Tai Chi Styles
Tai Chi is an ancient form of Chinese exercise that is gaining in popularity in the US due to its significant health benefits. Today, Tai Chi is best known as a combination of health exercise, moving meditation, and martial art. These three aspects of Tai Chi have made it an ideal form of self-development for people of all ages.
Tai Chi is also known as Tai Chi Chuan, or Supreme Ultimate Boxing, which is derived from Tai Chi’s martial art focus on the development of soft internal energy rather than hard physical strength to overcome an opponent. This unique perspective allowed many of Tai Chi’s great masters to dominate their opponents in a time where martial art skill directed one’s destiny.
A Taoist monk named Zhang Sanfeng is credited with the creation of Tai Chi. While the existence of Zhang Sanfeng is debated, he now exists as a legendary character in Chinese mythology; and he is revered by many schools of internal cultivation arts, like Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Zhang Sanfeng lived in the Taoist monasteries on Wu Tang Mountain in the 12th or 15th century, where he combined Tao Yin (an early form of Qi Gong) with Shaolin martial art fighting techniques after witnessing a battle between a crane and a snake. He went on to create the original 13 movements of Tai Chi Chuan that now exist in every style of Tai Chi.
Main Classical Styles
Traditionally Tai Chi, like many Chinese martial arts, was only taught to a teacher’s direct descendents. This led to the five main family styles of Tai Chi: Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, and Sun. Each of these family styles maintains the same fundamental concepts of Tai Chi; however, they each interpret these concepts differently.
- Chen – Chen style Tai Chi is the oldest of all the styles. The earliest written records show Chen Wangting as its creator, who lived during the 1600’s. Two Tai Chi forms have developed from the family lineage: old frame and new frame. Both Chen frames include two forms with faster explosive movements and jumps that make it quite different from other Tai Chi styles.
- Yang – Yang Luchan was the first outsider to learn from Chen family (Chen Changxing). He went on to develop his own Tai Chi style by removing some of the faster and more complicated movements. Yang style is the softest form of Tai Chi and focuses on health; subsequently Yang style is now the most popular worldwide.
- Wu – Quan You developed Wu style Tai Chi after his instruction from Yang Luchan in Yang style Tai Chi. His son later changed his family name to Wu, leading to the naming of this style. Wu style Tai Chi includes a stronger focus on grappling, jumps, and throws, in addition to a stance that leans the spine toward the ground verse the traditional vertical alignment.
- Hao – Wu Yuxiang was another student of Yang Luchan that developed his own adaptation and produced several influential writings. His nephew later taught Hao Weichen, whom this Tai Chi style is named from. Hao style Tai Chi is distinctive for its smaller movements.
- Sun – Sun Lutang was a master of other internal martial arts, Xing Yi and Ba Gua, before learning Tai Chi from Hao Weichen. His prior training gave Sun style Tai Chi distinctive footwork and circular movements.
There are many other modern Tai Chi styles in existence today. The most prominent are the following derivatives of Yang style Tai Chi:
- Cheng Man Ching style – This Tai Chi style was created by Professor Cheng Man Ching, a Chinese Herbal Medicine doctor and a disciple of Yang Chengfu. Cheng Man Ching shortened the Yang form to make it easier to learn, and taught for many years while living in Taiwan. He spent his later years teaching Tai Chi in New York City, which has made the Cheng Man Ching style of Tai Chi very popular in the US.
- Chinese Government 24 Tai Chi form – The 24 Tai Chi form was developed by government Wu Shu teachers after the rise of Communism in China. The Yang style Tai Chi form was simplified and shortened to focus on health and performance competitions.
All of the Tai Chi styles include training in one or more solo forms and push hands, a two person exercise designed to train sensitivity and develop martial skill. Some of the styles contain weapon forms, most commonly the straight sword.
There are many Tai Chi teachers available today, but few are accomplished in the martial application of Tai Chi Chuan. Some believe that the higher levels of health that have made Tai Chi famous cannot be achieved with this separation of the martial ability.