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Difference Between Tai Chi & Kung Fu

author image Meg Brannagan
Meg Brannagan has worked as a registered nurse for more than 10 years, specializing in women's and children's health. She holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Difference Between Tai Chi & Kung Fu
Two people are practicing kung fu. Photo Credit: oneinchpunch/iStock/Getty Images

Martial arts are both forms of exercise and self-defense. Some of the martial arts developed thousands of years ago as methods of conditioning, both for the mind and the body. Although Kung Fu and Tai Chi are both forms of martial arts and contain many similarities, distinct differences exist between these two specialties.

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Qigong is an art that uses techniques involving both body and mind. The word qigong is broken down into two parts. “Qi” is referenced as a form of vital energy, the breath of life or simply the air. “Gong” is the practice of nurturing and promoting qi through movement, positions and breathing exercises. Both Kung Fu and Tai Chi are forms of qigong.


Both Tai Chi and Kung Fu stem from the Taoist philosophy and both have histories of being practiced in Taoist monasteries. Additionally, they are both types of martial arts that were once used for self-defense or simply through development of spiritual and physical growth. Tai Chi and Kung Fu use the mind and body together to provide balance as well as for combat or exercise. For these reasons, many people may confuse Tai Chi and Kung Fu.


Tai Chi is performed using slow, graceful movements that mimic the flow of energy through the body. Although Tai Chi uses movements that are concise, the transitions are graceful and slow as opposed to the quick, sharp moves of Kung Fu. Vanderbilt University states that Tai Chi differs from Kung Fu as it is considered a “soft” martial art. Kung Fu consists of moves known as strikes, which may be done by the elbows or the knees. Its techniques also involve quick moves and throws and is similar in form and movement to the martial art known as Judo.

Yin and Yang

Tai Chi and Kung Fu may be taught through different classes, or some martial arts centers may offer both specialties in one class. According to the Shaolin-Do Martial Arts Academy, incorporating both Tai Chi and Kung Fu into one class uses the theory of the yin and the yang by using the two different disciplines to counterbalance each other. By learning Tai Chi, you can practice relaxation and body awareness, and increase your strength and flexibility. By practicing Kung Fu, you may lose weight, learn self-defense and practice building your endurance.

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