Do you know the differences between the styles of martial arts? “Kung fu” is sometimes used as a term for most martial arts. In reality, it is very different in style and form from karate and taekwondo. Karate and taekwondo are also very different from each other. All three have their beginnings, stances, and emphases. However, they have a lot in common, too!

Differences in Karate

KNS kids karate students learning to punch differences

Karate, the most popular of the three, is a Japanese martial art. It started on the island of Okinawa after similar arts came over from China. One legend says the people developed karate after a local king banned weapons to prevent war on the island. The people turned to their hands for self-defence. Hence the name: “karate” is Japanese for “empty hand”.

As the name suggests, karate is mostly about hand attacks, with the legs keeping the student grounded. The stance makes sure that the legs will always be ready as a backup. Known for its “chop”, much of the focus of karate is on smooth, linear strikes with fists, open hands, elbows, and knees.


Differences in Taekwondo

taekwondo differences

As opposed to karate, taekwondo focuses on legs, teaching the student kicks, jumps, and spins. It’s a combination of the Korean words tae meaning “foot” or “leg”, kwon meaning “fist”, and do meaning “way”. Taekwondo has ancient beginnings in Korea. With the Japanese occupation at the beginning of the 20th century, they banned it as a practice. The discipline we have today is a combination of different types into one style after the end of World War II.

Taekwondo teaches a different stance than karate or kung fu. This prepares the body to use legs as the first line of self-defence. The emphasis is on quick, graceful kicking. However, the style also use parries, punches, and takedowns.


Differences in Kung Fu

kung fu differences

Pop culture is one of the ways many kids discover martial arts, and this is how they learn of kung fu. Kung fu is often our first impression of martial arts. This is because of the movies of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. However, kung fu isn’t one specific discipline. It’s actually many different Chinese martial arts styles. These ancient arts have influenced both karate and taekwondo.

Bruce Lee, for instance, practiced an original type of kung fu called Jeet Kune Do. This is a “formless” style with no fixed pattern and is more about intercepting an attack just as one’s opponent makes their move. He called it “the art of fighting without fighting”. It was as much a lifestyle as martial art!

Jackie Chan, who got his movie career started as a stuntman in Bruce Lee’s films, practices Shaolin Kung Fu. This is the oldest and most famous Chinese martial art. The long list of exact Shaolin forms trace their founding to the 6th Century AD. It’s very disciplined in its style, much different from Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.

You don’t have to limit yourself to one martial art or the other, though. Jackie Chan trained in Jeet Kune Do, too, as well as taekwondo and judo. He even has a black belt in a South Korean grappling martial art called Hapkido. Karate, taekwondo, and kung fu all teach patience, discipline, and focus. They give the body a complete exercise. Being able to understand the differences between the diferent styles of martial arts can be an important skill to have. This is critical when considering the factors important to you and choosing a style that best suits your needs. If you enjoy the learning and ideas behind martial arts, you can take classes in more than one!

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