What is the Difference Between Karate Styles?

What is the Difference Between:
Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Kung Fu?

Many potential students ask about the difference between karate styles. While use is divided mainly for sport, art or self defense, practitioners have adjusted techniques to better serve our times.

Here are the definitions of Tae Kwon Do (with Song Moo Kwan being one of the 9 original Kwons of TKD), Karate-Do, and Kung Fu. This will help you understand the subtle difference between karate styles that make up our teachings.

Tae Kwon Do - Song Moo Kwan

Tae Kwon Do originated in Korea, Karate in Okinawa, and Kung Fu in China. Each of these martial arts has common elements, but each style was developed using different principles to maximize their effectiveness. In Tae Kwon Do, we generally use more leg techniques to give an increased reach advantage and to keep assailants outside their striking range.

Song Moo Kwan adds hand and arm movements to defend and counterattack quickly and with straight line movements. This is the main difference between karate styles. (The shortest distance between two points is a straight line). As your legs can deliver twice the amount of force to an attacker faster than the hands, a Song Moo Kwan practitioner may end a self-defense situation very quickly

Tae Kwon Do

It literally means the art of foot and fist, the way of kicking and punching

  • Tae: Foot
  • Kwon: Fist
  • Do: Art of

The main feature of Tae Kwon Do is that it is a free-fighting combat sport using the hands and feet to repel the opponent.


It literally means “The Way of the Empty Hand.

  • Kara – Empty
  • Te – Hand(s)
Karate-Do demands that we as practitioners of the art must be strong internally as well as externally.  We gain confidence and integrity through our diligence and effort in training, and seek to evolve with deeper understanding our true potential as human beings.

Kung Fu

It literally means “human achievement.” (…is that of an accomplishment arrived at by great effort.)

  • gong – "achievement" or "merit"
  • fu – man
The martial arts often called Kung Fu are in fact synonymous with "Chinese martial arts". Its original meaning is somewhat different, referring to one's expertise in any skill, not necessarily martial. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any skill.

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