The Difference Between Karate And Kung Fu: Japanese And Chinese Styles

The difference between Karate and Kung Fu: Japanese and Chinese styles
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The Difference Between Karate And Kung Fu: Japanese And Chinese Styles

Countless people, specifically those who are not familiar with martial arts, the question often emerge about what is the difference between karate and kung fu. When observing someone doing martial arts, it will be difficult for the inexperienced eye to know if that person is doing karate or kung fu. Even those starting martial arts can occasionally be confused about various styles until further exposure to them reveals just how different they really are.


Historically, people living on the Okinawa islands in southern Japan were disclosed to the Chinese kung fu martial arts due to closeness to China. Over time, Okinawans and Japanese developed their own styles of martial arts, now known as karate, from the original influence of Chinese kung fu. Although both karate and kung fu use many similar martial arts techniques, most styles of kung fu will generally have more variety of techniques compared to karate systems. It is almost as if the Japanese abridged the number of techniques of the Chinese systems to develop karate.


The Japanese also altered the way techniques are performed in karate as they grow more linear compared to kung fu. This is especially evident in the forms or katas (traditional sequence of established movements) where karate techniques are performed with sharp movements that have movements other than stopping and advancing.


In kung fu forms, movements engage the use of more circular techniques, especially with the hands. These circular movements give kung fu a more visually exquisite look as the techniques seem to flow from one to the other. There are fewer stops and go with most kung fu styles. That is why some martial artists, especially in North America, generally cite to Chinese kung fu as "soft" styles, while karate and tae kwon do are "hard" styles.


This is not to say that hard styles like karate or tae kwon do are extra all-powerful martial arts than kung fu and other soft styles. The term "soft" is a bit misleading because the power of kung fu circular movements is often hidden. Circular movements can generate as much power as linear movements found in hard styles.


Most forms of kung fu are also usually more complex and longer-lasting than most forms of karate. For most martial artists, a form of kung fu will look much more exotic, while a form of karate will look more direct in terms of martial arts techniques. Interestingly, there are karate styles like goju that have many circular techniques similar to kung fu. The Kempo styles are considered an amalgam of the Okinawan karate and Chinese kung fu techniques with both circular and linear techniques. There are also bountiful distinct styles of kung fu compared to karate.



Martial arts weaponry is found in kung fu and karate styles, but different sets of weapons are used in each martial arts system. Like empty hand shapes, kata with karate weapons are also more linear compared to those with kung fu weapons that have more circular movements. Unsurprisingly, there is much more variety of different Chinese kung fu weapons than those found in Japanese karate styles.


Traditionally, karate practitioners wear a white uniform called a gi that features an overlapping kimono top. Conventional schools like those in North America will allow colored uniforms. A colored belt will be the finishing touch for the gi with, of course, the black belt for those in the instructor level ranking. Most of the time and especially within a dojo studio karate stylists will not wear boot while training.


kung fu

Most kung fu stylists will wear a very different uniform. Kung fu uniforms generally consist of "frog style" Chinese button tops rather than overlapping fronts like the karate gi top. Uniforms can be black or a variety of colors with much lighter fabrics such as satin and shoes. Modern Chinese wushu acrobatic martial arts can feature satin uniforms with many different bright colors. Many kung fu schools simply wear t-shirts and baggy pants as uniforms. Satin color sashes are often used to indicate student rank, but it is actually more of an American style, as most kung fu schools in Asia do not display uniform classifications.


In general, there are more variety of techniques, styles, weapons, and uniforms found in Chinese kung fu systems compared to karate. However, that does not mean that one system or style of martial art is superior to another. They are simply different and for the observer, it could be reduced to personal preferences. Some prefer kung fu and others prefer karate. Some ambitious martial artists who want a full and complete education practice both kung fu and karate.


Taekwondo (A Korean Martial Art)


Japanese Martial Arts



The Difference Between Karate And Kung Fu: Japanese And Chinese Styles

Tags : karate kung fu japanese chinese martial arts china japanese martial arts traditional kata tae kwon do soft style hard style kung fu dojo frog style wushu kempo

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