular workout, gain muscle, and improve balance in addition to learning self-defense. 


Is Karate the same as Taekwondo? 

While there are some similarities between the two styles, they also have significant distinctions.

If you want to know more about them, take a moment to scroll and read the content provided below.

Main Differences Between Taekwondo Vs Karate

The main differences between Taekwondo Vs Karate are:

  • Taekwondo only focuses on foot movements, whereas Karate focuses on both foot and hand strikes.
  • Taekwondo includes Kata and Sparring, whereas Karate comes with the three major K’s: Kata, Kihon, and Kumite.
  • Taekwondo is tournament focused, whereas Karate circulates around self defense techniques.


In knowing the difference between karate and taekwondo, we’ll be starting off with the basics.

Karate students
Karate Students Demonstrating Defensive Moves

In pop culture, Karate is best recognized for its shuto uchi or karate chop

This fighting style focuses on hand-to-hand combat with kicks as a backup. Karate relies heavily on hand attacks and legs are frequently kept grounded. 

Taekwondo students
Taekwondo Students Demonstrating Jump Kick

On the other hand, Taekwondo consists of and is more focused on its kick count. 

It emphasizes kicks and relies on hands as a backup. You'll learn various kick moves, including spinning and jumping kicks. Different from Karate, Taekwondo employs a different leg stance to prepare the body for quick kicks.

Fun Fact: You could greatly improve your kicks by using a heavy bag. Get valuable tips and hints on how to hang a punching bag for more stable, more effective, and stronger kicks and punches!

History And Origin

The first evidence of people practicing hand-to-hand combat Taekwondo can be found in Korea, dating back to 50 B.C.E. 

"Tae" refers to kicking, "kwon" to punching or destroying with the hand, and "do" a method of getting things done. 

So, Taekwondo is a means of defending yourself by using your entire body.

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When Japan conquered Korea in the early 1900s, they outlawed Korean martial arts such as Tae kwon do. Some people continued to train in secret, while others went to China or Japan to acquire martial arts. 

Taekwondo developed into many styles in the world of martial arts with different inspirations after Judo, Karate, and Kung Fu were all imported to Korea. 

When the Japanese rule of Korea ended in 1945, the first Taekwondo school in Korea, known as Kwan, opened.

When Kwan masters assembled for a martial arts seminar in 1955, Taekwondo, as we know it today, was born. The Kwan masters came up with the term Taekwondo after combining their varied and diverse teaching styles into a more unified system.

The World Taekwondo Federation now determines the rules for competitions and new advances in the discipline. It is used by individuals all around the world thanks to the promotion and encouragement of the International Taekwondo Federation.

Moving on, let’s talk about Karate.

The first version of Karate was founded around 500 years ago on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Despite the lack of documentation and evidence, many people believe Karate began when King Shoha, the island's ruler at the time, banned weapons to prevent war. 

People began to engage in hand-to-hand combat to defend themselves.

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Karate has both Japanese and Chinese traits since the two cultures were exposed to each other. Funakoshi Gichin, the first known Okinawan Karate instructor, was born in 1868 and spent his entire life spreading the ideals of Karate throughout Japan.

His apprentices picked up where he left off in 1949, creating the Japan Karate Association to promote the martial arts discipline. The first dojo in the United States was established in 1945. Karate began to expand abroad, and over time, new and distinct styles emerged.

Karate is a martial art that is always evolving. 

There are several more styles that are still regarded as Karate. Today's most popular and diverse styles are as follows:

  • Gōju-ryū Karate
  • Shitō-ryū Karate
  • Shotokan Karate
  • Wadō-ryū Karate

The World Karate Federation establishes common criteria for the sport's practice and professional competition.


Someone who has lately gained an interest in martial arts may find Taekwondo and Karate to be remarkably similar. 

However, when you consider their equipment, strategies, and rules, you can see that Karate vs Taekwondo is very dissimilar.

The difference between Karate and Taekwondo can be distinguished by the following factors:


The art of hitting is most commonly known as Karate. 

Kicking, punching, and other open-handed techniques are featured as well. 

Within a class context, joint manipulations, vital point strikes, grappling, and throws are all taught with the same emphasis. 

Karate allows a person to defeat an opponent utilizing two different methods: kicking and hitting.

Karate practitioners must undergo rigorous physical training to build a set of abilities that need both mental and physical discipline. Karate means "empty hands," referring to the fact that it is a self-defense system that relies solely on the use of an unarmed body.

Fun Fact: MMA and UFC also employ the "empty hands" principle. Know some of the best black UFC fighters who use this philosophy in their diverse fighting styles!

Taekwondo, on the other hand, is known for its kicking skills, which distinguishes it from Karate. 

The reason for this is that a martial artist's leg is his or her strongest and longest weapon, and kicks may deliver devastating strikes.

Taekwondo improves physical speed, strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina. It has mastered the art of focus and represents the union of physical and mental discipline.

Styles And Forms

Tae kwon do can be learned in two ways, Kata and sparring. 

Kata, like Karate, is a structured series of martial arts motions known as "form." Sparring in Taekwondo, on the other hand, is full-contact fighting in which you use a combination of offensive and defensive tricks and techniques to defeat your opponent.

In contrast, Karate teaches all of the fundamental movements as part of its curriculum. 

Kata, Kihon, and Kumite are the three Ks that make up this system

Kihon, which means "basics" in Japanese, refers to the basis of style and art. Your stances, kicks, blocks, punches, and strikes are all fundamentals in Karate. You must first practice Kihon basics regularly to build a strong Karate foundation.

Kata, which means "form," is a series of motions placed together to make a pattern that must be memorized. Speed, technique, direction, rhythm, and power are all part of kata training.

When analyzed at a higher level of martial arts, kata analysis can lead to practical self-defense discoveries. Kata is the grammar of Karate if Kihon is our vocabulary.

The last K stands for Kumite, which is Japanese for sparring or teamwork. Partner work introduces you to drills that help you get more comfortable with kicks, blocks, punches, and strikes.

You can practice your counter-attacks and defensive maneuvers in real-life self-defense circumstances with these drills. Kumite is the karate equivalent of sentence formation, and it is based on how you express yourself through vocabulary (Kihon) and grammar (Kata).


In terms of the difference between Taekwondo and Karate rules, scoring in Karate events is quite straightforward. The head, neck, face, chest, side, abdomen, and back are the only parts of the challenger's body that are affected. 

When a practitioner performs a technique that meets the following criteria and lands on the above-mentioned body parts, he or she receives a score:

  • Excellent form
  • Precise distance
  • Application with vigor
  • Appropriate timing
  • Awareness
  • Attitude of competition

Attacking techniques can earn one, two, or three points. A Jodan kick or any scoring technique is done on a fallen opponent who earns three points. Mid-level kicks earn two points, whereas mid- or upper-level punches earn one point.

A Taekwondo match, on the other hand, has a relatively basic scoring system. A kick to the head earns three points, a spinning kick to the opponent's chest earns two points, and a basic strike on the opponent's torso earns one point.

Electronic scoring devices, which are fastened to the participants' chests and adjusted to figure out the points based on the pressure exerted on the system, are utilized in major Taekwondo events.

When electronic scoring is not utilized for head kicks, panels of four judges must press a button when they see scoring points, and a point is awarded when three judges agree on the score.


A Taekwondo uniform, known as the Do Bok, is white. A colored belt is tied around the center of your waist to indicate your rank.

The colors of the belts go from white to yellow, green, blue, red, and finally the black belt, in that order. When a black belt reaches a certain level of expertise and experience, they are given a "dan" grade.

All Karate competitors, on the other hand, must wear a conventional gi that is also plain. Karate practitioners wear a variety of belt colors to denote their rank, as well as stripes to indicate advancement within each belt color.

Body protection, foot guards, a gum shield, and shin pads are among the other items required. Groin guards can be used, but they aren't required.

Fun Fact: The first thing a student must learn is how to punch properly. Train well by using the best punching bag you can purchase from any martial arts or sports store in your area.

Knock-Out Point: If you are into specialized self-defense techniques, then you might want to look into two Japanese martial arts forms that could teach you how to achieve this -- BJJ Vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu.

Frequently Asked Questions

which is better In Self-Defense: Karate or Taekwondo?

Any physical activity concerning health is better with balance, which is why Karate stands to be better than Taekwondo. Karate emphasizes both foot and hand movements, while Taekwondo emphasizes only kicks. 

However, when it comes to self-defense, Karate focuses on on-street self-defense with minimal tournament training, whereas Taekwondo focuses more on tournaments than self-defense.

Are Karate and Taekwondo the same in terms of difficulty?

Some people may believe that Karate is a more difficult martial art than Taekwondo. However, because karate suits them better, the opposite side may find Taekwondo to be more difficult.  

It solely depends on which martial arts, may it be Karate, Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or even Krav Maga, suits you better as an individual. Only one thing is certain -- earning a black belt in either of these arts is extremely difficult.

What should I keep in mind when choosing a school to learn one?

The conditions you should consider when choosing Taekwondo and Karate school are the quality of the instruction, the appearance of the facility, the atmosphere of the environment, the schedule, the location of the facility, and more.


Both martial arts, Karate and Taekwondo provide a full-body workout while also teaching patience and discipline. 

If you want to learn more balanced, full-body movements, aim to learn Karate. And for people who desire to master rapid and sophisticated kicking moves, Taekwondo is the better option.

You can try out both to find out which mixed martial art style is best for you, good luck!

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