Difference between Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo

Key difference: A prominent difference between Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo is their place of origin. Karate originated in Japan, while Kung fu is a product of China, whereas Taekwondo was founded in Korea. 

Karate is a term that is derived from the amalgamation of two words: ‘kara’ and ‘te’. Kara means empty and te means hand, both of them put together, i.e. karate essentially means “empty hand”. Further, if the suffix ‘do’ (pronounced as doe) which means “way” is added to this term, then the formed word, i.e. karate-do implies “a total way of life”. This is exactly the stature that karate has gone on to achieve, as people all over the world practice and preach it. People of all genders, ages, nationalities, etc. have recognized karate, and have taken to it as a widely accepted and privileged martial art form.

Having its origin in Okinawa, Japan, karate involves sharp and precise movements that heavily rely upon a person’s hand-eye coordination. A basic principle of karate is to make one’s body steel hard, so as to tolerate the impact of objects like bricks, wood, etc., and possibly go on to break them as well. Self-defense, combat, and physical training are some of the inherent values of karate. Karate is one of the most energetic forms of martial arts in the world today, with a variety of striking techniques such as punches, kicks, knee strikes, elbow strikes, etc. In many sub-forms of karate, techniques of grappling, throwing, joint-locking, restraints, etc. are also taught and implemented.

Kung Fu (gong-fu) refers to one of the chief and the oldest martial art forms to have originated in China. It was developed in the 4th century, at the Shaolin temple in China. The term Kung Fu is made up by: ‘Kung’, meaning “work” or “achievement”, and ‘Fu’, which stands for “intensity”. Kung fu, put together, implies the will and commitment of an individual, towards a skill or art that he/she desperately wants to achieve. Kung fu today, is a widely practiced and accepted sport and martial art. However, it was also undertaken as a form of exercise by the Daoists, sometime in the 5th century B.C.

Kung-Fu consists of fluid and circular movements, which are related to the fighting styles of animals. Its study is a science in itself, which trains an individual’s body to move in a continuous circular motion and turn. It is the most ancient form of martial arts practiced in China. The body in Kung Fu is regulated according to the physics principles and is optimum in use. Kung Fu is an open martial art; meaning, its styles can be adapted only by those practitioners who are perfect in their actions. In Kung Fu the aim is to cause as much damage as possible without losing balance, so strikes are extremely quick and controlled. Its actions are habituated from the animal moves and styles and are initiated from one of five basic foot positions, which are normal upright posture. The other four stances are known as, dragon, frog, horse riding, and snake. From the early periods of development, it has now become a healthy and potential rich form of self-defense.

Taekwondo literally means “the way of foot and fist”. It is a term made up of three Korean words: Tae, Kwon, and Do, which mean “foot”, “fist”, and “way of” respectively. Taekwondo is a Korean form of martial art and a combat sport. In earlier times, it was one among the many military art forms in Korea. It originated during the rule of three rival kingdoms in 37 BC - 668 AD. The art form is full of kicking and punching techniques. Which is why, Taekwondo is also said to be "The art of Kicking and Punching" or "The art of unarmed combat". It is simply a way of foot and fist actions, which are used for self- defense.

Traditional Taekwondo typically relies upon the martial art forms, which were established in the 1950s and 1960s in the South Korean military. It was also practiced in various civilian organizations, including schools and universities. Whereas, the modern Taekwondo has two main styles; one is practiced by International Taekwondo adherents and the other is derived from Kukkiwon, the source of the sparring system sihap gyeorugi. Taekwondo is known to develop strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina. In Taekwondo, the legs play a vital role in actions and attacks. The martial artistes have long and strong legs, which act as a weapon at the time of attacks and kicks. Today, Taekwondo is one of the most well-known martial art forms, and is encouraged and practiced in several parts of the world. Nearly, 184 countries and 60 million practitioners practice this art form, hence making it one of the martial art forms among the Olympics.

Therefore, the disciplines of Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo are different from each other.

Comparison between Karate, Kung Fu and Taekwondo:



Kung Fu


Place of origin





The Way of the Empty Hand

Accomplishment arrived at by great effort

the way of kicking and punching

Olympic event




Self defense






Clothing recommended by instructor

Dobok or Tobo

Title for Instructor


Si Fu

Sa bum nim





Title for practitioner


No common consensus

Said to be taekwondoka

Image Courtesy: beaulyprimary.co.uk, topnews.in, self-defense-pour-femmes.com

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