Karate vs Kung Fu – What’s The Difference?

looking into the practices of Karate and Kung Fu you are going to notice many very similar skills, techniques, and lessons. The similarities are because Karate was a derivative built off the art of Kung Fu, that doesn’t mean they are the same though. Once Kung Fu was introduced to the Japanese, it took on a new look and a new way of life.

Karate vs Kung Fu.

Although both forms of martial arts are great options to practice when looking into learning a form of self-defense, understanding where they originated and what they entail can make a big difference in which form of fighting is right for each practitioner. 


The history of both Kung Fu and Karate shows how they came to be and their core belief systems. You can see that each fighting style originated in different countries even though they are both practiced all over the world.


Kung Fu was developed in the 5th century based on human observation and coordination. Kung Fu is an umbrella name for many forms of Chinese fighting styles and martial art today. It is a form of fighting that usually does not utilize the use of weapons. 

Kung Fu practices believe in harmonious movements and thoughts that connect the mind, body, and soul. They can be closely associated with meditation.


Karate is a form of martial art created in Japan in the 12th century that utilized unarmed forms of combat while fighting or protecting oneself when under attack. Karate was created after Kung-Fu using many of their beliefs and techniques to create their system of fighting. 

This style of self-defense focuses on self-discipline. Practitioners believe that you should only fight once you are under attack.

Movements and Motions

Both Kung Fu and karate are great forms of self-defense and when practiced properly offer many benefits to the health of a person’s mind, body, and soul. Although some of the techniques and beliefs are similar, the movements and motions vary quite a bit between one practice and the other.

Kung Fu- Circular Movements

When performing strikes and motions during Kung Fu, a person tends to use a circular form of movements. This aims at avoiding an attacker by using their body weight and momentum against themselves. It helps in avoiding too much contact and can stop an opponent’s attack.

Karate- Linear Movements

In karate, you will use more linear or attack movements. It means you are moving your body towards your opponent to defend yourself and get the upper hand in the fight. Karate is more of a combat style of fighting using strikes, kicks, and punches to take control.


Karate was built around the same ideas and techniques that started in Kung Fu. Once it was adapted into a new country, these skill sets took on a mind of their own. It became more of a hard style of fighting, utilizing sharper, cleaner strikes and hits.

Kung Fu (Soft Style)

Kung Fu (Soft Style)

The techniques and moves used in Kung Fu are considered soft styles of fighting. That is because Kung Fu has more flexible and relaxed forms of fighting styles. They are fluent and offer circular movement and motions. The movement tends to look more smooth, graceful, and appealing to watch.

There are a lot more techniques involved in Kung Fu than in Karate however, there are four main areas, including:

  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Wrestling
  • Grabbing
  • Most fighting styles used in Kung Fu are those that represent the fighting styles of animals with fast calculated movements. 

Karate (HardStyle)

The moves in karate are considered hardstyle movements and are used to injure or subdue your opponent. These fast and stiff movements differ from the Kung Fu style because they are not as fluent, there is a direct start and stopping point of every strike.

In karate, you see several different kicks, punches, strikes, and open hand techniques.

They are completed in a crisp motion. These movements consist of a lot of blocks, punches, kicks, and takedowns.


In both forms of Martial Arts, Karate and Kung Fu require uniforms that allow for fast, flexible movements. Each must offer a range of motion while still not allowing too much room for an attacker to grab and hold.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu uniforms represent the traditional clothing worn in China when Kung Fu first came about. They are uniforms with Buttons on the top and loose-fitting pants that offer movement and flexibility.

Most Kung Fu uniforms will include a Chinese type of button, and the colors of the uniforms come in a wide variety of colors and shades. Those who practice the art of Kung Fu will wear shoes with their uniforms.

Karate and Kung Fu uniform


Karate uniforms are traditionally white with a Gi robe-style top that crosses in the front with the belt holding it into place. The pants are made of the same fabric. They are loose enough to allow enough movement for many different types of moves and strikes. In karate, you always fight barefooted. It is disrespectful to wear shoes on the mats.

Belts and Ranking

When thinking traditional fighting styles, Kung Fu and Karate differ in ranks and belt systems. 

Kung Fu

Traditional Chinese Kung Fu-style fighting did not use belts as ranking systems. You would move up the ranks as you improve your skills and techniques. The master you were training with would sign a scroll. 

As Kung Fu made its way globally, it was changed in the 20th century adding belt ranking to show what level each student was practicing. Originally, they were made of a silk-like material. They were nothing like the thick belts used in karate.


Karate is made to move up ranks after mastering a specific set of skills. You get a new belt color every time you move up. Each color has a meaning and defines the skill sets.

  • White belt– (Beginner) White represents the birth of new life, the beginning of Karate lessons.
  • Yellow belt- Yellow represents the beam of sunlight that shines down that helps the new life start to grow.
  • Orange belt- Orange represents the spreading of light and illumination that helps encourage and enhance growth.
  • Green belt- The green belt represents the rooting of a plant (student) taking hold of the earth and becoming stronger.
  • Blue belt- Blue represents the sky in which the plant is growing up towards
  • Brown belt– The brown represents the harvesting of the plant when it has fully bloomed and is ready to be on its own.
  • Black belt.– (Mastery level) Black represents the shadows cast by the karate practitioner and all of their accomplishments thus far. It shows all the years practiced and skills mastered. 

In karate, you can get a stripe on each belt in between ranks that shows the skill levels you have mastered during that time. 

Rules of Martial Arts

There are many ways in which Karate and Kung Fu differ. There are additionally very much the same. One of the major areas where these two fighting styles overlap is in the rules practiced by every student in either practice. These rules are based on respect, discipline, and manners.

  • Always be respectful
  • Be conscious about what you learn and use it appropriately
  • You never attack first
  • Try your best every time
  • Never act like you are better than others no matter your rank
  • Never speak poorly about another practitioner
  • Always practice self-discipline
  • Practice patients
  • Practice morality
  • Train regularly
  • Train not to hurt others but to defend yourself
Rules of Martial Arts

Martial Arts have been around for hundreds and thousands of years. They provide ways of self-protection and life skills to all who are willing to work hard to develop the techniques and skills utilized in these practices.

They shouldn’t be used to attack or fight another person but to keep yourself safe if you were to find yourself under attack. 


As you have seen, karate and Kung Fu are very similar and yet very different forms of fighting. They are both excellent sources of martial arts when training in self-defense, self-discipline, and self-awareness. Both forms of fighting have their wide range of benefits to offer to anyone interested in making them a part of their daily lives.

While there are various things to take into account when learning about karate and kung fu, your personal preference will dictate which sport you will choose to gravitate to.

So, which one will you choose?