Taekwondo vs Karate for Teens: What’s the Difference?

Martial arts are fantastic for teenagers because they keep them mentally and physically healthy and teach them about respect and self-discipline. If a teenager wants to practice martial arts, parents might wonder what the difference is between Karate and Taekwondo.

Karate and Taekwondo are similar. The main difference is that Taekwondo focuses on kicking, while Karate uses kicking and punching more equally. Karate is generally seen as better for self-defense. 

Choosing the right martial art for teenagers is essential if we want them to enjoy it and get the maximum benefit. To help parents choose the right one, we’ll explore the difference between Taekwondo and Karate for teens below. 

An image of martial arts fight training in action.

The Benefits of Martial Arts for Teenagers

Martial arts are a fantastic way for teenagers to keep fit and healthy, and regular exercise can help relieve stress and boost academic performance. Martial arts are highly disciplined and teach teenagers about dedication and respect. 

Teenagers will make friends when they join a martial arts group, and learning new skills will boost their confidence. Martial arts also teach teenagers about self-defense. 

Are you wondering if thirteen is too old to start martial arts? Find the answer here: Is 13 Too Old to Start Martial Arts? (An Expert Weighs In)

Which is Better for Teenagers: Taekwondo or Karate?

Taekwondo and Karate are equally good martial arts for teenagers. Taekwondo is more dynamic, while Karate is typically considered better for self-defense. Ultimately, the best one for teenagers is the one they are most attracted to, and both can teach teens self-defense skills. 

Karate and Taekwondo are similar in their style, philosophy, and teaching methods. They are “hard styles” of martial arts and include striking, blocking, and counter strikes. They use a belt system to classify participants according to their level, and are both Olympic sports. 

To give parents a better idea about their similarities and differences, we’ll take a closer look at them below:

Karate: a brief history and information

Karate is from Japan and is over 500 years old. The word Karate means empty-handed fighting and is a traditional form of self-defense. Karate students are called Karateka and wear a uniform known as a “Gi.” They learn postures called kata from a teacher known as Sensei.  

Karate incorporates the use of the hands and legs for striking and blocking, with a bit more emphasis on the hands. In Karate, most of the time, the student’s feet remain on the floor in power stances. Karate is simple to learn and is excellent for self-defense. 

The Karate belief system is called the Dojo Kun, an oath students often recite at the end of classes. The five principles of Karate are:

  1. To seek perfection of character
  2. Be sincere
  3. Put maximum effort into everything they do
  4. Respect others
  5. Develop self-control

Taekwondo: a brief history and information

Taekwondo translates as the way of the foot and fist and originated in Korea over 2,000 years ago. Taekwondo students are known as Jejas and wear a Dobok to practice postures called Poomsae. A Taekwondo teacher is called a Sabum or Saseong. 

Taekwondo is famous for its elaborate spinning and jumping kicks and has little focus on the hands. Taekwondo movements are long-range, dynamic, and more precise. It takes a lot of concentration and effort to perform them, which makes them less effective for self-defense. 

The philosophy of Taekwondo is similar to Karate. It’s based on the five tenets:

  1. Courtesy
  2. Integrity
  3. Perseverance
  4. Self-control
  5. Building an indomitable spirit
An image of a teenage Boy in a Taekwondo uniform.

Pros and Cons of Taekwondo for Teenagers

Taekwondo is highly aerobic and burns a lot of calories – it also promotes balance, flexibility, and stamina in teenagers. The downsides of Taekwondo are that it is not good for self-defense and has a high injury rate. 

We’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of Taekwondo below:

Taekwondo Pro #1 – It burns a lot of energy

Taekwondo is very dynamic, and students constantly move around, which means they burn many calories. It provides full-body conditioning, can help with weight loss, and is ideal for teens with lots of energy.

Taekwondo is a high-intensity exercise – it gets adrenaline and endorphins flowing and is a fantastic stress reliever. It helps keep depression and anxiety at bay and is a great mood and energy booster. 

Taekwondo Pro #2 – It promotes balance, flexibility, speed, and mobility

Taekwondo involves many elaborate moves, including spin and jumping kicks which require a lot of balance and coordination. Students are constantly on the move, which helps improve their speed and mobility.

Taekwondo sessions also involve lots of stretching exercises to improve flexibility. 

Taekwondo Con #1 – It’s not very good for self-defense 

Of all the martial arts, Taekwondo is the least effective for self-defense. Classes are geared towards competition training and include little self-defense or situational awareness training. 

Furthermore, Taekwondo focuses on elaborate, long-range kicks, which aren’t practical for self-defense. Also, there are few hand strikes or grappling techniques, and street attacks are usually at close range and often end up on the floor.

Taekwondo Con #2 – It has a high injury rate

According to this study from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Taekwondo has a higher injury rate when compared to Karate, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Aikido. The injury rate in Taekwondo was fifty-nine percent. However, injuries were more common in older participants, eighteen years and above. 

Head, neck, and groin injuries and the lower extremities are the most common in Taekwondo. It’s easier to sprain muscles with elaborate kicks.

To help teenagers avoid injuries, ensure they keep hydrated, warm up before sessions, and wear appropriate safety gear, such as a helmet, body armor, or mouth guard. 

On a personal note, a college roommate of mine tried to teach me Taekwondo. During my second or third lesson, I got two injuries that sidelined me for 8 weeks. Part of that was probably my fault for letting a fellow 18-year-old teach me Taekwondo, but still. I was injured and couldn’t walk properly for weeks after taking a hit. If you’re wondering, I didn’t continue the lessons after that.

Taekwondo Con #3 – It focuses primarily on kicking

Taekwondo focuses on kicking, which means teenagers won’t learn much about hand striking or blocks. In competitions, players only use their legs, and training usually focuses on competition fighting.  

An image of a Female teenager standing in stance and exercising karate in a studio.

Pros and Cons of Karate for Teenagers

Karate is fantastic for teenagers because it improves strength and stability, provides a full-body workout, and teaches about self-defense. The downside is that, like all martial arts, there is a risk of injury, which can make some teenagers aggressive. 

Karate Pro #1 – Students use their arms and legs equally

Unlike Taekwondo which teaches mostly kicking, Karate incorporates the arms and legs, with slightly more focus on the arms. Karate students also learn takedowns, ground fighting, and elbow and knee strikes. 

Karate Pro #2 – It’s better for self-defense

Karate is better for self-defense because it uses the hands and legs for short and long-range strikes. It also has lots of blocks and defensive moves and teaches students how to counterstrike and restrain with joint locks.

Karate also teaches students about situational awareness and how to defend themselves in real-life situations. 

Karate Pro #3 – It’s good for strength and power

Karate provides a full-body, cardiovascular workout but is particularly good for building strength and power. It also improves coordination, reflexes, and stamina. 

Karate is very energetic, so it’s a fantastic stress reliever and makes teenagers more agile. Training includes lots of crunches, pushups, and standing poses and is incredibly toning and good for the core muscles. 

Karate Con #1 – It can be dangerous

Like with all sports, Karate comes with risks. Common Karate injuries include sprains, bruises, cuts, scrapes, and in the worse case, broken bones. To avoid injuries, ensure teenagers practice safely, keep hydrated, and warm up and wind down properly after classes. 

Karate Con #2 – It doesn’t provide comprehensive self-defense skills 

Although Karate is better than Taekwondo for self-defense, it still isn’t a comprehensive way for teenagers to defend themselves. Karate training is carried out in a controlled, sporting environment, and teenagers may not know how to use it in a street attack. 

Teenagers have a better chance of defending themselves when they know Karate, but they should join a Rape Aggression Defence (RAD) class for the best self-defense training. RAD class specifically teaches students how to protect themselves against attackers on the street. 

Karate Con #3 – It can make some teenagers aggressive

There is a lot of Karate culture in the movies, and teenagers might use their skills to make themselves look tough. Teenagers who practice Karate might get too much of a confidence boost which may cause aggression or bullying. 

Martial arts such as Karate don’t focus on aggression – they focus on awareness and self-control and can even help aggressive behavior in teenagers. If parents think their teenager won’t be responsible with their skills, they should choose a different activity. 

An image of Two athletic girls struggling to use karate techniques in light karate class.

When to Pick Karate or Taekwondo

Parents should pick Karate for their teenagers if they want them to learn practical self-defense skills. They should choose Taekwondo if they want their children to have more dynamic aerobic exercise focusing on competition fighting.  

Taekwondo and Karate are very similar, and parents can choose one depending on which club is better in the area. Visit a few clubs and see which has the best facilities, safety protocols, and the most qualified instructors.  

Best Products For Karate and Taekwondo

The right gear can be crucial when participating in sports or martial arts.

If you’re going to be serious about martial arts, you’ll likely want some (or all) of these items.

Protective Gear

  • Serious martial artists who compete should consider getting a mouthguard like this one. Keep those teeth safe! It comes in many colors and design choices, which is awesome.
  • Martial artists may also want facial protection for sparring, such as this helmet with a removable face grill. I love that our kids’ martial arts teachers only allow sparring with helmets.

Martial arts uniforms and shoes

  • Karate gi: If your karate school doesn’t have a team uniform (or it’s outside your budget), you may want to get your own. There are many great and budget-friendly options online, like this one.
  • Taekwondo Dobok: If your taekwondo school doesn’t include a uniform when you first sign up, you may need to provide your own. Here’s another option either way.
  • If your martial art requires shoes, you’ll want a good pair of sports shoes like these. Some martial arts are practiced barefoot, while others do encourage wearing shoes. So know which yours recommends.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Karate and Taekwondo are excellent options if your teen wants to practice martial arts. They are very similar in their philosophy and training methods. The main difference between them is that Taekwondo is more dynamic – with a focus on kicking, while Karate uses arms and legs more equally and is better for self-defense.

They’re both awesome choices, so pick the one that appeals most to you and your teen. You can enjoy researching together – and trying various classes while you make your final decision.

If you are wondering how well martial arts boost confidence in teenagers, check out this article: Does Martial Arts Help with Confidence?


Learning from your own experiences is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as a family of sports nuts wannabes.

  • Goldman, R. (2016, December 19). Karate vs. Taekwondo: What’s the Difference? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/karate-vs-taekwondo#bottom-line
  • Karate vs Taekwondo. (n.d.). Diffen. https://www.diffen.com/difference/Karate_vs_Taekwondo
  • Karate vs. Taekwondo: Key Differences And Similarities. (2022, October 16). MMA Channel. https://mmachannel.com/karate-vs-taekwondo-key-differences-and-similarities/
  • Lifestyle, M. J. K. (n.d.). What are the Benefits of Karate? https://www.thekaratelifestyle.com/what-are-the-benefits-of-karate/
  • Master Chong’s World Class Tae Kwon Do. (2020, April 28). What’s the difference between Taekwondo and Karate? | Master Chong’s Taekwondo. Master Chong’s Taekwondo. https://buffalotkd.com/difference-between-taekwondo-karate/.
  • Philosophy – JKA 公益社団法人日本空手協会. (n.d.). https://www.jka.or.jp/en/about-jka/philosophy/.
  • T. (2020, September 9). TaeKwonDo Vs Karate: 6 Ways They Are Different – Tae Kwon Do Nation. Tae Kwon Do Nation. https://www.taekwondonation.com/what-is-the-difference-between-tae-kwon-do-and-karate/
  • The Five Tenets — United Tae Kwon Do. (n.d.). United Tae Kwon Do. https://utkd.org/for-students/five-tenets

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