Karate vs Taekwondo: Which Martial Arts Style is Better and Why

karate and taekwondo training

Karate vs taekwondo- one of the longest-standing debates in martial arts. Lots of people think they’re the same, but there are some key differences that will determine which is better for you and your personal goals. We’ll settle this classic debate and go over the differences between karate and taekwondo to help you to make your own decision on which is better for you!

The Difference Between Karate and Taekwondo

karate and taekwondo training in Lexington

The most basic difference in karate vs taekwondo is between your hands and your feet- punching vs kicking.

Think of the shuto uchi, or the famous “karate chop” you’ve seen in movies – karate uses hand techniques primarily, and then kicking as a backup.

Taekwondo is the exact opposite- it puts an emphasis on kicking and uses hand techniques as the backup.

Taekwondo is also more diverse with the moves you can master, including spinning and jumping kicks.

Origins of Karate and Taekwondo

karate and taekwondo classes in Lexington

When you think about which martial arts classes you want to take, it can be helpful to consider the origin.

Karate started later but has been popularized by modern culture, while taekwondo has been established for thousands of years. Even though Mr. Miyagi made karate famous in our pop culture, it actually originated in Japan.

It started around 500 years ago too, legend has it, stop the use of weapons on the island of Okinawa so that the king could prevent war. The Japanese started using hand-to-hand combat to protect themselves instead of weapons, and karate was born- hand-to-hand fighting.

Taekwondo goes back even further to 50 B.CE. in Korea. It’s all in the name – tae means kick, Kwon means punch, and do means, well, doing things.

So taekwondo literally means practicing self defense with your whole body – it’s known as the art of the foot and hand.

Fun fact, when Japan overtook Korea in the 1900’s, the Japanese actually prohibited taekwondo. Japanese renegades practiced the martial arts form in secret, and it’s thanks to them that we can still practice taekwondo today.

Different Techniques Used

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So what is the difference between karate and taekwondo? It’s the difference between the two halves of your body- hands/arms and legs/feet.

Karate means empty hands, a nod to the fact that it’s a martial arts form relying heavily on the use of your hands sans weaponry. There’s a greater focus on mental strength and stamina because one of your only forms of protection in a karate fight is your mind.

Karate students learn lots of hand techniques and combinations while keeping kicks on deck as the last resort. Karate is perfect for when you’re close to an opponent and need that hand-to-hand combat advantage.

Alternatively, taekwondo focuses on the legs, chiefly because your leg is the strongest (and longest!) weapon you have on your body. Kicks in taekwondo are very powerful for striking your opponent.

Students in taekwondo classes learn spin kicks and a number of different kicking combinations while using hand techniques if necessary.

Taekwondo has more effectiveness at a distance because you can use the length of your legs against your opponent.

Competing in Taekwondo and Karate

martial arts competition

Both karate and taekwondo are not only practical and effective martial arts forms, they provide opportunities for competition and advancement that encourage legitimate growth in their students.

They both require serious mental and physical strength and stamina just like other martial arts classes, which is why so many in Lexington enjoy the rewards of hard work paying off at belt ranking and in competition.

There is a difference between taekwondo and karate competition rules. The rules of karate are a bit more involved, while the rules of taekwondo are more simple.

A karate student can strike to the head, neck, face, chest, side, abdomen, and back. The karate judges have a list of criteria that need to be followed in order for the match to be considered a win, like good form, accurate distance, and good timing.

Taekwondo competitions are more to-the-point. A taekwondo martial artist gets 3 points for a kick to the head, 2 points for a spinning kick to the opponent’s torso, and one point for a basic attack on their torso.


So honestly, both of these martial arts styles will transform your body and get you fit fast. They’ll both teach you self defense skills that you can use to protect yourself and your loved ones. And they’ll both teach you to keep going no matter what, respect yourself and others, and gain confidence like never before. So which is better, karate or taekwondo? We’ll show you in class, as the better one for self defense is the one YOU do. Doing nothing will result in nothing! So come and try martial arts with our Vitali Family Karate staff here in Lexington for yourself- you’ll LOVE it!