Tai Chi and MMA differ from one another in every aspect. You may wonder, which one is better? Who would win in a Tai Chi vs. MMA matchup?
MMA is a system designed for freestyle combat. It is superior to modern Tai Chi, a soft martial art practiced for health benefits. MMA fighters have better fighting instincts, are more aggressive in their approach, and have superior combat abilities.
They spar more often, do fight simulations, and compete in full-contact matches under few restrictions. At the same time, Tai Chi focuses mainly on pre-arranged moves (forms).
Keep reading more to discover how these two combat systems compare in various aspects and why MMA is superior.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art developed in the mid-19th century. The Chinese government accepted it in 1956 as a Wushu or Kung Fu style.
There are different styles and sub-styles of Tai Chi. Most are practiced for meditation, physical and mental health, and overcoming oneself through martial art practice. The learning curriculum includes strikes and grappling and different defensive techniques.
Tai Chi is rooted in self-defense, and on paper, students should learn how to perform fast and slow and spar against each other in training (sanshou). However, most modern dojos stay away from any intense physical contact.
Instead, modern Tai Chi embraces a non-violent approach, as students never spar full-contact or do advanced fight simulations. The focus is on aesthetics, breathing exercises, and performing different sets of pre-arranged moves in a focused and soft manner—a mix of meditation and martial arts.
What Is MMA?
As its name suggests, mixed martial arts consists of different techniques from combat systems such as wrestling, BJJ, Boxing, and Muay Thai. It includes only the most effective grappling and striking techniques blended into one combat system.
The earliest origins go back to Ancient Greece and the sport “Pankration,” a mix of wrestling and boxing. MMA was also present during the 20th century in various forms. Some precursors were Vale Tudo matches in Brazil and Shooto in Japan. But the modern form emerged with the birth of the UFC promotion in 1993.
MMA is a brutal and violent sport where athletes compete against each other in freestyle combat. The rules enable them to wrestle, grapple, strike with all limbs on the ground and the feet, and submit using chokes and joint locks, all under limited rules. This makes MMA one of the most exciting sports in modern times and close to ideal for self-defense and real combat.
Tai Chi vs. MMA Key Differences
Tai Chi and MMA do not share much in common, and these two systems are a world apart regarding rules, training, objectives, and other aspects. Here is a list of all the key differences.
Tai Chi training lasts around an hour, with the emphasis being on soft and calm workouts. It is also known as “shadowboxing,” as students spend most of the time doing pre-arranged moves (forms) alone.
They do various breathing exercises and learn how to combine martial art moves into smooth and relaxed sequences. There is no hard sparring or intense workouts that pose a significant risk to your health.
MMA is a versatile martial art where students must learn how to combine various grappling and striking techniques. In most gyms, each week is a mix of BJJ, wrestling, boxing, and Muay Thai classes.
Training is intense as there is a lot of hard sparring, grueling strength and cardio workouts, and injuries are quite common. But on the flip side, this makes MMA so effective and its fighters the finest athletes.
Tai Chi is a mix of striking and grappling techniques. The emphasis is on open-hand strikes and kicks to the opponent’s legs or torso. The key is to learn how to re-direct the energy and disrupt the opponent’s center of gravity with fast and direct blows.
MMA adopts techniques from all martial arts as long as they fit within the rules:
- BJJ (throws, positioning, chokes, and joint locks)
- Wrestling (takedowns and pins)
- Muay Thai (kicks, punches, elbows and knees, and fighting in the clinch)
- Boxing (head movement, footwork, punches)
In its initial form, Tai Chi included a proper self-defense program. But over the years, it became an internal martial art practiced for physical and mental health benefits.
The main objective is to reach a meditative state while performing martial arts movements and techniques in a relaxed and slow manner. This is why people also refer to Tai Chi as a “meditation in motion.”
MMA is the total opposite to some extent. It is a combat sport whose primary goal is to rely on strategy and aggression to hurt the opponent, knock them out with strikes, or submit with chokes and joint locks. The main objective of every fighter is to win a match, world titles, and of course, a lot of money.
Rules to follow
Tai Chi competition focuses on aesthetics as contestants perform different forms and combinations, with the performance being scored the same way as in gymnastic tournaments.
There is also “push hand” competition where the main goal is to unbalance your opponent. However, Tai Chi competitions are rare and accepted on the global level.
MMA is a combat sport where athletes compete under strict rule sets, globally accepted the Unified Rules of MMA developed in 2000.
- Non-title fights have 3 rounds, while title fights are 5 rounds.
- Each round is 5 minutes long, and there is a 1 minute of rest between
- Athletes compete in a steel cage or a boxing ring
- Fighters can strike each other with kicks, punches, knees, elbows, grappling, and fighting on the ground.
- You can win a match by KO, TKO, Submission, or Disqualification.
Tai Chi vs. MMA for Self-Defense
MMA is one of the most effective combat systems one can learn for self-defense and is superior to Tai Chi in just about every aspect.
Though MMA is a combat sport, the rules do not limit your abilities in a real fight. They do not have a significant impact on the overall effectiveness of the system. Each technique you learn works in real life, and overall, the system covers most scenarios you may face on the streets.
But what sets MMA above the rest is its versatility and aggressive approach. You will learn how to fight at all ranges on the feet, use all limbs as weapons, fight in the clinch, score takedowns, and grapple on the ground. On top of that, you will be pressure tested in sparring regularly and simulate a real fight with training partners.
This helps you develop strong fighting instincts, timing, and automatic reactions. And over time, learn how to stay calm under pressure and adrenalin rush. Once the fight breaks out, your mind will recognize certain patterns and respond without thinking about it.
Tai Chi teaches solid principles of self-defense, notably how to defend at close range. But teaching methods need to be more comprehensive and lack advanced methods of applying these moves in a real fight. Overall, it gives you just a basic understanding of martial arts techniques.
Tai Chi vs. MMA: Who Would Win in a Fight?
MMA fighters have better skills and will likely defeat a Tai Chi practitioner in any scenario. Whether a fight on the street, bar, or hall or even if the Tai Chi practitioner is physically superior, MMA fighters have more skills and are better trained.
Of course, there are infinite variables and things that may happen in a street fight. But overall, it is hard to imagine a scenario relying on Tai Chi skills would be superior to MMA, and here is why.
First, Tai Chi techniques are not practical in a real fight. From rigid stances to how you keep your guard up, move and throw/block strikes, these techniques do not match well against MMA. And these techniques are not battle-proven, as there is no full-contact sparring.
Next, Tai Chi as a concept does not embrace intense combat at all. The entire focus is on slow and relaxed moves and avoiding violence. This approach does not transfer well against aggressive MMA fighters who will try to knock you out with full-blown shots.
In fact, trying to apply Tai Chi techniques against skilled MMA fighters is considered dangerous as you can seriously get hurt. The difference in skill is too big.
Cage fighters have superior athletic abilities and fighting instincts. They train how to apply the moves in a freestyle fight almost every day and can deal with everything Tai Chi has to offer in a fight.
Tai Chi vs. MMA: Which One is Safer?
Tai Chi is a low-impact workout and imposes less risk to your health. Conversely, MMA is a sport with the highest rate of injuries, both in training and competition. Far more dangerous than any form of Tai Chi or Kung Fu.
What makes Tai Chi the safest martial art is its non-aggressive approach to training. The concept revolves around soft techniques, performing without tension, relaxed and focused.
But what minimizes the risks is the lack of sparring or intense physical contact. Students never hit each other with full-blown strikes or push their bodies over the limits in training.
MMA is the total opposite. It is a dangerous sport to train in, where students get hurt quite often. First, the workload is intense as you have to train in at least 3 different martial arts simultaneously.
Next, each session includes physical contact where students either roll on the ground or exchange hard strikes on the feet, and injuries are inevitable.
Tai Chi vs. MMA: Which One Is Better For Fitness?
Both martial arts have fitness benefits, and the right answer is based on your preferred approach.
MMA training is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic workouts, which means it improves both your strength and cardio simultaneously. Over time, you will improve both upper and lower body segments and develop functional strength.
Also, each gym includes an amateur group where you can train for fitness without worrying much about injuries. Overall, MMA gyms are adapted to the modern lifestyle, and you can approach it as a regular workout. There are no uniforms, traditions, religious elements, or other things you might find in traditional martial arts.
Tai Chi is very popular among the elderly and kids because it is a low-impact workout. It is intense enough to improve your mobility, cardio, and strength but nowhere near MMA.
Tai Chi vs. MMA: Which One Is Harder To Learn?
MMA is a more versatile system, physically harder on your body and more demanding than Tai Chi. Yes, becoming an expert in any martial art is a lifelong journey for most people, including people training in Kung Fu. But overall, cage fighting is more brutal when you consider the following factors:
It takes more time to learn — MMA
A student with an average talent and fitness level may reach a high level of proficiency after 5–7 years of training. Tai Chi students need less, no more than 3 years on average.
Physically more demanding — MMA
Training and competing in cage fighting are physically more demanding. Students must train in martial arts each week, spar regularly, and do intense strength and cardio workouts. Tai Chi is a low-impact workout and less intense in every segment.
Higher rate of injuries — MMA
According to stats, MMA has the highest rate of injuries out of all combat sports. 59.4% of all athletes receive some injury in their fight. The most common ones are head, wrist, and knee injuries.
Tai Chi vs. MMA: Which One Is For You?
Tai Chi and MMA differ in every aspect, which makes it easier for you to make the right choice. The final decision is based on what you want to achieve with your training and what skills you want to develop. Here is our final advice.
MMA should be your choice if you are a teenager or in your 20s and 30s and looking to develop proper fighting skills. Training is physical and mentally challenging and requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice, but the benefits are enormous.
You will develop all-around striking and grappling skills and be capable of defending in most situations you may face on the streets. MMA is a full-body workout, and you will get in top shape in a brief period.
Modern Tai Chi is very popular among kids, and the elderly as the injury rate is relatively low. It should be your choice if you are looking for a low-impact workout where you can learn the basic principles of martial arts and its application in real life and improve your physical and mental health.