Krav Maga vs Tai Chi – Comparison and Key Differences

Krav Maga vs Tai Chi – Comparison and Key Differences

In the global tradition of comparing martial arts, probably no two arts could be more different than a comparison of the Israeli military martial art Krav Maga vs tai chi. One is completely tactical, with no forms or competitions, and a short history. The other is internal, incredibly formalized, and has a history going back centuries. However, they share a distinct military origin and Krav Maga gives us modern-day insight into what tai chi possibly once was.

When comparing Krav Maga vs tai chi, Krav Maga is an aggressive self defense fighting art intended to be learned quickly and immediately end a fight. Tai chi combines health and martial aspects and real progress isn’t made until after years of training.

For tai chi practitioners who (rightfully so) think their self defense is inadequate, studying both Krav Maga and tai chi gives us a way to gain street fighting skills. Its is also a great way to understand the martial applications of all the tai chi moves that are hidden in the slow, deliberate movements. Let’s take a quick look at the origin and history of Krav Maga and then dive into why someone would study one, the other, or both.

Krav Maga vs Tai Chi – Origin and Key Differences

Many readers here are new to Krav Maga so let’s start with a quick history. Krav Maga was born out the need for the citizens of the newly formed country of Israel to defend itself. In 1948, Israel gained nation status and Jewish citizens from around the globe began migrating to the new country. While Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem had formed militia and defense groups since the beginning of the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1940s that things started to take shape. The Israeli Defense Forces were formed uniting many of the different defense groups. Add to this that many immigrants had been part of defense groups in Europe or fought in World War I and a true martial art starts to take shape. What is unique about Krav Maga is that all Israeli citizens serve in the military and have some close combat training.

similarities between krav maga vs tai chi - share defense origins

Krav Maga in its modern form is about 50 years old and is the combination of successive generations adding to the curriculum. There are no set forms but instead is a focus on aggressive attacks and defenses intended to end an altercation immediately. They train with and against any weapon that is available and concentrate on chokes, gouges, groin strikes, joint damage, and bone breaks. A competition would create rules that would limit the intent of the art so most schools just focus on sparring and fighting.

Hopefully you can see that a modern comparison of tai chi vs Krav Maga is borderline silly. But take a walk with me back in time to the origin of tai chi and really all of the Chinese martial arts and we see that Krav Maga gives us some real insight into what tai chi was like at the beginning. It’s kind of like modern day anthropologists studying of the remaining hunter-gather tribes on earth to learn about what our eating habits were or gut health was like before modernization.

Shaolin Kungfu was in part born out of the necessity of monks and nuns to protect themselves while traveling. They often received tithings from the communities and collected moneys and food in the form of taxes which made them targets of attack. Additionally, the remote locations of the monasteries and valuable statues, scrolls and metals like gold made attacks a constant threat.

Tai chi was born outof the same environment and in its heyday was taught in the forbidden city to the military. All the original masters of the different styles fought and were also military men. So like Krav Maga, when tia chi began there was no separation between the art and military need.

Choosing Between Krav Maga vs Tai Chi

I think that a lot of the debate about whether tai chi was ever a martial art or whether it is a useless martial art would go away if practitioners would spend some time in a Krav Maga class. As I teach tai chi class, questions always arise like “what is this move for?” A debate ensues talking about different martial applications. I would not be able to answer these questions if I hadn’t been in the military, hadn’t studied external arts, or hadn’t fought. The question can’t be answered well without physical contact with another classmate.

So choosing between Krav Maga vs tai chi is pretty simple because the two arts’ goals are so incredible different that it pretty easy to pick based on what you are looking for. Let’s talk about the main considerations but at the end I am going to make an argument for studying both.

Krav Maga vs Tai Chi Fighting and Self Defense

Hands down, if you are concerned about your safety, want to increase your confidence when in questionable situations, or your interest is purely in self defense, go the Krav Maga route. If you are a tai chi practitioner and want knowledge about the applications of the moves, six months in a Krav Maga gym would get you thinking in the right direction. Krav Maga is fighting and self defense.

The easiest way to understand the fighting and intent is to see it in actin. Check this out.

Krav Maga Video Example

Physical Fitness

Krav Maga gets higher marks than tai chi in terms of physical fitness. Gyms that I have visited can give you a great workout especially if you attend on the striking nights. Think cardio-kickboxing when they still were actually kicking and punching something. Other than Chen style tai chi, tai chi isn’t designed for cardio fitness.

Popularity / Availability of Both Arts

As you can imagine, Krav Maga is not as easy to find if you are not in an urban city center. You have a better chance of finding gyms in cities with strong Jewish communities. Don’t let that deter you though. You don’t have to be Chinses to study tai chi and the schools near me are just a blend of people living in the nearby neighborhoods.

Ability to Practice

Krav Maga is not really something you can practice on your own. You need a competent instructor who is not just “blending” self defense drills and calling it Krav Maga. That being said, if you have a school near you, it is a pretty fast way to gain fighting skills in a short amount of time. Tai chi gets higher marks in this area because it can be practiced anytime, anywhere.

Community / Socialization

For those of you that haven’t fought or done self defense training, there is a sense of camaraderie that develops with someone you are wrestling with or hitting. It is a relationship that depends on trust. So in that aspect, you get to know your classmates quite well. However, Krav Maga schools don’t always associate with other schools or are not part of an international organization. It would also be rare to have a competition but you may find a workshop infrequently. Tai chi on the other hand has a huge community not just within styles but also across styles. Practitioners also take part in other community events like lion dances, holidays, arts like calligraphy, and international events.


Krav Maga is not something you can really learn on your own, from videos, or books. You would pay to attend a school which totally makes sense. There might be additional expenses for gear such as gloves and pads but that is often supplied by the schools. They typically don’t have tournaments or workshops so those are not expenses you would incur. Tai chi is better than Krav Maga in this area because of the availability of inexpensive resources and classes.

Need for Gear / Location

To practice Krav Maga you need a gym. You need a school with mats, dummies, and pads. You also need a partner to be able to continually practice the attacks and defenses. People who study Krav Maga love this classic fighting interaction but if your accessibility is limited you might be better off with an art you can be consistent with.

I’ve summarized the key differences in helping you choose between tai chi vs Krav Maga in this chart.

A Comparison Chart of Krav Maga vs Tai Chi

ConsiderationTai ChiKrav Maga
Self Defense / Fighting310
Physical Fitness58
Popularity / Availability103
Ability to Practice103
Community / Socialization75
Need for Gear / Location106

Combining Krav Maga and Tai Chi

There are some real benefits to studying both tai chi and Krav Maga. I am not even talking about studying both forever. You could attend your favorite art but then take some classes in the other art for a period of time to round out your abilities and get perspective on aspects of one that they may not focus on as much.

How a Krav Maga practitioner can benefit from tai chi

  • Calmness and elongated breath while under attack
  • Awareness of training partner intent
  • The ability to sink and drop your weight when struck
  • Through silk reeling, the ability to heal tendons that are stressed from strikes and grappling
  • Integrated movement from the ground
  • Just healing and repair of tweaks in general
  • Opening the chest and improving your disposition. Krav Maga is a close fighting art that closes down the front of the body and rounds it forward for all the expected martial arts reasons. However, from a Chinese medicine perspective, this assumes of the posture of fear or protection and can affect your mood. The antidote is to stretch and open the chest (think a proud rooster) and tai chi movements do this.

How a tai chi practitioner can benefit from Krav Maga

  • Knowledge of ALL martial applications
  • Improvement of posture through moves because working with a partner challenges your balance
  • Maintenance of emotions in difficult situations. E.g. remaining calm when someone hits you.
  • Physical fitness
  • Aerobic fitness
  • Self defense skills

If you are interested in more information on Krav Maga, the author of A Nation of Warriors, M. Katz provides a great summary of Krav Maga’s history.

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.

ConsiderationTai ChiKung FuWing ChunKrav MagaMuay ThaiMMAAikidoBJJKarateTaekwondo
Self Defense / Fighting35710101031075
Physical Fitness587810104978
Popularity / Availability1088359101088
Ability to Practice1010433467610
Community / Socialization7775467877
Need for Gear / Location10786444487

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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