Tai Chi Styles

The Five Main Styles of Tai Chi are

Chen - the Oldest

Yang - the most widely practised

Wu (Hao) - Less well known

Wu - Less well known

Sun - the newest

Although distinctive, they all share the same essential tai chi principles


There are five main styles of Tai Chi, and others that are lesser known and not so widely practiced.  Chen style is the oldest style and the most martial.   Yang style is the most widely practiced style of Tai Chi in the world today.   Sun style is the newest style, characterised by higher stances, "agile" stepping and incorporates Qigong movements

Tai Chi as a whole contains a vast reservoir of knowledge, accumulated over five centuries.  Each style has its own unique characteristics, and has its own intrinsic qualities.

Chen style movements are the closest to martial arts, and is characterised by its emphasis on "spiral force".  Slow movements are intermixed with fast, and hard movements are complemented by soft ones.  Chen style is also notable for the expression of explosive power, and being performed in a low stance.  This style is rich with combat techniques that are very challenging and can be high risk for people if not taught safely.

Yang style is the most popular style today.  Yang Luchan (1799-1872), created it in the early 19th century.  Legend has it that Yang was so eager to learn the art, he pretended to be a starving beggar and fainted at the front door of the Chen’s village elder.  He was rescued and accepted as a servant in the Chen household.  Yang woke up at night to learn the art through a crack in the wall while others practised.  Soon he became a highly skilled practitioner.  Later Yang was discovered.  In those days, he could have been executed for learning the skill without permission, but the village elder was so impressed with his skill, he formally accepted him as a student.  Yang later developed his own style, which he taught to a great number of people, including the members of the Imperial Court. 

Yang style movements are gentle, graceful, effective for promoting health, and easier to learn than Chen style.  Yang style is safer for older people, although the original forms are very long and contain a number of high risk movements, especially for people with arthritis and movement challenges.

There are two Wu styles, which sound the same in English, but are written differently in Chinese characters.

Wu Style (also called Hao Style) was created by Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) and passed to Hao Weizheng (1849-1920), who made a significant contribution to its creation.  Hao is not a well-known style. 

It’s characterised by close-knit slow and loose movements.  Great emphasis is placed on the internal power and correct positioning.  It is similar to Yang style in terms of difficulty to learn and safety for people with arthritis.

The other Wu style was created by Wu Jian-quan (1870-1942).  It is characterised by softness and emphasis on re-directing the incoming force.  Its movements are relaxed, natural, nimble, and closer to the trunk of the body.  In this Wu style, the postures lean forward slightly.  Wu style is similar to Yang, although the forward leaning postures don’t strengthen the internal supporting muscles of the back (the deep stabilizer muscles) and might increase the risk of injury.

Sun style is the youngest of the major styles.  It was created by Sun Lu-tang (1861-1932).  Sun was a well-known exponent of the Xingyiquan and Baguaquan (two famous internal martial art styles) before he learned Tai Chi.  In 1912, Sun happened to run into Hao Weizheng (see Hao style) who was sick.  Without knowing who Hao was, Sun kindly took care of him, finding him a hotel where he could rest and a good doctor to treat him.  After Hao recovered from his illness, he stayed in Sun’s house and taught him Tai Chi. 

Sun Style is characterized by agile steps.  Whenever one foot moves forward or backwards the other foot follows.  Its movements flow smoothly like water in a river.  Having incorporated the essence of two other internal martial arts, Sun style contains unique and powerful Qigong that is especially effective for healing and relaxation.  The higher stance makes it easier for older people to learn and practice. 

Sun style is more suitable for older people and people with arthritis, although in its traditional forms some movements are challenging to learn and contain some high-risk movements.  These are some of the reasons why Dr Lam and his colleagues have modified the traditional sets;  other reasons are to make Tai Chi for Health sequences easier to learn and more effective for health in less time*.

*  Based on TCA Resource Book

See also History of Tai Chi by Dr Lam