When it comes to starting the young ones with martial arts, two of the most popular choices come to mind- Karate and Taekwondo.
Yet, to the untrained eye, they seem uncannily similar, because after all-
They look the same, they do the same things, they sound the same, they must be the same right?
Well mums and dads, time to improve your martial (sm)arts!
There are 5 key differences between Karate and Taekwondo-
Karate is a culturally Okinawan-Japanese martial art, while Taekwondo is Korean.
The Karategi is a robe-styled jacket worn with a trousers and belt, while the top of a Taekwondo outfit is a v-neck shirt.
3. Physical Expression
Karate movements are often snappy, grounded, and balanced, while Taekwondo tends to emphasize on kicking, jumping techniques, and more complex movements.
4. Way of Practice
Syllabus used between Karate classes are a lot more varied according to "styles", compared to in Taekwondo classes, where they are more standardized.
Protective equipment used in competition Karate and Taekwondo are different according to the requirements of the various governing authorities that they are aligned with.
Karate and Taekwondo derive from different cultures.
Karate originated from the Ryukyu Kingdom (known today as Okinawa), and after spreading across mainland Japan, it was recognized as one of Japan's many cultural martial arts assets, alongside those like Kendo and Judo.
On the other hand, Taekwondo was founded in Korea towards the end of World War 2.
With Karate and Taekwondo originating from different cultures, the way these martial arts are expressed to practitioners are significantly different.
In the English-speaking world, both martial arts classes are predominantly facilitated in English.
When it comes to terminologies and cultural observances however, Karate classes aligns with the Japanese (sometimes even Okinawan) culture, while being Korean in a Taekwondo class.
For instance, we count ichi, ni, san... (one, two, three...) in a Karate class and refer to a Front Kick as mae geri.
We adopt the seiza, formal Japanese sitting position, to bow and "meditate" before the start of each class and at the end of one, saying onegaishimasu (please take care of/ guide me) and arigatogozaimashita (thank you) respectively at each time.
These observances aren't likely to be seen in a Taekwondo class and even if they are, they're likely to be expressed in a culturally Korean manner.
Both the standard Karate and Taekwondo outfits sport similar white top and trousers completed with a colored waist belt, though on closer inspection they're fashioned differently.
The jacket of a 'karategi', is styled as a robe worn by layering the one side over the other.
The layers are sometimes held in place with connecting strings at the sides, but even if without, they are fastened with the colored waist belt that also indicates the practitioner's grade in formal Karate practice.
A Taekwondo top on the other hand is a v-neck long-sleeved shirt that requires no fastening, yet still worn with a colored waist belt.
Contemporary-styled Karategi trousers sports an elastic waistband similar to that used for Taekwondo.
However, it is also not uncommon for some Karate trousers to be using a traditional drawstring instead of an elastic waistband.
3. Physical Expression
Visually, Karate movements often appears snappy, grounded, and balanced incorporating both the hands and feet to kick, punch, and sometimes grapple with, while movements in Taekwondo are usually more physically complex incorporating a myriad of jumping techniques, placing more emphasis on kicking, and hardly (if ever) allowing for grappling to take place.
This can often be seen in sports competition, where both Karate and Taekwondo are represented in the Olympics.
4. Way of Practice
Karate and Taekwondo are unarmed combat skills that can be practiced for a variety of reasons- for sports, fitness, self-defence, etc.
Thousands of Karate and Taekwondo classes around the world generally align themselves with various governing authorities that give direction towards teaching syllabus, sporting rules and guidelines, and operating mission.
Taekwondo schools today are generally aligned to either of two major governing organizations- International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) or World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), making its way of practice relatively more unified (i.e. a Taekwondo school is usually either ITF-styled or WTF-styled).
While many Karate schools are aligned to the World Karate Federation (WKF) regarding sports competition matters, many still adopt the syllabus of their parent styles (e.g. Shitoryu, Shotokan, Gojuryu, etc.) when it comes to day to day practice in the dojo.
Hence, the way of practice between classes/ centres are likely to be more varied between Karate classes, while being largely standardized in Taekwondo classes.
Some Karate styles might even have a radically different way of practice that it might come across as a different martial art altogether!
Left to Right: Comparison of set forms between WTF and ITF styled Taekwondo
Top Left to Right: Comparison of set forms between WTF and ITF styled Taekwondo
Bottom Left to Right: Comparison of set forms between 2 styles of 'traditional' Karate, Shitoryu and Shotokan and a modern style, Ashihara Karate
Supplementary equipment used in both Karate and Taekwondo classes generally serves to either provide personal protection from injury during practice/ competition (e.g. gloves, and shin pads), augment targets on the body (e.g. striking mitts), or enhance personal performance (e.g. resistance bands).
While coaches and participants are free to use any equipment they prefer, there tends to be an enforced standardization (homologation) of personal protective equipment (PPE) by the authorities governing sports Karate and Taekwondo.
As a result, participants of sports Karate and Taekwondo will require different protective gear for training and competition.
Both Karate and Taekwondo are excellent martial arts for children (and adults) to develop their physical and mental capacities, given their dynamism and emphasis in all-rounded skills development, while being steeped in East Asian cultural martial arts values.
The points where they diverge, on the aspects of Culture, Outfit, Physical Expression, Way of Practice, and Equipment makes for a significantly different experience between the two that may affect your decision making on which martial arts to set your child off with.
What other differences between Karate and Taekwondo classes that you know of?
What else would you like to know between the two.
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below!