There are thousands of different styles under the umbrella of martial arts. Each martial arts discipline has various techniques born out of specific parts of the world. Two of the most popular disciplines, Karate and Kung Fu, are sometimes used interchangeably. Although forms of each originate from similar styles of martial arts, Karate and Kung Fu are fundamentally different forms. Here are a few ways you can differentiate between the two styles.


Place of Origin

The origins of the styles of Kung Fu and Karate are what cause constant comparison between the two styles. “Kung Fu” is a modern term applied to a sect of ancient Chinese martial arts forms. However, Karate was developed in Japan out of a martial arts practice called “te” involving hand movements. Karate was then further influenced by Chinese martial arts styles, which explains the connection between the two forms.

Linear vs. Circular Motion

Karate is generally said to be more linear while Kung Fu tends to be more circular. What this means is that Karate movements tend to take you forward with momentum towards your target, while Kung Fu movements shift weight laterally and rely more on reacting to your target’s attacks. Kung Fu therefore is more useful in situations where you might be grappling with your target, while Karate is a more offensive martial art. In a general sense, Karate can be used more efficiently to harm an opponent while Kung Fu can be used to stop an opponent.


A martial artist can be identified by the style of their uniform. Karate uniforms are the more common martial artist uniform, comprising of a white jacket, pants, and colored belt according to skill level. Kung Fu uniforms, on the other hand, are comprised of different style tops with frog buttons. They also come in a variety of colors. The biggest difference between the two uniforms is that Kung Fu practitioners wear shoes while Karate practitioners do not.

Many people practice both Kung Fu and Karate. This is a hard feat and will take time to accomplish, as the styles are fundamentally different. Mastering martial arts takes patience and dedication. If you want to improve at either of these disciplines, it would be best to choose one and dedicate yourself to it before taking on another style. If you want more resources to improve, check out the rest of our martial arts articles and coaching resources.

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