What’s The Difference Between Karate & Tae Kwon Do? (Part 2)

Well my last post on the differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do certainly got a quite a lot of discussion going (especially on the Facebook page). So I thought that I would look at the subject a bit further.

First of all though, after my last post it was commented by some Tae Kwon Do guys that I had mainly described Tae Kwon Do from a sports perspective. I totally accept that comment. But I will repeat what I said in the last posting:-

“Tae Kwon Do has been through a number of incarnations starting with a form that was quite close to Karate, through to a much more Olympic sport oriented version. Therefore we have to accept that not all of my observations will apply to every Karate/Tae Kwon Do style. These observation are intended to be of a general nature”.

I think it is fair to say that those who practice applied practical Tae Kwon Do will generally learn two approaches. For competition, they will use a stance and techniques as broadly described in my earlier posting, yet for practical applications they use more traditional stances as used in the patterns (which after all contain the more “street-wise” self defense moves).

There is also another quite pronounced difference in approach in some (but not all) versions of Tae Kwon Do and that is the inclusion of a sine-wave movement. This where the practitioner will raise their centre of gravity up as they approach the half way mark of the technique (usually seen as a chambering position) then sink down as the technique is executed. When executed with a step, the practitioner will move up and down in a sine-wave motion. The theory behind this is that the on impact the striking surface (lets say the fist) will have both a forward vector (from the step) and and downward vector (from lowering the body) applied to it, thereby increasing its impact.

Karate and older versions of Tae Kwon Do will remain at the same height throughout the step. This removes the downward vector of dropping the body weight, but makes more use of compressing the supporting leg half way through which is then released like a spring to increase the drive forward. I would like to emphasise that I’m not saying either method is better than the other, just that they are different.

You can clearly see the difference in these two video clips.

The first is Ed Newcomer, 6th Dan Internation Tae Kwon Do Federation and the second is Kanazawa, 10th Dan Shotokan Karate.

Sometimes in the Tae Kwon Do (with sine-wave) version, there appears to be a little pause half way through, or the first part of the movement seems to be slow then accelerate during the second half of the movement. In contrast, Karate and older versions of Tae Kwon Do accelerate from the very beginning of the movement.

I am going to take a guess here and suggest that for those that practice the sine-wave version, that this is seen as a training method rather than a practical way to step. After all, how often do you need to take a full step like that when sparring/fighting (and if you did, you wouldn’t start slowly).

If I’m wrong, then I’m quite happy to be corrected, it is just a guess!

The older version of Tae Kwon Do which is still very widely practiced does actually look a bit more like Karate than it does Tae Kwon Do with sine-wave (just my opinion). You can see and example below with former World Patterns Champion, Ray Smeathers.

Another difference between the more modern version of Tae Kwon Do and Karate is that the Tae Kwon Do exponents usually make a “ch” sound as they exhale with each technique. You will notice that this is missing from the Kanazawa’s kata and Smeather’s pattern. I have seen/heard this so many times that I know it is intentionally put in, though I don’t really know why.

As exhaling on completion of technique is practiced in Karate, Kung Fu and older versions of Tae Kwon Do, without the “ch” sound, it is clearly not required make exhalation happen. Again I can only guess, but it seems to be a way to let the instructor know that the student is exhaling at the right places. Maybe it is felt that the “ch” sound makes the exhalation happen more quickly (again a guess . . . . I don’t know).

I would appreciate any Tae Kwon Do exponents who practice with the “ch” sound, to please leave a comment below to let us know the true purpose of it.

Again I emphasise that this posting (as with the last one) is simply to look at the differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do so as to help practitioners gain a better understanding and hopefully a better appreciation of the other style. It is not intended to be a one-up-manship for either style.

It was commented last time that I was “brave” as comparisons between styles often end up as a big slagging match. I would love for people to comment and fill in any gaps that I’ve let out, but I will delete any derogatory comments about any style or organisation. Keep it friendly.

12 thoughts on “What’s The Difference Between Karate & Tae Kwon Do? (Part 2)

  1. Hi Christian
    Thank you for your reply. I’ll be the first to admit that as a Karateka, I’m not an expert of TKD and the article was largely based on my observations rather than first hand knowledge. That said, I did try to keep it neutral and fair. So thank you for filling in some of the gaps, I appreciate it!

  2. Actually, it is not so much “older vs newer” versions of Taekwondo in regards to Sine Wave, but Chan Hon (ITF/GTF) and derived styles vs Kukki (national) Taekwondo. Kukki Taekwondo is the style founded by the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) and although the KTA is the oldest existent Taekwondo Organization, the unified style of Kukki Taekwondo wasn’t standardized untill the late 1960s/early 1970s, and officially started with the creation of the World Taekwondo Federation (now known simply as World Taekwondo) and the Kukkiwon in 1973 and 1972 respectively. It is the Kukki style of Taekwondo you see in the Olympics.

    In contrast, much of the Chan Hon style of Taekwondo, was for the most part standardized in the late 1950s/early 1960s, so by that token, the Chan Hon style, which is the only variant of Taekwondo to actually use the sine-wave movement, is actually older than the Kukki-style. That said, I believe the Sine-wave movement was introduced as late as the early 1980s, so by that token, one could say that Chan Hon with Sine Wave is “younger”, but there have been a lot of changes in Kukki Taekwondo over the years as well, so neither style has exactly been static.

    Another thing that is worth mentioning, is that within Kukki Taekwondo, over the last ten years, there has been a renewed focus on hand techniques and effective application, with the fighting stance mojuchomseogi gaining popularity. In this stance, the angle of the body is at a 45 degrees angle towards the opponent, and the guard is held somewhat like a boxer.

    This way of applying hand techniques in Kukki Taekwondo, is now endorsed by the Kukkiwon (national school) itself, and the newest book on this way of fighting with Taekwondo is actually co-written by the main instructor at the Kukkiwon, Hwang, In-Sik.

    Here is a playlist on youtube that includes quite a few of the videos from the KTA-punlished book “Hand Techniques of Taekwondo for Actual Fighting”, which illustrate KTA and Kukkiwon’s current take on how to move/punch/evade in Kukki Taekwondo in non-sportive combat.

  3. Hello Sir,
    I do really agree with your ideas. There is no “better” in any martial arts. All winning and losing depends on a practitioner’s practice skill.

  4. Hi. I revisited this blog post since the last time I left a comment, and realized that it probably inspired me to write a post on my own blog a couple of months later about breathing in Taekwon-Do, which relates to your question about the “ch”-sound.

    Here is the link: http://sooshimkwan.blogspot.kr/2013/02/itf-breathing.html

    Then with regards to the answer I gave concerning doing sine wave motion stepping as a training method, I expounded on this on several other posts on my blog. Below is a link for one of these. Note that this post is in no way a response to your own well written discussion on the differences between Karate and Taekwon-Do. It is something I wrote in response to other discussions I were involved in at the time.


    Best wishes,


  5. Sir.

    Thank you very much for your for the finer details and clarification. One on-line friend told me that I was “a brave man” for tackling this subject 🙂
    But like I’ve said before, I don’t think many people tackle this subject beyond a superficial comparison and noting that TKD kicks more than Karate.
    Being a Karateka who hasn’t really studied TKD directly, I’m glad that my observation and speculation regarding TKD are on track and that so many Tae Kwon Do practitioners are adding positive comments. Thank you.

    It is good to see so many people joining in a discusion like this without people getting into the one-up-manship thing.



  6. Sir,

    I was directed to this post from a fellow blogger ( http://www.joongdokwan.com/2012/03/karate-v-taekwondo.html ). As an ITF practitioner I do not have much to add than what Mr Newcomer has already said.

    Concerning the “ch” sound: the sound itself is not important. Different practitioners make different sounds. The important thing, however, is that there is a “strong, sharp breath”, i.e. powerful exhalation. The exhalation works the same as the grunt we naturally do when lifting something heavy, or the shout given by tennis players with every powerful stroke, or the “kia” given by some Karate practitioners during certain techniques. It is believed that the power lies not in the vocal chords — we don’t need to give a “kia[p]” with every technique; rather, the benefit lies in the strong exhalation that helps to tense the muscles and focus the body. Since we are not using the actual voice, people have developed other ways (e.g. the “ch”-sound) to make the exhalation more audible in order to please their instructors and/or judges, that want to here a “short, sharp breath” at the end of the technique.

    Regarding the stepping and sine-wave motion you speculate: “. . . that for those that practice the sign-wave version, that this is seen as a training method rather than a practical way to step.” Your speculation is correct. The basic motions as practised in patterns (i.e. “teul” [Korean] aka “kata” [Japanese]) is a training tool that aims to instil certain principles. The sine wave motion which is mostly practised in patterns instil two main principles: relaxation and adding body weight behind / into the technique. This is, however, the basic understanding of the sine wave motion. A more in depth explanation of the sine wave motion is better explained in another discussion. Suffice it to mention that it involves the so-called “Wave Principle” and/or “Circle Principle” (the sine wave is merely a circle plotted over a path) that are prevalent in many other martial arts, for example Aikido, Systema, Tai Chi Chuan, etc. I’ve written extensively on the topic on my blog: http://sooshimkwan.blogspot.com

    Thank you for a nice discussion of the two martial arts.


  7. @ Bob P.
    Hi Bob, always a pleasure to chat with you my friend 🙂
    I think that Karate people don’t always realise how diverse TKD is. We know that Karate has many named styles, but TKD often identifies itself by it’s main parent organisation (WTF, ITF). Therefore from a Karate point of view, it looks like there are really only 2 versions.
    A lot of Karate people “bounce” in competitions too. I personally don’t like it; especially now as it is not good for my knees.
    As for the breath, please check out Ed Newcomers comment below.
    Take care Bob

  8. @ Ed Newcomer
    Thank you for your generous words. Having featured your video, I was surprised to see you commenting here so soon 🙂
    I know exactly what you mean about the “name calling and the slandering”; which is why I was a little bit wary about writing these 2 posts. I tried my best to keep it neutral and I’m glad that it come across that way.
    I’ve not seen anybody do a comparison of the two styles in any depth before, so I figured it should be done. Most comparisons I’ve seen don’t go much further than, “TKD kicks more”!
    I also figured that people will tend to dismiss things that they don’t understand, so if I could help martial artists of each style to better understand the other then they would not be so dismissive.
    Certainly not many Karate people understand the sinewave.
    Thanks also for the added explanation of the “ch” sound. When I started my training back in the late 70’s, I used to exhale throughout the whole technique. I can’t remember if it was taught that way or whether it was my bad technique 🙂 But nowadays most Karate (Shotokan anyway) also teach to breath in during the first half of the step and exhale during the second half (so again we are more similar than many people would like to admit).
    Thank you for your input Sir.

  9. To add: By bouncing I mean that it seems to be imitation. Everyone does it so we must do it too. Perhaps that breath noise is along those lines?

  10. My TKD instructor came from a collection of schools that transitioned from ITF to WTF. He quite literally had to learn all WTF forms and abandon the ITF forms. Interesting side note but he interpreted many of the WTF forms from a more traditional perspective.

    In preparation for tournaments he’s always say: “If the judges ask you why you did the form that way tell them that’s how Master C. taught you.”

    I mention this because I think it underscores the diversity in TKD.

    RE: Sine-wave. Heard about it but not familiar with it - our school did not use it.

    RE: That breath noise - not sure but it drove Master C. nuts. He’d correct us if we got too crazy with exhales during our forms. Maybe it’s his traditional experience?

    I wonder if it’s like the bouncing during TKD sparring? To me bouncing always seemed to waste a lot of energy and slow me down. However, 90% of those at the tournaments I attended would do the TKD bounce. Even Sabum did. Considering that he won a gold at the Junior Olympics maybe I’m wrong on my view of the bounce! 🙂


  11. Hello,

    First, that was an excellent explanation and neutral comparison of the various differences between karate, old style TKD, and the TKD with sine wave. Nice job. It’s refreshing to see a discussion that does not end in name calling and the slandering of another style.

    Although my experience is not necessarily unique, I have the benefit of having started in ITF TKD in 1978 and studying under an instructor who was on a direct line to General Choi. Between 1978 and the late 1980’s, our technique looked just like the karate pattern and the version of Choong-Jang performed by Mr. Smeathers, above. As the General continued to develop TKD in the ITF, however, he started to further refine his concept of sine wave until it reached its current form.

    I must say that I was not an early believer in sine wave but, in the early 1990’s and many times afterward, I had opportunities to train directly with General Choi and, after watching him and experimenting with sine wave myself, I became a convert. I quite literally went home after one session with the General, started at Chon-Ji, and reworked my technique through all the patterns. I am a fairly light weight guy and I used to have trouble with power breaking. I can attest to the fact that my power breaking skills improved dramatically as I adopted and perfected sine wave. I don’t know that in a real self defense situation anyone would move exactly as they train in TKD, karate, kung fu, etc. but I can say that the concept of being relaxed in between movements, moving in a natural (wave like) way, and gradually but dramatically increasing speed during the execution of techniques does produce remarkable results in terms of overall speed and resulting force delivered to a target.

    Now, as for the “ch” sound made during breathing. General Choi insisted that an integral part of sine wave was including an inhale in preparation for the technique and a sharp fast exhale during the execution of the technique. Holding the breath is considered incorrect and should never be done in TKD with sine wave. The loud breathing, or “ch” sound, is done as an element of training and as an element of demonstrating proper technique. When I test students for new ranks, if they are making some noise when they exhale, I know that they are breathing and that they are inhaling and exhaling at the proper moment. It’s not technically necessary to make a sound but it’s a function of demonstrating the principle of one inhale and one exhale for most techniques.

    Thanks for your very interesting post. I enjoyed it very much.

    Ed Newcomer, 6th Dan
    USTF California State Director

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