Tai Chi Styles: History and Changes

Being a practical and useful art, tai chi has evolved over time in response to changing needs. Here’s a summary of how the major tai chi styles began and evolved.

The Chen style is the oldest known form of tai chi. The movements are designed to work against armored foes. One characteristic of this is the use of elbow strikes at various angles, including straight out and parallel to the ground.

The Yang style was developed from the Chen style. The use of armor declined and the Yang is a second generation style reflecting this change in fighting needs. Elbows are dropped, stances are higher, and energy work is more internalized, with less external motions.

The Wu style combines techniques from the Chen as well as the Yang. This third generation style is considered the most internalized. Energy is moved and transformed within the body to affect changes outside of it. The small frame and minimal movements permit the buildup of high internal pressure and energies.

tai chi white crane styles
The Hao Style is a highly internalized and compact form. It is characterized by subtle movements and is considered an advanced style that is difficult for beginners to learn. The Hao style is rare in China and even rarer in the West.

Combination Styles. Other more recent tai chi styles are based on combinations of these three older tai chi lineages with other martial arts, including bagua, hsing-I, and Shaolin kung fu. The Sun, Fu, Kuang Ping Yang, and Chen Pan Ling are examples of such combination styles. For example, the Fu style is a combination of Yang tai chi, mixed with bagua and hsing-i.

Westernized and Non-Traditional Tai Chi. The number of tai chi styles continues to grow with Westernized and non-traditional tai chi styles now being offered. Many of these styles are oversimplified and watered-down, with little attention to body alignments and energy mechanics.

These forms have helped to popularize tai chi in the West. However, followers of such styles may find themselves short-changed from the full benefits of a tai chi practice.

Get the Most Out of Your Tai Chi. Medical studies have shown that even such overly simplified forms can provide health benefits—such is the power of tai chi. However, with proper alignments and energy techniques, the benefits from tai chi can be quantum levels higher. You don’t need to settle for less.

Next: Read about tai chi forms.