Aikido vs. Tai Chi – Complete Comparison


I’ve trained with a Black Belt in Aikido, but I’ve also done Tai Chi for a few years. And while both have a peaceful and spiritual component, they are also very different. Let’s compare Aikido vs. Tai Chi.

Here’s what I know from practicing both:

Both Tai Chi and Aikido are soft martial arts. But Aikido, with joint locks and throws, is more effective for self-defense, while Tai Chi is more about being mentally and physically grounded and connected to our own energy and the energy around us.

They’re also similar in the sense that they have a philosophy of peace and compassion.

In this article, I’ll share some interesting facts about both martial arts and suggestions on which to choose, depending on your goal.

The fun begins…

Is Tai Chi good for self-defense?

Unless a practitioner has trained in other martial arts as well, Tai Chi movements will not be effective for self-defense. But almost all Tai Chi movements have martial art applications when isolated and used in combination with other martial art techniques.

The way it’s often taught is focused more on health, fitness, and spiritual enlightenment.

If a person has been trained in this way, it’ll be unrealistic (and dangerous) for them to assume that they can easily translate the training to a real fight.

Tai Chi, full name T’ai chi ch’üan or Tàijí quán, is usually taught and practiced as slow, graceful movements.

It’s beautiful, but as you know, a real fight is often a fast and chaotic experience.

If you’ve spent years practicing some slow solo movements, it will be hard to be able to easily adapt to the ugly and fast pace required when someone is probably trying to choke or break your jaw.

Having said that, my Tai Chi teacher, Sensei Gene Smithson, could easily use those movements to disable opponents. But that would not be true for most.

Of course, some styles are more adapted to self-defense, but getting good teachers is a challenge. And even at that, there are actually better martial arts if your goal is to defend yourself.

But, if you’re not cut out for more aggressive martial arts or looking to be more grounded and at peace with yourself, Tai Chi is a great choice.

So, it depends on what you really want.

If self-defense is NOT the goal, Tai Chi is great. But if you’re looking for a grounded, spiritual practice that also has effective self-defense applications, Aikido would be the way to go.

Is Aikido an effective martial art?

Aikido techniques will work well against most attackers who are unskilled in martial arts or untrained fighters. Aikido techniques allow the practitioner to leverage the attacker’s energy against them.

But it’s essentially a defensive artform.

It’s about fostering harmony with everyone, including one’s opponents. So, in a contest, such as a street brawl, the Aikidoka (Aikido practitioner) is not out to destroy the other. They are out to simply control them without harming them.

The goal is not to crush opponents but to disable them just enough to run away or to allow the Aikidoka to run away.

You’ll agree this might work most of the time. After all, most street fighters are seldom trained and usually get by on strength, brutality, or sneak attacks.

But, when the stakes are really high, Aikido might not work.

This is especially true if an Aikidoka is fighting with someone who’s out to cripple or destroy them or who has formal training themselves.

But can you even use Aikido for true self-defense?

I explored this issue in some depth in a recent article of mine. In it, I showed that using minimal throws, joint locks, and wrist control, Aikido can be an effective system for self-defense.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Tai Chi even a martial art?

Tai Chi is a genuine martial art and one of many martial arts under the umbrella of Kung Fu. Tai Chi has many styles, and each has a slightly different approach. The Chen style, for example, incorporated a form of ancient Chinese boxing.

It was developed in 1670. Legend has it that it was developed by a Tao monk, Zhang San Feng, while he watched a crane fight a snake.

Some accounts credit Wang Zong Yue, who’s supposedly a student of Zhang San Feng, as its creator.

Another credits Cheng Wang Tin, who had a military background, as the person who came up with Tai Chi. He is believed to have been Wang Zon Yue’s student.

Kung Fu not only includes Tai Chi but also:

  • Wing Chun (the original martial art Bruce Lee practiced)
  • Shaolin Kung Fu
  • Eagle Claw
  • Monkey Style

What’s indisputable is that Tai Chi is an offshoot of Taoism.

An ancient Chinese religious philosophy that stresses being one with Yin and Yang, the masculine and the feminine forces, perceived as complementary that pervades the universe.

We often think of self-defense when we think of martial arts.

But Tai Chi, like most Eastern martial arts, is a system that includes character development.

Its approach is similar to the one employed by Judo and Aikido, where the focus is on leverage — how to deflect an attack and respond in a way that leaves the attacker unhurt.

Can you learn Tai Chi on your own? Yes, you can. I offered some simple but actionable tips in a recent article of mine.

The biggest challenge facing those who want to learn it alone is that they often focus solely on the movements. The real benefit of Tai Chi is internal, not external. And often (but not always), only a teacher can help you find that.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How does Aikido compare to Tai Chi?

Aikido has a Japanese origin, while Tai Chi has a Chinese origin. Aikido is a more holistic system that’s also used as a form of self-defense, while Tai Chi is practiced mainly as a moving meditation exercise for its centering and mental health benefits.

Compared to other martial arts, both are regarded as soft, but Tai Chi is softer, and the movements are slow and graceful. It’s like a dance.

Aikido is more suited for self-defense because its movements are more realistic. And most of the moves are done to a partner rather than solo.

And even though the focus in Aikido is on unbalancing and throwing one’s opponent, it also has atemi (blows and strikes).

Both are similar since there’s a philosophy of peace and compassion, in the sense that you defend yourself in a way that the opponent is not harmed.

In Aikido, one of the key fundamental techniques is ensuring that you have a good balance on both feet and then using some sliding footwork.

In Tai Chi, on the other hand, the weight is more distributed on one leg and then transferred smoothly to the other.

Tai Chi is more “spiritual,” focusing on internal meditation and harnessing energy to defeat the other. There’s no reliance on internal meditations in Aikido.

Aikido employs throws, locks, holds, and using the opponent’s energy and momentum against them. While Tai Chi, on the other hand, is essentially a form of exercise that’s focused on balance, health, and relaxation.

In a nutshell, Aikido is more effective if self-defense is your goal. If you’d like to explore the reasons for its effectiveness, a recent article of mine goes into a bit more detail.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What are the biggest differences between Tai Chi and Aikido?

Tai Chi focuses on slow, graceful, non-violent movements done by oneself as a form of moving meditation. By comparison, Aikido techniques are typically practiced with a partner, performed much faster, and can be effective for self-defense.

Unlike Aikido, Tai Chi can be less physically demanding. That being said, if done correctly, you’ll definitely feel your thighs burning. If you don’t, you aren’t squatting enough.

Aikido is a better choice when self-defense is the goal. It’s less passive. Tai Chi is the way to go if you’re looking for a martial art that yields mental health and fitness benefits.

Tai Chi is also great for the elderly and those with more limited strength or mobility.

It’s totally customizable. Go at the speed you like, and like yoga, you can go deeper into the forms based on your ability.

At an advanced stage, Tai Chi students are also taught some fighting techniques. But, these are not as intricate and well-developed as the techniques you’ll learn in Aikido.

Tai Chi is performed standing up for the entire time, although some moves require squatting and even a 1 legged squat.

While Aikido is also fought standing, it has some grappling elements.

Another key difference is in the training. Tai Chi has many forms that you can practice alone. And while a teacher is preferable to really master Tai Chi, you could do it completely alone.

Aikido is always practiced with a partner, where one party is the uke (the person who initiates a technique, the “attacker”), and the other the tori (the person who completes the technique, the “defender”).

If you’re considering Aikido, a question that might come up is whether it’s something you could teach yourself.

In a recent article, I showed that this could be done and offered actionable tips to help you. After all, while I did just say you need a partner, if practicing at home and alone is your only option, there’s still a lot you can do with Aikido.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

We explored the similarities between Aikido and Tai Chi.

We found out that both are soft martial arts that stress compassion and peace. In fact, one’s not expected to harm an opponent in the course of defending oneself.

There are also differences, such as the movements employed and the focus on self-defense or health and fitness.

On the whole, if self-defense is your goal, Aikido is the way to go.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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