These two seemingly very different styles of martial art turn out to share some of the same characteristics. Wing Chun is one of a number of related styles collectively known as Southern Fist and is the most widely practiced Chinese martial art in the West. Wado Ryu is a mix of Karate from Okinawa blended with Japanese jujitsu.Before looking at their similarities let’s look at why on the surface they seem so very different.
The different historical roots.
Wing Chun is very much a Chinese style complete with a legend that links it’s origin back to the Shaolin temple. The Shaolin temple is to many the Mecca of Chinese martial arts. The roots of Wado Ryu however are very different. Outwardly coated in The katas of Shorin karate from Okinawa, at the heart of Wado lie the principles of Jujitsu, a direct link to the Japanese Samarai. Both the Shaolin monks and the Japanese samarai are two world renowned warrior traditions who’s world views would have been as different as night and day.
Japanese sport style and Hong Kong street fighting.
Wado ryu has enjoyed enormous success in karate competitions because of its subtile use of angles and great speed. Karate competition favours a long range fighting style that gets in and scores and then out again just as quick emphasising a clean hit to the judges. Taking part in karate competitions is both exciting and character building for any youngster, it both sharpens up technique and teaches them how to deal with pressure.
Wing Chun specialises in fighting within a confined area, closing any distance and sticking close to the opponent until they are overwhelmed and mentally destroyed. Like a cat forced to attack a dog the best hope is to be blindingly quick and a continuously offensive attacking blur.
We used to say to students that a good Wing Chun man could fight in a telephone box but many youngsters today have never used a telephone box and so do not appreciate the analogy. Wing Chun with its predictable straight line attacks low kicks and trapping movements is completely unsuited to compertition. It comes into its own as a street fighting style in over crowded cities such as Hong Kong. With cities everywhere becoming even more overcrowded it’s continued popularity in the West is assured!
The length of time each style takes to learn.
Wing Chun is a simple style based on one simple strategy, relentless attack. Nothing much is expected of any individual technique but when a flow of attacks is being delivered at high speed the combined effect is usually overwhelming. Wing Chun aims to take the initiative and to keep the initiative, forcing the opponent onto the defence by constantly moving in and taking their space. Beginners often show a considerable improvement after only six months and with hard training can be surprisingly effective after two or three years.
Wado Ryu teaches far more elaborate techniques such as kicks to the head which involve a lot of stretching. Realistically it’s probably going to take two years or more of training to begin to pull off kicks to the head for the average person in sparring. While Wing Chun has three essential forms or katas Wado has nine. The essence of Wado are the ten Kion Gumite that traditionally are only started at brown belt level, that’s about three years of training.
Wado ryu is going to be a big and formative part of your life for at least five years if you are to learn it properly. Wado ryu will get you and keep you extremely fit, expose you to an exciting sport and teach you a broad based variety of techniques and sophisticated concepts.Wing Chun could be seen as a long intense self defence course. Simple things work under the pressure of a real confrontation. If your lightly to give up martial arts after a year or two one simple well rehearsed strategy is a good option. It’s difficult to argue with the basic Wing Chun concept,continuous flowing attack is the best form of self defence.
Different cultural trappings.
As with many other Japanese arts Wado Ryu practitioners dress in white the colour of Shinto, the Japanese state religion. Wing Chun might have a club T shirt if they bother at all with a uniform. The Japanese favour the group and groups like uniforms. Wing Chun tends to attract individuals who are not big on groups, in my experience at least. Wing Chun do a bow that is a throw back to a secret society fighting an oppressive ruling elite. Wado has the Dove as it’s symbol an emblem of peace after a horrific war with America and it’s allies and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities.
Different fitness levels.
Wado Ryu, like many other styles that do a lot of sparring, requires good stamina, even two or three minutes can be a long time in a tough encounter. Wing Chun, putting everything into the initial onslaught, aims to win in seconds. A good degree of flexibility is an advantage in Wado while Wing Chun generally only kicks to the knee.
A high level of fitness requires constant work to maintain and will soon disappear when you stop training. Covering a much more comprehensive syllabus with more athletically demanding techniques, Wado is more prone to skill fade than Wing Chun. I have often been impressed at how much of their previous skills students of Wing Chun have kept even after a long lay off over even a good few years.
With any fighting style if you train long and hard enough to fully make it your own it will stay with you. It could however be a dangerous delusion not to realise that you no longer are at the peak!
With so many differences, sport element pure street high kicks low kicks and many katas few forms, what is the common ground?
Both speed styles.
The man who spear headed The prominence of Wado Ryu in Britain and Europe was Tatsu Susuki. This really exceptional karate man was speed personified and his great example of this important quality was reflected in many of his students.
Wing Chun relies on speed surprise and continuous aggression to gain and then keep the upper hand. The short straight attacks of the Wing Chun stylist are designed to be a fast flowing flurry.
The Turning stance and simultaneous attack and defence.
A key element that makes Wing Chun fast and efficient is that it never blocks and then attacks rather it hits and deflects at the same time. The turning stance is prevalent in two of the three solo forms or katas of Wing Chun and generates tremendous power even in a confined space which can deflect an incoming attack and fire off a counter as it rotates around a fixed point.
This same concept is expressed in kion number one in Wado Ryu countering the second attack and again against the third attack in kion number six.
Stop Hit, the hallmark of speed based styles.
It was Bruce Lee, The most famous exponent of Wing Chun, who showed to the world the concept of Stop Hit. With Stop Hit the opponents attack is itself attacked before it reaches it’s target and it’s maximum velocity.
The concept of Stop Hit is introduced in Wado Ryu kion number three, it is seen used again to counter the attackers kick in kion number seven.Exceptional speed and quick reflexes have to be developed to use Stop Hit effectively however it’s effect is extremely disconcerting!
The back up hand or double power.
The back up hand is widely used to increase hitting power in the styles of Southern Fist. It features in the forms of Wing Chun but is not often taught in applications. The back up hand features in the eighth kion of Wado to greatly increase the power of the elbow strike.
The pursuit or charge step.
Closing the distance between yourself an opponent and delivering an effective attack is sometimes called bridging the gap or entry. It is a key consideration regardless of fighting style if not the prime consideration. For Wing Chun the whole strategy is to close this distance down and stick with and pursue the opponent if they retreat. The pursuit step is a central theme of the Wing Chun form Chun que and is a feature of other Southern Fist styles. Wado Ryu uses identical footwork, an example of this is the opening attack in Ohyo gumite seven.
The eight ohyo gumite of Wado were devised by Master Tatsu Suzuki and are his lasting legacy to the style.
Both take a lot of practice.
Like any skill worth having both of these styles take a lot of practice. Three years seems like a long time when you are young but older people know how it flashes by. They say that it takes ten years of regular car use to be a real driver and that’s after you pass your test. To really absorb an art form is going to take a similar time.
The best style?
Kung fu means hard work and as with any skill to make it look smooth and effortless takes consistent effort beyond what most folk will give. To be exceptional you must train exceptional hard. Real dedication like this transcends styles, if your good your good.
A judge at a dog show once said that the nice thing about his job was that whoever won everyone goes home with the best dog! When it comes to martial arts styles the best style is the style you know best.
Both of these great martial arts have so much to offer in different ways but you will only get out of them what you give to them.