Taekwondo vs Karate – Which One Should You Pick?

- August 9, 2022
taekwondo vs karate

Taekwondo and karate are two of the most popular traditional martial arts that differ significantly. But which one is better?

Karate is an all-around and, overall, more balanced style. Its concept and emphasis align with freestyle combat and self-defense scenarios you may face on the streets. Many styles and forms exist, focusing on striking and using all limbs as weapons. The emphasis is on speed and precision rather than power, which is why most styles are “semi-contact.”

On the other hand, Taekwondo is the best martial art in kicking techniques and includes some solid hand striking combos.  It is not as versatile as karate in some areas, but it is fair to say it is equally practical. 

Keep reading to learn more about the Taekwondo vs Karate debate, and which is better in certain aspects. 

What Is Karate?

Karate is one of the most popular Japanese martial arts. It emerged in the 14th century in the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa, but it became globally popular in the 20th century in Japan. 

There are many styles and forms out of which most emphasize striking with punches and kicks, light contact, and a high level of technique. 

What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art famous for emphasizing fast and powerful kicking techniques. 

It emerged in the 1950s when nine main martial art kwans (schools) united to develop a unified Korean martial art style.

The emphasis of training is on fast and powerful kicks, and punches are secondary, used only to set up kicks or close the distance due to the idea that kicks are longer and more powerful weapons. 

What Are the Differences Between Taekwondo and Karate?

Emphasis and Techniques

Karate has many styles and forms; most focus on quick hand, and leg strikes. Traditional styles originating from Okinawa also include elbow and knee strikes and basic judo throws and pins. However, modern practice mainly revolves around competition. 

The emphasis of training has moved from self-defense to preparing you to compete under the rules. Thus, the focus is on light contact striking with kicks and punches. Students rarely do any judo throws or practice how to strike with elbows and knees.

Taekwondo is famous for putting a lot of emphasis on leg strikes. In training, students learn all types of jumping, spinning, and other flashy kicks, and the main goal is to learn how to execute each kick with perfect technique and a lot of power. Like in karate, the modern practice is oriented towards competition and teaching you how to compete under the rules.


Taekwondo uniform is called “dobok,” consisting of a jacket (top), pants made out of thick cotton, and a color belt around the waist. The uniform originates from Judo and comes in various colors, with white and black being the most popular. The main difference is that the sleeves of the dobok are wider and longer than the traditional kimono uniform. Bear in mind that the design of the uniform differs a lot between the styles, countries, and even dojos.

Karate uniform, also called “keikogi” or “dogi,” is a traditional Japanese gi uniform from Judo. It includes a jacket (top) similar to the “judogi top,” long pants, and the color belt around the waist. Karate gi features lighter materials, and the heaviest designs weigh around 0.5kg (16 OZ). 

Styles and Federations

Karate has dozens of different styles, with each having a different emphasis. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Shotokan 
  • Goju Ryu
  • Wado Ryu
  • Kyokushin 

There are also many federations out of which the most famous one is the “World Karate Federation (WKF).” WKF has over 198 member countries and is the only one accepted by the International Olympic Committee. 

Taekwondo has three primary styles, defined by different sets of competition rules:

  • World Taekwondo (WT) – is also known as the Olympic style. This style emphasizes competition and execution of various jumping and spinning kicks, while the punches are far less important. 
  • International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) – is a traditional style of Taekwondo developed in the 1950s. In contrast with WT, ITF is more oriented towards self-defense and emphasizes hand strikes.
  • American Taekwondo Association (ATA) – is the American version of Taekwondo. It is a hybrid mix of ITF and WT rules and includes weapons such as bo staff.

Olympic Rules

Karate has been a part of the Olympic Games since 2020. The Olympic Kumite rules, aka “point fighting” rules, are:

  • Formats: Kumite (sparring) and kata (pre-arranged forms)
  • Match duration: one-three minute round. The action resets in the center each time the referee yells, “Yame.”
  • Equipment: full gi karate uniform, rank belt around the waist, gloves, padded foot, chest, and shin protectors
  • Legal strikes: light contact striking without using full force. The emphasis is on speed, perfect form and technique, and precision. Competitors are allowed to strike with direct punches and feet.
  • PointsIppon (three points) for hitting the head or neck with a kick. Waza-ari (two points) for landing a clean kick to the belly, side, back, or torso. Yuko (one point) for landing a punch to the head, belly, back, or torso.

Kata is a format where two karatekas demonstrate techniques using a pre-arranged set of karate movements. 

Seven judges score each performance based on the level of the technique presented, focus, speed, balance, form, rhythm, and many other factors.

Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport since 2000. The rules are very similar to “World Taekwondo” rules in that:

  • Match duration: Three rounds, each two minutes long, and a one-minute break between each round. The action resets in the center each time a competitor lands a clean strike and wins a point.
  • Legal strikes: kicks to the opponent’s torso or head. To win points, the kick must land with the part of the foot below the knuckle bone. Straight punches to the upper body are below the neck (torso).
  • Equipment: dobok uniform, color rank belt, forearm and shin guards, gloves, sensing socks and mouth guard, head protector, groin cup, and trunk protector.
  • Points1 point for a punch, 2 points for a valid kick to the trunk protector, 3 points for a kick to the head, 4 points for landing a turning kick to the trunk protector, 5 points for a valid turning kick to the head.


Karate and Taekwondo have a list of equipment students need to buy for training and competition. They are:

Karate Equipment List

  • Karate uniform (gi/kimono) – is a two-piece uniform consisting of a jacket held in place by the rank belt and long pants. The uniform comes in one color (white), but trainees also wear a blue version in some styles.
  • Color Belt – is a piece of cloth tied around the waist. Its purpose is to show rank while keeping the uniform in place during training or competition.
  • Chest protector – protects your chest and rib cage from injuries. Since it is made out of light materials, it does not harm your speed and agility while performing.
  • Rib guard – is very similar to chest protectors. However, it is much smaller and only protects your ribs and sides. A rib guard offers little protection to your stomach, lower abs, and chest.
  • Headgear – is an essential item, as it protects your head and face from injuries. Karatekas must wear headgear each time they spar in training or competition.
  • Karate gloves – come in different designs. Some gloves cover all the fingers, while other designs focus on protecting the palm and back of the hand.
  • Hand guards – protect the wrist from moving around while you are landing punches.
  • Mouthguard – is a piece of equipment that shields your teeth, gums, and jaw from strikes.

Taekwondo Equipment List

  • Dobok (uniform) 
  • Head guard – protects your head from injuries. In competition, athletes get the most points for landing clean kicks to the head, so all athletes must always wear headgear.
  • Chest protector – the main goal in Taekwondo is to score points by kicking or punching your opponent in the torso. Those used in competition include an electronic scoring system attached to the inside.
  • Foot protector – since Taekwondo puts a lot of emphasis on kicking with your foot, you must wear foot protectors all the time to prevent many serious injuries.
  • Forearm guards – Athletes use their forearms to block kicks and punches in Taekwondo. Forearms are there to absorb and reduce the force of the impact and keep your forearms safe.
  • Shin guards – Though the main goal is to land kicks with your foot, you also need to wear shin guards.
  • Taekwondo gloves and hand wraps – are open-fingered gloves, similar to the ones used in MMA. It would help if you also bought hand wraps to protect your hand and wrists better.
  • Groin guard – accidental kicks to the groin are standard in Taekwondo, so always wear a groin guard in sparring and competition.
  • Mouthguard – protects your teeth, gums, and jaw.

Taekwondo vs Karate – Which One Is Better for MMA?

Karate and Taekwondo are more than present in modern MMA fighting. Aspects of both these martial arts work well in cage fighting, so picking an outright winner is difficult. 

It all comes down to individual skills and the ability to combine karate or taekwondo skills with other martial arts to cover all MMA aspects.

What karate brings to the table in MMA is footwork, fast and precise kicks, and great timing. MMA fighters trained in karate are masters in utilizing high-level footwork to keep the distance. They attack from various angles, making it hard to curtail their movement. 

Once fighters close the distance, most prefer to attack in a blitz using straight punches and can quickly change directions. Mixing top-level karate skills with other aspects of MMA makes you very unpredictable and a tough matchup for anyone.

The same stands for Taekwondo. MMA fighters trained in this style all have elite footwork and kicks. They are masters in landing fast and powerful kicks at all ranges and angles. 

Karate fighters in MMATaekwondo fighters in MMA
Stephen ThompsonAnthony Pettis
Robert WhittakerAnderson Silva
Lyoto MachidaYair Rodriguez
Chuck LiddellEdson Barboza

Taekwondo vs Karate: Which One is Better for Fitness?

Both karate and Taekwondo offer a wide variety of fitness benefits. Training in both styles is a full-body workout that activates and improves strength in every muscle group. Both styles are equal in this aspect – It all comes down to your personal preference.

Although the exercises and class structure differ between styles, the benefits of karate are very much the same. Training is an intense aerobic activity that’s well-balanced. Through hard mat work, karate will improve upper and lower body muscle groups. You won’t develop big muscles as you can by lifting weights, but you will build muscle tone and strength. Further, karate makes you flexible and agile and boosts your cardio.

Taekwondo has similar benefits. Training consists of various grueling cardio workouts that burn plenty of calories and boost aerobic fitness. But the key advantage is that taekwondo training makes you incredibly flexible. Since the emphasis is on various types of kicks, you require high flexibility and range of motion to execute most techniques correctly. 

Taekwondo vs Karate – Cost of Classes (Gym Expenses)

On average, a karate student will spend about $13,000 to earn a black belt in the US. Karate costs more than Taekwondo, where the cost to get a black belt is $9,675. This figure considers school fees, equipment, belt testing, and association fees.

Bear in mind that costs vary between schools. Schools with a good reputation and tradition tend to charge more than the new ones. Costs also depend on where you live and the economic standard of your country.

Here is a closer look at the initial costs of taking Taekwondo and karate classes:

ItemCost (Karate)Cost (Taekwondo)
Monthly Fee (per month)$100-$150$100 (on average)
Registration Fee$50-$100 (often includes uniform)$50
Belt testing$25-$50 per test$60 per test
Training equipment (budget)$150$150
Protective gear (budget)$200$100

Taekwondo vs Karate: Who Would Win in a Street Fight?

People trained in karate might have a slight edge since karate is an all-around style and more in line with freestyle combat. Still, there are also plenty of scenarios where Taekwondo fighters might win. Winning depends on individual skills. 

However, karatekas have slightly better chances of winning as they are already familiar with most tools and weapons that Taekwondo brings to the table. For example, they know how to defend against kicks, use footwork to keep their range, and block punches. On top of that, they know how to counter Taekwondo attacks with fast and precise punches to the head.

Here is where the trouble begins for most fighters trained in Taekwondo since defense against punches to the head is typically poor. Fighters usually keep their hands low beside their bodies, exposing the chin.

So overall, karatekas have more techniques at their disposal, far better defense at all ranges, and much better footwork. And with that, better chances of winning a street fight.

Taekwondo vs Karate: Which One is Better For Kids?

Both karate and Taekwondo are very popular when introducing kids to martial arts and combat sports. 

This age group represents the core audience in most dojos worldwide.

Taekwondo is suitable for kids as the classes are playful, safe, and intense enough to improve fitness and flexibility. 

Training in most schools features 3 core elements: basics, forms (katas), and sparring. Children spend most of the time doing katas to memorize and perfect the technique and striking the heavy bag or pads. 

Sparring is reserved for senior students, with both parties wearing full protective gear and not using full force. 

Some of the benefits of Taekwondo for kids are:

  • Improves physical, mental, and emotional health (source)
  • Improves coordination, balance, and focus
  • Increases self-discipline and self-restraint

Karate is an even more popular option as there are many different styles, with most styles focusing on light contact. As in Taekwondo, kids start by learning all the basics and doing katas before moving to sparring. But karate differs in terms of safety because the emphasis is on light contact, making it even safer than Taekwondo. The only exception is Kyokushin, which is a full-contact style. But even in this style, training is designed to keep kids safe. Some of the benefits of karate for kids are:

  • Develops character and self-discipline
  • Improves social skills
  • Teaches good self-defense tactics

Final Thoughts – Which One Is Better for You?

At first glance, Taekwondo and Karate might look similar, but these two martial arts differ significantly. The better style comes down to your preference, but either style is a solid pick. 

Here are some final thoughts that might help you settle on a choice.

Karate has more styles and forms, which, on the one hand, can be confusing but, on the other, gives you a wider range of choices. Karate is also better if you want to develop solid self-defense skills. Just be sure to find a dojo that embraces traditional methods of teaching. It is also a better option for kids as most styles emphasize light contact striking, and training is very safe.

Conversely, Taekwondo shares similar benefits but is even better than karate regarding the physical benefits of training. It will make you flexible and help develop functional strength. It should also be your pick if you are a competitive person and want to participate in tournaments. 

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