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

Introducing the Wu Form

 

I was having a conversation the other day at the university with a student who had practised some tai chi before, and we touched on the subject of the different styles of tai chi. The Wu style came up, and I thought that I would track down a little more information about it. As you know, the taichido site and the style (or school) of tai chi that Gary and myself practise is the long Yang style, with a bias of Cheng man-ch’ing’s softer, more subdued and thoughtful influence. This is who we are, but we have never propounded any superiority over other styles, or even variations within the Yang style – to us, tai chi is tai chi, and it is all part of the greater environment of movement, excersise and thought that we practise within.

Compiling a Form list for the Wu style for the website (to be published soon), I was struck by the similarities between it and the Yang: the grasp the sparrow’s tail sequence is there pretty much in its entirety, as are many others such as fist under elbow, high pat on horse, snake creeps down, step back to seven stars, fan through the back, part wild horse’s mane, lady works at shuttles, and so on. Oh, I thought, this is simply a variation of the Yang style. Yet I am not sure that I am correct, or that this is somewhat of an oversimplification of the issue. While it is true that nearly all the moves are the same and the ones that are left may just be differing in name, there are differences: the moves are in a different order, and in fact the entire structure is not Yang as such – there are still about 108 moves, but split into six parts against the Yang’s three (note that the 128 moves described on our website are in fact the 108 moves of the standard Yang form, just out of habit we have split some moves into two). The Wu style seems to take a more internal, softer, smaller and more compact approach, much different from the more outward and expansive Yang style. According to the Northern Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan Research Centre, Wu is internal enough (by concentrating on the manipulation of the connective tissues of the joints) that it is used even during the initial stages of training. In the Yang style, early training usually takes the form of chi kung, which then leads onto the Form. I then began to understand a little more as to why I felt that there was a connection: our Yang tai chi is softer and more internal than that of some other Yang strands (partially as a means to execute it is smaller spaces!), and perhaps we had kindred links with Wu. I do of course welcome any Wu practitioners out there who read this and beg to differ!

So why are the two styles so similar? The answer is of course in the lineage. Yang Lu-Chan lived in the Honan Province of China in the nineteenth century, in the Chen village where the tai chi chuan (or internal boxing) was practised behind closed doors. After studying the Chen style, he then moved to Peking and became the chief combat instructor of the Manchu imperial guards. Gradually evolving the Chen fighting style into a system of keeping fit (and perhaps heralding the change from the ‘martial’ era of martial arts – where they were used as serious military combat techniques – to the later ‘sports’ era – as Ray Wood once put it – where these forms evolved into fitness, well-being and into the competitive arena) the Yang Style of tai chi chuan was born.

Wu Chuan Yau (1834-1902) studied under Yang Lu-Chan while he was a member of the Imperial Guard, although the Wu Family’s website states that this was in Bejing, rather than Peking as my Yang reading originally indicated. Wu and subsequently his son Wu Chien Chuan (1870-1942) took the Yang style and modified it, changing the form and making it more subtle and to quote the current family member Eddie Wu the son “utilized a narrower circle”, which I think is an excellent way of explaining the main difference between the two styles.

Wu Chien Chuan and others then founded a martial arts School using the Wu style and I have found on a number of websites that this is generally regarded as a pivotal point in modern tai chi chuan as the form then became available to the public for the first time. I have also seen this credited to Yang Lu-Chan too, although we can possibly put this into context by the fact that it was Yang Lu-Chan who is largely responsible for bringing tai chi chuan out of the closely-guarded and secretive family clans as a fighting technique and into the wider military arena as a fitness form . Certainly the Wu style was much more suited to a general population as it did not require the strenuous jumps, leaps and other feats of for example the Chen style. At this time the Yang style had not yet been developed (as it would be from 1928 by Yang Chen-Fu, a grandson of the original Yang) out of a combat form and into the slow, continuous tai chi that we practise today.

Back to Wu Chien Chuan then, who in the late nineteen twenties moved to Shanghai and and became a hugely influential figure in the field. Wu Kung Yi was the third generation, who carried on his father’s work and was responsible for establishing Wu tai chi chuan throughout China - and his son Wu Tai Kwei in the nineteen fifties spread the Wu Word throughout wider Asia – the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, etc. His son, the fifth generation and current Wu, Wu Kwong Yu (Eddie Wu) has promoted Wu style throughout North America and Europe.

If you wish to know more about Wu style tai chi and tai chi chuan, a good place to start is the Wu family’s website – the International Wu Style Tai Chi Ch’uan Federation at www.wustyle.com and the Northern Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan Research Centre (www.metal-tiger.com/Wu_Tang_PCA/NorthenWu.html). If anybody has anything more that they wish to add on this subject, I would welcome any emails.


 


Bibliography:
the International Wu Style Tai Chi Ch’uan Federation http://www.wustyle.com
Northern Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan Research Centre http://www.metal-tiger.com/Wu_Tang_PCA/NorthenWu.html
http://www.chinavoc.com/kungfu/taiji_style.asp
article: the Tai Chi Family Tree http://www.taichido.com/chi/taichi/tree.htm


 

 
Wu Chien Chuan and others founded a martial arts School using the Wu style and I have found on a number of websites that this is generally regarded as a pivotal point in modern tai chi chuan as the form then became available to the public for the first time.
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