Tai Chi’s Five Major Styles
There are five major styles of Taijiquan, each named after the Chinese family that teaches it:
Chen style – 陈式
Yang style – 杨式
Sun style – 孙式
Wu Hao style of Wu Yu-Hsiang – 武式
Wu style of Wu Ch’uan-yu and Wu Chien-Chuan – 吴式
You also find variations from the family style where individual taiji masters or experts modify the form for specific purposes.
Probably the clearest example of this is Cheng Man-ching who created the 37 short form from the Yang family style.
1.The Yang Tai Chi Style
The Yang form is typically done with slow, steady movements, which help practitioners to relax and to feel the flow of energy within their bodies.
The movements are large enough to foster a sense of exuberance and freedom.
Beautiful to watch, relaxing to do, the Yang style is also lyrical in its moves, which include “Fair Lady Works the Shuttles”, “Needle at Sea Bottom”, and “Grasping the Sparrows Tail”.
With its grace and emphasis on relaxation and smooth internal energetics, the Yang style attracts and retains many students each year.
The various schools originated from the approach of a speciﬁc tai chi master or from a particular geographic region within China.
Each variation has a distinct ﬂavor, looks different from the others to a greater or lesser degree and may emphasize different technical points.
All, however, will be called Yang style tai chi.
2.The Wu Tai Chi Style
The Wu tai chi style is the second most popular tai chi style. It has three main variations with strong stylistic differences that derived from the founder, Chuan You, his son, Wu Jian Chuan and his grandchildren.
The Wu style’s distinctive hand form, pushing hands and weapons training emphasize parallel footwork and horse stance training with the feet relatively closer together than the modern Yang or Chen styles, small circle hand techniques (although large circle techniques are trained as well) and differs from the other t’ai chi family styles martially with Wu style’s initial focus on grappling, throws (shuai chiao), tumbling, jumping, footsweeps, pressure point leverage and joint locks and breaks, which are trained in addition to more conventional t’ai chi sparring and fencing at advanced levels
3.The Chen Tai Chi Style
Tai chi is not always done in slow motion. The Chen tai chi style includes a number of fast, explosive moves–jumping kicks, cannon fists, and thundering stomps—even for beginners.
If you’re athletically inclined or are looking for an exciting tai chi style, consider the Chen.
The Chen tai chi style alternates slow-motion movements with short, fast, explosive ones.
It demands more physical coordination and may strain the lower back and knees more than other styles; consequently, Chen style tai chi is difﬁcult for the elderly or injured to learn.
This art is defined by a distinct training curriculum. But it is not only the external appearance of the movement that differentiates this style from other martial arts, each movement is based on intricate theories unique to this system.
Because it is an art, it is subject to the interpretation of each practitioner.
The resulting interpretations created subdivision within the style.
Each variation of Chen style is due to its history and their particular training insight of the teacher.
4.The Hao Tai Chi Style
Wu (Hao) was created by Mr Wu Yu-Xiang, during the Qing Dynasty when Xiang Feng was emperor.
Sometimes it was called Wu or Hao style. The style’s creator, Mr Wu Yu-Xiang, was a scholar.
He combined taiji training from Chen Qing-Ping, and Mr Wang Zhong-Yue’s theories with the study of Confucianism, Taoism, and Sun Tze’s Art of War.
With this knowledge, Mr Wu Yu-Xiang developed the main form of Wu (Hao) as well as the 13-Technique Taiji Spear (staff), 13-Technique Taiji Saber, and Moving-step Push Hands.
From the basis of Mr Wang’s Zhong-Yue’s theories, Mr Wu continued the development of the 13-Torso Method, an Analysis of Taijiquan Theory, an Introduction of the 13 Postures, and Secret of the Four Words. Once Mr Wu developed these he had completed a taijiquan system.
Wu Yu-Hsiang’s t’ai chi ch’uan is a distinctive style with small, subtle movements; highly focused on balance, sensitivity and internal ch’i development.
It is a rare style today, especially compared with the other major styles.
While there are direct descendants of Li Yi-yü and Li Ch’i-hsüan still teaching in China, there are no longer Hao family members teaching the style.
Hao tai chi style’s primary focus is on tai chi’s more internal chi movements with physical motions being much less important.
As such it is considered an advanced tai chi style that is hard to appreciate for practitioners without signiﬁcant background knowledge of tai chi.
5.Combination Tai Chi Styles
Combination tai chi styles are the third most popular styles after the Yang and Wu tai chi styles.
These tai chi styles freely mix and match movements from the four other tai chi styles as well as movements from other internal martial arts styles, such as bagua and hsing-i.
A Tai Chi form also begins with Stillness (Wu Chi), moves to the extremes of yin and yang in a flowing tide of continuous motion and comes back to stillness.
An internal stillness is retained throughout the movements of the form.
Meditation resting in the state of Wu Chi can bring peace of mind, serenity and greater wisdom
You may want to revisit the tai chi history, philosophy, and symbol sections after having gotten a glimpse of how tai chi actually looks, or better yet, how it feels to do tai chi.
Understanding the philosophy and history of tai chi will inform and deepen your tai chi practice. But don’t let it stop you from getting started.