When we talk about two things being on a spectrum, the general consensus is that they are both similar, but unique to varying degrees. In a conversation about martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and tai chi are so different that practitioners of each art would be hanging off the end of the spectrum by their fingertips. But are their shared qualities? If so, are their things we can learn about martial arts in general by seeing these principles play out in opposing forms? And as important, can we put to rest the BJJ vs tai chi fighting debates that somehow continue to plague the internet?
Debates between BJJ vs tai chi exist because they share roots in eastern martial arts and retain similar philosophies related to softness, relaxation under pressure, using leverage and great posture, and redirecting rather than resisting applied forces. While BJJ is a fighting and competitive art, tai chi is generally practiced for the health benefits.
Let’s have some fun with this. I want to do three things here:
- I want to explore some really interesting commonalities between these two opposing arts to get us thinking deeply a bit about our own practice.
- I am going to lay out the five reasons why people believe tai chi could beat BJJ just so that we can collectively put the idea to rest.
- Even as a longtime tai chi practitioner, I want to share my thoughts of why I think BJJ is one of the best if not the best martial arts to study based on seven criteria that I have been using to compare the martial arts.
BJJ vs Tai Chi – Origin and Potential Similarities
While the two martial arts are wildly different, practitioners of one art who have explored the other are sometimes caught of guard by some overlap they see and even ways in which having learned one art has positively impacted the other.
Brazilian Jiu Jutsu finds its roots in the eastern martial arts as four brothers of the Gracie family in Rio de Janeiro took what they had learned from a Japanese Judo master and created their own art. Fast forward and the Brazilian version or BJJ transformed into a sport, spread internationally, and now has its own governing body.
There are several philosophies that both arts share. Central to tai chi and BJJ is
- The idea of relaxing into an oncoming and opposing force
- Using leverage and posture to create force over muscle
- A constant focus on softness (song in tai chi)
- Going along with an applied force initially but circling past it to avoid being trapped. If a body part is trapped, then circling the entire body to get free.
- Relaxation under stress
- Grounding or connecting to the ground
- Joint locks as a way to subdue an attack
- Posture is key to avoid being taken down. Here is someone with tai chi experience and BJJ experience using their skills to avoid take-downs from standing.
Looking at this list it again becomes apparent what both tai chi and BJJ share and why they should be considered together as martial arts. Moreover, it is easier to see how someone would benefit from studying both. A tai chi practitioner would gain true martial skill and have a way to test out his posture, relaxation, and softness. A BJJ practitioner could increase his ability to focus and relax and recover more quickly from injuries caused by the sport.
7 Considerations for Choosing Between BJJ vs Tai Chi
There are obvious martial or spiritual goals that will send you running toward or away from BJJ or tai chi. However, there are other considerations based on where you live or what resources that you have access to that will enable you to choose one over the other. Let’s cover them here:
BJJ vs Tai Chi Fighting and Self Defense
I think you know which way this rating should go. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gets a 10/10. It’s one of the few martial arts that has been turned completely into a sport and the only martial art that has been successful repeatedly against other styles. Lastly, BJJ is the only martial art that looks like itself after the referee starts the bout. Many martial arts start in a certain posture but then immediately switch into boxing or wrestling postures as soon as contact is made.
So how is it possible that this is even debated?
There are some lovers of tai chi who feel the need to defend the martial fighting applications and history of tai chi. I am totally there with you and spend a portion of class every week talking about the moves and intended applications. It is an important discussion within tai chi because it encourages proper alignment. However, it is never a comparison. I took the liberty of trolling the internet to see how people would defend tai chi in terms of fighting. Here’s what I found:
Reasons Why Tai Chi Loses to BJJ
- Tai chi can be great for fighters but those aspects aren’t taught in the west
- The secret applications aren’t taught to outsiders
- The true essence of tai chi was extinguished during the Cultural Revolution
- Tai chi takes a decade or more to learn and therefore it’s not a fair comparison
- (Take 2) Tai chi takes a decade or more to learn so pairing an older practitioner with a younger fighter isn’t fair
None of these arguments stand up to scrutiny but even if they were true, they are not currently true today. So at the very least we can agree that in this day and age, if you are choosing between BJJ vs tai chi for fighting or self defense, there is only one way to go.
Please remember that I am first and foremost a tai chi practitioner! I don’t find this sad. Tai chi has a million other amazing benefits and reasons to practice. What we need is more people benefitting from practicing any martial art and finding one that matches your goals so you keep doing it.
Tai chi is great for creating and maintaining flexibility and there are aspects to the art that can help you get in shape but it is nothing compared to a BJJ workout. Fatigue, an exploding heart rate, and muscular exhaustion occurs in minutes. Soreness and recovery can take days. This is one way that tai chi and BJJ pair nicely together. As a related example, world renowned BJJ fighter Rickson Gracie is also a yoga practitioner and credits his yoga breathing strategies partially for his success. So much so that he passed the method down to his son Kron who is great fighter in his own right.
Popularity / Availability of Both Arts
Both tai chi and BJJ are incredibly accessible in any community. Added to that the number of resources online to practice either art and you can keep yourself busy for decades.
Ability to Practice
This is one area where tai chi is better than BJJ because Brazilian Jiu Jitsu requires a training center and lots of classmates to serve as partners. Even having a school in your town is sometimes problematic. A fellow martial artist I know fanatically worked to attend BJJ classes to up his game in another martial art. He was in his late 40s and had trouble finding partners that weren’t in their 20s. It’s not that he couldn’t spar with them. They just had a different relationship with injuries where they saw them as bragging rights where he was at a point where he wanted to avoid them at all costs. Plus, with a decidedly younger crowd, the classes went late past when his kids needed to be in bed.
Community / Socialization
The BJJ community is enormous and schools that fight together are usually pretty tight because of the trust needed to keep opponents safe. And not just that there are schools, and multiple schools in many cities, but that they also compete on regional, state, national, and international levels. The tradition is still very popular in Brazil and you can go there to learn. Schools even set up packages with accommodations and food included. Having trained at a tai chi school in China, I imagine a trip like this would be fun:
Tai chi gets high marks in this category too because there are typically multiple schools in a single city, workshops that get everyone together, tons of Chinese cultural activities to take part in throughout the year, and even trips to China if you get really serious.
If martial arts are not something you can afford right now then tai chi is the way to go. It’s not that BJJ is expensive but there are community costs and expenses associated with competing. And being honest, you should probably have good insurance. Most people get injured at some point. Tai chi on the other hand has cheap classes and not even usually a uniform to speak of.
Need for Gear / Location
Like Aikido or other rolling arts. You need big fancy mats and a lot of space to practice BJJ. You also need a school, not just a partner so that you can practice with but a variety of people. Luckily the popularity of BJJ has lead to big schools so this is usually a pretty easy thing to come by. However, when compared to tai chi, tai chi requires no other person to practice and not even an official space.
Of all the martial arts that I have been comparing to tai chi, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gets the highest scores over all. Yes it is primarily a fighting art. But, looking past that, it also competes with all the other martial arts in terms of popularity, fitness, community and accessibility.
A Comparison Chart of Tai Chi vs BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu)
|Self Defense / Fighting||3||10|
|Popularity / Availability||10||10|
|Ability to Practice||10||7|
|Community / Socialization||7||8|
|Need for Gear / Location||10||4|
Choosing Between Tai Chi and Other Martial Arts
This is one of a series of articles covering the similarities and difference between tai chi and other martial arts. We all have very different personalities and luckily there is a martial art for everyone. What is important is that more people on the planet are pursuing fitness that is functional and addressing their external and internal development. Whatever you choice and where ever you are in life, we all benefit by having more people improve themselves and interact with a like-minded community. Check out how all the major martial arts compare to tai chi be clicking on the headings.
|Consideration||Tai Chi||Kung Fu||Wing Chun||Krav Maga||Muay Thai||MMA||Aikido||BJJ||Karate||Taekwondo|
|Self Defense / Fighting||3||5||7||10||10||10||3||10||7||5|
|Popularity / Availability||10||8||8||3||5||9||10||10||8||8|
|Ability to Practice||10||10||4||3||3||4||6||7||6||10|
|Community / Socialization||7||7||7||5||4||6||7||8||7||7|
|Need for Gear / Location||10||7||8||6||4||4||4||4||8||7|