Tai Chi Chuan

Chen Style of Tai Chi Chuan

There are several styles of tai chi chuan and each bears the name of its founder.  The first style came from Chenjiagou village in Wen County, Henan Province by Chen Wangting who was a ninth generation descendant of the Chen clan and a general of the latter years of the Ming Dynasty. The Chen family’s art was not called tai chi at that time. Instead, they called it “Pao Chui” or “Cannon Fist” which was the last routine or form taught on the Chen family’s art. It is from the Chen style of martial arts that all other tai chi styles evolved.


Yang Style Tai Chi

The second style of tai chi, Yang Style, originated In the early 19th century from a man named Yang Luchan who at the age of 10 moved to the Chen village and worked as an indentured servant of the Chen family. Since it was not customary to teach the family’s art to outsiders, Yang Luchan learned the Chen’s system by secretly observing them practicing. When a member of the family discovered Yang practicing and observing the high level of his skill, Yang was welcome to practice with the family and became a close door student of their art. He later moved away, at the age of 40,  and built upon the knowledge acquired at the Chen village to form his own flavor of their art. At this point his system was not called tai chi chuan. He called it Soft Boxing or Relaxed Boxing (Hao chuan).  In fact, his system was so soft that it was often addressed as Zhan Mian Quan (cotton boxing)t. The softness of his art was by no means a deficit in martial encounters. On the contrary - Yang’s skill was so high that after so many victories he became known as Yang The Invincible.

Yang Luchan had three sons. The first die at a very young age. His other two sons, Yang Ban Hou (1837-1892) and Yang Jian Hou (1842-1917), continued their father’s art. The latter, Jian Hou, had a son name Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936). It was Cheng Fu who popularized tai chi to the world and is responsible for most of the Yang style tai chi we see today.

Wu Styles Tai Chi


imageThere two styles of Wu tai chi. The first style was created by Wu Yu Xiang (1812-1880), who was a student of Yang Luchan and of his son Yang Banhou. Later he was introduced by Yang to Chen Qing Ping who was a 7th generation master of Chen boxing and he trained Wu Yu Xiang in Chen boxing. Wu Yu Xiang was a scholar and often his style was addressed as “The Scholar’s Tai Chi”.

Wu Yu Xiang had a nephew who was also his most dedicated student, Li Yi Yu.  Both Wu and Li were authors of many of the so called “Tai Chi Classics” and their writings are applicable to all other styles of tai chi.

Li Yi Yu had a student named Hao Wei Zheng who continued teaching Wu’s art to his sons. Thus, the Wu style of tai chi is also known as the Wu/Hao style. Some address it as the “old Wu Style of Tai Chi”. Wu/Hao style of tai chi chuan is not very popular outside of China. However, its gradually gaining popularity in the UK and there are a few branches in America. Hao Wei Zheng is an important figure in tai chi history not only for his high level of skill, but also because of his influence on another master about whom we’ll learn later.

The second style of Wu tai chi was created by QuanYu who was Manchurian and worked as a bodyguard in the Imperial Court in Beijing. imageHe was a student of Yang Luchan and his son Yang Banhou. He was a very dedicated student and achieved a very high level of skill.

Quan Yu had several disciples including his son Wu Jianquan. The name “Wu” here is not the same Wu as the previous style. It’s a different Chinese character and pronunciation. However, when romanized, they are written the same. Thus, it was through Quan Yu’s son Wu Jianquan that the name for the Wu style of tai chi came from and it is the second most popular style of tai chi next to Yang style.

Sun Style Tai Chi

The fifth style of tai chi was created by Sun Lutang (1861-1932). Prior to studying tai chi, Sun Luntang was a very accomplished martial artist with much experience in Ba Gua, Xing Yi and other Gong Fu systems. He was eager to learn tai chi but could not fine anyone willing to teach him until he met Wu/Hao master Hao Wei Zheng of the Wu/Hao style of tai chi mentioned above. imageWhen the two met, Hao Wei Zheng was ill and Sun Lungtang took care of him and helped him recover. As a gesture of gratitude, master Hao taught Sun his style of tai chi. Sun reached a high level of understanding and practice of his mentor’s art and later combined his knowledge of Ba Gua and Xing Yi with Hao’s tai chi and formed the famous Sun Style of Tai Chi. Today this is a very popular art.

Sun Luntang was highly educated and a prolific writer. He penned many of the modern day classics and his influence reaches across all styles of tai chi. Credit is given to him for categorizing tai chi, ba gua, xing yi as the Internal Arts.


The above introduction to tai chi chuan’s history, should give the propective student some idea of the evolution of the art. Tai chi chuan study is a long term commitment. In some respects, tai chi chuan is the study of “self” and continues as long as “self” exists.  The study starts from outside, the physical, the mechanical. The starting point is on the feet. Gradually the entire body arrives to a state of balance.

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