Karate Vs. Martial Arts: What's the Difference?

Karate Vs. Martial Arts: What's the Difference?

Karate and martial arts are often grouped into the same category; however, not everyone is aware that there are some key differences between the two. In fact, karate is its own Japanese martial art form, while the martial arts actually encompass many of the combat sports that originate in countries such as China, Korea and Japan.

To offer you a better understanding of their key differences, we’ve identified some of the distinctions between karate and martial arts.


While it is difficult to reconstruct the exact beginning of martial arts, it is known that signs of aggression and mock combat go back as far as human history does. Traditions have evolved over many centuries across the globe, each with its own characteristics, rules and forms.

Karate is a form of self-defense that was first seen in the Okinawan Islands. It came about at a time when weapons were totally banned by the Japanese armies that were invading. From there it began to evolve based on the influence of Chinese kenpō, or Chinese Kung Fu.

Before karate came to the Okinawan Islands, it has been said that the sport began somewhere in India more than a thousand years earlier.


Karate is a striking art form that is for the most part a self-defensive style of martial arts. The purpose of the sport is to make the body as healthy and strong as possible, almost-iron like. Traditionally, karate focuses around the idea of training, fighting and perfecting self-defense moves.

Martial arts, on the other hand, have a wide range of purposes to suit the different styles within this category. For the most part however, martial arts encourage physical fitness and health, defense and competition, as well as spiritual and mental strength.


martial arts training

In the sport of karate, it is important that the body and hands are strong and resilient so that they are able to withstand any kind of force. The movements in karate are based on perfecting specific stances and moves and practicing them consistently. This ensures that all moves are done properly so that it becomes second nature to move from one position to the next.

Some of the most common moves in karate include stances, kicks, strikes, blocks and punches. The feet are usually spread wide for greatest balance and strength, while the hands remain very active for striking. Everything is meant to be high impact, so the body should always be prepared.

The movements in martial arts are sharp and linear, and everything is based first on the hand movements, with the rest of the body following suit. The practice is extremely precise and focused, with every movement having purpose and vision.

Because martial arts cover a wide range of combat styles, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moves used in this sport. Some versions emphasize kicks while others focus on hand strikes; some traditions are mainly performed on the floor, while others take place standing up. While there is no specific group of moves that distinguishes martial arts, there are a few positions that are commonly used across all of the different forms. These moves include roundhouse kicks, palm-heel strikes and forearm blocks.


martial arts fighter

Karate is known for its style of unarmed combat, which means that there are never any weapons used in this style of fighting. Because the martial arts include a wide range of styles, some do in fact include weaponry that can improve fighting skills, expand training options and intrigue an audience.

Some of the common weaponry found in martial arts includes nunchucks, bo staff, katana (Japanese sword) and shuriken (throwing stars).

Clothing & Accessories

For karate, athletes wear what is called a Gi that includes the familiar white top and bottoms that participants wear during training and competition. The belt, also known as an Obi, is tied around the waist to keep the closure-less shirt closed. It is recommended that students do not wash the Obi so as to not wash away all of their experience. Putting on a karate outfit is fairly straightforward, and the design enables you to move freely through all the positions.

Attire varies among the various disciplines within martial arts. For example, mixed martial arts often require tight-fitting t-shirts and shorts, while other styles, such as taekwondo, require outfits similar to the Gi and Obi. Footwear also differs, so it’s important to do this research ahead of time.

Individuals who have prior injuries or who need added protection may also wear protective gear for martial arts such as sleeves, straps or braces. These pieces add support and compression to weaker areas, ensuring an athlete can perform at their best without hindering their movements.


Karate and martial arts are similar in that karate is actually a form of combat under the umbrella of martial arts. Those who are considering learning martial arts will want to do some research ahead of time, since there are so many different forms and styles to choose from. 

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