Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art and practice, so it’s natural to wonder whether there’s an equivalent in Japan which is another major center of martial art practice or whether the Japanese have adopted Tai Chi on its own for use there.
So, do the Japanese practice Tai Chi?
Yes. There are many Japanese students of Tai Chi who follow the Chinese practice and style. Tai Chi is a very popular hobby in Japan. It is also true that there is a Japanese martial art called Takiken which is similar to Tai Chi in certain respects.
Somehow Takiken is not as popular as Tai Chi even in its native Japan and many people have never heard of it before. Let’s have a quick look at the fascinating cultures behind these amazing traditions!
What Is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi (or more formally Tai Chi Ch’uan) is a Chinese martial art. It is considered to be an “internal” martial art which means it is more concerned with breathing and meditation than it is with the physical act of fighting. In fact, as it is practiced today – it is rarely used as a martial art at all and most students choose Tai Chi for its health benefits.
The concept of Tai Chi is based around the idea of balance (the Yin and Yang of Chinese philosophy) and the emphasis is placed on slow, contemplative movement with high levels of precision combined with meditation to ensure that the practitioner is “fully present” during the movements.
This is said to have two sets of benefits. The first is physical, Tai Chi is a workout and though it may be a gentler form of exercise than say Kung Fu or Kickboxing, it’s still a good way to get the blood flowing and to put your body through its paces. All forms of physical exercise have been demonstrated to have health benefits for practitioners.
The second is mental, meditation (or as some Westerners prefer “mindfulness”) is proven to help people deal with stress and emotional overload as well as to help people develop purpose in the quiet of contemplation. People with a purpose are happier and more successful throughout all aspects of their lives when compared to those without purpose.
These benefits have made Tai Chi very popular throughout the world. The fact that Tai Chi does not need to be practiced as a martial art makes it very accessible and people of all ages and levels of fitness can take part and enjoy its benefits.
If you would like a simple introduction to Tai Chi, then Jet Li the world famous martial artist gives his version of Tai Chi philosophy on YouTube below:
Do The Japanese Practice Tai Chi?
There is no Japanese version of Tai Chi and while, as we shall shortly see, there is a Japanese martial art, Takiken, with some similarities to Tai Chi – there’s no direct competitor. This means that if a Japanese person is seeking the benefits of Tai Chi they are very likely to take up Tai Chi rather than Takiken.
In Japan, people have traditionally left their homes, schools and offices to take exercise communally in the parks around them. In fact, there is a custom of carrying out “rajio taiso” or “radio calisthenics” when people go outside for a group workout.
The national Radio Station, NHK, has been supporting this with broadcast music since 1928. There’s only one problem with rajio taiso. The Japanese find it incredibly boring. They don’t want to give up exercising together but they’re not so keen on carrying on a tradition that they find tedious.
That’s where Tai Chi comes in. It was first adopted by Japanese people living in Tokyo. As Japan’s most cosmopolitan city, most new trends begin in the capital. Now, in many parks you won’t see people doing rajio taiso – they’re doing Tai Chi, instead.
If you’d like to see some Tai Chi in Japan, then you might enjoy this YouTube video which brings together the results of Daisy’s Tai Chi classes in Japan (Daisy is an expatriate living in Japan who regularly joins the locals in taking part in Tai Chi).
How Popular Is Tai Chi In Japan?
Because Tai Chi practice in Japan is carried out on an informal basis, there is no real understanding of exactly how popular the martial art has become. Some people insist it’s a minor interest, but others are certain that it is constantly gaining new ground.
Certainly, Reuters has featured the rise of Tai Chi in Tokyo, which means Tai Chi has gained a reasonable foothold but for now, at least, nobody can give you exact numbers.
What Is Takiken?
Takiken is a branch of karate and that means, that a Takiken training session is rather more energetic than a typical Tai Chi training session. It was created by the Japanese karate instructor Kenichi Sawai after he was soundly thrashed by a Wang Xiangzhai of China in a tournament bout.
Kenichi Sawai would travel to China to study under Wang Xiangzhai’s student Yao Zongxuan before he had gained enough proficiency to study with the master himself. He would take the art form back to Japan where he worked to improve and adapt it to a superior form.
If you are interested in the full history of Takiken then Bruce Wade has made this informative video on YouTube to walk you through the highlights:
Now, some will argue that Karate is not Tai Chi and they would be right. However, Karate and Kung Fu are not so far apart and Tai Chi’s origins are to be found in Kung Fu and, in fact, if you are to study Tai Chi as a martial art, you would normally begin by mastering Kung Fu before taking up Tai Chi.
It is also true that while Takiken and Tai Chi may sound similar, the roots of each name are found in two different languages – Japanese and Chinese – and Takiken means “unlimited space energy fist” rather than “the source” which is the literal translation of Tai Chi.
How Is Takiken Similar To Tai Chi?
But where they both have great similarity is the focus on meditation and the requirement to be “in the moment” when fighting. Though Takiken rejects the concepts of Yin and Yang and even that of Qi (the idea of life energy which is diffused through Tai Chi), it fully embraces the idea that a fighter should have no distractions and his or her mind should be clear and focused on their own body and their environment.
It is the practice of meditation which makes Tai Chi unique among Chinese martial arts and while Takiken does not have the same exact practices (see the video below for examples of Tai Chi meditative practices), the fact that meditation is high on its list of priorities – means that Takiken is the closest Japanese martial art to Tai Chi in the present day.
How Popular Is Takiken Today?
There was a period in Japanese history where Takiken was very popular and many Takiken students would go on to become karate world champions such as Kenji Yamaki and Kenji Midori. However, it is fair to say that in recent times Takiken has become much less popular and even in Japan it is something of a minority interest.
Kancho Royoma of the Kyokushin-Kan has been the main proponent of the art (though there are several independent dojos which still teach it) and strangely there is also an active scene in Russia for Takiken but elsewhere in the world, it is seen as more of a curiosity rather than a major martial art.
One thing is absolutely certain, Takiken’s popularity, even in Japan, is far less than Tai Chi’s popularity.
Do the Japanese practice Tai Chi? Yes, they do and in fact, it may be becoming a popular practice in group exercise sessions in parks around Japan. However, there are no exact numbers of Tai Chi practitioners in Japan and we can only guess at how popular it is.
Japan’s Takiken is the Japanese martial art which is closest to Tai Chi but only by dint of its meditative focus. Takiken was once a popular form of karate but has waned in recent years and Tai Chi is likely far more popular even in Japan, in the rest of the world, Takiken has all but died out.