All martial arts are great ways to improve the body physically, stay in shape and learn self-defense. And, all of them are also associated with learning discipline as well. But, two of the most popular styles are Karate and Taekwondo; and, although they may seem to blend into a sea of seemingly endless variances in style, Taekwondo vs. Karate differences are quite important. Some of these differences involve history or origin, some involve technique, and others still involve injuries and rehabilitation.
Despite the 10 differences in Taekwondo vs. Karate found below, they are both incredibly popular and valuable athletic options for anyone to consider.
- Where they come from: Like a superhero origin story, karate and taekwondo have different roots. The newer Taekwondo hails from Korea while Karate boasts an older history in Japan. Many of the styles incorporate traits from others, so though they are different and often separated by hundreds of years, similarities abound. It’s also worth noting another small taekwondo vs. karate difference. Only one of them is wholly considered a contact sport. Taekwondo has the potential to cause more injuries due to this designation, which can lead to everything from surgery to chronic muscle and joint pain.
- How it’s done: The most basic distinction between the two types has to do with what parts of the body tend to strike an opponent the most. In karate, it’s often the hands, moved in very quick and precise motions. Taekwondo differs in this way as it’s generally kicking that is it’s a hallmark, likely making it no surprise that some competitors complain of lower leg muscle pain from repeated and intense use.
- Competition: It’s unusual to consider when comparing taekwondo vs. karate that only one of them is an Olympic sport, and it’s likely not the one that you think. Karate is not absent from formal competition. But, big-name players like Steven Lopez who bring some serious physical pizazz to the Olympics, are rare given the lack of martial arts diversity in Olympic competition. Thankfully, despite a shoulder injury, Lopez has remained a well-known athlete no doubt thanks to his Olympic career.
- Clothes and Instructors: Much of the comparisons made between taekwondo vs. karate relate to the actual sport and the way it’s played. But, there’s more to the sport than structured bowing and knee pain treatment. The clothes, plain as they are, are incredibly familiar and symbolic. In Karate, a Gi adorned with patches and a colored belt indicating rank are impossible to miss. And, in taekwondo a Sa bum nim is the appropriate garb. Instructors go by different titles as well, with students referring to the instructors in karate as Sensei’s and Dobok or Tobas in taekwondo.
- Technique: People spend years perfecting their martial arts training, and technique is important to both sports. But, in the taekwondo vs. karate debate, there is little room to argue that the aerial displays put on by those practicing taekwondo are nothing short of awesome. This is a featured characteristic of the sport with spinning, kicking, and jumping common occurrences. Those wishing to avoid a knee ligament injury due to inexperience may prefer the generally grounded balance of karate, which certainly has a lower risk of height-related injuries.
- Stances are Different: Each time a person heads up to hurl a bowling ball down a glossy lane, they have a unique way that they stand and hold their ball that gives them some sort of an advantage (instructors are quick to point out that different doesn’t always mean correct and that improper stance can contribute to neck and upper back pain as well as increase the chances of injuries). No doubt, all martial artists have their own subtle variances on a starting stance, but there are differences in taekwondo vs. karate altogether that are defined by each fighting style. Karate’s low stand allows for greater focus on the hands and their intended target. Meanwhile, taekwondo requires a higher stance with loose legs, ideal for kicking. These stances are critical to proper performance and reduced chance of serious injury, neck and shoulder pain or, a certain defeat.
- Second Fiddle Skills: Because punching is secondary in taekwondo, it’s shouldn’t be surprising that punches are less efficient in this discipline than in karate. This may be because there is less training involving the hands. Or, it may be because other moves involving the legs reduce the amount of time available for quick, calculated open-handed jabs.
- The Reverse is True: There is no argument that in the taekwondo vs. karate debate both sports are challenging, sometimes difficult, and intense enough to land athletes right into a whole body cryotherapy chamber post-performance. But, each one has a skill that is weaker and therefore less effective or efficient than another. In karate, that skill is kicking. While it’s the start of the show in taekwondo, it’s a backup singer in karate.
- Who’s Teaching It: It is most common for Immigrants from Korea to teach taekwondo. But, Karate is more commonly taught (in the United States) by American men.
- Injuries are Different: All martial artists are subject to some common and similar injuries. There are however some differences between taekwondo vs. karate in terms of what is most common. Sprains, jams, and breaks to the hands are very common in karate and far less so in taekwondo. Conversely, due to the tendency to use the lower limbs most predominantly, upper leg pain from overuse of or strikes to the thighs is common in taekwondo.