Kung fu vs karate: what are the main differences between the two sports?

Kung fu vs karate: what are the main differences between the two sports?

Lenah Ann
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:23 PM

Kung fu and karate are two of the most popular forms of martial arts disciplines with various techniques from different parts of the world. They both teach self-defence and are also practised as a sport. Although they share some similarities, martial arts also have some differences.

Kung Fu vs Karate
Kung fu vs karate: What are the main differences between the two sports? Photo: Richard Heathcote, Mohamed Abed (Modified by author)
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The two are sometimes combined during training to enhance the student's skills. By observing people train, the untrained eye will most likely be confused about the two sports. According to depth analysis, here are more details about the differences between the two contact sports.

Kung fu vs karate

Karate is a form of Japanese martial art in which players or students are unarmed and is attributed to Japan's fighting methods and techniques. On the other hand, it comprises different fighting styles developed over the centuries in China.

It is believed that karate began in the 5th century when Bodhidharma first arrived in the Shaolin temple and later appeared in Okinawa. Kung fu originated in the Zhou Dynasty as early as 1111 BC and was practised as an exercise in the 5th century BC.

Many people unfamiliar with martial arts cannot distinguish between the two as they might seem the same. It is not only until further exposure that one learns and can differentiate by noticing the different styles used in each case.

What is Karate?
Athletes perform at a beach exhibition ahead of the 10th Mombasa Open Tong-IL Moo-Doo International Martial Arts Championship 2022, in Mombasa, Kenya, on 15 December 2022. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
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What is Kung fu?

It is an ancient Chinese martial art, regarded as a cultural sport, holding a significant traditional position. It not only helps when it comes to self-defence but also in health preservation. Compared to other forms of martial arts, it is more holistic because it helps boost a student's or player's internal attributes through mastering external techniques.

What is karate?

Karate is a Japanese martial art that involves kicking, striking, and defensive blocking while the karateka remains unarmed. It allows the use of legs and arms while focusing body power at a certain point of impact.

What are the differences between Kung fu and karate?

Here are some of the major differences between the two contact sports.

  • Kung fu has many schools under it with different styles of training, while karate school teaches only one style, the Karate way.
  • Kung fu uses all kinds of weapons incorporated into training, while hands and legs are the weapons in karate.
  • Kung fu does not shy about close combat fights, while karate prefers medium to long-range distances for defence and planned striking.
  • Kung fu uniforms come in different colours, styles and materials, while in karate, there is only a white uniform referred to as a Gi that is loose and light and designed to maximise speed and mobility.
Is Kung Fu or Karate better?
Students attend a rehearsal of a Meihua Quan performance for the upcoming Chinese new year in Jize County on 15 January 2022 in Handan, Hebei Province of China. Photo: Jin Hua
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  • In Kung fu, shoes are used in training and as part of the attire for the sport, while in karate, there are no shoes involved.
  • Kung fu has circular movements resembling animals' fighting styles, while karate movements are sharp and linear.
  • Kung fu originated in China, while karate originated in Japan.

Similarities between Kung fu and karate

One might think that the two sports completely differ. However, aside from them being contact sports, they share some similarities.

  • They are both forms of Eastern martial arts.
  • They are both practised as a means of self-defence and health-keeping.
  • Both forms of martial arts have a belt ranking system.

What is the best, Kung fu or karate?

Karate techniques tend to be more linear and inclined towards one area, making it easier to learn. Moreover, it gets easier to intercept as the movements are noticed before the strike is done.

On the other hand, it comprises many different styles, like crane and tiger, which covers a wider range of training with vast deceptive and effective techniques from various disciplines. These techniques are used mainly for defence.

What is the best, Kung Fu or karate?
Players in action during the 5th Championship in Gaza City, Gaza on 20 January 2023. Photo: Ali Jadallah
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Kung fu is a complete and complex system; not all schools can exhaust it. Some only focus on one style. For instance, most schools only teach Tai Chi as it complements all the other styles by helping the learner understand the act of striking.

Both martial arts are great, and almost anyone that has taken the classes can say that it is not about the hardness of the technique but the philosophical approach. Keep in mind, Kung fu is more useful in situations like stopping a target, while karate is an offensive martial art.

Boxing vs Kung fu, which is better?

Although they are both incredible martial arts disciplines mostly used in fighting and self-development, boxing is more effective. Boxing mainly prioritises the actual fighting scenarios over the training part, thus more suitable for self-defence.

Conversely, Kung fu includes more techniques that are therapeutic and sometimes hard to learn as compared to boxing. It is better for someone who has issues with calming down and might need to meditate, and also when someone is dealing with more than one opponent.

The better one between the two types of martial arts will depend on why the person wants to learn martial arts. If a person wants to tap into their inner core, reflect, and also learn self-defence, Kung Fu is the way to go. However, if a person wants a more effective type between the two, then boxing it is.

Boxing vs Kung Fu, which is better?
Wushu athletes train for the traditional WushuTurkey Championship at Prusias Hypium ancient city in Duzce, Turkey on 10 December 2021. Photo: Omer Urer
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What are the differences between Kung fu and boxing?

As much as the two contact sports are categorised under martial arts, there are several fascinating differences between them.

  • Boxing is a sport known for punching; it includes various forms such as hook, jab, and straight punch, while the other emphasises multiple techniques such as kicking and grappling.
  • Kung fu originated in China, while boxing originated in Britain and thus, they are both composed of different fighting approaches and styles.
  • Boxing is a modern martial art, while Kung fu is a traditional martial art surrounded by a strong culture with spirituality and values.

Which is better for self-defence, boxing or Kung fu?

Kung fu is considered better for self-defence as compared to boxing. It has more fighting techniques which come in handy when fighting against more than one opponent. It also helps to make people brave enough to stand up for themselves and fight.

Is Kung fu the best martial art?

Differences between Kung Fu and Karate
Athletes practice ahead of the 10th Mombasa Open Tong-IL Moo-Doo international martial arts Championship 2022, in Mombasa, Kenya, on 15 December 2022. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Source: Getty Images

Kung Fu is regarded as the best martial art in the world. It has vast techniques, philosophy, and skills incorporated from experiences over the years. Additionally, it has helped many people learn self-defence and health preservation.

Most people have incorporated martial arts into their daily routine and live for various purposes, including self-defence, nourishment, and leisure. Looking at Kung fu vs karate, the two sports have been greatly preferred thanks to their vast benefits, skills and discipline.

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Lenah Ann photo
Lenah Ann
Lenah Ann is a Kenyan-based content creator with 2 years of experience. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Media and Communication from Dedan Kimathi, Kenya in 2021.