Which Martial Art Is Used More for Mental and Physical Relaxation Rather Than for Physical Combat?

tai chi male practitioner

While most traditional martial arts provide both mental and physical relaxation to students and practitioners, some are more focused on this aspect than others. So which martial art is used more for mental and physical relaxation rather than for physical combat?

Internal martial art styles such as Tai Chi provide more mental and physical relaxation to practitioners. These martial arts focus on the internal (spiritual, mental, or Qi) energy as opposed to external martial arts (such as Kung Fu) that emphasize agility and physical strength.

Note that just about every martial art can be used for mental and physical relaxation or both.

So, it’s up to you, the practitioner, to decide what you intend to achieve with your chosen martial art.

For example, I once trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu alongside a friend who didn’t have much interest in combat or fighting.

In his words, BJJ was his “refuge” and his “spa”.

He came to every class unhappy, tensed, and stressed from his job and family responsibilities, but would leave every class visibly smiling, relaxed, and loose.

Since he had no interest in competitions and combat, it didn’t matter to him if he was trapped all class long, it also didn’t matter if he submitted everyone.

All he simply wanted was to improve his mental state.

And sincerely, if he hadn’t found BJJ, he would have been on the path to a heart attack.

I also know of a Tai chi guy who has no interest in and no need for physical and mental relaxation.

His interest was to get better at kicking ass, which he is now good at already.

However, while most martial arts (including Karate, Taekwondo, and Kung Fu) can also help with your physical and mental relaxation, certain forms are more “specialized” in this area.

These are known as internal martial arts (Neijia),  and they include Tai chi, Xing Yi Quan, Baguazhang, etc.

And in case you do not know what internal and external martial arts are, let’s briefly explain them to help you better understand this article.

Internal and External Martial Arts

While it can be hard for westerners to understand the real meaning of internal martial arts, they are deeply rooted in the cultures of Japan and China.

Generally, external or “hard” martial arts focus on improving muscle, physical strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

It generates powerful movements from tense muscles and focuses on agile, fast, and explosive movements.

Additionally, these arts use the power of aggression and the release of adrenaline, often growling, shouting, leaping, and screaming in combat.

It includes the traditional focus on application and fighting, and modern styles adapted for self-defense and competition.

Examples of traditional external styles are Taekwondo, Karate, Judo, Muay Thai, Ju Jitsu, and Kung Fu.

Some less traditional styles are Mixed Martial Arts, Kick Boxing, and some forms of self-defense.

Internal or “soft” martial arts on the other hand focus on awareness of the spirit, relaxed power, breath, mind, and the use of relaxed leverage.

These arts strive to fight while relaxed and calm, with trained deep slower breathing and focus on balance and center even when moving quickly or in actual combat.

Most internal Martial Arts are Chinese and they include martial arts such as Tai Chi, Xingyiquan, and Baguazhang.

To the uninitiated, Tai Chi is similar to yoga as they are both gentle, low-intensity exercises that are both good for your mind and body.

Both have also been particularly shown to be beneficial for older adults.

Compared to the external style, you can see that internal martial arts are naturally more focused on helping practitioners achieve mental and physical relaxation.

Now, below are the best martial arts for mental and physical relaxation.

5 Martial Arts for Mental and Physical Relaxation

Tai Chi

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This is arguably the best martial art for this purpose, no wonder it is one of the most popular martial art in china today.

Taijiquan (also known as Tai Chi) has been traditionally practiced for multiple purposes, including mindful nurturing of well-being, fitness enhancement, and self-defense.

Tai chi is a great way to improve your physical and mental health without sweating buckets.

This art is all about meditation and focus, and with its slow and graceful movements, it feels more like practicing yoga than a fighting style.

This is not an attack on tai chi in any way as many prefer this art because of its more gradual, relaxing pace.

It’s excellent for older people as well as those with physical disabilities who are unable to do other martial arts practically.

A study has suggested tai chi can significantly reduce stress and anxiety, so if you want a martial art that can help you unwind while improving your physical well-being, try tai chi.

Baguazhang

Baguazhang male and female practitioners
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This is the youngest of the three main Chinese internal martial arts, behind Taiji Quan and Xing Yi.

Baguazhang training commonly features continuous motion, complex internal mechanics, circular footwork, circular or spiraling body motion, and fa-jin (power release).

With patient and persistent practice, baguazhang can help you develop extreme core strength as well as supple and strong muscles and tendons.

Baguazhang is an internal energy-building method where the emphasis is on the development of chi/qi.

Circle walking while holding static postures makes it an effective relaxation and meditation method.

Xing Yi Quan

This is the oldest of the Internal Arts and is known for its efficient and direct self-defense maneuvers.

Xing Yi Quan has five key movements which are known as The Five Fists or The Five Elements.

Every Five Fists has specific internal action and intention that is combative and also strengthens the internal organs.

Xing Yi Quan which is literally translated as “Form-Intention Boxing” emphasizes internal movement within external stillness.

Practicing Xing Yi will help you actualize the instinctive, hair-trigger reactions of the human body in direct, powerful movements.

Xing Yi focuses on whole-body breathing, natural, integrated movement, and the movement of Qi (vital energy), rather than external technique.

Qi Cultivation is the foundation of Xing Yi, and cultivating Qi helps the body develop a focused intention and inner strength.

The movements and postures of Xing Yi Quan simultaneously arouse and enliven the Qi, so that there is no gap between action and intention, and the body’s energy pathways (meridians) are free-flowing and unblocked.

This way, Xing Yi develops a sensitized awareness of change, transformation, and internal connection.

Qigong

Qigong practitioners meditating
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Rooted in Chinese philosophy, medicine, and martial arts, qigong seeks to align breathing, meditation, body posture, and movement.

It is heavily rhythmic just like tai chi, and it uses controlled breathing, slow, fluid motions, and mental calmness.

It emphasizes relaxation and peace with a balance between dynamic (active) and meditative (passive) techniques.

Qigong is also popular among the elderly and the younger ones alike because it helps with balance, meditation, focus, emotional control, general self-perception, holistic health, posture, and muscular health.

And with 75 ancient forms and 56 more contemporary ones, there is no shortage of motions and abilities to practice.

Here are a few more things you need to know about qigong:

  • Breath is slow, deep, and long. Breathing patterns may change from abdominal breathing to breathing combined with speech sounds.
  • Movements are typically smooth and gentle, aimed at relaxation.
  • Mind regulation includes visualization and focusing one’s attention.

Aikido

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Aside from the Chinese internal martial art styles, some martial arts such as Aikido, Bajiquan, and White Crane Kungfu are often considered internal-external or soft-hard as they are closely similar in principles to the internal martial arts.

Relaxation is one of the most important principles in aikido, for power with less effort, faster response, stability and balance, and health.

This further explains why it is considered the most peaceful martial art in the world.

One of the key principles emphasized by aikido teachers is relaxation.

If you join aikido, expect to do many sitting exercises with relaxation, standing with relaxation, moving with relaxation, and throwing with relaxation.

So, if you need a martial art that gives you a balanced bit of combat as well as mental relaxation, you should consider aikido.

Aikido does not only emphasize effective defense techniques but also aims to mentally develop the students making it a good martial art for both physical and mental relaxation.

What Martial Art Is Best for Mental Health?

The best martial art for mental health is Tai Chi as it focuses on promoting the physical and mental health of practitioners as well as enhancing their general well-being.

Tai Chi has traditionally been practiced for different purposes, including self-defense, fitness enhancement, and mindful nurturing of well-being.

And today, people of all backgrounds and ages from around the world are discovering what the Chinese have known for centuries: that long-term practice of Tai Chi leads to positive changes in mental and physical well-being.

This also prevents chronic diseases making it an effective clinical intervention for diverse medical conditions. 

Is Karate Good for Mental Health?

Being a martial art, karate is good for mental health as it can help reduce stress and anxiety by encouraging deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness.

While karate (being an external style) might not be the best martial art for relaxation, it however remains a good choice for anyone looking to improve their mental health.

This is because martial arts generally provide mental benefits to their practitioners.

According to WebMD, some of these benefits include;

  • Stress relief
  • Life purpose- Martial arts practitioners often feel a sense of confidence, calm, and renewed peace with who they are and their life purpose.
  • Physical exercise
  • Emotional regulation
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Personal Development
  • Forgiveness and healing

Is Jiu-Jitsu Good for Mental Health?

Jiu-Jitsu is good for mental health as it helps to reduce stress, improve focus, increase self-confidence, and develop self-discipline.

It might surprise you to learn that Jiu-Jitsu can be meditative in many ways.

It seems almost impossible to think that Jiu-Jitsu can provide some of the same benefits that come from “formal” meditation.

However, the many thousands of students practicing this art may often enjoy the mental benefits of meditation without even realizing it.

For example, by simply training and practicing the art, students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu often report a feeling of a deeper understanding of their mind, body, and spirit.

Jiu-Jitsu helps to identify mental and physical strengths, limitations, and opportunities while enabling an improved state of peacefulness.

Conclusion

Most traditional martial arts (regardless of style) can be useful in helping you with your mental and physical relaxation.

However, it is the internal martial art styles that seem to be more specialized in this aspect of martial art.

Give any of the above arts a trial, and you will not regret it.

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