Five Styles of Tai Chi

The incredible health benefits of Tai Chi have caused a growth in the number of practitioners around the world. What many newcomers don’t realize at first is that there are actually many styles of Tai Chi to choose from. While most people choose their style based on availability, taking the time to learn about what style of Tai Chi matches you both physically and personally can help you start your Tai Chi practice off on the right foot.

While all Tai Chi styles come with the fantastic benefits that Tai Chi offers, such as improved balance and flexibility, each style comes with its own unique challenges and rewards. Some styles require greater physical endurance while others are more suited for those with joint problems to contend with. When you’re looking at the descriptions of Tai Chi styles, you’ll notice that they are usually defined by their speed and “frame.” If a style has a “large frame” it means that the style generally consists of lower stances and broad, sweeping motions. If a style has a “small frame” the stance is higher and movements aren’t quite as expansive.

The Yang Style – For the Beginner

This is the most popular style of Tai Chi. It’s made up of large, sweeping movements done at a slow pace. Over time, a lot of variations of this style have popped up but remained under the umbrella of Yang Tai Chi, so keep that in mind if you’re trying classes at different locations. This style is fantastic for beginners who are looking for that healthy boost that only Tai Chi can bring. Since this style is so popular, it’s usually pretty easy to find a class.

The Wu Style – For the Perfectionist

Based on the Yang style, Wu Style Tai Chi is the second most popular style. Yang and Wu Style Tai Chi practitioners make up around 80 % of the total Tai Chi practitioners around the world. Wu Style is easier on the joints since it’s made up of small, compact movements. This style focuses on the technical side of Tai Chi movements. The founders dissected the larger Yang Style movements into smaller and clearer movements. Wu Style focuses on extreme detail in the direction, intent, breathing and other requirements in the practice. This style is perfect for the perfectionist as it requires such precision in its movements.

The Sun Style – For those with Joint Problems

The most prominent feature of the Sun Style is in the way your feet move when practicing. Basically, where one foot goes, the other follows. The creates a style where the knees are only ever bent slightly and so less stress is put on the joints. The small frame and slow movements also make this a great option for those with joint problems. If you’re over 50 and thinking about taking up Tai Chi, this is a fantastic choice.

The Chen Style – For the Restless

This style focuses more on the self-defense purpose of the original style of Tai Chi. This is the most challenging form of Tai Chi and isn’t recommended for anyone with joint problems or who isn’t already at least somewhat physically fit. Since this style combines the slow movements with short, fast and powerful movements, jumps and stomps it’s perfect for the young, fit practitioner who doesn’t want to train with the slow movements of the other styles. It will, most likely, be difficult to find teachers as this style makes up only about 1% of the entire population of Tai Chi practitioners.
Hao Style – For the Inwardly Focused

This style is rare in China and practically nonexistent in the west. It is made up of small, slow movements. However, the focus is turned more inward at the movement of Chi as opposed to the physical movement of the body. You really need background knowledge of Tai Chi to appreciate this advanced style.

While there are many styles of Tai Chi that combine some or all of these styles, these are the five officially recognized as the five major styles of Tai Chi.

  • Yang & Wu are usually the easiest to learn, while Chen is the most difficult
  • If you’re looking to stretch out your body, go for the styles with larger movements. Styles with smaller movements will yield the same result, but it will take more time.
  • If you’re looking to develop leg strength check out the styles with larger movements. These tend to have lower stances.
  • Smaller styles tend to work better internally
  • Slow motion, short form are also better for people over 50

No matter what style you’re drawn to or have the option to learn, you’ll love the fantastic health benefits that come with regular Tai Chi practice. With its increasing popularity chances are there’s a class near you, so check it out and enjoy!