Tai Chi vs. Wing Chun: What’s The BIG Difference?

Tai Chi vs. Wing Chun: What's the difference? - CraftofCombat.com

Tai Chi and Wing Chun are both Chinese martial arts and, to the untrained eye, some moves and postures will look really similar. It might come as a surprise to some, but they are not the same at all!

So, what is the difference between Tai Chi and Wing Chun? The difference between Tai Chi and Wing Chun is that Tai Chi is an internal martial art which is aimed at helping practitioners achieve mental harmony. Wing Chun is more physical. It is aimed at developing muscle memory so that practitioners react instinctively in combat.

Tai Chi is a lot more than just a slow choreographed routine, and Wing Chun has several components to it. So let’s look at the details between these two beautiful disciplines, how they compare, and how you might choose one to practice.

What Are The Differences Between Tai Chi and Wing Chun?

It would be unfair to say that Tai Chi and Wing Chun have nothing in common but they’re certainly different enough that we can clearly denote which is which.

Let’s take a quick look at the differences:

 Tai ChiWing Chun
The meaning of the art’s name“The source of the fist”“Beautiful Spring”
Where do they come from?17th Century China though mythology says that Tai Chi is an older martial art – the historical record simply doesn’t support this position18th Century China – the lore of Wing Chun is much clearer than that of Tai Chi and the history is supported by documentation from that era
The purpose of the art“Internal and external stability”  – Tai Chi is about trying to achieve balance through the “yin” and the “yang”.Self-defense and fighting at close range   Wing Chun is a “pure” martial art. It is concerned with fighting and was developed to allow a smaller opponent to fight a larger one while harnessing the larger person’s strength and size against them
The Type of the ArtTai chi is an “internal” martial art and a “soft” martial art though it can be used as a “hard” art too   This means that the greatest focus in Tai Chi is on mental discipline with physical discipline being much less important. Fighters are encouraged to meet “hardness” with “softness”Wing Chun is an “external” martial art and a “hard” martial art. This means that the main focus of training is on physical discipline and drills that are designed to create muscle memory which allows for excellent reactions in combat.   Fighters are encouraged to use “hardness” with their opponents
Other benefits of the artTai Chi is mainly studied for its health benefits and the physical and mental discipline has been proven to help with both physical and mental health. The practice of meditation which is core to the concept of learning Tai Chi, in particular, has been shown to have many benefits including the ability to help a student gain purpose in lifeWing Chun’s students are expected to find discipline within the framework of the martial art. This is said to lead to increased confidence, higher levels of focus, better levels of self-discipline, the ability to break addictions, the ability to act with honorable intentions and to better decision making
Type of fighting“Push Hands” – In push hands fighting the student is taught to stick to the opponent’s body in order to push, trip or throw them over and end the threat they present.“Sticky Hands” – In sticky hands fighting is designed to teach the student to hit the opponent whilst not being struck themselves.
MovementsTai Chi is all about slow and balanced movements which find a certain rhythm seeking to find harmony with the opponent.Wing Chun is all about fast, dynamic movement which is meant to catch an opponent off balance.
The philosophyTai Chi is a very philosophical martial art with a deep seated focus on the “yin” and the “yang” (balance)Wing Chun is not absent of philosophy but unlike Tai Chi it is not based on a particular philosophy though there will be plenty of Buddhist/Taoist influences in teachings
The Underlying ObjectiveThe ultimate objective of Tai Chi is to achieve the perfect level of physical and mental oneness so that the student exists only in the moment and is complete aware of themselves, their surroundings and their opponent.The ultimate objective of Wing Chun is to develop the ideal set of balance, structure and stance to become a formidable fighter in any situation.

What Do To Tai Chi And Wing Chun Have In Common?

So, what do Tai Chi and Wing Chun have in common because it appears at first glance, they are very different, indeed.

Well, firstly they both have Kung Fu in their heritage. Tai Chi may seem more distant than Wing Chun but it is clear that many of the basic forms of Tai Chi are simply adapted forms from Kung Fu.

It is also true that they are both forms of physical exercise and this means that they are both beneficial to the health of the students. It is clear from scientific literature that those who exercise on a regular basis at a moderate level will be much healthier than their counterparts who do not exercise.

Both art forms also appear to have genuine mental benefits. Tai Chi’s focus on meditation is fortuitous because the study of meditation in recent years means there is a wide body of evidence for the efficacy of meditation for reducing stress and helping people find a sense of purpose (which, in turn, appears to be the most important factor in determining future success.

Wing Chun’s benefits are self-reported but seem to offer similar outcomes. Confidence and courage tend to stem from having a purpose in life. These things also help manage stress and anxiety which play a large part in negative mental and physical health.

Is It A Good Idea To Learn Both Wing Chun And Tai Chi?

Many people have learned both Wing Chun and Tai Chi and their advice around this tends to be:

  • Wing Chun is easier and faster to learn, and it is better to start with Wing Chun rather than Tai Chi
  • Once you have achieved a basic level of mastery in Wing Chun (which will normally take about 3-5 years) then you can begin to tackle Tai Chi
  • Tai Chi moves tend to be smoother and more strongly controlled than those in Wing Chun which can result in Wing Chun practice becoming seemingly “uncomfortable”
  • Tai Chi results in a higher level of “energy” and can be a real pick me up after fighting Wing Chun
  • Tai Chi helps you settle into yourself and gives you the ability to handle everything that is thrown at you
  • Wing Chun helps you develop a “I will get this job done” attitude which can also be extremely beneficial

In general, most fighters felt that learning both Wing Chun and Tai Chi was highly beneficial but they stressed that you would need to dedicate quite a lot of time to practice if you wanted to enjoy them both and if you’re stuck for time, it’s better to focus on either Wing Chun or Tai Chi so that you get the most benefit out of a martial art.

What Is Tai Chi? A Short Introduction

Let’s begin by taking a look at each art form individually. Tai Chi is actually short for T’ai chu ch’uan or Taiji Quan (depending on where in China you are from) is a martial art which was developed in China.

Unusually, it is what’s known as an “internal” martial art. This means that the Tai Chi practitioner is as much focused on learning to control their mind as they are on learning how to control their body.

The History of Tai Chi

Tai Chi is based on the principles of “yin” and “yang” which is the concept that all things should find balance. So, it is no surprise that its roots can be found in the Taoist (or Daoist) and Buddhist traditions of China.

It is commonly understood that Tai Chi was founded by Zhang Sanfeng, a 12th century Daoist monk. However, it’s worth noting that many modern scholars dismiss this notion and say that there is absolutely no connection between this monk and martial arts until a paper written in the 17th century was unearthed and the earliest mention of him in connection to Tai Chi is in a paper written in the 19th century.

This means that Yang Luchan (an apprentice of the Chan family in the 18th century) is probably the “father” of Tai Chi from a historical perspective though it is certain that he simply adapted the Chan family’s existing practices which would have begun with Cheng Wangting in the 17th century.

It is also worth noting that the word “chi” in Tai Chi has nothing to do with the concept of “qi” (life force). In fact, Tai Chi simply means “the source” or “the beginning” and the ch’uan part means “fist” or “boxing”.

The Philosophy of Tai Chi

The idea behind Tai Chi is simple. It is based on the concept that if you use “hardness” to resist somebody else’s violent actions, both parties are more likely to be injured. Thus, a Tai Chi student is taught to meet violence with softness.

That means to follow the motion of the attack with the body so that the violence is either exhausted or can alternatively be moved elsewhere. Thus, the fighter meets the “yin” with the “yang”.

There is also an expectation that the fighter operates with “wude” a term which means “heroism” and that they will protect the weak and offer mercy to those who they fight.

Tai Chi Today

Tai Chi is mainly practiced for mental and physical health benefits today. This is the kind of Tai Chi that you can see on any street corner in China of an early morning.

However, it is still practiced by some people as a martial art. The Chinese government has standardized the original 5 schools of Tai Chi into a single discipline comprising 24 basic forms in order to enable competitive Tai Chi fighting.

Learning Tai Chi

There are two components to learning Tai Chi. The first is physical mastery of the forms. The movement of the body is expected to be very precise and for forms to be carried out in an exact manner.

The second (and arguably more important) is a series of mental exercises (forms of meditation) that allow the Tai Chi practitioner to be present in the moment and to be aware of their surroundings and to approach their actions with a clear mind absent of distractions.

What Is Wing Chun? A Short Introduction

Wing Chun (or technically, Wing Chun Kuen) is a form of wushu that is, it’s a form of Kung Fu from Southern China. It is a form of self-defense and is very much an “external” martial art.

That means it is concerned mainly with the physical nature of fighting and self-defense and in particular striking, grappling and trapping moves.

The History of Wing Chun

Wing Chun is said to have originated during the period of Emperor Jiaqing’s reign (1796 – 1820). Any Kung Fu master that opposed the emperor would find themselves hunted down and then murdered which is a traditional way for tyrants to deal with dissent.

Yim Wing Chun, the daughter of a tofu merchant, had learned Kung Fu from her father (who was hiding from the emperor’s death squads) but a local warlord challenged her to a fight. If she lost, she would have to marry him, and she was not going to win because he was too big and too strong. Then Ng Mui, a woman and one of the five Shaolin elders, came to her aid.

Yim Wing Chun learned a new style of kung fu from Ng Mui – one which best suited a fighter who lacked size and strength advantages. When the warlord turned up for the fight, Yum Wing Chun used his size and strength against him and beat him unconscious to the cheers of a watching crowd.

She was free to marry her childhood sweetheart and to teach the new style of kung fu from the school she established in her village. This was the birth of Wing Chun.

The Philosophy Of Wing Chun

There is no deep underlying philosophy of Wing Chun in comparison to Tai Chi. However, participants are encouraged to better understand themselves and to use the principles of Wing Chun throughout their lives in order to make better decisions in a spirit of love not hate.

Teachers believe that by learning fighting skills you will gain confidence and that confidence with help build character and peace of mind. This in turn, should lead to the ability to live in harmony with others so that less fighting is needed.

There are strong Buddhist and Taoist influences over all forms of Kung Fu and Wing Chun is not exempt from this.

Wing Chun Today

Wing Chung is one of the most popular forms of kung fu that people learn in China (and in the wider world) today. It remains a complete martial art and unlike Tai Chi its students all learn to fight with Wing Chung.

The most famous practitioners of Wing Chung are Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee (who need no introduction), Jackie Chan (the multi-talented star of movies as diverse as Drunken Master and Rush Hour), Michelle Yeoh (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Donnie Yen (the star of the IP Man movie series), Max Zhang (also from IP Man) and Stephen Amell (star of the TV show Arrow).

There is also a very realistic portrayal of the martial art in the video game Tekken 7 with the character Leroy Smith.

Learning Wing Chun

There are two main components to Wing Chun training and they are the training of the physical forms which just as with Tai Chi must be learned with a great deal of precision.

The other is known as “sensitivity training” which is a series of exercise to develop the muscle memory to respond properly to certain situations in a fight.

Of course, as Wing Chun is a martial art there is also plenty of chance for sparring and, indeed, competitive bouts.


So, what is the difference between Tai Chi and Wing Chun? Well, as it turns out, there’s quite a lot of difference between the two. Tai Chi is mainly focused on internal discipline whereas Wing Chun is a truly “martial” art. However, these differences do not make one “better” than the other, they’re just different and each brings their students a host of benefits that make studying Tai Chi or Wing Chun very valuable, indeed.

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