To the layperson, understanding the difference between Kung Fu and Taekwondo can be difficult. Without more than a casual knowledge of the martial arts, the two practices can seem very similar. The differences, however, are significant.

Kung Fu originated in China while Taekwondo originated in Korea. Taekwondo comes from three Korean words: Tae (“foot”), Kwon (“fist”) and Do (“way of”). Often referred to as the art of kicking and punching or unarmed combat, Taekwondo is comprised of foot and fist actions that are employed for self-defense.

While Taekwondo and several of the other martial arts are geared more toward sport or fighting, Kung Fu is much more than that-it is a path toward enlightenment. Kung Fu’s moves and style date back thousands of years and contain a spiritual dimension that spring from self-discipline and exceptional concentration. Taekwondo, on the other hand, could be categorized as simply a combat sport.
Here are some other basic differences between Kung Fu and Taekwondo:

  • Kung Fu involves floating and circular movements that concentrate on a specific action. These movements mimic the actions of animals and include things like jabs and kicks.
  • Taekwondo emphasizes continuous kicks and punches. These kicks and punches include blocks, ducks and dodges to fend off challengers.
  • Those practicing Kung Fu do not use gloves.
  • Taekwondo fighters wear open or close-fingered gloves.
  • Kung Fu bows are usually performed with hands in front of the sternum. Hand positions usually involve a closed right fist in the left palm with the bottom of both hands facing outward.
  • Taekwondo bows are performed with hands or arms together.
  • Kung Fu clothing consists of a loose garment with an elastic band, Kung Fu shoes and belt.
  • Those practicing Taekwondo wear a Dobok. A Dobok is a white uniform with wide sleeves and long, wide pants. Pants are tied together by colored belts which denote the rank of the individual.

Of course, with any martial art, it is the experience and quality of instructor that makes all the difference. It may be helpful to observe a Kung Fu and Taekwondo class to decide which one appeals to you. Finally, keep in mind that the martial arts-including Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo and other forms-encourage personal development and self-improvement. Therefore, it is a good idea to get a basic understanding of the philosophies which underlie each form before deciding on which best suits you.