Tai Chi and Aikido are quite similar in the way they are perceived in general, but they’re quite different from each other. They do have similarities as well, like the emphasis on efficiency and swift movements to take down the opponent as well as the philosophy of peace and compassion towards everyone.
As for the differences, Tai Chi chiefly has standing fighting movements while Aikido has grappling techniques and some ground techniques as well. Also, Tai Chi has almost the same number of striking and pushing techniques as it has blocking and pulling ones whereas Aikido mainly has blocking and pulling techniques.
While both are soft fighting styles, Tai Chi is even more graceful and requires relatively less physical capabilities. And it’s just not that, these two have several other factors and differences which we’re going to look into in detail in the further sections.
It isn’t very clear when and exactly where Tai Chi originated from. What we know for sure is that it originated in China and was first referred to by its name in the mid 19th century by a scholar named Ong Tong. Before this, it was referred to as by different names by the outsiders.
Depending on the dynasty from which it originated, Tai Chi has five styles: the Chen style, the Yang style, the Wu Hao style, the Wu style, and the Sun style. There are multiple styles now, some new, some hybrid, and some inspired from these, but these five are considered as the five orthodox styles.
Aikido originated in Japan in the 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba, also called Ōsensei (or the great teacher) by many. Ueshiba incorporated his learnings from other martial art forms like Aiki-jūjutsu, Judo, kenjutsu, etc with his philosophical learnings.
He believed in love and compassion towards everyone, even the attacker. This is pretty apparent in the Aikido techniques as well which try to redirect the opponent’s energy against them, not actively fighting them. An ideal result of a fight in Aikido is when not only the defender is unharmed but when the attacker is unharmed as well.
Both the martial art forms share quite some similarities in their basic philosophies and fighting styles. Both martial art forms are soft and focus on using their opponent’s energy against them.
Both martial art forms emphasize developing mental strength and character. Both art forms train their students to build harmony with the mind, body, and surroundings. And both of them have techniques that are intricate and graceful and involve very smooth movements.
There are several differences between these two. For one, while a lot of focus in Tai Chi is on meditation and relaxation through the various exercises, Aikido is relatively more of a self defense martial art that seeks to create harmony with the energy around you.
The majority of movements arise from the center of the fighter (which is in a balanced state) and sliding footwork is used to execute the different techniques. Whereas Tai Chi fighters carry on the different movements via having most of the body’s weight on one foot.
Also, Aikido has various grappling techniques that involve quite a bit of rolling around on the floor. Tai Chi has, more or less, techniques performed while standing up and the emphasis is equally on striking and pushing as blocking and pulling, unlike Aikido which focuses more on the latter two.
While Aikido’s training focuses on the different fighting techniques which help in mental development simultaneously, the story’s a bit different for Tai Chi. Here, the training is divided between solo forms (which can be practiced without anyone’s aid) and fighting forms (which require a partner).
Under taolu (or the solo forms), practitioners execute a variety of movements around their center of gravity. These exercises have several health benefits: it improves body circulation, increases flexibility in joints, makes the posture better, etc.
Other than this, breathing exercises (neigong for internal skills and qigong for developing the energy of life) are also practiced alongside these.
The partnered training includes tuishou (pushing hands) and sanshou (sparring) and the aim in a fight is to disturb the center of gravity of the opponent and unbalance them, much like Aikido.
Aikido has more of an emphasis on defense (redirecting the opponent’s energy) than offense. The attacks are of two types: swaisho (relaxed hand techniques) and munetsuki (fist to torso striking techniques). A variety of joint locks (like nikkyo, sankyo, ikkyo, etc), throws ( like tenchi nage, irimi nage, koshi nage, etc), and chokes are used as defensive techniques here.
Striking and blocking techniques are taught at a later stage in Tai Chi training. The vulnerable areas of a body are targeted like the eyes, heart, throat, or the groin region. Almost all the body parts are used for different strikes from fingers, fist, forearms, elbows to hips, knees, back, and feet.
Defensive techniques are taught at a former state in training and only after certain expertise is the student taught the various striking techniques. Joint traps, breaks, and locks are also used in Tai Chi.
Which is More Effective in a Street Fight?
Aikido. As it’s relatively less passive and has more fighting involved in the training.
Aikido emphasizes how to best incapacitate the enemy without putting yourself in harm’s way. The different techniques here teach how to unbalance the opponent and use their energy against them efficiently. And because Aikido students constantly practice the various movements, they’re more proficient and adept in real life.
The major block in Tai Chi when it comes to fighting is its relative lack of practice (especially in earlier stages of learning) and its primary emphasis on meditation and mental growth which isn’t the practical approach from the perspective of real-life fights.
Tai Chi students rarely undergo sparring techniques. Unless you’re someone who participates in the various tournaments, there are fewer chances you’ll get to practice the sanshou techniques. This results in the Tai Chi fighters getting lesser practice and therefore, have relatively less confidence.
Compared to it, Aikido has regular practice sessions with a partner which ensures that one gets mastery over the techniques. This provides fighters with more self-confidence. Also, Aikido trains the students against multiple opponents via the randori techniques which is useful and practical when it comes to real-life scenarios.
Which is Better for Self Defense?
Aikido because of its focus on self-defense, the pace of its fighting style, and the variety of techniques taught.
Tai Chi has a major advantage in the fact that it can be learned by people of any age group with relative ease. Aikido requires some physical capabilities relatively. But while Tai Chi helps you grow as a person and improves your health with time, it isn’t as practical for self-defense as Aikido.
Aikido develops your instincts and awareness such that you avoid harm in every aspect of your life. After all, isn’t the point of self-defense protecting yourself in all situations? Aikido makes sure you’re out of harm’s way at every point in your life and because of which, it’s a great martial art form for defense.
Aikido training has a lot of fighting involved (with opponents), unlike Tai Chi which is relatively more of meditative solo art. Both martial arts have training sessions using weapons with Aikido teaching defense against staff, swords, and knives and Tai Chi using swords, folding fans, staff, and spears.
Aikido also incorporates fighting against multiple attackers. Also, Aikido techniques are relatively easier to execute and the constant practice gives an advantage to the Aikido fighters. On the other hand, Tai Chi techniques are more intricate and more complex and are relatively difficult to execute.
Which is Easier to Learn?
Tai Chi. While both Aikido and Tai Chi are very complex martial art forms and involve intricate, graceful moves, Tai Chi can be learned by anyone of any age group and any physical shape. While this is true for Aikido as well, it’s truly applicable to Tai Chi.
The usual duration of Tai Chi training is lesser too. Aikido practitioners take anywhere between 4 to 5 years to obtain the first black belt. Now Tai Chi doesn’t have any official belt system, but a usual training lasts for approximately 1 year or so.
Which One Should You Choose?
The same way you can’t compare apples and oranges, it wouldn’t be fair to render one better than the other. It’s all about your priorities and requirements.
Aikido brings peace, balance, and harmony into one’s life while training for a self-defense technique which is effective in different sets of situations. It helps develop your character, hone your instincts, and overall lead a better life.
While a lot of things, in the above paragraph, are true for Tai Chi as well (the bits about peace, harmony, and mental development), it is more of a meditative martial art form at its core.
It focuses on improving your mental state which also results in Tai Chi having several healing characteristics. Also, Tai Chi tournaments are growing with time, and hence, one can choose it for career prospects.