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Taekwondo vs. Karate – What’s the Difference?

taekwondo and karate martial artists

Taekwondo and Karate might seem very similar at first glance, but there are quite a few (actually a lot) differences. Both have a colorful past and deep cultural roots, but they pack different punches. Whether you’re a Karate kid or a Taekwondo tiger, you’ll be flexing your self-defense muscles and getting in tip-top shape. And let’s not forget the mental sharpness you’ll gain – it’s like having a personal sensei in your brain.

But like a karate chop and a roundhouse kick, these two arts have their own distinct flavor. Taekwondo is like that spicy Korean BBQ, while Karate is more like a traditional Japanese sushi. It’s all just a matter of whether you want to go for the heat or stick with the classics.

I’ve personally trained Karate for 3 years and Taekwondo for 2 more, and I’ll try to describe the differences in as much detail as possible. But first, I’ll take you back a few years.


Both martial arts are rich with history and tradition. Taekwondo originated in Korea, dating back to the early 1950s. It was developed by combining elements of different Korean martial arts, including Taekkyeon and Gwonbeop, with influences from Karate and Chinese martial arts. The name Taekwondo, which literally means “the way of the foot and fist,” was coined in 1955. The sport quickly gained popularity and was officially recognized as the national sport of Korea in the 1960s. Today, it is a popular martial art around the world and an Olympic sport. It’s like the Beatles of martial arts, it rose to fame quickly and has a massive fan base.

Karate, on the other hand, originated in Japan, with roots tracing back to the Ryukyu Islands, now known as Okinawa. Karate, which means “empty hand” in Japanese, was developed as a way for farmers and fisherman to defend themselves without weapons. It was heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts and was eventually brought to Japan in the early 20th century. Karate was then further developed and refined in Japan, and the sport gained popularity in the post-war era. Today, it is a widely practiced martial art around the world, with different styles and schools. It’s like sushi, it originated in Japan but different countries have put their own spin on it.

Both Taekwondo and Karate are known for their powerful strikes, strong philosophy and mental and physical discipline. Whether you’re a fan of high kicks or sharp punches, these martial arts offer something for everyone. Like a rock, paper, scissors game, both have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

With that being said, as this article progresses, I’m positive that you’ll know which one is for you.


Philosophy is like the secret sauce that makes Taekwondo and Karate unique. Taekwondo is all about having a strong spirit, like a lion with an attitude. Karate, on the other hand, is more like a zen garden, it’s all about humility and showing respect. Taekwondo is a full-contact sport, it’s like a heavyweight boxer, while Karate is more like a game of chess, it’s all about strategy and mental discipline. This difference in philosophy is like comparing apples and oranges, each martial art approach is taught differently.

Simply put, Taekwondo is like boot camp, all about kicking butt, while Karate is more like a finishing school, it’s all about becoming a better person.

Fighting Styles & Sparring

Striking is like the spotlight in a martial arts performance, and Taekwondo and Karate have their own unique ways of shining. Taekwondo is all about those powerful, high-flying kicks. Karate, on the other hand, is more about those sharp, precision punches. It’s like comparing a symphony to a jazz band, both make beautiful music, but they have their own unique rhythms and styles. In a fight, a Taekwondo practitioner would be like a kangaroo, hopping around and kicking from a distance, while a Karate practitioner would be like a pitbull, getting up close and personal with those punches. Naturally though, it comes down to one’s personal fighting style in each of the arts.

karate dojo inside zoomed out

Sparring is the part of martial arts where the rubber meets the road and Taekwondo and Karate have different approach to it. Taekwondo sparring is like a demolition derby, all about full-contact and aggressive action, while Karate sparring is more like a gymnastics routine, it’s all about control and precision.

I know that you are probably tired of my metaphors now, but I just can’t help it, so much potential here, haha.

Forms and Sequences

Forms or sequences of movements in martial arts are like the choreography of a dance performance, and Taekwondo and Karate have their own unique styles. In Taekwondo, forms are all about power, speed, high kicks, and acrobatic moves.

In contrast, Karate forms are all about fluidity, precision, control, lower-body movements, and close-range strikes. It’s like the difference between breakdancing and the tango, both are choreographed, but have different purpose. Think of taekwondo forms as a firework displays, explosive and dynamic, while Karate forms are like a graceful swan, fluid and controlled.

Weapons Use

When it comes to weapons, Karate is like a chef with only a spatula, while Taekwondo is a chef with a full arsenal of knives. Karate does incorporate weapons such as the Bo staff, but not as prominently as Taekwondo, which wields swords and spears like a true martial arts master. It’s like comparing a knight with a lance to a knight with a spoon, both can fight but one has a bit of an edge.

The use of weapons is also greatly influenced by the particular school/dojo you are attending. Some masters prefer to train with weapons (no matter the martial art) while others don’t. But a general rule of thumb is that Taekwondo uses bigger arsenal of weapons and is keener to using them.


Ranking systems are like the spices in a dish, they add flavor to martial arts. In Taekwondo, practitioners progress through the ranks by earning belts like a fashion accessory, starting from white to black. In Karate, practitioners progress through the ranks by earning different colored belts like a rainbow, black being the cherry on top. It’s like the difference between a gold star and a gold medal, both are symbols of achievement, but one is a bit more exclusive.


When it comes to self-defense, Taekwondo is like a shotgun, it takes down opponents quickly and efficiently. Karate, on the other hand, is like a sniper rifle, it disables opponents with precise strikes. Both are effective in their own ways, like a hammer and a screwdriver, both are used for different jobs but both are important for a toolbox.

God, do I love metaphors.


Tournaments are the main course in martial arts, and the way they are held is different between Taekwondo and Karate. Taekwondo tournaments are like a buffet, all about sparring, with full-contact matches, scored based on the number and power of strikes landed.

While the same can be said about karate tournaments, they (because they have this exact setting as well), they are also like a fancy dinner, all about kata, with athletes performing choreographed sequences of movements in front of a panel of judges, who then score each performance based on a set of criteria such as technique, power, and timing, like judges in a cooking competition.

taekwondo tournament in a hall with audience

But if fighting in tournaments (like the ones you just saw in Cobra Kai) is your ultimate goal, you should take this with the head master before joining their school/dojo, because not every school participates in tournaments.


All in all, while Taekwondo and Karate may have their differences, they are both great martial arts that offer their own unique benefits. Just like how both Coke and Pepsi are great soda but they have their loyal fan base. So, whether you’re Team Taekwondo or Team Karate, both will help you to achieve a healthy body, sharp mind and a confident attitude.

Okay enough with the metaphors and puns for this week, I promise.

Jake Dennon

I am an avid sports enthusiast who has been fortunate enough to train with some of the best athletes and coaches in the world.

As a child, I had a keen interest in martial arts (karate). I've trained with one of the best trainers in my home country.

Moving into my teenage years I tried everything from calisthenics to weight lifting to Taekwondo and everything in between. While I do love all kinds of sports, my passion still lies in martial arts.

The combat sport coaches I have been trained by have also trained some of the top fighters in the industry. All of these brilliant trainers (and all the ones in between) have shown me just how rewarding keeping fit and healthy can be.

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