Although both have roots in martial arts and self defense, tai chi and krav maga are very different. Tai chi is a visually beautiful and slow-moving Chinese martial art, and krav maga is a visually violent, fast-moving Israeli method of combat. Tai chi is about form over function, and krav maga is about function over form. So in the world of fighting arts, tai chi is at the “arts” end of the scale and krav maga is at the “fighting” end.
Tai chi, or tai chi chuan, means “Grand Ultimate Fist,” and the original Chen style was a deadly fighting art used by bodyguards. As part of the Chinese internal martial art system, it was designed to emphasize strength, stability, flexibility and balance. External martial art systems, by contrast, involve speed, power, impactful contact, and lots of jumps and kicks.
Over the years, tai chi was modified, and many variations grew out of it, including the Sun style, Wu style and Yang style. It has evolved into a slow and gentle form of exercise with graceful movements -- based on blocks, strikes and take-downs that now take the form of a moving meditation -- that’s suitable for people of all ages.
Krav maga means “Contact Combat,” and it’s not a traditional martial art with standard formalities. Instead, it’s a self-defense method developed by fighters in Israel and used in all branches of the Israeli military. It combines judo, jujitsu and boxing moves with the use of weaponry for street fighting.
Tai chi is often represented by the yin-yang symbol, which embodies life’s two complementary opposites, because it’s all about balance. While yin and yang are constantly moving, changing and transforming, just like all of life, tai chi is about working with that movement. The kicks and blocks are not done out of aggression or fear, but with the intention of absorbing and deflecting negative energy to achieve a positive result.
Krav maga, on the other hand, is very aggressive. It has one goal: to neutralize the enemy as quickly as possible. It is unrestricted, and uses all styles of kicking, punching, chokes and take-downs. While competitive martial arts have rules and safety guidelines, krav maga allows any technique or target, including eyes, groin, throat and face. Because of this, there are no krav maga tournaments, competitions or desire to be represented as an Olympic sport.
Tai chi is usually presented as a series of postures or kata, which is a series of choreographed movements meant to be practiced and perfected. As such, it almost resembles a dance, with slow breathing and fluid motions that have no real beginning or end. For the participant, this presents a meditative component combined with physical exercise for a complete mind-body-spirit experience.
Krav maga has no formal kata, and you will likely never see it without at least two people in direct hand-to-hand combat, so it appears as a violent street fight. Hands, feet, arms, legs and weapons are all used viciously.
According to MayoClinic.com, the benefits of tai chi include decreased stress and anxiety, as well as increased energy, stamina, aerobic capacity, flexibility, balance, muscle strength and definition. The nonprofit health organization says evidence also indicates it could help enhance the quality of sleep and the immune system, improve joint pain and overall well-being, and reduce the risk of falls in older adults.
Krav maga certainly has the same benefits as any other rigorous form of exercise, but the main benefit is always self-defense.