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As someone who is looking to start practicing T'ai Chi for health and meditative benefits rather than any deeper philosophical reasons, I find quickly that there are 5 'main' styles listed, which each have different forms. These styles are:

  • Chen Style
  • Yang Style
  • Hao Style
  • Wu Style
  • Sun Style

I understand that these styles are variants that have arisen historically. Is any one style recommended over the other for health reasons? Are some styles more physically intense than others? Can anyone provide a breakdown of what the general differences between the styles are, or are they largely cosmetic?

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migrated from Aug 15 '14 at 2:02

This question came from our site for physical fitness professionals, athletes, trainers, and those providing health-related needs.

I can't comment on all the styles, but Wu style has smaller movements. Dragon Tiger, as taught by Bruce Frantzis, is a good practice for health which you can find on Energy Arts. He also has Longevity Breathing class that is a good basis for any style and for meditation. Whatever style you choose, make sure that your instructor focuses on the movement of energy, not just the physical movements. It is a lifelong practice - enjoy. – BackInShapeBuddy Aug 14 '14 at 19:28
Chang style Tai Chi is popular amongst Shuai Jiao practitioners also. – Steve Weigand Aug 15 '14 at 3:27
Oh, and Hao style is usually called "Wu (Hao)" Style, to differentiate it from the more popular Wu style. – Steve Weigand Aug 15 '14 at 3:28
It depends on what you mean by "health"... Doing exercise safely will improve your health. However, Edzard Ernst has a post called Tai chi is based on strange concepts but is it helpful? that contains evidence medicine data on some tai chi health benefits claims. This is not an answer as it does not answer your question, just a comment on the "health" aspect. – Sardathrion Aug 15 '14 at 9:05
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Chen style Taiji comes first, historically speaking. From that came at least two variations of Yang style. Wu style derived from Yang style. Wu (Hao) derived from Yang and Chen style. You can find more details of the actual lineages on the web.

Personally, if you're just interested in the "health" aspects of Taiji, then any of them will do just fine. All are relatively easy on the body, with slow, relaxed movements. Each will improve flexibility, balance, blood circulation, coordination, and functional strength. Chen style will also incorporate fast movement in the second long form you learn (Pao Chui), which makes it more athletic than the others, and generally more martial in my opinion.

Yang is rather elongated, has deep stances, and makes large, overarching circles with the arms with smooth motions that appear to have no beginning or ending. Wu style, on the other hand, is abbreviated, and movements are small and more linear. Chen style is also large, like Yang style, with much more storing and releasing of power (the result of coiling into / around joints), and variations of tempo rather than having smooth, continuous movement throughout.

Usually the question asked the most is which one is the most martial. That would generally be answered with most people saying Chen style. Chen style doesn't hide its martial qualities, and in fact everything in Chen style is for martial arts, not health, though you certainly will improve health doing Chen style.

Yang and Wu style don't exactly "hide" their martial qualities. It's just that it's harder to see. As a result, most of the people teaching those styles don't really know how to use it martially. (Or they think they do, but actually have ideas that are often quite wrong.) So they concentrate on the health and meditation aspects.

So if you're just interested in the health and meditative aspects, you should probably stick with Yang style. It has the most crowd momentum behind it for that purpose. It's also the most popular of all the Taiji styles. Following that is Wu style close behind. I often see Wu style being taught to the elderly, because of its shorter stances and motions.

However, if you have any interest in the martial side of things, or if you want a more physically challenging experience, take Chen style. It will have all of the health and meditative aspects that the other styles have, but you will also spend time working on the martial qualities, which can be very interesting. It will also be more physically demanding, in my opinion.

By the way, just to note. What I said above is mostly just generality. Not all Yang style people have no clue about the martial side of Taiji. And just because someone is teaching Chen style doesn't mean they're superior to everyone who teaches Wu style. You have to do some research, ask around in your town who knows what. And go see all of the classes. My personal preference would to find a teacher who knows what they're doing, regardless of style, instead of looking for a particular style of Taiji.

Look at some Youtube videos, also. You can get the gist of all the different types of Taiji from watching the way they do their forms.

Hope that helps.

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Generally speaking a verd good and well balanced answer. I specially like the disclaimer at the end. It all comes down to the particular teacher. I do like to point out though that, like my teacher often likes to say, there is no "martial taiji" or "health taiji" -- there is just one taijiquan and proper training of all disciplines of the art will gain you both martial and civil benefits... – Roland Tepp Aug 19 '14 at 21:16
It certainly does come down to the particular teacher. There's a Chen style teacher in one of the cities I lived in once who was from China. I learned that he was actually a businessman in China and had only a month or two of training in Chen style and nothing else. He learned mostly through video tape. But people flocked to him, because 1) he's Chinese, and 2) it's Chen style. In the same town are many much better Yang, Wu, and Sun style teachers who happen to be Caucasian. In other words, don't fall for hype and appearances. Ask around about who knows what. – Steve Weigand Aug 19 '14 at 21:53

Perspective is important in choice and understanding of taijiquan.

  1. Chen style is THE original art from which all present arts (Yang, Wu2, Wu3, Zhaobao and Sun) are derived. Keep in mind that Chenjiagou borrowed their art from surrounding Shaolin temple and village arts they came in contact with. There is a thread that a Li family also assisted in this development but at some point in time, they dropped out of the lineage. This synthesis is Chen taijiquan More vigorous than the other styles but it retains its martial past.

  2. Yang style at one time had a martial bent but at the 3?? Generation, this training fell by the wayside and today it tends to be seen as a style for 'old people". It is gentler on the body, less strenuous postures and nice to look at.

  3. Wu style (QuanYu/Jianquan) is a much more daoyin centered with its small movements, "minute" posture evolutions that aids as supporting neigong fundamentals, with wrist, ankle, yao/kwa (waist/kwa) chansujin that serves to dredge jingluo (meridians). Wu enthusiasts are excellent at tuishou as its founder was alleged to have been trained in shuaijiao in his youth

  4. Sun style "brisk paced / open close" taijiquan is a variation of a theme as Sun Lutang was a xingyi and baquazhang adept before switching to taijiquan. Faster pace than Wu and Yang style.

  5. Wu Yuxian is interesting to the extent that it was the template for Sun style.

Hope this helps!

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Could you re-format your answer to be a little clearer and add some references? This could be a great answer. – Sardathrion Nov 16 '15 at 7:43

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