Karate and Taekwondo are two of the most popular martial arts in the world. Choosing between them can be difficult, especially if you find that you’re attracted to aspects of both martial styles. However, there are distinct differences between these two arts that may potentially be a dealbreaker for some students.

Below you’ll read some useful tips on choosing between Karate and Taekwondo. We’ll go over the basics of both styles and some other information that can help inform your decision. If you’re torn between Karate and Taekwondo, this guide can help you weigh the pros and cons before you commit to a dojo.

Learn About the History of Karate vs. Taekwondo

If you’re interested in Karate and Taekwondo, knowing about the background of each martial art can help you decide which one you’d like to learn more about as you practice. Karate and Taekwondo have been around for hundreds of years, so both styles have a deep and storied history.

The History of Karate

Karate is a form of fighting that has been around for centuries, dating back to the 17th century on the Okinawa island of Japan. Karate became popularized in Okinawa after the samurai ruling class took over the island’s government and banned anyone but samurai from carrying weapons on the street to avoid rebellion. The word Karate itself means “empty hand” in Japanese.

In response to this law, Karate was born in secret as a way for people to train as warriors by using strikes from their hands and feet. Despite the fact that people in Okinawa began using Karate in the 17th century, this ancient art was not formally imported to mainland Japan until the 1920s.

Karate was formed from the following influential fighting styles (Source: Defense Arts Center):

  • Closed-fist techniques from Okinawa.
  • Taiwanese finger strikes.
  • Open hand fighting styles from mainland China.
  • Kicking techniques from Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.

Karate is a hybrid of different fighting styles that have evolved over hundreds of years into a complex style of its own.

Despite the fact that it began as a way for commoners outside of the samurai class to defend themselves without weapons, there are now several weapons accepted as traditional in Karate practice. These weapons include the bo and nunchaku and were originally created from improvised farming tools.

The History of Taekwondo

Despite the fact that it is slightly younger than Karate, Taekwondo is the most popular fighting style in the world. This style originated in Korea and is the hybridized version of several different indigenous Korean fighting styles, including the following:

  • Taekkyeon: Taekkyeon is a fighting style that specializes in tripping maneuvers and other types of balance-based throws used to knock one’s opponent to the ground quickly. Taekkyeon is performed with graceful circular movements of the feet, but with explosive precision and strength. (Source: UNESCO)
  • Gwonbeop: Gwonbeop is an unarmed fighting style dating back to the Joseon Era. This style is a mixture of punches and kicks along with some open-handed techniques.
  • Subak: Subak is a proto-fighting style that focuses on bare-handed fighting and self-defense. Like Taekwondo, Subak places a strong emphasis on countering moves in a fight.

Taekwondo emerged as a formal school of fighting in the 1940s. Prior to this period, each region of Korea had its own fighting school or “kwan” which taught slightly different techniques. Taekwondo is an attempt to bring all of these fighting techniques together under one style.

While Taekwondo was originally based on a lot of self-defense techniques, the focus on the sport has shifted over the 20th century to focus more on competitive exhibitions. This has resulted in a sport with a strong emphasis on high kicks and other showy fighting moves like spinning kicks which may not be as effective in true hand-to-hand combat.

Know the Differences Between Karate and Taekwondo

Even though Karate and Taekwondo are both fighting styles that feature bare-handed fighting and self-defense techniques, these styles are quite different in practice. These styles originated in isolation from each other, making each one a unique choice.

Here are a few of the main differences between Karate and Taekwondo:

  • Karate focuses on hands, Taekwondo focuses on feet. While both Karate and Taekwondo feature the use of hands and feet, Karate puts the focus on the hands with the feet as a backup defense, while Taekwondo puts the focus on foot techniques and uses hand-to-hand combat as its second line of defense. (Source: The Bridge)
  • Karate is more grounded than Taekwondo. Karate does use some kicking techniques, but in Karate there is more importance placed on keeping ground through your feet to avoid being overthrown. In Taekwondo, the stance is much more agile and the feet are expected to come up off the ground while maintaining balance.
  • Karate sometimes involves weapons training, Taekwondo never does. Karate incorporates some simple weapons such as bos and nunchaku, but Taekwondo is a pure barehanded fighting technique. The only weapons included in Taekwondo training are brought in as a part of secondary fighting styles in MMA dojos.

How are Karate and Taekwondo the Same?

Even though the techniques in Karate and Taekwondo can be very different, there are several ways in which these two fighting styles overlap. Here are some of the similarities between Karate and Taekwondo:

  • Karate and Taekwondo are both Olympic sports. If you’re interested in picking up a martial art with the intention of pursuing it at the Olympic level, either one of these styles is a good choice. However, it may be slightly easier to find a Taekwondo dojo versus a Karate dojo.
  • Karate and Taekwondo both teach discipline and mental conditioning. The mental and emotional benefits of martial arts (such as a calmer mind and better situational awareness) can be found in both of these fighting styles.
  • Karate and Taekwondo both offer a full-body workout. These fighting styles are both great for cardiovascular endurance and increasing strength. They’re also both good for helping improve a person’s agility. (Source: Healthline)

Karate and Taekwondo might feature different techniques, but they both offer a variety of benefits to the students who take them up. If you’re looking for the general advantages of a martial art, either one is a decent choice.

Decide Between Self-Defense and Tournament Fights

A big question to ask yourself when you’re choosing between Karate and Taekwondo is what your end goal is in taking a martial art in the first place.

Do you want to get into martial arts as a way to take on a competitive sport, or do you want a fighting style that will serve you well in a self-defense situation? Even if you want to do a little of both, you probably have a preference for one motivation or the other.

Even though Karate and Taekwondo are both considered self-defense fighting styles, there is a much greater emphasis on ritualized combat and competitive sparring in Taekwondo’s culture than in Karate.

The high kicks and spinning kicks that are popular in Taekwondo competitions look great in a sparring match, but they’re less effective in street combat than Karate’s hand striking techniques. Untrained fighters default to hand techniques, so using a fighting style that focuses on countering hand techniques can help prevent damage in a street fight.

Figure Out Local Options for Martial Arts Training

When you decide between Taekwondo and Karate, another thing you need to take into consideration is the practical side of things. The availability of a dojo is going to be a big influence on which martial art you ultimately decide to invest in.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re checking out local options for Taekwondo and Karate training:

  • What are the pricing packages offered? If you like both disciplines and one is significantly more expensive in your area than the other, that might make a difference in which one you choose. You may also be able to take advantage of special deals or seasonal rates depending on how much the dojo needs new students.
  • Do I like the teacher? A good way to determine which teacher you like better when trying to choose between martial arts is to sit in on a few classes. Many dojos will allow you to take a lesson or two to get an idea of whether or not you’re going to like the fighting style before committing to a longer enrollment.
  • What are the additional fees? Most dojos have additional fees for things such as fighting robes, belts, and equipment. Make sure you know exactly how much everything is going to cost before making your final decision on which fighting style you’ll go with.
  • Is this the only option? Unless you’re in a very rural area, chances are that you’ll have more than one choice for both Karate and Taekwondo dojos. Be sure to explore multiple dojos for each discipline to see which one is the best fit for you.

There are many things to think about when you’re trying to decide which dojo and martial art to commit to. It’s a good idea to think things through carefully. Weigh the pros and cons of each before signing up for anything permanent.

Observe Both Schools Before Choosing

Observing multiple dojos in person is a great idea when you’re still choosing between Karate and Taekwondo, but that’s not the only way to observe both schools before choosing between them. Here are a few other ways you can observe Karate and Taekwondo before you decide which one you want to pursue:

  • Arrange for a private lesson. If you’re uncomfortable temporarily joining a group to observe how a dojo teaches, see if you can make arrangements to receive a private lesson from one of the instructors. This will give you a better idea of their teaching style on a one-on-one basis, rather than how they interact with a group.
  • Go to a martial arts tournament. Spectating at a Karate or Taekwondo tournament is a good way to see what these fighting styles look like in action before you choose between them. Aesthetics is as important of a deciding factor as any other, and you may decide that you like the look of one martial art in active combat over another.
  • Watch videos online: Thanks to Internet media sites like YouTube, there are hundreds of Karate and Taekwondo demonstration tapes available that can give you a general overview of the different forms present in these fighting styles as well as an idea of how different techniques look.
  • Check out some dojo websites: Dojos often post blogs about their chosen martial art, and this is a good chance to get a better idea about the culture behind each individual style. For local dojos, looking at event calendars online also gives you an idea of how often the dojo participates in ranked competitions.

When it comes to choosing between Karate and Taekwondo, you don’t want to rush into anything. Ideally, you’ll stick with your chosen martial art for several years until you’ve mastered the style, so you want to choose right the first time.

Examine Reasons for Going into Martial Arts

If you’re having a hard time choosing between Karate and Taekwondo, it’s smart to step back and examine your reasons for joining a martial art. Here are some of the most common reasons that people choose to undertake Karate and Taekwondo:

  • Improved fitness: Martial arts in general are a great way to get in excellent physical shape. Staying physically fit can help you fend off many different health problems over the course of your life. It can also prevent chronic illnesses related to obesity such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Improved confidence: All martial arts offer students an increased level of confidence. This confidence comes from having a heightened sense of physical competence and security in the knowledge that you’re prepared for a conflict if you have to be. This confidence can translate to improved work relations and better personal relationships.
  • Improved agility: Along with improving physical endurance and strength, martial arts also help improve your balance, your speed, and your flexibility. This can make you move more gracefully in general. It can also help you react in emergency situations if you need to dodge an attack or incoming obstacle like an out-of-control vehicle.
  • Improved self-defense: Nobody ever expects to be the victim of a mugging, a bar brawl, or a gas station robbery, but knowing basic self-defense can help keep you safe in these dangerous situations. If safety in a fight is your main concern in learning a martial art, you’ll need to look at which style focuses more heavily on street-fighting techniques.
  • Improved mental discipline: If you generally have difficulty enforcing self-discipline in multiple aspects of your life, joining a martial art can help you develop the mental fortitude and goal-setting skills you need. Martial arts can improve your mental discipline both inside and outside the dojo.

Many of these traits are traits that are offered by both Karate and Taekwondo. So you can rest assured that no matter which martial art you eventually end up enrolling in, you’ll be working towards the same general goals.

Look at Associated Costs

The cost of attending either Karate or Taekwondo lessons is only one aspect of the overall costs involved with pursuing a martial art. You also need to consider other costs that may factor into your decision on which dojo you ultimately sign on with. These are a few things to look at:

  • Travel expenses: If you choose a dojo that is far from home, you’re going to end up spending more money on gas and vehicle maintenance than you would for a dojo that is nearby. For martial artists on a tight budget, this can be a deciding factor when you’re torn between Karate and Taekwondo.
  • Equipment and accessories: Both Karate and Taekwondo feature similar equipment such as robes and belts that you’ll need to purchase separately from the costs of your monthly lessons. Some dojos may grossly overcharge for these materials if they see the opportunity to price gouge, so check into the costs ahead of time to avoid sticker shock.
  • Tournament registration fees: Some dojos are more competitive than others, and if you end up at a competitive dojo you might find yourself paying expensive entry fees to compete in tournaments. If you’re not interested in competing, however, participation is usually voluntary.

If You Can’t Choose Between Karate and Taekwondo

Still don’t know whether to choose between Karate and Taekwondo? Keep in mind that you always have the option to pursue both fighting styles. You can either study Karate and Taekwondo at the same time from different instructors, or you can master one discipline before moving on to the next.

When you train in multiple fighting styles, this is known as mixed martial arts (MMA). While traditional mixed martial arts usually incorporates a mixture of fighting styles such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, and Muay Thai, it’s also possible to develop an MMA style based on foot and hand techniques by combining disciplines such as Karate and Taekwondo.

If you’re planning on tackling Karate and Taekwondo at the same time, here are some tips for getting the most out of your training:

  • Be sure to get plenty of rest. If you double down on your martial arts training, you’re going to burn out quickly if you don’t leave yourself enough time to physically rest between training sessions. Schedule off days where you don’t do any martial arts training and condition thoroughly between lessons with soaking baths and stretching.
  • Let your instructor know you’re double-training. Most instructors won’t care, but you might end up with one who does. It can also give your instructor a better idea of why you’re in training if they know you’re training at multiple dojos.
  • Analyze the difference between both styles. There is a danger in trying to learn Karate and Taekwondo at the same time since some of their moves and stances are contradictory. However, intensely studying both types can allow you to analyze which move would be more effective in an actual fight.

Even if you want to study both martial arts at once, there are some drawbacks to refusing to choose between Karate and Taekwondo. Here are some disadvantages you’ll run into:

  • It’s twice as expensive. Taking two martial arts at one time means you may end up paying as much as $300 a month in lessons. That’s not exactly spare change. You either have to have a lot of disposable income or a tight budget to afford double training in martial arts.
  • You might slow progress in both styles. If you try to learn multiple fighting styles at once, it may keep you from being as precise in your katas and techniques as other fighters in your same rank. This can eventually lead to you not progressing in either martial art as quickly as you’d like because you’re spread too thin.
  • The two styles are already similar. Karate and Taekwondo already feature similar stances and techniques. If you are interested in pursuing multiple fighting styles to become a mixed martial artist, you’d be better off incorporating a ground-based style that varies greatly from both Karate and Taekwondo, such as Brazilia jiu-jitsu or judo.
  • You may get confused. Imprinting two different sets of forms and techniques at the same time may cause you to take on some bad habits in the sparring ring that will be difficult to break. Studying a single martial art at a time can help you increase your precision and speed up your progress.

If you have your heart set on studying both Karate and Taekwondo, you don’t have to sacrifice the quality of your education with either style. Just focus on studying one martial art and achieving mastery in it before moving on to the next, and you’ll still end up with the benefits of both styles.

Karate and Taekwondo Are Both Great Options

Choosing between Karate and Taekwondo might seem like a tough decision, but you should feel better knowing that no matter which fighting style you choose, you’re going to be getting involved in a martial art with centuries of honored history behind it. It all comes down to which one is more interesting and convenient for you.

Whether you want to pick up martial arts for self-defense or you’re interested in formal competition, both of these styles can take you exactly where you need to go.