There are many different family styles of tai chi. They all share the same origin and their fundamental principles are pretty much the same. However, each style has its own unique characteristics and emphasizes a particular aspect of movement or principle. To that end, let’s explore the current main family styles of tai chi.
Chen Style Tai Chi
Around the 17th century, the Chen family of the Chen Village in the Henan province of China were practising their own unique form of martial arts which became the Chen family style of tai chi. Chen Style Tai Chi is the oldest and the original tai chi form. All other forms of tai chi like Yang style, Wu style, Sun and Hao styles were all derived from Chen style tai chi. Within Chen style, there are two forms that are being taught: Chen style first routine and Chen style second routine (a.k.a. Cannon Fist).
It is the most dynamic of all the styles with a combination of soft and power movements, a tempo with varying speeds of slow, fast and very fast, and techniques that include kicks, punches and jumps. The required stances are wide and low, and movements are big and spiral-like. The low and wide stances strengthens the lower body, the intricate spiral movements improves coordination, the varied pace and explosive moves builds core and upper body strength. Overall it provides the most cardio and physical workout among all the styles.
Movements in the Chen style first routine are focused more on softness with the occasional mix of explosive force. Students should first learn the first routine before learning the more difficult second routine or Cannon Fist. The Cannon Fist form places more emphasis on speed and explosive power, with more jumps, punches and kicks. It is important to learn softness first through the first routine to allow one to better achieve the co-existent of softness and power.
Yang Style Tai Chi
Yang Style Tai Chi is the most widely practiced style of tai chi in the world today. It was created by Yang Luchan on the basis of Chen Style Tai Chi. The style stretches and flows, and is mainly soft, slow and fluid. Expansion and convergence, large opening and closing of the internal body are its key characteristics. With its elegant, soft and hidden internal opening and closing movements, the whole body feels like the ocean waves surging and retreating without any pause or discontinuity. Leading the body with the mind and spirit, it gives a sense of comfort to the mind and body, like willow branches rippling in the summer breeze.
Yang Style Tai Chi is simple and easy to learn. Stances can be adapted to be either high or low, suitable for men, women and children. Beginners can adjust kinematics based on their own conditions. It is suitable for regardless of your fitness level, hence Yang style is the most widely practiced form of tai chi in the world today.
Wu Style Tai Chi
Wu Style Tai Chi is derived and innovated from Yang Style Tai Chi. Wu style is famous for its softness, exquisiteness and elegance. Its agile movements, extended postures, unique footwork, oblique centralization, and requirements for internal body movement (internal strength) have attracted many practitioners all over the world.
The footwork of Wu style Tai Chi is narrow and the feet are pointed in a parallel direction. Wu style is often described with the phrase “Parallel stance, seeking centre from slant”. The entire routine is relatively small and compact. There is a “tilt but stretch” feature in Wu style, and the practitioner needs to intentionally maintain the overall stretch from the top of the head to the heel. Wu Style Tai Chi is very important to keep the lower body stable and the upper body soft and stretched. Only on the basis of complete relaxation and stability, can the upper body tension be offset. When practicing Wu style, the body stretches forward and swings backward. Due to the special requirements of internal movement and limbs, it has a good effect on strengthening of the waist and kidney.
Sun Style Tai Chi
The founder of Sun style tai chi had in-depth knowledge of Xingyiquan and Baguazhang before integrating the essence of the 3 schools and creating Sun style tai chi.
Sun style tai chi moves are quick and natural, forward step must be followed and backward step must retreat. When practicing, it is like moving clouds and flowing water, continuous without breaking. Every change includes an “open” and “close” combination, hence it is nicknamed “Open Close Active Step Tai Chi”. Sun style Tai Chi has a taller frame and small movements. It is suitable for people of all ages and different body types.
Hao Style Tai Chi
Hao style tai chi is small and compact, simple and unpretentious. It has a strong focus on using intention (yi) and internal pressure (qi) to drive all movements, emphasizing on the transformation of internal strength to lift the spirit, whole body acting as one, open and close, clear distinction between substantial and unsubstantial, and immense presence.
Raise, carry, open and close are the key points in every move. Soft on the outside, strong on the inside, harmony between inside and outside, achieving cohesion of the mind and body.
Because Hao Style Tai Chi has a high degree of focus on internal strength, practitioners need to study and experience it intently and patiently.