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
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!
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"