I agree with my teacher that there is no “Style” in Tai Chi Chuan and that it doesn’t matter what forms you practice. Not just for the sake of agreeing, but through my own research and accumulated knowledge through my +30 years of practice, I have come to the conclusion that the idea of “Style” is based on mistakes and is nothing but an illusion. Tai Chi Chuan (or Taijiquan) is a word that sum up certain principles and theories about body movement and mechanics, leverage, angles, as well as ideas about the mind and psyche, and ways to put these principles and ideas into practical practice. If the basic ideas and principles are different, then we can’t talk about different styles. Then we would be speaking about completely different arts. The art is the sum of what every good teacher, dead or alive, and regardless style, could agree with is basic Tai Chi concepts and principles. “Style” is merely different ways to present the same ideas and concepts, merely different packages. So if it is called Tai Chi and in fact really is Tai Chi, then “style” doesn’t matter, you should be able to build the same foundation in all styles and be able to achieve the same type of skill-sets regardless of what style you practice.
– “Chen is the original Tai Chi and thereby the best.”
– “Chen style was lost and the original art was preserved in Yang style.”
– “Chen is better than Yang style for combat.”
– “Chen style is Tai Chi mixed with Shaolin.”
– “Yang Style is watered down Chen style.”
– “Yang Style has more advanced Neigong (internal practice) than Chen.”
These and many other common statements are all based on the false presumption that there is a common standard of “Tai Chi” and that every style has its own set standard. In fact, there has never been a commonly accepted standard, neither of Tai Chi in general or of any style, except until very recent as Chen and Yang family representatives now try to standardise the public teaching. Chen stylists sometimes say that Chen style should be the general standard because this is the oldest style. But still, Chen style has gone through changes and no one knows exactly how it looked like in the days of the person Chen stylists have agreed upon should be the founder, Chen Wanting.
Now, to complicate it further, back in the old days of Yang Lu Chan and his students, no one talked about “style”. No one differentiated “Yang style” from “Chen style” or “Wu style”. Something was either Tai Chi Chuan or not Tai Chi Chuan (or Changquan, or Mianquan as it could be called back then). But the problem we are attaining for the moment is not only a question about the lack of style differentiating names. Practically speaking, everybody back then practiced with, and learned from people with different backgrounds. Chen, Yang and Wu stylists (as we would call them today) all practiced with each other and learned from each other. Yang Cheng Fu studied with Wu Jianquan and learned Push hands from him. And several of Chen Fake’s students also studied with the Yang family. Also if we look at an individual family, as if you look at students of Yang Cheng Fu, they also studied with other Yang family members as Yang Shaohou and Yang Jianhou. So there are no “pure” lineage today that can only be traced directly from Yang Shaohou and Yang Jianhou, or from Yang Banhou. There is no “pure” lineage from Chen Changxing, Chen Youben or further back. So the concept of “style” derived from a modern time when different traditions already were mixed up. “Style” is a fabricated idea on the illusion that there are or ever has been “pure” Tai Chi styles with clear standards. And that is just not true. In fact far from the truth.
If we look at teachers today, at what an individual teacher from a certain style lacks or what skills he might have achieved, is also not a question of style. Because every teacher or his (or hers) teachers, or at least their teacher’s teachers, have studied from various masters from different styles, no skill or method found in Tai Chi is style bound. What is found in one style can be found in another style, though you might see more of “this” in one branch and more of “that” in another. Follow steps as in Wu (Yuxiang)/Hao and Sun styles are also practiced in Yang style branches. Leaning postures is not found only in the Wu (Jianquan) tradition. And Silk reeling is not only a Chen Style concept. When Chen Xin wrote his book about Silk Reeling in the first half of the 20th century, he never mentioned anything about that Silk Reeling being something only found in Chen style or as a secret. He described it as a core concept for all Tai Chi Chuan, how to move from, and use qi from, the center of the body. The concept and idea is found in all styles and every Tai Chi style have drills and exercises very similar, if not identical to, what is called Silk Reeling exercises in Chen style.
So what is style other than an expression of vanity? (“I want to be different”, “I want to be more special”, “My style is the best”, “My Lineage keeps all the secrets” etc.) How can it be used other than a way to market yourself, your school or your Facebook group?
Well, for one thing, “style” and “lineage” can be used as a way to trace different types of skills through the generations, a way of finding what you specifically look for. It might set a certain focus in your own practice. But to really use these concepts as a tool for your own progress and being able to choose your own skill developing path, you need to have good knowledge about the Art and its history. And you need to actually start somewhere. A good traditional teacher of any art that has good teaching skills is in my own opinion better to look for than being focused on any particular style. If you don’t get anywhere, don’t start to progress and don’t learn a foundation of any style, then what good is what you label it? Labelling nothing? One good teacher does not only open the doors to that specific “style” or “lineage”. He or she opens the doors to the whole art, everything that with right could be called Tai Chi Chuan.