The Differences between Karate and Taekwondo, which is Best?
There are so many styles of martial arts to choose form, they all have their pluses and minuses and I delve into the specifics of each in my recent book SURVIVAL STRONG. When we consider Karate vs Taekwondo, we must first consider their origins. As with all fighting systems, they were developed in response to environmental conditions and oppression from internal or external forces or used as a means to subjugate another group or culture of people. All martial arts were spawned from primitive fighting application and evolved into the modern systems stressing discipline, fitness and honor.
Both Karate and Taekwondo hail from Asia and have deep cultural roots, steeped in tradition and National Pride. They are both excellent forms of developing fitness, focus, discipline and humility. These are some of the incredible benefits that make these Martial Arts so attractive for parents. Instilling these values in children is getting increasingly more difficult.
These two forms of training both involve the performance of choreographed movements often referred to as Forms, or Patterns. In Korean, they are called Hyungs and in Japanese, Katas. The Karate style Forms generally involve more hand movements and deep breathing application, whereas the TKD Forms stress high kicks and more aerial techniques, especially in the higher level patterns. Strangely enough, the beginner’s Forms of both systems are virtually identical.
Most Karate Style systems are comprised of and even distribution of striking techniques, 50% with the hands and 50% with the feet. As opposed to TKD, which has 80% with the feet and only 20% with the hands.
Taekwondo – “The Art of the Hand and and Foot”, hails from South Korea and was the subject of many struggles. The first came in the form of conflict between the three major dynasties of the peninsula, the Silla, Koguryo and Paekche. They were also in conflict with the neighboring countries, China and Japan and occupied by the Monguls for some 100 years.
Korea is a very mountainous region. TKD practitioners would use deep stances, high kicks and extreme jumping attacks. They would use these stances to maintain balance on inclines and declines and the high kicks to knock opposing soldiers off of their horses.
TDK is an Olympic sport. Karate is not. The only martial arts represented in the Olympics from Japan is Judo. Scoring in Olympic Style Taekwondo is done primarily with the feet. More points are awarded for more difficult kicks delivered. A jumping, spinning (or turning) kick delivered to the head is awarded the most points, 4. It is very difficult to score with the hands. A “Thunderous Blow” must be delivered and that will still only garner you 1 point. So most Sport fighters do not focus a lot of energy in training their punches. I liken the sport of TKD to “Boxing with your feet.” Please note that this is a full contact sport and knockouts are awarded. The sport is called “Hogu”, which means “Dogfight”. It is a very brutal form of combat that requires toughness and athleticism.
Karate – “Empty Hand”, is from the Okinawin island in Japan and has it’s roots in Shotokan, Wado, Shito, Goju and Shorin. All of these styles are followed by the prefix “ryu” which means school or system. In order to be considered a system, a discipline must be carried through at least two generations. So, it must be passed down from parent to child and then forward, for example. There are many systems and styles that are considered Karate and it has morphed into more of a generic term typifying striking styles other than Muay Thai and Kung Fu. Taekwondo is often referred to as “Korean Karate” in this country. Karate styles typify an even balance of upper and lower body techniques. The blocks are both linear and circular in nature, but some systems stress the more circular motions.
There several theories on where the Martial Arts began, most historians credit either China or Japan. Some even credit the early Greeks and suggest that Alexander The Great introduced fighting systems to the Far East during his travels. Other speculate that these systems evolved indigenously of their own accord. At this point, it really doesn’t matter, but its fun for dinner party conversations. Wherever the origins are, Japan was one of the earliest and the most well known and renowned proponents is Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi. He is considered the Father of Modern Karate and was a teacher of one of the original arts, Shotokan. This happens to be the Asian based first striking system that I trained in.
As with many of the fighting arts of the times, they were practiced by oppressed peoples in response to the Imperial Rule of Japan and used to combat the soldiers, primarily The Samurai. These people were not permitted to have weapons, so they developed systems of defense using farming implements. Nunchaku, Bo Staff, Jo Staff, Sia, to name a few. Since the peasants were not permitted to practice fighting techniques, they had to disguise their fighting techniques in dance, called Kata.
The movie The Karate Kid, afforded the biggest boost to the American Martial Arts scene and sparked incredible interest in arts from Asia. Strangely enough, Taekwondo schools received the biggest boost in growth due to the release of the movie, the adjunct of TKD as an Olympic Sport, the fact that TKD is less complicated and has more consistency from school to school (Do-Jang in Korean and Dojo in Japanese). Karate has many variation, Taekwondo does not.
I’ve trained in both systems and found that Taekwondo requires more athleticism and is a great base art, especially for children. The kicks above the waist from TKD are unmatched by any other system. There are many Japanese styles of Karate, but they tend to be more difficult to learn, but the striking techniques and circular blocks are excellent and the defensive tactics are superior to TKD. The most important factor is not the art though, it’s the instructor. This all boils down to this, a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick and a throw is a throw. It either works or it does’t. If your technique is delivered with purpose, speed, accuracy, power and with the correct set-up, who cares what it’s labeled as?
Master Phil Ross
8th Degree Black Belt
Author of SURVIVAL STRONG