Karate Vs Taekwondo for Self Defense: An Objective Comparison!

Both of these martial arts are popular choices for self-defense, with thousands of devoted practitioners. But they’re not perfect and they’re definitely not the same. They have different advantages and disadvantages that you should know about before joining a gym.

In this article I’ve focused on their self-defense application and on training them for this purpose. So I encourage you to keep reading because by the end of this article you will definitely know which of these two arts (if any) is the right choice for you!

What is Karate?

Karate is a striking art that uses punches, kicks, and elbows to deliver powerful blows to an attacker. Karate also teaches practitioners to use their opponent’s momentum against them, making it a good choice for smaller individuals.

One of the benefits of Karate over some other traditional martial arts is that you can do light AND hard sparring. You can learn the techniques, practice them with a partner and get comfortable before having to apply them in a real-life situation. It’s also relatively easy to pick up the basics, although it can take years to become a true master.

What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo focuses on kicks, which can also be effective in some self-defense situations. You can use kicks to keep an attacker at a distance or to disable them by targeting vulnerable areas like the knees or groin.

In addition, taekwondo training typically includes sparring, allowing students to practice their techniques in a controlled environment. This practice can help them master forms and use them effectively in self-defense. Additionally, taekwondo teaches discipline and respect, which can help prevent violence before it even starts.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art characterized by its emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. It is a relatively modern martial art developed in the 1940s and 1950s by various Korean karate masters. Taekwondo has become one of the most popular martial arts in the world, with an estimated 40 million practitioners worldwide.

While Taekwondo’s popularity as a spectator sport has grown recently, it is still primarily considered a self-defense art. Many taekwondo schools emphasize teaching self-defense techniques you can use in real-world situations.

What are the Differences Between Karate and Taekwondo?

  1. One significant difference is that Taekwondo places a lot more emphasis on kicking techniques. Punches are allowed, but not on the head or below the belt. This rule would not be helpful in a self-defense situation where you’d want to deal a knockout blow to the opponent as soon as possible. Karate also has a more spiritual element to it than Taekwondo does.
  2. Karate generally has more forms (kata in Karate) than Taekwondo (Poomsae), giving Karate practitioners more options. Some experts believe this advantage makes Karate more effective for self-defense as there is a greater variety of techniques. However, others argue it takes longer to master Karate and that Taekwondo’s limited number of forms makes it easier to learn and use effectively in self-defense. 
  3. Karate originated in Okinawa, Japan, while Taekwondo originated in Korea. Karate was developed as self-defense for farmers who were not allowed to carry weapons. It uses techniques like grappling, joint locks, and pressure point strikes which can be very effective against an attacker even if the person using them is not extremely strong or physically fit. On the other hand, Taekwondo was invented when Korea was under Japanese rule and martial arts were banned.
  4. Karate became an Olympic sport for the first time in 2020 in Tokyo, while Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport for a long time. While both sports require discipline and training, Olympic Taekwondo has stricter rules regarding scoring and competition. For instance, in Taekwondo competitions, fighters must wear protective gear, including a mouthguard and chest protector. They also fight on a padded mat instead of a hard surface.
  5. The movements, stances, and postures are significantly different.

Karate Pros:

  1. Karate is a direct form of self-defense. It centers around straightforward punches and kicks you can use to take down an attacker quickly and efficiently. 
  2. Karate teaches you how to use your entire body as a weapon. This martial art can be beneficial in a real-life situation where you may not have anything else to defend yourself. It utilizes more than just punches and kicks. Karate practitioners also learn how to use their elbows, knees, palms and even heads as weapons if necessary. This quality makes Karate a more well-rounded fighting style and gives practitioners more options when attacked.
  3. Karate training enables you to stay calm and focused in a stressful situation, which is an important skill to have if you want to defend yourself effectively. It teaches you how to control your emotions. This practice is crucial to remain calm and fearless when defending oneself.
  4. Karate teaches practitioners to be more aware of their surroundings.
  5. Karate enables you to disable an attacker without causing severe harm or killing them.

Karate Cons:

  1. Karate isn’t heavy on grappling and ground game. If you fall to the ground, it’s best to know some BJJ or wrestling. But in comparison, taekwondo lacks grappling as well. Some styles of taekwondo teach additional grappling techniques but it’s far from the most important part of training.
  2. Karate may require a lot of practice to become proficient. For an average person, at least 3 years to become a good karateka. This downside can be a problem for people who don’t have the time or patience to devote to training. 

Taekwondo Pros:

  1. Taekwondo is a martial art that emphasizes kicks over punches. This practice can be helpful in self-defense because kicks tend to have more power, and you can use them to keep one or multiple attackers at a distance.
  2. Taekwondo practitioners are typically very fit and strong. It makes them much less likely to be injured in a self-defense situation than someone who is not as well-prepared.
  3. Some Taekwondo schools provide weapons training as well. Practitioners learn to be aware of their surroundings and use their environment to their advantage. 
  4. Taekwondo training teaches people to develop discipline, focus, and confidence, which can be helpful in self-defense and other areas of life.

Taekwondo Cons:

  1. Taekwondo relies heavily on speed and athleticism. So you’d be disadvantaged if you don’t have the natural speed or athleticism. 
  2. Taekwondo often has a lot of wasted motion in its techniques. These forms can leave practitioners open to counters or getting taken down in a real fight.
  3. Another often overlooked problem with most Taekwondo schools is that they don’t teach ground fighting at all. This challenge can be a significant issue if you find yourself in a real fight where you’re taken to the ground – which is highly likely.

How Do You Choose Between Karate and Taekwondo?

There are a few things to consider when deciding between Karate and Taekwondo for self-defense. Karate is a striking art that relies heavily on punches and open-hand techniques, while Taekwondo is a kicking art that emphasizes using the legs. Both are effective for self-defense, but there are factors to consider.

Karate is often considered more practical for self-defense because it teaches close-quarters combat and how to defend against strikes. However, Taekwondo has the advantage of focusing on longer-range techniques that can be effective against an attacker who is armed with a weapon and for maintaining distance against multiple attackers. If you want to rely on only one martial art, you’d be better off with karate, because it’s more well-rounded. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing A Martial Art for Self-defense

When choosing a martial art for self-defense, it is crucial to consider the pros and cons of each option. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a self-defense technique:

1. What is your level of experience and how patient are you?

If you are a beginner, training in any martial art, especially one that involves hard sparring will increase your self-defense capabilities. It’s better to know something than nothing is the motto.  

If you are pressed for time, you’d probably do best by learning a striking art like boxing and/or a grappling art like BJJ. You could become decent in boxing after 6 months of training. If you have more time at your disposal, at least 1-2 years, then both karate and taekwondo would also make you a very decent fighter.

If you are already experienced, you should learn a martial art that emphasizes fighting situations where you lack experience and expertise. For example, if you’re a boxer, you probably lack ground game. BJJ or wrestling would make you a more well-rounded fighter, and vice-versa. 

2. What is your physical fitness level?

Some self-defense techniques require more physical fitness than others.

If you are not very physically fit or have a lingering injury like a bad knee or shoulder, you may want to choose a self-defense style which does not require as much athleticism as Taekwondo or demanding styles of Karate like Goyu-Ryu.

Perhaps Krav Maga would be a better fit for you since it emphasizes dealing with a dangerous situation quickly and using any means at your disposal. Or a gentler karate style like Wado-Ryu.

If you have a bad knee, you probably shouldn’t train any martial art until you get it fixed. But the least demanding martial art on the knees is probably Wing Chun. You’d definitely not want to train taekwondo or kickboxing if you have leg issues.

3. Are there any good schools in your area?

I’d rather train a supposedly ineffective martial art from Bruce Lee than the best martial art ever from a Dumb and Dumber character. Having a good teacher makes a world of difference. So if you have an excellent karate gym and a poor taekwondo gym in your area, the answer is really simple.

My advice is to check out the reviews on Google, ask around on social media or friends who are in the know. Also ask the gym you’re interested in if you could be a spectator during a random class to assess if it’s the right choice for you. Also, remember that if something doesn’t feel right you can always quit and go to another place.


Both Karate and Taekwondo have their pros and cons when it comes to self-defense.

Karate is in my view a better choice because it’s more well-rounded, teaching you how to use more parts of your body as a weapon. Taekwondo’s focus on kicks is very limiting for self-defense situations. Let’s say you’re in tight jeans when you get attacked on the street. Your kicks would be very limited and you’d have to rely on under-trained punching techniques.

But in the end, you should train the martial art that you feel drawn towards, because you will be more likely to train it consistently and for a longer time, making you more proficient and deadly as a result. 

Peter Jerome

A seasoned MMA practitioner and an intermediate in BJJ and Krav Maga. When I'm not knocking heads with someone in a dojo, I like chilling out with my girlfriend and our adorable pug Betsy.

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