Tai Chi has a rich and colorful history that spans a thousand years or so. Its history can be traced back to Chang San Feng who was a Taoist master with incredible insights into the inner workings of the universe. Comparatively Wing Chun is relatively young with only a few hundred years history but yet made significant impacts in the world today, thanks to Bruce Lee.
Wing Chun’s effective self defense is more visible than Tai Chi even though the original Tai Chi is a very effective form of self defense. Yang Lu Chan, the founder of Yang Tai Chi in the 19th century, was well known as ‘Yang the Invincible’ because no martial artists could defeat him during his time. So what is the difference between these two arts? Are there similarities between them and are there benefits in studying them together?
Tai Chi’s strength is the internal power and Wing Chun’s strength is its efficiency in combat. The combination of the two produces some very interesting results.
Wing Chun Trapping
Similarities between Tai Chi and Wing Chun
There are more similarities than differences between the two arts. In fact, one can argue that Wing Chun borrowed a lot of the concept from Tai Chi since Tai Chi has been around longer. The key similarities are described below and they are by no means exhaustive.
Heavy emphasis on centerlines
Both express power from the centre. This enables the practitioner to express full power from an upright position and guarding the centerline at all times. This protects all the vital points along the centerline since your arms are already in the center.
When expressing power, the target is always on the opponent’s centerline for maximum impact. A powerful strike to any target area along the centerline has a devastating effect on the person receiving the blow. For Tai Chi’s uprooting (cutting the root to disrupt balance) to be effective, the force must pass through the opponent’s centerline.
Strong structural form
Wing Chun’s ‘tan sau’, ‘bong sau’, ‘fook sau’ are strong structures that are maintained by the ‘immovable’ elbows. Tai Chi’s ‘ji shou’ (like ‘tan sau’), ‘peng shou’ (like ‘bong sau’ but used in projecting upward force), ‘lu shou’ (like ‘fook sau’ but used to absorb a force to the back) are also maintained by the ‘immovable’ elbows. These ‘immovable’ elbows form the backbones of the hand structures which become like protective shields.
Not using strength to overcome brute force
The endearing features of both styles are the ability to deal with brute force without using muscular strength. Wing Chun does it by deflecting and countering with powerful strikes. Tai Chi overcomes brute strength by absorbing and redirecting the force back to the source. So the harder the opponent hits the harder it gets redirected back.
Hands sensitivity drills
Wing Chun’s sticky hands and Tai Chi push hands work on sensitivity of the arms whilst maintaining powerful structures. Sticky hands are more dynamic in nature with lots of trapping and striking. Push hands on the other hands, are less dynamic with lots of destabilizing moves. Both aim at making the hands automatic in overcoming brute force and capitalizing on the opponent’s openings.
Principle based not technique based
Both styles focus on developing principles that can be applied in all situations. Although different scenarios are explored to illustrate principles, their forms encapsulate principles not techniques. That is the reason why Tai Chi only has one empty hand form and Wing Chun has three forms.
Short range power
Both are short range arts with ability to generate a lot of power at very close range. Whilst Wing Chun’s short range power results in devastating strikes, Tai Chi’s short range power results in powerful uplift.
Tai Chi Uprooting
Differences between Tai Chi and Wing Chun
Sometimes we learn more effectively by contrast. For instance if we wanted to learn to relax our muscles, we would find it easier if we did the opposite. When we let go of the tensed muscles, they can relax a lot better. The differences in the two arts are interesting as they both achieve the same objectives in different ways.
Locking versus aligning for body unity
Tai Chi achieves body unity by aligning all the joints without locking any joint whereas Wing Chun locks up the hip joints by thrusting the hip forward. Locking produces more tension but helps unite the different parts together. Using different means, both styles are able to increase power by leveraging the body mass.
Gripping versus sinking for solid stance
Wing Chun achieves solid stance by abducting the knees inward and gripping the floor with the toes whereas Tai Chi sinks energy into the ground like foundational piles of skyscrapers. Both stances are just as solid. The Wing Chun stance requires more energy to maintain whereas Tai Chi stance is less strenuous.
Trapping versus pinning for control
Tai Chi immobilizes the opponent by pinning the opponent’s elbow and wrist toward his own centre. By restricting the movements of the elbow and wrist, and pinning to the centerline, the opponent’s whole body and arms are immobilized. Wing Chun immobilizes the opponent by trapping the opponent’s hands. Wing Chun trapping hands tie up the hands so that strikes can be delivered effectively without getting hit in return.
Striking versus uprooting for damage
Wing Chun strikes with impact whereas Tai Chi uproots and pushes the opponent against something hard. Tai Chi relies on borrowing the opponent’s own body weight to hit against external objects. So in an open space with no solid object to push against, Tai Chi uprooting will not do damage – it only disrupts the power source. Wing Chun uses the hands as weapon and therefore does not depend on external objects.
Linear versus circular for flow
Tai Chi movements are very circular whereas Wing Chun movements are more linear. The great advantage of linear movement is that it’s quick and direct. It is ideally suited to striking and latching. The circular movements on the other hand are great for going round a force and disrupting balance.
Lessons from the two arts
Wing Chun and Tai Chi seem very complementary to each other. It is like a match made in heaven that encapsulates the duality of Yin and Yang. Wing Chun is Yang and Tai Chi is Yin. Wing Chun’s strikes can be enhanced by Tai Chi’s internal power. Tai Chi’s absorption and redirection can be enhanced by Wing Chun’s fast pace sticking hands flow. You have the options of striking to hurt or disrupting balance to shock by mastering both arts.
Sifu Richard Wong
Chief Master Instructor & Principal
Internal Martial Arts
Accredited with the Australian Sports Commission &
In-Com Links Management Associates HK/West Coast University