Taekwondo vs Karate: The History, Similarities, and Differences

This has been an ongoing topic of discussion for many years, and will continue to for many years to come. Taekwondo practitioners may feel partial to their art, while Karateka are loyal to theirs. However, the two arts have much more in common than practitioners care to admit. The proof resides in their history.


The History


Karate was founded in the Ryukyu islands of Okinawa during the 17th century. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, brought the art to Japan. Since then, the art has spread around the world to nearly every country.

Karate is known as a self-defense system that employs blocking, kicking, and striking techniques with the arms and legs. The idea is to concentrate as much power into a single strike at the point of impact to subdue opponents. Striking surfaces include the hands, feet, knees, and elbows.


Taekwondo was founded in the 1950’s by General Choi Hong Hi, and is defined as a systematic form of self-defense that emphasizes the use of the legs based on the fact that the legs are the strongest limbs on the human body and greatest asset a martial artist has. General Choi was a 2nd degree Black Belt taught by Funakoshi himself prior to founding the art of Taekwondo. Choi founded Taekwondo In an effort to formulate a national martial art unique to the Korean Peninsula after so many years under Japanese rule. In doing so, General Choi developed a more modern martial art that truly differed, although heavily on influenced, from other martial art at the time.

Over time, tensions began between General Choi and the South Korean government on the direction Taekwondo should take. Choi took a more self-defense only approach, while the government favored a more sport-like approach  aiming to increase exposure of the art globally. This separated Taekwondo into two factions; the International Taekwondo Federation and the World Taekwondo Federation. With the power of the South Korean government behind them, the WTF style of Taekwondo quickly spread throughout the world. In 1988, Taekwondo made its debut as an Olympic sport after only 30 years as a martial art (only two martial arts are Olympic sports; Taekwondo and Judo). The WTF, now just a sporting federation, hosts several international tournaments for athletes throughout the year, while the Kukkiwon, the world Taekwondo headquarters, oversees the curriculum and instruction of Taekwondo worldwide. Today, over 90 million people practice Olympic-style (the combination of WTF competition rules, and the Kukkiwon’s formal curriculum) Taekwondo in over 80 different countries. ITF Taekwondo, on the other hand, is still practiced today, but is not as popular. Very few events exist for ITF specific practitioners forcing them to participate in Karate focused events for competitive snd developmental purposes.


The Similarities

There are 3 main commonalities between Karate and Taekwondo. The first is that they are both taught as a form of self-defense. Although what they emphasize may differ, their primary focus is self-defense. Second, they both are linear martial arts, which essentially means straight forward. If you are interested in becoming very skilled in basic self-defense concepts and techniques, then either art will do. You won’t have to worry about learning pretty techniques that aren’t really useful in a fight; unless you want to that is. Lastly, you can find many of the same techniques, with very little differentiation, in either martial art. There are only a o many was to throw a punch or kick. This means schools are highly likely to have combined techniques from both styles to make their art more rounded.


The Differences

The differences between the arts are vast, however, only 3 are worth mentioning. First, is the patterns that are practiced. Patterns are a sequence of movements practiced on an imaginary opponent. Taekwondo, having since evolved into its own true art form, practices a different set of patterns than Karate and are easily distinguishable. Second, is the focus on hand versus leg dominance. Karate practitioners prefer a 70% hands, and 30% legs split with the percentage denoting what type of techniques are used more often. Taekwondo, however, is completely opposite preferring to kick over punching. Lastly, is the belt system. While both martial arts utilize the belt system, the order and colors differ. For example, brown and purple belts are not recognized in WTF competition so many schools do not include these colors in their curriculum. Karate does use the colors purple and brown, as well as orange which also isn’t used in Taekwondo.


Which Martial Art to Pick

This will first depend on your geographic location. First check to see if both martial art types are even available in your area. You may not have a choice. Then, figure out which art suits you best. Are you flexible and love to kick? Then Taekwondo may be best for you. Or are you a former boxer looking to incorporate some leg techniques? Then try out Karate. It also wouldn’t hurt to try both. Sometimes the atmosphere, instructors, and school dynamic are more important than the things mentioned above.

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