Tai chi practice is comprised of sequences of specific movements. Each series of movements is called a form. There are five main family styles of tai chi chuan: Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun and Hao. All five styles have the same origin and share many similarities. However, each style has its own unique characteristics and emphasizes a particular aspect of movement.
Below we will describe the different Tai Chi forms from the various family styles.
Chen Style Tai Chi
Chen Style Tai Chi is the oldest and the original tai chi form. 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.
Chen Style Tai Chi is suitable for those who have already learned Yang Style Tai Chi, or are interested in the martial arts aspect of tai chi. It is also suitable for someone looking for a more energetic and challenging form of tai chi. Chen Style Tai Chi makes an excellent complement to other martial arts or sports.
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).
Chen Style First Routine
The Chen Style First Routine is challenging to learn and will require 3 terms of training courses (Chen Level 1, Chen Level 2 and Chen Level 3) to complete learning all 83 moves of the form. After that students progress to the Chen Advance training course.
Movements in the Cannon Fist form are impressively powerful and lightning fast. The entire form is an inter-mix of hard and soft movements that include jumps, spins, kicks, punches using elastic explosive power. It demonstrates a commanding presence and is highly difficult to execute. When practicing Cannon Fist, internal focus is on the elastic explosive power, external focus is on the striking aspects of the moves. The entire form consists of 71 moves.
We recommend learning Cannon Fist after you have completed learning Chen Style First Routine and have attended at least one term of Chen Advance classes.
(To learn more, read the blog – What is Chen Style Tai Chi?)
Yang Style Tai Chi
Yang Style Tai Chi is the most widely practiced style of tai chi in the world today. It ranks second in terms of seniority after Chen Style. The required stances are wide and low, however individuals can adjust to a higher, narrower stance based on their own ability. Movements are big and mostly linear, and the pace is consistently slow throughout the entire form. The soft, graceful, and fluid movements of the style is why tai chi is commonly referred to as “Moving Meditation”.
The power of Yang Style Tai Chi is hidden within and not expressed externally like in Chen Style. But all tai chi movements, regardless of fast or slow, must be driven by the centre core (“dantien”), and this requires concentration of the mind and body. Hence calling it moving meditation is a very apt term.
Yang Style Tai Chi is suitable for many people, for example:
- You are a complete beginner and want to start learning tai chi
- You have an injury and need a slow, low impact exercise to help the recovery
- You want to meditate to calm your mind but cannot do it sitting quietly
- You want to improve your balance to prevent falls
- You want an exercise that does not require lying on the ground, equipment or special attire, so you can do it anywhere, anytime
It takes 2 terms of training courses (Yang Level 1, Yang Level 2) to complete learning all 85 moves of the form. After that students progress to the Yang Advance training course.
(To learn more, read the blog – What is Yang Style Tai Chi?)
Wu Style Tai Chi
Wu Style Tai Chi is the second most popular style of tai chi practiced in the world today. It uses a medium stance, and its movements are smaller and more compact than those used in Yang style.
Wu style tai chi is unique in its emphasis on the extension of the body by leaning forward and backward rather than remaining centered, as one does in the other styles of tai chi. The back leg serves as a counterbalance, allowing for added extension without losing balance. The unique posture and stance is especially good for strengthening the lower back and core.
It takes 3 terms of training courses (Wu Level 1, Wu Level 2 and Wu Level 3) to complete learning all 89 moves of the form. After that students progress to the Wu Advance training course.
(To learn more, read the blog – What is Wu Style Tai Chi?)
Sun Style Tai Chi
Sun style tai chi is the second least popular of the five styles. The style incorporates unique footwork and gentle, flowing, circular hand movements. With its smooth, fluid movements and swift steps, Sun style tai chi mimics a graceful dance.
Classes for Sun style tai chi are only offered when there is sufficient requests for it.
Hao Style Tai Chi
Practised by few—even in China—Hao is the least popular of the five styles. This style puts a strong emphasis on internal qi. Practitioners learn to focus internally and make significant internal movements to trigger subtle outer movements. Externally, the movements may look quite similar.
Hao is a more advanced style of tai chi. With a strong focus on controlling the movement of qi (internal force) this style is not recommended for beginners.