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?

  • 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
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 19:28
  • Chang style Tai Chi is popular amongst Shuai Jiao practitioners also. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 3:27
  • Oh, and Hao style is usually called "Wu (Hao)" Style, to differentiate it from the more popular Wu style. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 3:28
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    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. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 9:05

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 2
    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... Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 21:16
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    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. Commented Aug 19, 2014 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!

  • Could you re-format your answer to be a little clearer and add some references? This could be a great answer. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 7:43

Functional differences in taijiquan are as follows regarding structure and ease of playing said forms. Keep in mind that my response is following yangsheng concepts of health and wellness.

  1. For younger people and those who are more 'vigorous', Chen style may be the place to start as the movements require more of an 'effort' (high perceived exertion)-see RPE pertaining to exercise prescription. This will raise heart rate based on stance and physical ability.
  2. Those needing less heart rate per effort and degree of health compromise, Yang, Sun and Woo may be a better choice. Older practitioners may enjoy these more as movements are less difficult in execution.
  3. Wu style (Jianquan) is known to be excellent for those who need less physical movements as limb coordination within posture integrity has more of a beneficial effect for those with OA, RA or some similar affliction. Of course, anyone with a sincere interest can learn, if interested.
  4. Beijing Forms are as good and are stated to be less difficult due to its recent choreographed movements to integrate into a physical fitness method while attemnpting to maintain elements of health and wellness. I have found the Beijing 16 form (Beijing 16 shi taijiquan) to be a great start for neophytes regarding structure and posture placement. Beijiing 24 shi taijiquan is OK subjectively speaking) but agin the objective viewer is the one who makes the choice and enjoys the choreography per the specific form/forms.
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    Please define your acronyms: RPE, OA, RA
    – mattm
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 21:07
  • RPE+Rating of perceived exertion (Scale). As a taijiquan instructor who teaches for wellnes, fitness along with those recovering from pain, etc, I have to be aware of individual's disease state status because if someone is interested in tai chi an dthey see Chen style, for most people on seeing its movement execution, exrtion would be high meaning greater heart rate, greater anxiety, etc when beginning Chen style and if that aggravates their condition, that is bad. In short, the intensity of Chen style would be too high for the individual and therefore have not so good consequences for health.
    – Yaz Reggae
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 14:36

Taijiquan regardless of style requires that the way you wish to practice, requires the shifu who teaches that way. No style when taught through the greater heavenly principles is easy, when training in the full syllabus taiji just gets harder and harder and more complex as time goes by. Old chinese saying "do xing yi for a year to fight do taiji for 10 years to fight". Point of note if you study in a full syllabus style even for health and mental fitness you will have studied a full martial art, to fight only requires the YI, intention. PS their is nothing in the taiji styles syllabus that is different from each other, basic forms are different due to history and development, a full syllabus contains all taiji styles, Look at 2nd generation Yang shi it is very close in movement to the chen style because thats where it can from.

  • This answer describes what is the same across taiji styles, but the question asks what is different.
    – mattm
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 15:28

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