What's The Difference Between Karate And Taekwondo: Exploring Key Differences

Sportsboom explores the differences between Karate and Taekwondo including the origins and techniques of the two.

Taekwon-do and karate practitioners
Luke Dalton

Written by: Luke Dalton

(Content Writer)

Fact checked by: Naim Rosinski

(Content Manager)

Last updated: 2024-04-15

5 minutes read

Martial arts aren’t just the gateway to physical fitness and self-defence, but also to cultural exploration and personal growth.

Among the plethora of styles practised around the globe, Karate and Taekwondo are easily two of the most prominent, each with its unique heritage, techniques, and philosophies. While both have earned their stripes on the Olympic stage, they offer distinct paths for practitioners.

Let's explore the key differences that set them apart.

Origins and Philosophies

Karate has its roots in Japan, with a history that stretches back 500 years to the Okinawa region.

It was born out of necessity when weapons were banned, leading to the development of an unarmed combat system. The term "Karate" translates to "empty hands," reflecting its focus on hand techniques.

Meanwhile, Taekwondo originates from Korea, with its earliest practices dating back to 50 B.C.E. The name itself, "Taekwondo," means "the way of foot and fist," which aptly summarises the emphasis on kicks and punches.

Taekwondo evolved under various influences, including during the Japanese occupation of Korea, which introduced elements of Japanese and Chinese martial arts.

Image Credits: Washington Post

Image Credits: Washington Post

Techniques and Training

The most notable difference between Karate and Taekwondo lies in their techniques.

Karate focuses on hand techniques, including punches and open-hand strikes, with kicks serving as supplementary moves. Practitioners learn to deliver powerful strikes with precision and efficiency. Karate training is comprehensive, involving kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring), each aspect honing different skills.

Taekwondo is renowned for its emphasis on kicking techniques. Practitioners learn a variety of kicks, including spinning and jumping kicks, leveraging the power and reach of the legs. Taekwondo training also includes forms (poomsae) and sparring but with a significant focus on agility, flexibility, and dynamic movements.

Here's a quick comparison:





Hand techniques, punches, and open-hand strikes. Kicks are used but not as predominantly.

Kicking techniques, including spinning and jumping kicks. Uses hands for punches but emphasises kicks.

Training Components

Kihon (basics), Kata (forms), and Kumite (sparring).

Poomsae (forms) and sparring, with a significant focus on dynamic kicking techniques.

Physical Emphasis

Power, precision, and efficiency in strikes.

Agility, flexibility, and dynamic movements.

Competition and Scoring

In competitive settings, both martial arts showcase their unique approaches.

Karate competitions award points for punches, kicks, and strikes, with emphasis on form, power, and control. Taekwondo competitions, however, favour kicks, especially those delivered to the head, reflecting the sport's kicking-centric nature.




Scoring Focus

Points are awarded for punches, kicks, and strikes with emphasis on form, power, and control.

Points favour kicks, especially to the head, reflecting the sport's emphasis on kicking techniques.


Both light contact and full contact styles, with specific rules for scoring based on technique and impact.

Olympic-style Taekwondo features electronic scoring systems for accuracy, with a high value placed on head kicks.

Choosing Between Karate and Taekwondo

Your choice between Karate and Taekwondo should align with your personal interests, goals, and the type of physical activity you enjoy.

If you're drawn to a balanced approach with a focus on hand techniques and strategic combat, Karate might be your calling. Or, if dynamic, high-flying kicks and agility speak to you, Taekwondo could be the perfect fit.


Karate and Taekwondo, each with its storied past and distinctive approach, offer more than just a physical workout. They are conduits to learning about rich traditions and developing discipline, respect, and perseverance.

Whether you choose the path of "empty hands" or "the way of foot and fist," you embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal mastery.


Are there weapons in Taekwondo?

Traditional Taekwondo does not incorporate weapons training. It focuses on kicks, punches, and open-hand techniques.

Can you get knocked out in Taekwondo?

Yes, knockouts can occur in Taekwondo, especially from powerful kicks, underlining the sport's emphasis on striking techniques.

Can you wear a black Taekwondo uniform?

Black uniforms, or doboks, are typically reserved for instructors or specific schools, varying by the dojo's rules and traditions.

Is Taekwondo Korean karate?

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art distinct from karate, which originated in Japan, though both share some similarities in techniques and philosophy.

Is taekwondo harder than karate?

The difficulty is subjective and varies by individual. Taekwondo focuses more on high kicks and agility, while karate emphasises hand techniques and form.

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Luke Dalton

Luke Dalton

Luke has been a professional writer since 2016, beginning as a technical author for a POS company. He journeyed from there deeper into the world of content creation for software companies, while writing his debut fiction novel, which he self-published in early 2019.

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