Shoulder Strike

Shoulder Strike in Taijiquan


Sifu, I'd like to ask you to give some opinions on the differences and similarities between Aikido and Taijiquan.

— Oisin, Finland


Both Taijiquan and Aikido are regarded as “soft” martial arts, as distinct from “hard” martial arts like Shaolin Kungfu, Karate and Taekwondo. Their movements are graceful and flowing, with little or no exertion of muscular strength.

Another similarity is their emphasis on energy, called “qi” in Taijiquan and “ki” in Aikido. Indeed the term “Aikido” means “the Way of Harmonizing Energy”.

“Taijiquan” is in Romanised Chinese, it is frequently written as “Tai Chi Chuan” in English. “Qi is in Romanized Chinese; it is commonly written as ”chi" in English. Note that the chi in “Tai Chi Chuan” is different from the chi in “chi kung”. The chi in “Tai Chi Chuan” is actually written as ji in Romanized Chinese, and it means “ultimate”. The chi in “chi kung”. is actually writtern as qi in Romanized Chinese, and it means “energy”. “Tai Chi Chuan”, which is “Taijiquan” in Romanized Chinese, means “Grand Ultimate Kungfu”. “Chi kung”, which is “qigong” in Romanized Chinese, means “energy work”.

Although both arts emphasize energy, their scope and depth are vastly different. What Aikido regards as the energy dimension, is in my opinion merely the use of momentum and leverage, rather than muscular strength, for one's best advantage.

Let us examine a typical attack and a typical Aikido response. When an opponent executes a right thrust punch, instead of blocking it head on, an Aikido exponent would move his body to his left or backward to avoid the punch, grasp the attacker's wrist with both hands, pull the attacker's arm forward following its punching momentum, turn right around and move in a circular way, using his left upper arm to press against the attacker's arm for leverage, and with his left leg as a trap swing the opponent to the ground, then twist the attacker's wrist upward to control him.

Such Aikido moves, while effective in overcoming the opponent without resorting to the use of much muscular strength, operate at the physical level, and not at the energy level as understood in Taijiquan. In other words, even if you have no idea of qigong (chi kung) or energy management, but if you make advantageous use of body mechanics, especially momentum and leverage, you can employ these moves to counter the opponent's attack.

Such moves are seldom used in Taijiquan because since there are many steps involved, the opponent can frustrate the Aikido counter by intercepting any one of these steps. An innate weakness in Aikido combat philosophy is a tacit presumption that while the Aikido exponent carries out these many steps in his counter, the opponent does not know what to do. In Taijiquan the combat philosophy is reversed — a Taijiquan exponent always presumes that his opponent is capable.

Suppose the Aikido exponent grasps the wrist of a Taijiquan exponent in the above example. The Taijiquan exponent has numerous alternatives. He may, for example, move a slight step forward following the momentum of the Aikido exponent's pull, simultaneously make a small circular movement with his wrist to release the grip and to lift up the opponent's two arms, and strike the Aikido exponent's exposed ribs with his other hand in a Taijiquan pattern called “Jade Girl Threads Shuttle”.

Or, the Taijiquan exponent may move a big step forward following the momentum of the pull, bend his elbow and strike his elbow into the Aikido exponent, using the Taijiquan pattern “Elbow Strike”. Or he may move one leg behind the Aikido exponent's legs, and spread his right arm, felling the Aikido exponent backward, using the pattern “Wild Horse Spread Mane”.

Now, let us compare what a Taijiquan exponent would do when an opponent executes a right thrust punch at him. The Taijiquan exponent has many counters. He may counter with the “peng technique” of “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”. This “peng technique” looks like a block, but it is much more. Its purpose is not just to ward off the punch, but executed at the right time when the punching arm is fully extended, and at the right spot at the opponent's elbow, it can dislocate or fracture the opponent's elbow at the time when he thinks his punch has connected.

If the Taijiquan exponent wishes to fell his opponent or control his opponent's wrist like what the Aikido exponent did, he can do so, but in one step instead of four or five. As the punch approaches, he lowers his stance to “swallow” the attack and simultaneously applies the “lu technique” of “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”, felling the opponent on the spot and controlling his wrist.

Both the Aikido exponent and the Taijiquan exponent do not use brutal strength to subdue their opponent. But how they achieve this is different. The Aikido exponent takes advantage of leverage and momentum, and to manoeuvre his opponent into a difficult position so that he has this technical advantage, he has to use many steps.

The Taijiquan exponent uses only one step. He can do so because he makes use of flowing energy, and not just leverage and momentum. He can fell an opponent on the spot without having to manoeuvre him first because his management of flowing energy can generate tremendous internal force to accomplish the task. He can dislocate or fracture an opponent's elbow because this tremendous force can be marshalled instantly at the point of contact.

A Taijiquan exponent may also manoeuvre his opponent, but he does so for tactical instead of technical considerations. In other words, the techniques he uses to subdue his opponent do not require many steps to complete, but he still uses many steps instead of just one or two, for other purposes, such as to access the opponent before actually engaging him in combat, or to lay a trap before executing the coup de grace.

There are many other differences between Aikido and Taijiquan, but space limitation permits mentioning briefly just two more. Aikido is a sport, protected by safety rules. Someone overlooking this fact may risk his life in a real fight. For example, a police officer trying to apply several Aikido moves to apprehend a crook may have a knife pierced into his side. Taijiquan is a serious art for life-death combat. A police officer well trained in genuine Taijiquan (not Taiji dance) would not make the mistake his Aikido counterpart made.

Taijiquan is also a training for spiritual growth. Aikido masters say that their art is spiritual too, but, as far as I know, their training has no direct relevance to what they say. Whatever spiritual growth there is, is extrinsic — the result of teachers telling their students about spirituality, and not issuing from the art itself.

Spiritual growth in Taijiquan training is intrinsic. Even if Taijiquan teachers never say anything about spirituality, their students will experience spiritual growth, because Taijiquan trains not just the body, but more significantly energy and spirit. That in fact was the original and ultimate aim of Taijiquan — to develop the individual spirit to merge into the Universal Spirit.


My personal opinion is that practising both would be very beneficial, but I don't know of any Taijiquan masters who practise Aikido or vice versa.


When you suggested that practising Aikido and Taijiquan together would be very beneficial, you were probably referring to Taiji dance, or very low level Taijiquan. But having understood the scope and depth of genuine Taijiquan, and having the rare opportunity to practise it, you would likely change your opinion.

One is a sport invented recently by a master, the other is a complete programme of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development evolved over many centuries by thousands of masters. To me, the gap is too wide for any sensible comparison.

There may be Taiji dancers who turn to Aikido and have benefitted from it, but I do not know of any genuine Taijiquan practitioners turning to Aikido. On the other hand, there are many people from other martial systems, including Aikido, realizing that they have reached the limits of their arts turn to Taijiquan for further development. Unfortunately most of them encounter only external Taiji forms.

Personally speaking, some of those who attended my Intensive Taijiquan Course or Intensive Chi Kung Course told me that despite many years in Aikido they had no idea what chi (qi or ki) was. They were not only amazed that they could experience chi on the first day of my course, they were more amazed that the chi experience could be so powerful. Needless to say they changed to Taijiquan.

The above is taken from Questions 8 and 9 of May 2001 Part 3 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


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