Taekwondo or Karate

Taekwondo or Karate? Which is Best?

Trying to decide between Taekwondo or Karate for your child? Here are the basic differences between these two martial art styles.


  • Martial art style that emphasizes spectacular kicks. Punches & hand/arm strikes can sometimes receive less focus.
  • Developed in Korea.
  • Often taught by Korean immigrants (in America). Your child is likely to learn some Korean (i.e. how to count in Korean).
  • Taekwondo is an Olympic sport. Therefore students will often be encouraged to spar according to Olympic rules (in a controlled environment and with protective gear).
  • Different terminology (i.e. Uniform = Dobok, School = Dojang, etc.)
  • There are different styles/schools within Taekwondo (such as WTF and ITF).
  • Not a “soft” martial arts style such as Tai Chi.
  • Not a “grappling” martial arts style such as Judo.
  • Will teach your child basic self-defense.


  • Martial art style that emphasizes punches, strikes and kicks. There tends to be more emphasis on punches and strikes than Taekwondo.
  • Developed in Japan.
  • Often taught by Americans (in America).
  • Karate is not an Olympic sport. Judo is currently the only Japanese martial art in the Olympics.
  • Different terminology (i.e. Uniform = Gi, School = Dojo, etc.)
  • There are different styles/schools within Karate (such as WKF and WUKF). There are many sub-styles such as Shotokan, Kyokushin, Goju-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, etc.
  • Not a “soft” martial arts style such as Tai Chi.
  • Not a “grappling” martial arts style such as Judo.
  • Will teach your child basic self-defense.

So Which One? Taekwondo or Karate?

Personally, I prefer Taekwondo since my Korean Taekwondo Masters have been great to my kids and the Taekwondo school was very convenient to my home when I first started. Nevertheless, both Taekwondo and Karate are useful martial art styles that teach self-defense, coordination, balance, discipline & much more. However, you will need to visit the martial arts schools in your area in order to find a style/school/instructors that you and your child will be comfortable with. Here are my tips on selecting a good martial arts school:

  • Examine several schools – Check out several schools, rather than just going to the closest martial arts school. The teaching style of schools can vary significantly – from very regimented to overly loose. Our Taekwondo Master is great because he is an extremely effective teacher and makes it fun for the children with games & humor.
  • Visit different classes – After you have found a good school, visit different classes (versus just the basic introductory class). Visit the black belt classes, sparring classes and even belt tests. See if the school’s attitude changes as the children advance. You don’t want to find a school that changes in a negative way (i.e. becomes too harsh) as your child progresses to higher belts.
  • Ask questions – Talk to other parents & children at the school to find out their likes and dislikes about the school and instructors.
  • Focus on safety – Is there enough stretching? What happens if a child is hurt? What level of supervision is given during sparring classes?
  • Always get an introductory trial – See if your child enjoys his/her martial arts classes before committing to any any long-term contract. Ask if the school has a short introductory trial offer that covers a few weeks and use that time to see if your child enjoys the classes/instructor/fellow students and is mature enough to handle the instruction. Also be wary of a “cheaper” multi-year contract. Try the “more expensive” monthly programs until you feel certain that your child likes martial arts. Many kids do not last multiple years as they have other commitments (i.e. baseball) or lose interest.
  • What is the “real” cost? – Make sure to find out the real cost of the class. Beyond the monthly/annual fee, what additional costs will you pay? Be aware that you are likely to pay for items such as uniforms, sparring gear and belt tests.
  • Start your child early (if possible) – The best age is when they are 5 or 6 years old. Older children can sometimes feel awkward when they are a beginner and have to face much younger kids who are at higher belt levels (in this case, look for teen or older children classes). In addition, very young children (i.e. toddlers) can be less focused & lack sufficient coordination. My boys started when they were 6 and 4. My older boy was the right age to handle the classes. In contrast, my younger boy loved Taekwondo but he needed more help from me to master lengthy techniques (i.e. forms) and complex kicks (i.e. spinning hook kick). However, as he gets older, he is improving dramatically. Just remember each child varies significantly and you know your child best. You don’t want them to get discouraged.
  • Practice with them – The best option is to take classes with them (my boys & I practice together). However, this option is difficult for many working parents. Nevertheless, you need to help them train. In the evenings, help them prepare for their belt tests. Have them show you the forms, kicks and other things that they have learned. Buy a book to help with the forms or visit our form page for detailed instructions.
  • Make your child stretch – Since kids are so flexible, you might think they don’t need to stretch. However, they can get hurt without adequate stretching. Visit our stretching page for ideas & to show them how to work on weak areas.
  • Try to go several times per week – Going once a week is not enough time to master the appropriate techniques. Your children won’t enjoy the classes if they are not at least “average students”. Who wants to be the worst in the class? Those kids that go at least several times per week are usually the best in the class!
  • Encourage them – “Wow, that was a great kick! Can you show me some more?” Remember, your kids are looking for your approval & love.
  • Stay & watch – Too often, I see parents using martial arts classes as a quasi-baby sitting service. They drop off the kid and then they run off to Starbucks. The child will do a great move in class and look for Mommy or Daddy. They want to see if their parents saw their awesome new kick. However, the parents is not there & the kid is really disappointed. Hopefully, you will be one of the parents cheering for your child & giving them a big thumbs up. The huge smile from your child is worth a few missed cappuccinos. 🙂
  • Confidence & coordination – Your child will learn confidence and coordination that will help them excel at other sports.
  • Self-defense – Remember that Taekwondo (or Karate) is a martial arts so your child will also be learning self-defense. The aim is not to hurt anyone. However, all children should know some self-defense moves in order to deflect school yard bullies or the growing problem of wackos on the street (you know what I mean). For example, the instructors at our Taekwondo school teach basic self-defense moves such as what to do if someone grabs you. However, reinforce to your children that they are not superheros and that the first move should be to yell for a teacher, policeman, Mom, etc.