20+ Differences Between Kung Fu And Karate (Explained)

Since the beginning of humanity, people have used various ways to defend themselves against unfavorable situations.

As wars, invasions, and other ways of human atrocities grew, it became important for the people to arm themselves with a deeper knowledge of combat.

This quest gave birth to different martial arts systems worldwide. Most of them are so widely known, like kung fu and karate, that people picture them right away at the thought.

However, kung fu and karate are quite different from each other and must not be looked at as the same thing.

Key Differences Between Kung Fu And Karate
ParametersKung FuKarate
OriginsKung fu is of Chinese origin, and the mane is used for all Chinese martial arts.Karate is of Okinawan origin in its earlier form, and it is known as a Japanese martial art today.
Meaning of NameKung fu loosely means intense work or intense achievement.Karate means empty hand, indicating the primary focus on unarmed moves.
Inclusion in the OlympicsKung fu is not an Olympic sport currently.Karate has been an Olympic event since the 2020 Olympics.
Inclusion of Other ArtsKung fu includes Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Shaolin Kung fu, and other Chinese martial arts.Karate is a separate art but has many sub-styles with the same basic essence like Goju-ryu and Shotokan.
Addressing the TeacherStudents call the teacher ‘Si Fu’.Students call the teacher ‘Sensei’.
UniformThe uniform is a satin shirt and pants with shoes. Belt may or may not be a part.The uniform is a white gi – a kimono wrap-styled shirt and pants. No shoes are worn, but the belt is always worn.
RankingThere may or may not be a ranking system. If any, it will be indicated by a belt or a sash generally.The skill level of a student is represented by the belt.
MovementsThe techniques in kung fu are smooth, and the transition is fluid.The techniques are more forceful, and the transition is not as smooth.
Use of WeaponsTraining in weapons is common in kung fu.Training in weapons is not as common; although some styles include it, there is less variety.

Major Differences Between Kung Fu and Karate

What Is Kung Fu?

Kung fu is collectively used to define all Chinese martial arts today. It includes various martial arts like Wing Chun, Shaolin Kung fu, Tai Chi, and other martial arts that have their roots in China. Kung fu bears a huge history as a philosophy and as a physical art.

This long history dates back to the texts written between the sixth and the fourth century BC, including ‘Tao te Ching’ and ‘The Art of War.

In which the Zhou Dynasty(1122-256 BCE) used archery and charioteering. As a physical art, It has been in practice by Taoists since the fifth century BCE. 

What Is Karate?

Karate was born in what is known as the region of Okinawa in Japan. Earlier, during the fifteenth century, the people of the Ryukyu Kingdom practiced their indigenous martial arts, which got influenced by Chinese martial arts and gave birth to ‘Te.’

Later, to prevent war, the rulers of Ryukyu imposed a ban on weapons. ‘Te’ was still evolving as a martial art, and this made the practitioners focus more on unarmed techniques. This shift gave birth to Karate, which by itself means ‘empty hand.’

Kung Fu Vs Karate All You Need To Know

Contrast Between Kung Fu And Karate


  • Kung fu- Kung fu refers to more than one form of Chinese martial arts and is as old as the fourth to the sixth century BCE.
  • Karate- Karate was originally an Okinawan/Ryukyuan martial art in the fifteenth century that later became known as Japanese martial art.

The Name

  • Kung fu- Kung fu is made of two words – ‘Kung,’ meaning work or achievement, and fu, meaning intensity. Thus the name means one’s achievement that has been gained through hard labor and dedication.
  • Karate- Karate is also made of two words – ‘kara,’ meaning empty, and ‘te,’ meaning hand. Te also refers to its predecessor martial art. The name thus refers to being a form of ‘te’ which mainly focuses on techniques that require hands without weapons.

Inclusion In The Olympics

  • Kung fu- Kung fu is not an Olympic sport as of 2022.
  • Karate- Karate was recently introduced as an Olympic sport in the Tokyo 2020 event.

Inclusion Of Other Arts

  • Kung fu- Kung fu includes multiple martial arts that have their roots in China, like Wu shu, Wing Chun, Tai Chi, Shaolin Kung fu, and many others. All of these martial arts are very different from each other and practice their unique set of philosophies and techniques.
  • Karate- Karate has a dozen of forms like Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-Ryu. While there are notable differences, all of them are known as Karate, and the differences are not as distinct as in Chinese martial arts.
The Origins Kung Fu Vs Karate

Addressing The Teacher

  • Kung fu- Students call their teacher ‘Si Fu,’ which means master, teacher, or skilled person.
  • Karate- Karate students call their teacher ‘Sensei,’ which means master or teacher.


  • Kung fu- Kung fu uniforms can vary in terms of color and other details. The fabric worn is usually light, for example, satin. The outfit is mostly a shirt with frog buttons and pants, which can vary in detail. Most importantly, all kung fu students wear shoes. 
  • Karate- Most karate students wear white outfits. It includes a kimono wrap-styled shirt and pants. Karate students do not wear shoes at all. The white color is most common in the outfits despite some schools having different colored uniforms, but the uniform remains the same apart from that.


  • Kung fu- The ranking of students may or may not be displayed by wearing belts. Some schools might use different colored sashes or some other way of displaying the ranking, while some do not wear anything that shows their rank.
  • Karate- Karate students have to wear a belt, and the color of the belt shows their rank or their level of expertise. The belt will always be a part of the outfit, and only the color will be different as the student becomes more proficient.
The Environment Kung Fu Vs Karate


  • Kung fu- In kung fu, the overall movements are rotatory or circular in nature. Because the focus is more on stopping the opponent’s attacks using both offensive and defensive techniques, kung fu is quite balanced and relies on judging the opponent’s attack.
  • Karate- Karate focuses more on hand techniques and strikes. Although they include offensive and defensive techniques as well, the focus is on stopping the opponent by attacking them. The movements in Karate are more linear, i.e., moving forward or backward.


  • Kung fu- When it comes to using weapons or weapons-based techniques, kung fu has diverse knowledge for mastering them. Once the student gains a certain level of proficiency, he may take up weapons training of his choice and continue with his training.
  • Karate- Karate by itself does not focus on weapons. The focus is mainly on weaponless combat in particular. Some karate styles have adopted weapons training, but in terms of options, they still lack the diversity which you would find in kung fu.
The Curriculum Kung Fu Vs Karate

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Can we combine kung fu and Karate?

Combining different martial arts is a creative but hard feat. Karate has certain influences from kung fu, but they can still be combined considering their curricula differences.

It is always advised to still go for one and learn it enough before branching out to other martial arts.

Q2. Why is Karate called a hard style and kung fu a soft style?

Hard-style means that the movements in techniques will be intense and full of force. Karate is mainly a hard-style martial art.

On the other hand, soft style arts use more fluid movements with smooth transitions. Kung fu is made up of soft style arts.

Note that some karate styles like Goju-Ryu use both soft and hard movements.

Q3. What kind of weapons do students train for in kung fu?

There are lots of weapons, with each of them having its own lethal moves. For most weapons, students even use their wooden or harmless counterparts. The arsenal includes but is not limited to spears, nunchucks, bo staffs, axes, polearms, swords, and hammers.

Q4. Why is bowing important at all times in Karate and kung fu?

Bowing might seem too frequent or customary, but it is a very important part of your training.

A sincere bow reflects your dedication to the art, humility in spite of your increasing strength, and respect and kindness for your teacher and student.

This also keeps in check if the student sways from the code of conduct.

Q5. Do you need to be of the right age or fitness level to start Karate?

No. Although it is said the earlier, the better, it does not mean you cannot start your karate training officially if you are older.

As for fitness level, it is the same thing. So you can get started anytime and let your sensei and your physical progress speak the rest.

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