Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why Taekwondo differs from Karate

Let me start by saying "thanks" to Nathan for inviting me to Guest post on his blog!

My name is Gordon White. I live in Burlington VT and Teach Taekwondo at The Blue Wave Taekwondo school. I have been a Taekwondo practitioner since 1983.

A couple of things I would like to point out:

1. I make no claims of being a martial arts Historian.
2. The Taekwondo I speak of is that of the Kukkiwon and WTF. General Choi Hong Hi, while crucial to the development of Taekwondo in its infancy, for (insert reason here) was ousted from Korea and relocated to Canada, where he continued to promote and develop his style of Taekwon-do. ITF practitioners are likely take a different approach to the material discussed here.

Taekwondo is being practiced in 30,000 U.S. based dojangs. The curriculum varies so greatly however, that "Taekwondo, Tae Kwon Do, TaeKwon-Do" has become another generic term for Martial arts. The essay that I reference takes a step towards explaining why this is. If you find the topic interesting, I highly recommend following the link and reading the entire essay.

My favorite article about the history and development of Taekwondo is by Steven Capener called "Problems in the Identity and Philosophy of Taekwondo and Their Historical Causes" The paper discusses the confused personalities of Taekwondo; Martial Art, Sport, Fitness program, etc. Mr. Capener discusses this from a historical, and philosophical view point. (Eastern Culture and Western Culture).

One section of the paper identifies the deliberate design qualities the Taekwondo pioneers implemented. In an effort to create a uniquely Korean martial art, they literally took the opposite view of many Karate philosophies. (note: Taekwondo Pioneers are mostly students of the men that opened the first martial arts schools (kwans) in Korea after Japanese occupation ended, eventually coming together as a group to develop Taekwondo as single martial art)

The most visible difference was the intent to develop Taekwondo as a sport. This was something many Karate instructors were not willing to do as quoted in Mr. Capeners Essay:

Many karate instructors in Japan, however, did not understand the significance of this process and by insisting that karate must maintain its lethality, actually hindered its development.

Because of the decision to do this, it led to some other changes as well (Quoted from Mr. Capeners Essay):

The aspects of the competition system which generated the development of the original techniques by which Taekwondo became clearly distinguished from karate and in which new, more modern training values were posited are as follows:

A. The prohibition of attacking the face with hand techniques.
B. The prohibition of attacking below the waist.
C. The prohibition of grabbing the opponent.
D. The use of body protection making full-contact possible.

E. A scoring system which awarded points only for accurate blows of substantial power (full-contact). F. The regulations which allow continuous fighting without interference from the referee (except in cases where the flow of the match must be re-established or a warning given).

Its important to note that not all aspects of Karate training was challenged. Forms, 1 & 3 Steps sparring, self defense applications are all still practiced today and are Taekwondo Versions of these Karate drills.

I really like this essay because it makes no comments about Taekwondo being better then Karate, it simply states that Taekwondo took a different evolutionary path, what those differences are, and why they were chosen.

Taekwondo today is largely governed by 2 global organizations. The Kukkiwon, handles Dan certification, Basics, Forms and the Martial Art Curriculum development of Taekwondo. The World Taekwondo Federation ( WTF ) is an international Sport organization promoting and governing the international and Olympic Sport of Taekwondo.

I hope you enjoyed the post and I didnt bore you to tears.


Bob Patterson said...

The reality is that both Karate and Taekwondo have become "Americanized". Some schools are good and others are not. Some are "traditional" and some are not. I do like the "different evolutionary path" distinction. Early tko in the late 40's was practically a carbon of copy of Shotokan. However, 99% of it now is so drastically different that this is really no longer a legit criticism IMO. I believe Tang So Do is still similar to Shotokan karate. However, taekwondo is not.

Gordon White said...

Americanization of Karate and Taekwondo has led to the confusion of the general public in regards to exactly "What" is Taekwondo. (or Karate). Some martial arts schools offer true martial arts training, others offer a "fitness activity" others something else all together, the problem is they ALL call it "Karate" or "Taekwondo".

Tang Soo Do is probably the closest relative to Shotokan on the Korean Side. I believe Tang So Do practitioners still do the same Shotokan Forms (pinyan, Ba Sai, Ni Han Chi etc.)as well.

After visiting I realized that ITF Taekwon-do sparring is virtually identical.
Different paths, but similar results it seems.

thanks for the comment.

Luc said...

I was glad to read this post; it settled some questions that have been in my mind about Taekwondo and other martial arts.

I was attracted to Taekwondo because of the specific cameraderie and energy in the Burlington Blue Wave dojang, and the fact that parents and children could train together. In retrospect, I see that through pure luck I took up with a martial art that also provides opportunities to actually use it (in sparring).

I studied Uechi Ryu karate for about a year and a half (long, long ago) and enjoyed it a lot, but it was always a disappointment that I knew I was learning something that if I was lucky I would never use. By contrast, working out at the Blue Wave dojang constantly challenges me with things I need to master if I'm going to be competent in sparring matches. Competition on the whole isn't very important to me, but it provides a convenient pretend goal for my training (while the actual goal, of course, is the training itself and the physical and mental benefits I get from that).

self-mastery-sam said...

I was prepared to do battle with you ... LoL but the more of this extremely well written article I read, the more I came agree with you. If fact I believe that when the Koreans saw Judo become an Olympic sport it became a National mission to get Taekwondo in the Olympics before Karate.

I've been training in Taekwondo or 37 years, before the wtf had turned taekwondo totally into a sport. If fact for a long time I use to argue that there should be a different name for the sport and the art. That was before I realized that they didn't want to have an art.

I still train in what I call "Traditional Taekwondo Jidokwan" which still includes foot sweeps, grapling, "aikido-esque type takedowns and weapons. Many of the Korean Masters that were my friends didn't "get" the concept that Taekwondo was only to be a sport. Thank God for them!!!

Anyway, Great Article ! ! !...
If you like check out my website article the early history, the kwans, taekyun, kongsoodo, taesoodo, etc. at

Yours in the Spirit of Wisdom
Sam Naples

Grandmaster Chun Taekwondo Jidokwan

john said...

I think this essay portrays Taekwondo in a very bad light

First off lets make a distinction

Are we talking

ITF taekwondo (northern korea)


WTF taekwondo (southern korea)

The sport taekwondo is nothing more than two people kicking and hardly using their hands as seen in the olympics, this is a COPY of the original northern korea taekwondo

ITF does practice self defense! we do three step sparring, we do practice self defence right from white belt - the true difference is in the sparring.

In ITF we spar (as bruce lee put it) the closest way to realistic fighting) we are light, fast and punch & kick to the entire body, we train for the head, because if you train for a high part of the body then executing a low kick is simple.

Shotokan is great, i do it as well! it is brilliant for blocking and countering, brilliant for self defence, but when i compare the sparring of a green belt ITF taekwondo and green belt or equivelant belt Shotokan - its like night and day!

Shotokan is great for sweeps, unofortunatly we dont in my school do enough sweeps.

This paper is based on WTF which we dont even consider a taekwondo, they took ITF northern korean style and changed it because they believed the general was evil and the north was communistic.

Let me ask you this? Why were the eastern block countries so feared in competitions, from the olympics right through to martial arts and boxing? .....

The communistic mindset is frightening, it makes people like robots, this is how the ITF of the north is done.

It is fast, deadly, the self defense is there (unlike what is mentioned in this article) and there is no conflict with history and the art

There is a conflict within WTF as mentioned this is really taekeyon with the name of taekwondo, it looks sloppy and you can go any where in the world put a wtf against an ITF and he will get knocked out.

There was a competition recently where one of these guys came in the uk, the WTF guy was warming up, doing fancy moves, fancy kicks and thirty seconds into the fight, KO!!!!

Out taken off the mats on a stretcher!!

Comparing ITF with WTF then calling them both the same is like eating and comparing chocolate with figs, they both taste sweet but are not the same thing

We can call anything Taekwondo it doesnt mean it is taekwondo and i saw someone mention on this post taekwondo of the 1940s .....

Taekwondo wasnt developed until the mid 1950s, so what you saw, or were told was not taekwondo!

TheFightKid said...

Both are the same, but kind of differs from each other. Krate teaches peace and calmness, and TKD is a more aggressive form of Karate. Karate uses mostly punches while TKD uses mostly kicks. The only difference is the origin, name and aggression. TKD is fast and effective, i should say by my point of view, like 40%, while Karate is a bit slow, calm and more effective, like 50-55%. So choosing any makes almost no difference because they both teach self defence.