Karate is a Japanese term for the martial art of the empty hand. It has become the worldwide generic term for all styles of martial arts that deal with kicking and punching. Originally, two Chinese characters were used to depict the martial art of "kara hand" or "the hand of the Kara Kingdom." The Japanese pronounced these two characters as "karate" which means "empty hand."
The kara of "kara hand" refers to the Kara Province, one of the old provinces of China that unified all of China and became known as the Kara Kingdom. During this time, there was cultural exchange between the countries of China, Japan, and Korea, including the spread of their martial arts. The Kara Province martial art known as "the hand of the Kara Kingdom" was widely respected by all the countries.
Most historians agree that karate began in India. India's history, folklore, dance, drama, sculptures, and works of art depict great warriors who fought with their bare hands. Legend has it that about 1500 years ago, the Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma, brought karate into China where he taught Chinese monks at the Shaolin-ssu Monastery. His students became famous fighters and spread their fighting techniques throughout China. The Chinese military gradually adapted karate techniques to military offensive purposes and taught them to military groups, establishing formal training schools for this purpose. These schools were the driving force behind the Boxer Rebellion.
Once karate techniques were applied to warfare, other counties began to adopt them. Each country gave their version of karate a different flavor by adding some of their own cultural differences. This accounts for some of the numerous karate styles now spread throughout the world.
Karate has historically been a defensive weapon, but since it could also be used to oppose abusive laws, many government leaders opposed it, so the practice of karate many times had to go underground. To disguise their karate training, karate practitioners developed techniques to fight imaginary opponents (precursors to hyungs, katas, patterns, or forms) and adopted them into dance routines.
Chinese warriors took "kara hand" into 17th-Century Okinawa where it developed into "Okinawa-te" (Okinawa hand) that Master Gichin Funakoshi later introduced into Japan. Japan only recently changed "kara hand" to mean "empty hand" or karate. Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese still recognize both words as meaning the same thing. Through this continuous change and with additions from various countries, modern karate gradually developed into what it is today.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art. Taekwondo means: Kick Punch Way - "tae" means kick or foot, "kwon" means punch or hand, and "do" means way of. The term karate has become the generic name for any of the kicking and punching martial arts. Basically, the Korean term "Taekwondo" means the same as the Japanese term "karate."
In 1955, the Korean Taekwondo Federation adopted Taekwondo as the official name for the new Korean martial art. So, the word Taekwondo encompasses all the previous terms for Korean martial arts, such as "Subak" and "Taekkyon." However, many Korean martial art schools still use the olden names such as "Tang-soo-do" (kara hand way), "Kong-soo-do" (empty hand way), or "Tae-soo-do" (foot hand way) to describe their version of Korean martial arts.