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Tai Chi Styles
introductions to other styles and aspects beyond the Yang From

A Bewildering Array of Styles

 

I have been taking a brief look at the five main styles of tai chi and touched upon how they came to be. The Chen style came first from the Henan Province in the 17th century as a form of kung fu that was softer and more internal in its methods, taking as it did from the Taoist monasteries and combining within it both health and combat. A fairly deadly and secretive kung fu, a century and a half later the only non-Chen-Clan-member to learn this martial art then took it to Beijing and created his own style. That man was Yang LuChan, and the style was the Yang. There is evidence that Yang LuChan didn’t completely betray his masters, as the Form that he developed for the Imperial Guard was a softer and less-martial style that was used more for exercise and fitness rather than be usable against for example, the Chen villages.

One of those Imperial Guards in the nineteenth century was Wu Chuan Yau who took the Yang Form and developed a more subtle style utilising a narrower performing circle, called the Wu Style. Much more suitable for the general Chinese population in an era where martial arts were less necessary for use in anger, it is in the Wu that we start to see the transition from ‘combat’ to ‘sport’ and in the twentieth century the Yang Family then paved the way for the splitting of tai chi into two forms: combat (tai chi chuan) and pure health & fitness (tai chi), followed by others such as the Wu. The Sun Style is a much more modern one created and developed from these during the twentieth Century. All these four have the same origins; however the fifth – the Lee Form – appears to have evolved separately alongside the others. First taught to outsiders in the 1930s in England this form has as its roots not the Chen influence but a combination of wushu and Taoist health preserved in the Lee Family for over a thousand years and known ancestrally by the term Eight Strands of the Brocade.

In my research delving I found that each of these styles had their own variations: We know the Yang’s popular Long and Short Forms (with variations that specify 88, 108 or 132 or more moves), but there are also variations that combine the Form with spear or with sword. Then there are variations developed by individual masters – the most famous being Cheng Man-ch’ing, who’s version myself and Gary use as our basis. Plus a Competition Form. Similarly with the Chen style, there seems to be the Chen Standardised, Chen ‘health’ Standardised (by which I think we can attribute the health version of the form as opposed to the chuan), Chen ‘health’ Standardised Sword, Chen Sabre, Chen Cannon Fist (old Form) and Cannon Fist (new form), Chen Old Style, Chen New Frame, Chen New Frame (39), and Chen Competition. Plus variations by masters – Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zheng Lee, and so on.

Of the Wu Form I found Wu, Wu Long, Wu International 54 Competition and a variation of this that only uses 42 moves, Wu Competition, Wu (Hao) Long and Short Forms. Sun Style includes The Sun Standardised Short form, Sun Family Modern Short form, Sun Traditional Short form, and Sun Competition. For Lee I found Lee Short and Lee Long.

An extraordinary array of styles and variations – no wonder we get emails about the differences! But it doesn’t stop there. I found further hybrids that demanded my attention. Perhaps the best-known of these is the 24 Form, also known as the 24 Simplified Form or the Peking Form. This was created by the Chinese Sports Committee in 1956 in order to provide a more truncated and simpler Form of only 24 moves that would be less difficult to learn and quicker to execute than the complex Yang Long Form from which it took as its basis. This was to encourage the general Chinese populace to partake in tai chi as a daily health exercise.

The 42 Competition Form appears to have been created very recently (1989) and is a combat form for competition that combines movements from the traditional Yang, Chen, Sun and Wu styles. Again created by the Chinese Sports Committee in order to standardise the many different competition forms, it was in the 11th Asian Games of 1990 where this form was used for the tai chi rounds.

One variation of Cheng Man-ching’s style of Yang Form is known as Huang Sheng Shyan Form, after its creator of the same name. Huang Sheng-Shyan was born in 1910 and became a disciple of Cheng Man-Ching in 1947 and from this tradition he developed his own tai chi style. Another ‘newbie’ is the Taoist Tai Chi Society Form developed by Moy Lin-Shin in Canada in the 1970s. Moy modified the orthodox Yang style and mixed it with Lok Hup Ba Fa and other internal martial arts but he also went a step further and removed all references to martial arts from his form, creating a ‘pure’ health and meditative method. As far as he was concerned, the competitive nature of tai chi through the martial aspects that was present in other tai chi styles excluded those not physically fit, such as the old or infirm. This is very interesting, as its philosophy makes tai chi available to everyone.

Another Form that I found was The Tchoung Style. This was created by Tchoung Ta-tchen in the twentieth century and is modified from the ‘old Form’ of Yang – the form that pre-dates changes made by Yang Cheng-fu in the 1930s. Tchoung style is more symmetrical but appears to be more complex, it contains 220 moves – an extraordinary amount of moves for tai chi. Tchoung Ta-tchen was an expert in Yang Form, Pakua, tai chi sticks, sword and pushing hands in Taiwan and America.

Just to top it all off there were styles that I found but ran out of time researching such as Dong Yue Combined and the Wudang Forms. A truly bewildering array of styles, sub-styles, variations, combat forms, health forms and so on. This reinforces mine and Gary’s belief that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ style of tai chi, and no ‘true’ style - or even ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ style of say, Yang Form. While our roots and influences lie in Cheng Man-ching’s Yang style, tai chi is whatever you make it, and it will depend upon the influences of your own instructor that will be the path that you take –the right path, whichever one it is.

Just as a footnote, I am ‘collecting’ form lists as I find them and compiling them in the Form lists section of the website. I’ve got a few new ones to add soon, and if anyone has anything not on this list I would be grateful if they could send it to me!

Authors's note:
Following this article, I received some constructive feedback from Bela Nemeth, a Hao Style practitioner in Newcastle, Australia. She writes: "I subscribe to your newsletter and have followed with interest your articles on various styles. Because I have a particular interest in Hao style I would respectfully like to point out what seems to be an inexactitude in your lists. The Wu/Hao style is completely unrelated to the popular Wu styles of Wu Ch'ien ch'uan. Wu Yu-Hsiang (same Wu spelling in English, different Chinese characters), was a scholar who was a friend and student of Yang Luchan before Yang went to Peking . He also studied a Chen style and came into possession of manuscripts which he studied and developed his own Wu style. Not needing to teach to earn a living he taught his nephew Li I Yu who passed it on to Hao Wei Zhen. This is the tai chi that was learned by Sun Lutang who created the Sun style. Actually Wu Yuhsiang and Li Yiyu were authors of a large amount of the "Tai chi classics". The Wu/Hao style is internationally recognised as one of the five major styles"


 


Bibliography:
Much of the research for this article was simply trawling the internet and picking up snippets, but the main bibliographical references come from Wikipedia.org – try searching for ‘tai chi form lists’.


 

 
A truly bewildering array of styles, sub-styles, variations, combat forms, health forms and so on. This reinforces mine and Gary’s belief that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ style of tai chi, and no ‘true’ style - or even ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ style of say, Yang Form.
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