Here is a brief guide to the different styles of Tai Chi Chuan. There are five main styles, five big ones and then there are also a whole bunch of several lesser popular arts. Some of the smaller ones have quite a big amount of followers as well. Here I will list 8 of those smaller Tai Chi schools that are reasonable enough to call individual styles. This means that a total of 13 (!) different Tai Chi styles will be discussed here.
Off springs and variations that belong mainly to any of the larger schools as Cheng Man Ching’s Yang and Dan Docherty’s Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan (Wudang PTTC) are not considered. here. But if we were to actually add every school with decent popularity, we would probably get a list of well more than 20 schools.
(Also: Please, don’t get offended by my intentional ironic and disrespectful tone in this post.)
The five main Tai Chi styles
The five big traditional styles are:
- Chen Style
- Yang Style
- Wu Style
- Wu (Hao) Style
- Sun Style
The Tai Chi styles of Chen, Yang, Wu, Wu (Has) and Sun are all recognized, well known and has many practitioners throughout China and the whole World.
Chen Style Taijiquan
Chen style is said by Chen stylists to be the oldest of the modern Tai Chi styles found today or the original art of Tai Chi, something that is usually accepted by Yang stylists as Yang style creator Yang Luchan admitted that he had studied with the Chen family. In the first half of the 20th century it was suddenly decided by the government that Chen Wangting (1580-1660) should be regarded as the inventor of the whole art of Tai Chi Chuan, a person suddenly discovered, that no Chen Tai Chi master knew anything about and no one had mentioned anytime before in any text about Tai Chi Chuan. Chen style was later popularised in the 20th century by Chen Fake (1887-1957) who was very upset and got revengeful when other Tai Chi masters told him that what he was doing was Shaolin and not Tai Chi.
Chen style has both slow and fast movements, often performed with sudden outbursts of “fajin”. It also has Shaolin movements not found in any other of the five main styles so that other stylists often says that Chen Style is just Yang Style with Shaolin stuff infused.
The main idea of body mechanics in Chen style is summarized into “spiraling silk reeling” where spiral movements are initiated from the belly area and connected throughout the whole body.
There are several big popular formal and informal lineages and traditions in Chen, As “the Village style” represented by Chen Xiaowang, “the Beijing style” represented by people as Chen Yu and Chen Practical Method lead by Chen Zhonghua. And “Chen Small Frame” is usually practiced in other lesser well known lineages.
Maybe the easiest style for development of strength and power.
Might be harder to and take longer time to develop calmness and deep relaxation compared to the other five big ones.
Chen Style Taijiquan is recommended for:
Anyone who wants to keep fit and healthy and everyone who wants to study a smart and very powerful martial art.
Yang Style Taijiquan
When people think about Yang style Tai Chi, they mostly think about slow, large movements performed in an even pace. Large frame Yang Style was created by “The Invincible” Yang Luchan (1799-1872) who killed a younger female relative with his spear when practicing. This style was wildly popularised as a health exercise by his illiterate grandson Yang Chengfu (1883-1836) who sold his name to a ghost writer for a book and got really obese and died young by eating way too much.
Yang Style is the most popular Tai Chi style, widespread “all over the globe” (citing Flateartherners expression of the popularity of their own movement), much due to several lightweight watered down versions with shorter and less demanding forms. Those are taught rather fast with little attention to detail. In the middle of the nineties for instance, going to Beijing to learn the 24 form in a few weeks and teach it in the west was rather popular. But fortunately the traditional Yang long form variations are very popular as well, and many practice it as a complete martial art.
Don’t be fooled by the calm, harmonious movements. Yang Stylists can be pretty good fighters and like to toss their opponents far away rather than offering a good punch, something that is mostly given to and restricted for the stupid ones who tries to attack them again.
There are also several off-springs and sub-styles of Yang Style as Cheng Manching’s version and Dong Style, sometimes recognised as an individual Tai Chi styles. A school as Erle Montaigue’s Tai Chi organisation claim that they do the “Old Yang style” from Yang Luchan.
Quite easy to find somewhat good traditional teachers and very easy to find teachers from various health only variations.
Hard to find people who teach anything similar to power generation for punches and other finishing methods necessary in any complete martial art.
Yang Style Taijiquan is recommended for:
Anyone and everyone on this planet without exceptions.
Wu Style Taijiquan (Quanyou/Jianquan)
Wu style is characterized by large movements performed with whole body leaning, something many Yang stylists say is wrong and contradicts basic Tai Chi principles. Wu Quanyou (1834-1902) was one of Yang Luchan’s students but became a disciple of Yang Banhou, and Wu Jianquan was his son and taught it publicly. Wu Jianquan was also one of those guys who popularized Tai Chi for the big masses together with Yang Chengfu.
One modern branch is called Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan created by Dan Docherty and focuses a lot on no-nonsense combat and realistic self-defence applications.
You’ll be hearing all of the time from people from other styles about how wrong you do things.
Has everything that Yang Style has, is seldom as watered down as much, and much easier to find good traditional teachers.
Wu Style Taijiquan is recommended for:
Anyone who is interested in traditional Taijiquan.
The creator of this art, Wu Yuxiang (1830-1880), was a scholar and disciple of Yang Luchan who also studied Chen style small frame from Chen Qingping. Wu Yuxiang based his own Tai Chi form on the Chen small frame instead of Yang Luchan’s medium frame. He also collected older texts about Tai Chi and wrote a lot of stuff, and is responsible for the collection of essays nowadays known as The Tai Chi Classics. Wu style is recognized by Its higher stances, following steps (or lively stepping, “huo bu” and with a very strict frame using precise angles.
Very hard to find a good authentic teacher.
You are very lucky if you can.
Wu/Hao Style Taijiquan is recommended for:
People who likes to focus their practice on basics and principles and wish to attain a deeper understanding of general Taijiquan principles.
Sun Style Taijiquan
The youngest of the five main Tai Chi styles is a slightly modified and re-branded version of Hao/Wu (Wu Yuxiang) created by Sun Lutang (1860-1933) who studied Tai Chi a short period from Hao Weichen. Sun’s form is slightly influenced by much longer periods of Xingyi and Bagua study as well as a brief exchange with the Yang family. Sun Lutang is also one of those chaps who together with Yang Chengfu promoted Tai Chi for the masses as a health art. A very peaceful man who taught that martial arts should be practiced for health, and at the same time had a school in Beijing where he educated bodyguards and security personnel.
High stances makes it harder to develop good rooting. Complimentary stance work as zhanzhuang practice might be necessary.
Less demanding practice for the knees makes Sun style excellent for older people.
Sun Style Taijiquan is recommended for:
People who like more dynamic and faster Taiji practice as well as older people.
8 other smaller Tai Chi styles
There are even more than those mentioned here below. But I either know too little about them or they are just too silly to write about. And there are probably versions I don’t know at all. For instance, there are one or two Japanese variations that have reached some popularity in Japan, mostly based on Yang style, so if they should be considered as their own styles or as Yang offsprings I am not really certain about.
- Zhaobao Style
- Chang Style
- Li Style
- Li Style
- Fu Style
- Fo Style
- Wudang Tai Chi
- He (Hu) Style
Apparently based on Chen small frame from Chen Qingping and maybe mixed up with local IMA-similar tradition, Zhaobao practitioners claim that their style is in fact older than Chen style. The history of Tai Chi might be more complicated than either Chen or Yang stylists realize, however, if the truth is exactly as this tradition claims can certainly be discussed.
Chang Style Taijiquan
Chang style or Shuaijiao Taiji looks like Yang or Dong Tai Chi on the surface but is more Shuaijiao (Chinese Wrestling) in application. This style is also called Shuai Chiao Tai Chi or Shuaijiao Taiji.
Li Style Taijiquan
There are two different Li styles, one more athletic and mixed with Bagua and Xingyi and somewhat popular in Wushu competitions. Their practitioners say that this is the original Tai Chi style and has an origin from 1000 BC. The other Li resembles more traditional Yang and was created by Li Rui Dong (1851-1917), a student of one of Yang Lu Chan’s disciples.
Fu Style Taijiquan
Fu Zhen Song studied several different Tai Chi styles from different masters, and he was a student of Sun Lutang. He has created his own version of Bagua as well. His Tai Chi style looks like a mix between Yang and Sun style, and has a great focus on waist and spinal movement and core strength.
There is also the Yang Style variation from Fu Zhongwen sometimes called “Fu” Style, but this is basically just Yang Cheng Fu’s popularised Tai Chi.
Fo Style Taijiquan
Fo style is a very rare Buddha style with Shaolin influences. Once, maybe twenty years ago, I saw a VCD of this Buddha Taiji in a Chinese department store and today I am annoyed that I didn’t buy it. I haven’t found many traces of this style recently and haven’t been able to track much information at all, so maybe it has disappeared?
“Wudang Tai Chi”
There are several variants called Wudang Tai Chi Chuan. As Wudang is a Taoist place, this mountain represents internal tradition in general. Very little under this label is old or genuine.
Wudang Taijiquan is recommended for:
People who likes fake Daoism and flamboyant Tai chi movements. And I guess people who would love to wear long Daoist robes…?
He (Hu) Style Taijiquan
A super, super secret family tradition claiming that it has kept things intact that are lost or extinct in other Tai Chi styles. The movements resembles Yang, but the body method resembles Old Wu (/Hao) and Medium frame Yang style.
… In fact, it’s so super duper secret that I would probably have to kill you if I told you more about it …
Who should practice it?(This is left unsaid)