Practicing martial arts can offer physical and mental health benefits. In addition to learning self-defense, you’ll also get a full-body aerobic workout, build muscle, and improve balance. For those who find it difficult to stick to a workout plan, the idea of learning and developing a new skill might be good incentive to keep you coming back.

Karate and taekwondo are two common and widely practiced forms of martial arts. They’re so popular, in fact, that both are now Olympic Sports. Karate will be at the 2020 games in Tokyo, and taekwondo was added in 2000.

While the two styles have some similarities, they also have distinct differences. Read on to learn more about each one.

Karate and taekwondo both start with beginners learning fundamental rules and basic moves. These form the foundation for learning the more advanced moves. In each martial art form, you’ll learn different “stances” and ways to punch, kick, and block an opponent. These will be done slowly, and each move is held to help you get the right form.

It’s important to know that holding stances for a longer period in both karate and taekwondo will not be helpful in an actual fight. The stances are meant to be used as a training tool. Fight movements need to flow quickly from one to the next to be effective.


Karate is best known in pop culture for its shuto uchi, or karate chop. This fighting style emphasizes hand techniques and uses kicks as backup.


Taekwondo involves more kicking than karate. It puts a heavier emphasis on kicks and uses hands as backup. You will learn a variety of kick moves, including spinning and jumping kicks.

Because karate uses many more hand attacks, legs often stay grounded. Taekwondo, on the other hand, uses a different leg stance because the body needs to be ready to perform fast kicks.

History of karate

The first form of karate originated around 500 years ago, on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Although there isn’t written evidence, many people believe karate was created when King Shoha, who was ruler at the time, banned weapons on the island in order to prevent war. People began using hand-to-hand combat to defend themselves.

Karate has both Japanese and Chinese influences, as the two cultures were exposed to each other. The first known Okinawan karate master, Funakoshi Gichin, was born in 1868 and dedicated his whole life to spreading karate teachings across Japan. His followers picked up where he left off and established the Japan Karate Association in 1949 for promoting the martial arts style. The first dojo (karate training space) was opening in the U.S. in 1945. Over the years, karate spread throughout the world and different styles began to emerge.

Karate is constantly evolving as a martial arts form. There are a few different styles that have branched off, but are still considered karate. Today, the most common and distinct styles are:

  • gōju-ryū
  • shitō-ryū
  • shotokan
  • wadō-ryū

The World Karate Federation provides universal guidelines for practicing the sport and competing at a professional level.

History of taekwondo

Taekwondo has ancient roots, too. The earliest records of people practicing this hand-to-hand combat method date all the way back to 50 B.C.E. in Korea. “Tae” means to kick, “kwon” means to punch or destroy with the hand, and “do” means a way of doing something. So, taekwondo is a way of using your whole body in order to defend yourself.

When Japan occupied Korea in the early 1900s, the Japanese banned Korean military arts, including taekwondo. Some continued to practice in secret, while others traveled to learn martial arts in China or Japan. Because judo, karate and Kung-Fu were all introduced to Korea, taekwondo branched off into different styles with different influences. When Japanese occupation ended in 1945, the first taekwondo school, called Kwan, opened in Korea.

The taekwondo we know today started in 1955 when kwan masters came together for a conference on the martial art. They decided to merge their different styles into a more uniform way of teaching, which they would call taekwondo.

Today the World Taekwondo Federation sets the standards for competition rules and new developments in the sport. It’s practiced by people around the world.

Both martial arts forms have specific rules and guidelines that govern their competitions. In a competition, a score will be determined by judges based on how well the martial art was executed.

In tournaments, karate generally gives points equally for both punches and kicks. Taekwondo gives higher points to kicks, which is why you’ll see more kicking in taekwondo competitions.

Karate and taekwondo will both give you a full-body workout, as well as teach patience and discipline. They each have different variations in how they’re practiced, depending on the individual style of karate or taekwondo you choose.

If you’re interested in learning more balanced, full-body moves, karate might be a better choice. For those interested in learning fast and more elaborate kicking moves, taekwondo is the better option.

A good way to find out which martial arts style is best for you is to try taking beginner classes in both disciplines.