Parallels between Aikido and Wing Chun

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The seminar is going well, but is frustrating.  We spent the entire four hours yesterday looking at daan chi sao: fook sao, tan sao, and bon sao.  There are so many details in the smallest things!

I want to preface this by saying that I make a lot of gross generalizations here.  These are nothing more than observations of an amateur.

I’m continually struck by the similarities between Aikido and Wing Chun, even though they’re totally different.  It may be the case for every martial art, but in particular it seems that both Aikido and Wing Chun share the characteristic that you can easily learn, say, bon sao or irimi nage, and they look bloody simple, but it takes a lot of practice (years?) to be able to do it correctly and effectively, and even after you think you’ve finally “got it”, small deviations in the behavior of your partner (or changing partners) can totally throw you off and make you think that you haven’t learned anything at all!

I’m seeing parallels between chi sao and ryote dori tenchinage; I’m thinking in particular of tenchinage suwari waza.  They feel similar to me; although the details are wildly different, both emphasize the connection and feeling what the other person is doing.  In fact, the dominant difference (again, from my extremely novice perspective) is that in Aikido one person is designated Uke; in Wing Chun, there is no Uke.  I also see parallels in the fact that both Wing Chun and Aikido tend to minimize foot strikes, preferring to maintain a solid, stable connection to the ground.  Aikido places more emphasis on this, but in Wing Chun we also talk about how to take advantage of balance (or imbalance).  Aikido is all about using your opponent’s force – Wing Chun has that in spades, too.  I keep encountering these parallels.

This brings up another interesting paradoxical, dichotomy of the two arts: Wing Chun is Japanese in style, and Aikido is Chinese.  Traditionally, Japanese arts tend to be agressive: weight on the forward foot, always attacking, always moving forward; the epitome of this philosophy is Kendo.  Contrast this with traditional Chinese Kung Fu, which is full of things like the cat stance, where weight is on the rear foot.  However, (until recently, at least) our style of Wing Chun had a more 5050 weight distribution and we’ve always emphasized that movement should always be forward.  Blocks in Wing Chun aren’t blocks; they’re attacks.  If your partner removes drops his arm, you’re (usually) going to hit him.  Again, I’m grossly generalizing, but I’m learning that if you think of your blocks this way, the techniques tend to work better.  Movements in Wing Chun are economical and direct, linear – rarely are they circular, like the windmilling movements found in other styles of Kung Fu.  My point is that Wing Chun is Japanese in it’s philosophy of forward movement and attacks in everything, even defense.

Aikido, on the other hand, is very receptive and indirect.  Yes, in Aikido, you always move forward, and you tend to distribute your weight forward; that is still very Japanese.  But the movements are circular; while you don’t have the big, grand movements of many Kung Fu forms, you can still see the oscillations, the whirling swirls, of Kung Fu.  I think this is what makes them seem so oddly similar to me; despite the fundamental differences in philosophy, they borrow enough from each other’s cultural stereotypes that the parallels keep popping out at me.

No, Aikido isn’t anything like Wing Chun.  But consider this: if you imagine time-lapse photographs of Aikido and, say, the Kung Fu Snake form, and similar photographs of Wing Chun and, say, Kenpo Karate, I think you’d agree that the basic perception was that Wing Chun is more similar to Kenpo than to the Snake form, and Aikido more similar to the Snake form than to Kenpo.  Absurdly, I am fascinated by this.  I do think that culture has a strong influence on style and behavior, and that both Aikido and Wing Chun have gone against traditional stylistic norms, to meet (in a way) in the middle.  No, they’re not the same art, at all, but the ways in which they are similar is intriguing, given their unrelated origins.

Copyright © Sean Elliott Russell

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