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10 Key Differences – Karate vs Kung Fu

| Updated on September 2, 2021

Karate vs Kung Fu – What are the differences?

Although there are some similarities between Karate and Kung Fu, there are many key differences. As a Karateka, I’ve immersed myself into Karate as a way of life, and here are some key differences I’ve observed when it comes to Karate vs Kung Fu.

10. Traditional Karate Doesn’t Train with Weapons

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Karate-Do translates to ‘Empty Hand’. The only weapons traditional Karate teaches the student to use belong to their own body. Karatekas are taught how to become a walking weapon simply by using parts of their own body such as fists, feet, fingers, knees, elbows, forearms, and shins.

There are an astonishing 18 weapons taught in the various styles of Kung Fu. They are the sabre, spear, sword, halberd, axe, battle axe, hook, fork, whip, mace, hammer, talon, trident-halberd, cudgel, long-handled spear, short cudgel, stick, and meteor hammer.

9. Certain Kung Fu Styles are Influenced by Animals

karate vs kung fu

Shaolin Kung Fu has 5 styles, each influenced by an animal. These 5 animals are the Tiger, Crane, Snake, Leopard, and Dragon. Karate has no such influence.

8. Uniforms

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Karate is home to arguably the most recognized martial arts uniform — the Karate Gi. Traditionally, Karate Gis are white and many schools won’t accept any other colour so to adhere to the tradition. Black Gis are becoming more popular and seem to be more accepted, particularly in Western society.

Kung Fu uniforms come in a range of colours depending on the style. You may see Kung Fu uniforms in white, orange, black, and red.

Karate Gis are easily distinguished by their angled overlap at the top half front of the Gi that doesn’t connect at any point like Taekwondo uniforms do. The ties are hidden underneath the jacket, not to be seen.

Kung Fu uniforms come together at the top straight up and down, some with many noticeable ties to keep each side of the jacket together.

7. Karate Trains Bare Foot

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Karate uses barefoot training except in tournaments. Even Makiwara and bag training are traditionally trained barefoot.

Kung Fu used a unique lightweight shoe that has a flat and flexible sole, allowing for lots of foot mobility.

6. Kung Fu Uses More Acrobatics

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Kung Fu tends to be more flashy than Karate, resembling other sports such as Parkour, gymnastics, and even break dancing. Arguably, this doesn’t make Kung Fu more or less effective than Karate.

Karate teaching fighting techniques only. The only objectives of Karate are to defend oneself if needed and to end the fight as soon as possible.

5. Kung Fu is Older Than Karate

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As you may or may not know, Karate is derived from Kung Fu. Kung Fu is said to have originated as early as 1911 BC, although nobody can be sure.

Karate didn’t become its’ own martial art until the 17th century. After evolving in East Asia for centuries, Karate became its own define system by practitioners residing in Okinawa. This system is not the system you know today though.

There were no uniforms, ranking systems, belts, commercialized dojos, rigid styles or curriculums. Just pure Karate-Do as a fighting discipline and way of life.

4. Karate has Less Variety of Forms and Techniques

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Karate teaches practical self-defense — using hand and foot strikes as its main offense with the philosophy to end the fight with 1 single powerful blow. Having less variety than Kung Fu means more practice with the same techniques. This repetition may lead to a higher effectiveness per technique.

Kung Fu tends to be more elusive and defensive. The added variety of stances and forms in Kung Fu are more obscure and non-traditional compared to the straight-line style of Karate.

3. Karate is More Linear

kung fu vs karate

Nearly all of Karat’s stances, strikes and blocks are front/back or side. Kung Fu tends to have a more circular motion when it comes to many of its forms. This is partly why it appears to be more elegant in nature while Karate appears more robust.

2. Kung Fu is Trained to Defend Multiple Opponents

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This is one of the larger differences between Karate and Kung Fu. Although Karate Katas are performed as if defending against multiple opponents, these don’t prepare you for a real battle. Karate Kumite (sparring) is primarily one vs one and therefore prepares one for such a battle.

Kung Fu on the other hand emphasizes defending against multiple opponents at once. Their training includes attacks coming from multiple angles.

1. Karate is More Offensive

kung fu vs karate

In Karate, you are taught to diffuse and avoid a potentially volatile situation at all costs, fighting is the last resort. If a fight does ensue, Karatekas are taught to end the fight as soon as possible with one deadly strike.

Although Kung Fu students are also taught to be able to end the fight with one strike, they’re also taught to ‘dance around’ with sleek and obscure movements to avoid confrontation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Karate stronger than Kung Fu?

No martial is stronger than another. It’s the martial artist that determines the strength of the martial art.

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May you see clearly
May you be love

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