Both forms of martial art are something that you’ll want to consider learning, especially if you’re interested in self-defense.
The age-old question is which style is superior, but that’s something that’s usually a matter of personal preference.
Some people will say that Karate is better, while others will argue that Kung Fu is the superior option.
In any case, this article is going to look at the difference between each martial art, as well as consider which one would ultimately come out on top.
We all want to win in life, and competition can be found anywhere. Even though some would say that the styles are somewhat similar, it’s as if they are rivals all at the same time!
What is Karate?
Karate is a form of martial art that is conducted without the use of weapons and was initially developed in Japan. The fighting methods found on the Ryuku Islands were taken and polished, which is what we now know as Okinawa, Japan – one of the most popular Japan regions we’ve come to cherish. Not only is the scenery immaculate, but it’s also the birthplace of Karate itself!
It is also referred to as “Karate-Do” at times and was recently introduced into the official Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
Some of the more popular organizations around the world that offer up professional and amateur Karate tournaments would be:
- WKF (World Karate Federation)
- EKK (European Kyokushin Karate Organization)
- USADO (USA National Karate DO)
- JKF (Japan Karate Federation)
- And much more!
History of Karate and its Origins
Legends have been written about the beginning of Karate, and how it came to be one of the most dominant striking martial arts available to mankind. The meaning of Karate is “empty hands”, which is a literal translation, as Karate practitioners will never use weapons during combat. It was designed to be used as a self-defense system, as opposed to something that can be used to pressure an opponent.
This is why you see Karate fighters like Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson mostly counterpunching during their bouts, as that’s what Karate was initially created to accomplish.
The evolution of Karate itself began around the 5th Century CE, when an Indian Buddhist Monk named Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin-si (which is a small temple in the forest). Over time, it seems as if they taught the art to others and it quickly became a sensation on Okinawa.
Karate Movies – This is what made it popular to the public
If you grew up in the ’80s or even ’90s there are tons of amazing karate movies to consider re-watching, but there’s still a chance you missed a few of them.
Karate is amazing to implement on the big screen because it offers a “wow factor”, and it’s also grown into something more than what we saw initially in Hollywood.
Karate masters from all over the world were flocking to Los Angeles in the ’90s to test their talents on the big screen, and it’s why we were able to enjoy films like “Bloodsport” or “Police Story”.
It’s tough to pin-point movies that focus on Karate alone, as many martial arts movies (like the ones we just mentioned) have a mash of many things.
The best series to watch for any Karate connoisseur would have to be the “Karate Kid” trilogy, and you can even check out the new “Cobra Kai” television series online now. One of the best things these movies also did was show that you do not have to be big and tall to become a martial arts master.
Yes, there are certain styles of martial arts better suited for larger folks but having height or size is not a requirement to become a martial arts master, whether it be karate or kung fu.
Different Kinds of Karate
There are several different types of Karate, all of which focus on a different principle (or so it would seem).
Some of them are cardio-rich and will help you lose weight, and others are going to promote self-defense and strength. We’re sure you’ve seen a gang of school children wearing their “Karategis”, which is a traditional Karate uniform, but there are adults who are into the martial art as well. There is no age limit when it comes to Karate, and the sheer number of options available is a testament to that. If you were considering learning Karate or happen to practice yourself, see if there are any kinds of Karate that you can recognize from this list!
- Shotokan – Focuses on the upper and lower body to produce powerful strikes, designed to stop an attacker or your opponent with pace.
- Goju-ryu – Designed around the thought of “hard and soft”, allowing people to produce strong strikes with both open hands and closed fists.
- Uechi-ryu – Developed by Kanbun Uechi in the early 1900s, this is the style of Karate that was inspired by the Ancient Chinese fighting styles. Offers an upright stance and plenty of techniques for blocking.
There are many other styles of Karate to consider, but these are ones that you’ve likely come across already. If you’ve seen a Karate dojo in your city or in general, just know that they’re likely practicing one of these three Karate styles.
What is Kung Fu?
Kung Fu consists of many different fighting styles blended together into one, which is why most people will argue that Kung Fu is superior. With that being said, Karate has many different styles as well, they just happen to be independent – who’s to say you can’t blend some of them together yourself?
In any case, Kung Fu is the most popular martial art in China, and that’s because it’s something they developed locally a long time ago.
Some Chinese people to this day will apply Kung Fu as a workout method, as opposed to a self-defense mechanism.
When you look at it that way it’s almost like killing two birds with one stone since you can stay fit and also be ready for potential problems on the street! Discipline, concentration, and determination are three traits that are a must-have for any Kung Fu practitioner.
Many styles of Kung Fu come together and create an artistic martial art that mimics the form of animals – Eagle Claw, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and any of those other “zany” moves found in Kung Fu movies are likely real!
Kung Fu’s History and Origins
Also known as “Wushu” and hundreds of other names due to the many variations available, Kung Fu was initially developed by Buddhist Monks in Ancient China.
It has been officially documented for around 1,500 years, although there are cases where Ancient Chinese fighting styles were used well over 3,000 years ago too!
The Zhou Dynasty (the period of 111 to 255 BC) was the era of Kung Fu, as it was used for both practicing and exercise purposes. Daoist’s are said to have fallen in love with martial arts right away, implementing it into their daily routine almost immediately during the 5th century of BCE.
The Main Difference Between Karate and Kung Fu
The main difference between Karate and Kung Fu would be the origins, as one comes from Japan and the other from China. It’s a traditional rivalry in that sense, as the Chinese and Japanese have had their “issues” for quite some time – turns out that Kung Fu versus Karate is something you can add to the list.
Both styles will offer hundreds of variations and make use of both upper body and lower body strikes, so it’s tough to find a major difference.
Modern Karate has taken on a much different feel when compared to its older counterpart, and it’s especially different when compared to modern Kung Fu fighting.
Karate is easier to apply in “genuine fights” such as MMA, and the popularity of combat sports is only growing these days.
Karate practitioners wear a color belt and gi (karategi – uniform) whereas Kung Fu fighters wear fancy silk suits and sashes.
Which One is Better for Self-Defense (in a Street Fight)?
Both of them are going to offer an amazing number of techniques for self-defense, although Karate is likely the better option. And when we say that it’s better, we are talking about modern day karate where striking AND defense of one’s self from strikes and various attacks is part of the training.
As we’ve said numerous times in this article there are hundreds of different styles for both Karate and Kung Fu, so find one that you enjoy and practice it until you’re a master. At that point, self-defense won’t be an issue for you regardless of the style choice.
Which One is Older?
Both Kung Fu and Karate are quite old, dating back to Ancient China and Japan. If you want to get technical, Kung Fu is older when compared historically, and that might be because Ancient China has a broader history to look at.
Who Would Win in a Professional Fight Between Kung Fu and Karate Masters?
Both fighters are going to be up for the challenge, and there are many styles to choose from. Some styles of Kung Fu will trump Karate with ease, and vice versa. There’s no telling who’s going to win a bout between genuine masters as well since both of them have been practicing their respective martial art for decades.
If you want to see a Kung Fu and Karate master fight, your best bet would be to look at MMA. There are hundreds of organizations that offer many fighters, some of which apply either Karate or Kung Fu (and in some cases, both) during their bouts. Can you imagine somebody using the Eagle Claw in a UFC fight?
All in all, it doesn’t matter what you think about Kung Fu or Karate. Whether you’re “Team Karate” or “Team Kung Fu” is irrelevant, since both of them are respectable martial arts that have stood the test of time. If you’re trying to figure out which one you want to practice yourself, well, that’s a choice you’ll have to make alone.