Martial Arts Styles: Taekwondo vs. Karate

Tae Kwon Do, two women in mid-air jump kicking each other
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Taekwondo vs. karate: Which one is better? The styles are similar in many ways. During the first half of the 20th century, the Japanese occupied Korea. The Korean martial arts of the time, often termed subak or taekkyon, were outlawed by the Japanese. But the Korean styles not only managed to survive but were influenced by Japanese styles as well. Political pressures resulted in most Korean styles being categorized under one name, taekwondo.

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Taekwondo vs. Karate


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Taekwondo was named on April 11, 1955. It is primarily a striking style of martial arts. Hand and leg strikes are taught as well as blocks. But taekwondo is known for its kicking, particularly athletic kicking (spinning back kicks, jump kicks, etc.) and its heavy focus on being a sport. Taekwondo is said to be the most popular single martial arts style worldwide, with over 70 million practitioners. It is also an Olympic sport.

Taekwondo practitioners tend to practice forms, or hyungs, designed to mimic a predetermined combat scenario. Forms are sometimes considered meditation.

Karate is primarily a stand-up or striking style of martial arts that emerged on the island of Okinawa as a blend of native Okinawan fighting styles and Chinese fighting styles. The term karate refers to multiple styles categorized as one. 

Karate practitioners learn hand and leg strikes as well as blocks. There are some throws and joint locks taught in karate, but they are not the focus of the style. The majority of karate practitioners learn a more balanced approach to kicking and hand strikes than taekwondo practitioners do, as taekwondo relies more on kicks.

Karate practitioners tend to practice forms or kata. In that sense, it is similar to taekwondo. 

Well-Known Taekwondo vs. Karate Fights

Interested in how the two martial arts styles compare to each other in an actual fight scenario? Then, review the match ups below.

Masaaki Satake vs. Patrick Smith

Andy Hug vs. Patrick Smith

Masaaki Satake vs. Kimo Leopoldo

Cung Le vs. Arne Soldwedel

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Masaaki Satake vs. Patrick Smith

When Masaaki Satake (Seido-Kaikan karate) took on Patrick Smith (taekwondo) at the K-1 Illusion 1993 Karate World Cup, the audience was excited to see a primarily Korean striking-based fighter take on a Japanese-style fighter. The bout started out very quickly, with Smith throwing all types of kicks at his adversary. But then Satake punched Smith hard. Smith also hurt his right hand in round one. So what looked like a very promising match for the taekwondo-based fighter did not end up going his way. He lost by TKO in round one.

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Andy Hug vs. Patrick Smith

Andy Hug (karate) was a definitive favorite when Smith took him on during the K-1 Grand Prix Quarter Finals on April 30, 1994. But when Smith landed a huge right uppercut, Hug was knocked out after only 19 seconds had passed in round one.

Hug received another chance to fight Smith at K-1 REVENGE on Sept. 18, 1994, in Japan. There, he dropped and stopped Smith with a knee in round one.

The verdict? Karate and taekwondo split during these two bouts, demonstrating how effective both martial arts can be.

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Masaaki Satake vs. Kimo Leopoldo

Masaaki Satake (karate) was a super heavyweight karateka and trailblazing K-1 fighter, having learned as a member of Kazuyoshi Ishi's Seido-Kaikan organization. Kimo Leopoldo (taekwondo black belt) took down the then-undefeated Royce Gracie at UFC 3.​

When Leopoldo fought Satake at the K-1 Grand Prix 95 - Opening Battle, he attempted to start off strong. Despite his black belt in the art, Leopoldo did not make any moves during the entire match that resembled taekwondo.

Rather, the hulking figure threw hook after hook, most of which were unsuccessful, early in the fight. Toward the end, when Leopoldo started to fatigue, Satake hurt him with a roundhouse kick to the body and later dropped him with one to the head. In the second round, after dropping Leopoldo with a flurry, Satake sent him to the canvas two more times.

Karate won this match. But with Leopoldo's lack of recognizable taekwondo movements, this is noted with a huge asterisk.

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Cung Le vs. Arne Soldwedel

Cung Le (taekwondo) is widely known as a Sanshou Kickboxing and MMA champion. Sanshou is generally a derivative of kung fu, which is why many believe Le has an exclusively kung fu background. Actually, Le's black belt is in taekwondo, which is why his side kick and spinning back kicks are so devastating.

Arne Soldwedel (karate) is a founding member of Andy Hug’s fight team. He is a Seidokaikan karate fighter (full contact karate), an offshoot of Kyokushin.

In 1998, Le took on Soldwedel at the 1998 Shidokan Cup in Chicago, Ill. First, he defeated Ben Harris by KO (spinning hook kick). Next, he stopped Laimon M. Keita via a foot lock (yep, those Shidokan rules are cool). And finally, after more than six grueling rounds with Soldwedel, he knocked him out with a right hook in the seventh round.

The thousands of kicks and strikes Le had practiced throughout his life had worked. He was able to call himself a champion in this taekwondo vs. karate bout early in his career.