Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | March 13, 2011

Encorporating Aikido Principles in Tai Chi

I have to admit that when I first got serious about learning a martial art, my first love was aikido. But when I visited the New York center, I didn’t think at my age I wanted to spend my sessions getting tossed onto the floor every five seconds. This is not a put down of aikido, in fact learning how to fall correctly is an indispensible part of any martial art, one that seems to be lacking in tai chi–none of my teachers taught me how to fall–and it’s a good skill in every day life as well. The other thing about aikido was the formalism of it. I was then drawn to tai chi because you stayed on your feet while practicing and there was a wonderful freedom of taoist informalism which I love.

The title of this post is somewhat misleading because to say we should encorporate aikido principles in our tai chi is superfluous. The aikido principles are the principles of tai chi–soft and gentle, using the circles, joining centers, leading the opponent where they want to go, and on and on. But I think there are at least two areas where aikido does a better job than tai chi in using these principles.

The first is footwork. If you watch aikido masters feet, they are constantly moving. Tai chi players are ingrained to stay rooted while trying to yield with internal spirals. I was watching some push hands championships on youtube yesterday, and while there are great things to be learned from these practices, I realized it looked more like a big Indian wrestling match because the players were forced to keep their feet planted. Once you lost your footing, you lost the point. This, from a tai chi point of view, is kind of absurd. Tai chi players need to be able to move with the fluidity and grace of the aikido player. Tai chi footwork is important, stepping, skipping, slide stepping, learning to maneuver around your opponent with proper steps so that you can maintain your center in the dan tien.

The second is the use of the circle. Now in push hands, tai chi does a wonderful job of getting you to understand and feel the circles and spirals inherent in tai chi. But aikido really focuses on these circles when executing its moves. In tai chi, we are taught from the beginning to segment peng, lu, ji and an–ward off, yield, press, push. But peng, lu ji and an should be more like penglujian, in a singsongy way, penglujian, one thing, not four, then transition into and use the lat four, grab, split, elbow, bump, but again, all as one thing, not eight. I suppose the issue is that when we learn tai chi, we take a long time to learn it step by step but very few progress to the advanced stage of making it flow, fluid, one thing; 109 moves become one move.

The last point I guess I’ll make about where we fall short is that when we attempt to execute our moves, that is, after we think we have warded off and then yielded, the rest of our principles go out the window when we attempt to execute press, push or elbow bump. Our presses and pushes go right back to the physical, muscular press and push, instead of the effortless continuation of motion that it should be, that we see when an aikido master takes down his opponent.

So, as we study our tai chi further, can we begin to see the circles in, for instance, brush knee twist step, and can we finish the move, instead of giving our opponent this gigantic strike with the palm of the hand, find the point in the circle, having used our footwork to position ourselves, where the palm push is an effortless finish to having uprooted the opponent, joined centers with him, and just finish leading him or her to the ground.

Can single whip look like it’s an aikido move? I say yes, it should look like an aikido move. All of tai chi should look like aikido, circular, fluid, smooth, gentle. The push hands exercise where the teacher encourages the student to be soft, soft, softer and then wildly jerks or pushes him off his feet, while serving the purpose of communicating how the moves work, is a huge disservice in actually transmitting an understanding of how the move works. It’s like Norton teaching Ralph Kramden how to box, with Norton telling Ralph to cover his face, cover his face, and then he punches him in the stomach. If we want to learn proper technique, we should have our partner, for example, throw a slow motion punch, and we, in slow motion, execute single whip(the hooking of the hand). Then the partner can throw the punch a little faster, then faster still, then finally, at full speed and full force. Executing a move on a slow moving, limp punch is only the first step, not an occasion to gloat at how good our tai chi is. It is the executiion of the move against full speed and full force–and really, it is only when we are borrowing full speed and full force that we can return it. I have always been frustrated at requests to demonstarte a tai chi move or principle when the partner isn’t doing anything. If the opponent offers no energy, there is no energy to return or lead away.

So, finally, the point also needs to be made that tai chi is not just yin, but the balance of yin and yang, and so, strong and hard is also a part of tai chi, and tai chi players do need to know how to kick hard, punch hard, how to make a fist, how to hit, how to strike with the elbow, the bump, the open palm strikes.

So be open. This is the essence of tai chi–it is open to everything. It is not wrong, but essential, it is the ultimate tai chi to encorporate other martial arts in our practice, to heal with other methods like yoga and physical therapy, to make it all one thing instead of many things.



  1. Dats what my dog huevos says!

  2. Thank you.

    There’s an old aikido saying that you have to be uke for 10 years before you can be shite. That is, you have to be on the receiving end of the practice for 10 years before you can effectively “do” them.

    In the school I trained in, the uke was considered to be compliant rather than resistive and some scoffed at this. A compliant uke has to yield, stick, listen, follow … do you see where this is going?

    Having learned to yield, stick, etc, you are certainly ready to pick apart the weaknesses in your training partners’ stance, alignment, balance and so on.

    Very much like taijiquan.

    I’ll chew on that idea for a post for my blog. Thanks for the idea.

  3. As in school we have to learn the alphabet before we can form words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then chapters, then finally we may write a book or two and include some little diagrams as I have now learned to draw and maybe a photograph as I can now use a camera. As with most things in life we build up various components but we do not have to choose between one or the other, we can use them as standalone pieces or combine them to create something very unique.

  4. I studied Yoshinkan Aikido in my youth. When I decided to go back to martial arts training as an older man, the wear and tear was one of the reasons I decided on taijiquan.

    Having said that, taijiquan practice has given me all kinds of new insights into aikido. If I were to take up aikido again, I couldn’t help but to do it much differently than I did as a young man.

    Aikido left an indelible mark on me. The taijiquan form is full of throws, and I find that to the extent that I practice applications, they are very much colored by my previous aikido practice.

    Good post!

    • Hey Rick, it’s cool to see that it works the other way as well, that an aikido man can encorporate tai chi into his/her practice. But that’s as it should be in all martial arts. I know the qin na or grappling techniques of tai chi are somewhat similar to aikido, but I am not adept at them. I think I would tend to try to use strength to maintain the hold. I prefer to use the beginning of the technique and then throw or push or strike the opponent. Any other specific insights having studied the two?

      Thanks for commenting on this. You’re the guy who should write the post. Will you do one on your site? If so, let me know.


  5. Lovely article. reminds me i had a biotch threaten me,,so i said hit me hit me i knew when she did i was going to knock the breath outta da scab:)))) lovely article!!

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