So one of our readers asked us this question the other day: What is the difference between karate, judo, kung fu, ninjitsu, jiu jitsu, tae kwan do, and aikido?


Kung Fu is Chinese for what literally amounts to Hard Work. Anything can be Kung Fu, from martial arts, to being a surgeon, to otherwise. In general, its used as an umbrella term for most of the Shaolin martial arts.

Karate is a term that today means ‘empty hand,’ but when it was first introduced to Japan, it meant ‘foreign hand,’ as it came from Okinawa, and before that, it can be traced back to China, with much of it coming from the Shaolin temple. As such, many techniques in Okinawan Karatejutsu have similarities to Shaolin styles. Karate today is taught in different styles, but it basically revolves around striking, grappling and chin na (pressure point techniques/eye gouges, etc.)

Jujutsu literally means “Gentle techniques.” It is called that, because jujutsu is very easy for the user to execute, but devastating for the opponent. Samurai jujutsu is the predecessor of Judo, Aikido and Aikijujutsu. Jujutsu is the art from which most of the submission techniques originate, but is meant for unarmed defense against an armed opponent. Judo is jujutsu but with the majority of the lethal techniques removed, and some more emphasis added on non-damaging submissions. Only Judo, Brazilian jujutsu and other sport forms forego teaching defense against an armed assailant.

Aikijujutsu originated from jujutsu, but changed dramatically as it was taught, and most techniques I’ve been exposed to use a person’s own energy against them. Aikido is the tournament form of Aikijujutsu, and has some of the more lethal techniques removed.

Tae Kwan Do is similar to karatejutsu in that a lot of it has been altered from the original towards what we have today which is a lot of footwork based martial arts involving almost exclusively kicking or less handwork. Older forms of TKD are strikingly similar to Okinawan karatejutsu and Shaolin kung fu.

Ninjutsu is basically a combination of Samurai jujutsu, some forms of striking techniques based off of jujutsu, and specialized stealth techniques involving distractions, using teamwork for traps, and assassination. Ninja often used traps like hornet nests stuffed in jars to be thrown at pursuers, knives, or even had women working as geisha use their hairpins in order to dispatch targets.

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Last Update: August 11, 2016

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