If you have ever wondered what the difference is between Kung Fu and Karate, you are not alone. Many people who don’t have a solid foundation in the martial arts are understandably unsure what sets the two apart. In fact, many people mistakenly believe Kung Fu and Karate are the same thing.

The most obvious difference between Kung Fu and Karate is where each originated. Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art dating back more than 4,000 years. Karate, on the other hand, is a fighting art that evolved on the Japanese islands of Okinawa. Introduced to mainland Japan in the early 1900s, since that time it has spread in popularity and is practiced in all parts of the world.

There are several other differences between these two martial art forms. What follows is a brief explanation of each discipline.

Kung Fu:

  • The term Kung Fu means “work or achievement” and “intensity”. One of the most well-known Chinese martial art forms, it involves training the body to move in a continuous circular motion and turn. Kung Fu is considered an open martial art. This means that its styles can be adapted only by those practitioners who are perfect in their Kung Fu actions.
  • Kung Fu is an extremely quick and controlled method of self-defense. Further, its movements are fluid and circular while its actions are adapted from animal movements and originate from one of five basic foot positions. In general terms, Kung Fu is comprised of several fighting styles and exercise forms. It also has an important spiritual dimension that stems from concentration and self-discipline.


  • The word Karate comes from the words for empty (Kara) and hand (Te). While a martial art, it is often viewed as a sport. In Karate, the attacker waits for an opponent to attack and only then attacks with appropriate actions. Its traditional themes work on the disciplines of dedicated training, fighting and self-defense techniques.
  • Those who practice Karate use a series of offensive or defensive postures and focus their power in punches and kicks which are designed to be very high impact. Karate movements are crisp, linear and exacting.

Of all the martial arts, Kung Fu has what many consider a much richer philosophy. In other words, the practice of Kung Fu does more than just perfect an individual’s physical and mental skills, rather it improves all aspects of his or her life. This is achieved by applying what is learned in the practice of Kung Fu to what one encounters each and every day.