Karate Vs. Tantōjutsu – What Is The Difference?

The chances are you’ve probably come across karate before.

It’s one of the most popular forms of martial arts in the world, popularized in the west mostly by coming-of-age blockbusters like The Karate Kid.

Karate Vs. Tantōjutsu - What Is The Difference?

But Karate is just one of a nearly countless number of martial arts, and telling the difference between all of them can be difficult.

If you’ve ever heard of Tantōjutsu before, then you’re probably wondering what it is. How does it differ from Karate – is one better than the other?

If you are wondering about this question, then you’ve arrived at the right place!

In this article we’re going to take a look at both Tantōjutsu and Karate, weighing them up and giving you a little insight into their history and what it’s like to become a student of each today.

Both are wonderful forms of martial arts that have different but effective applications in real life. Let’s get into it!

What Is Karate?

Karate is one of the oldest martial arts and has deep roots in east-Asian countries such as China and Japan. It was developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom and spanned from the 1400s all the way up to the late 1800s.

Today, it is one of the most popular martial arts in the world and often the first form that students learn on their respective martial arts journeys.

For many people, karate is a life-long sport/hobby/passion that they can continue to progress in from childhood to adulthood. 

Karate has taken many forms over the centuries, but some of the fundamentals remain to this very day.

The origin of the name comes from the Japanese word meaning ‘empty hand,’ and in many ways, you can think of this as a mantra that acts as the underlying ethos of karate – it is a system of fighting that prioritizes speed and control over aggression. 

Students of karate can expect to learn the discipline and theory of kicking, striking, distance control, and defense.

Karate, and many other forms of martial arts, emphasize the power of a skilled individual vs. a much larger foe.

There are many different forms and techniques taught within karate, all of which focus on keeping yourself safe whilst neutralizing and opponent.

Karate is usually practiced alongside deep traditions, this means learning the authentic names for certain techniques, bowing and showing good form to your instructor, as well as wearing a gi. 

Students can also transition quite quickly to sports karate, which involves sparring with other students and eventually competing for in tournaments or full-contact situations.

This is a way for students to test their skills in a simulation of a real-life environment, though they are usually heavily refereed to make sure everyone stays safe.



Tantōjutsu is a form of martial arts that is all to do with small blades. The Tantō is a Japanese weapon that was used most commonly by Samurai in various different periods of feudal Japan.

The Tantō blade is a small side-arm that was used for close-quarters combat, usually when the longer blades were disarmed or if there was no other weapon available.

Small blades such as the Tantō were kept close even when samurai slept, making it a perfect way to defend against hidden attackers. The Tantō blade was also the choice weapon for female samurai warriors.

So then, Tantōjutsu is a way of fighting that is all to do with small blades and how to use them effectively to either defend against an attacker or quickly neutralize them.

Tantōjutsu is a much less popular form of martial arts than something like karate and has fewer schools dedicated solely to its practice.

This is because fighting with a blade is less common in modern society. Because of this Tantōjutsu is mostly practiced as part of another overarching martial art, most commonly in Bushido and Aikido.

If you were to study Tantōjutsu then you would most likely be taught how to properly hold a Tantō blade, how to use it effectively, and how to fight attackers wielding both a Tantō or other much larger weapons.

Because of this, Tantōjutsu has a lot to do with distance control and how to manipulate the body of another person. 

It’s worth noting that most Tantōjutsu schools never use real, sharp Tantō blades because of safety. Instead, they are most frequently given wooden alternatives to use and easily train with.

Some graduate onto dulled metal blades, but this is only when instructors are sure they know how to train safely with their partners. 

Often, Tantōjutsu comes included with training a variety of different weapons and is just one of many.

Tantōjutsu practices often follow traditional rituals and training methods, some of which reach all the way back to the feudal time period that it was created.

It’s worth noting that the only hand-to-hand combat you’re likely to learn in a Tantōjutsu class is to do with disarming the other person when you find yourself without a blade.

Final Thoughts

If you’re trying to work out which of these is the best martial art for you to pick up, then you’re going to need to consider what you want to get out of picking one up as a hobby.

Are you looking to learn hand-to-hand combat so that you can protect yourself in a real-life situation?

Or are you more interested in historical weaponry and how these were used it the past?

Both have real-life applications, but the one you pick should be down to what you enjoy more and what you’re more interested in.

Picking up a martial art is going to be a great way to keep fit and healthy, learn discipline, and connect with a structure that will teach you humility and respect for others.

We hope our article has defined the main differences between Tantōjutsu and Karate, and that you now feel confident enough to pick between them. 

Christopher Anderson
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