How Do I Choose a Tai Chi Style?

Choosing the appropriate tai chi style is one of the most important decisions you will make once you decide to practice. Most beginners think of tai chi as just one art form and don’t realize the multitude of styles available. Even if you’re already practicing a certain style, it helps to know the differences because at some point you may also benefit greatly from learning another style.

Essentially, all tai chi styles have far more in common with each other than they have differences. All improve health, reduce stress and help you move more gracefully. All develop chi and use slow-motion, flowing, circular movements. For most practitioners, they choose to learn based on the quality of the teacher, the convenience of the school and other personal factors. Knowing about the styles upgrades your knowledge and guides you to make the right choices in the future.

5 Major Tai Chi Styles: Which Style Is Best for You?

Each style has a different syllabus, structure and flavor as regards to how its specific techniques are applied. All five styles can potentially give you tai chi’s health benefits. Four of tai chi’s five major styles—all except the combination styles—derive their name from the founder’s surname. The Chinese talk about tai chi in terms of its founding family, such as Wu, Yang, Chen and Hao families.

Each style takes a different approach toward the movements of their forms and each style has many variations or schools. Each school is composed of practitioners who follow specific leaders or teachers within the style. Each school emphasizes a specific approach to the art: their forms may have recognizable stylistic differences, trademark movements or develop specific self-defense training skills.

Let’s look that the five styles:

Tai Chi Style #1: Yang Style Tai Chi

Yang style tai chi is the most popular and widely practiced tai chi style worldwide. In England and America, at least 20 main variations of the Yang style exist and in China, there are even more. The various schools originated from the approach of a specific master or from a particular geographic region within China. Each variation has a distinct flavor, looks different from the others to a greater or lesser degree and may emphasize different technical points. All, however, will be called Yang style.

Tai Chi Style #2: Wu Style Tai Chi

Wu style tai chi is the second most popular style. It has three main variations with strong stylistic differences that derived from the founder, Chuan You, his son, Wu Jien Chuan, and his grandchildren.

The Wu style was created directly from the Yang and, as such, is the largest variant of the Yang style. However, unlike most traditions in the Yang style, most Wu schools emphasize small, compact movements over large and medium-sized ones. The Yang and Wu, with all their variations, encompass the vast majority (80 percent or more) of all tai chi practitioners.

Tai Chi Style #3: Chen Style Tai Chi

Chen Style tai chi, originating from the Chen village, is the original style of tai chi from which the Yang style was created. It is relatively hard to find Chen style teachers and adherents account for about one percent of tai chi practitioners.

Unlike most tai chi, not all the movements of the Chen Style’s first level of training are done in slow motion. The Chen style alternates slow-motion movements with short, fast, explosive ones.

It demands more physical coordination and may strain the lower back and knees more than other styles; consequently, it is difficult for the elderly or injured to learn. The complexity of its movements, which include fast releases combined with jumping kicks and stamping actions, makes it more athletic and physically difficult than most other tai chi styles and, as such, is often more appealing to young people or martial artists.

Tai Chi Style #4: Hao Tai Chi Style

Hao style tai chi is exceedingly rare in China and almost non-existent in the West. Its small-frame movements are extremely small. Its primary focus is on tai chi’s more internal chi movements with physical motions being much less important. As such, it is considered an advanced style that is hard to appreciate for practitioners without significant background knowledge of tai chi.

Tai Chi Style #5: Combination Tai Chi Styles

Combination styles are the third-most popular styles after the Yang and Wu. These styles freely mix and match movements from the four other tai chi styles as well as movements from other internal martial arts styles such as bagua and hsing-i.  The combination styles you are most likely to find in teh West include the Sun style, which combined Hao tai chi with ba gua and hsing-i; and the Chen Pan Ling style, which combines Yang, Wu and Chen tai chi with ba gua, hsing-i, and Shaolin kung fu.

Learn more about tai chi styles from Tai Chi Secrets 2.0. Click here to download the full report.

The Best Tai Chi Style for Beginners

If a style is naturally more comfortable and easier for you to learn and remember, you are more likely to finish learning it, remember the order of the moves and practice it on your own. That said, the following points should be considered when choosing a style:

  • The physical coordination skills of the Yang, Wu and Hao styles are usually the easiest to learn, the combination styles are in the middle and the Chen style is the most difficult.
  • If your body is extremely tight and your goal is to get stretched out, the large styles of tai chi will initially work faster, especially for the legs and hips. However, the smaller styles will also get the same job done over time.
  • For those with a bad lower back or injured knees, forms with higher rather than lower stances are better. Smaller frame styles tend to have higher stances.
  • Large styles initially make it easier to develop leg strength because of their longer and deeper stances.
  • Smaller styles make it easier to access the more internal work tai chi has to offer, including making it easier to work directly with the internal organs.

The Best Tai Chi Style for People Over Fifty

The slow-motion, short-form styles are generally best for people over the age of 50 since they are initially easier to learn. Beginning with a short form and learning a long form later on, if desired, is a less frustrating and easier path for older people to enjoy, absorb and remember their tai chi form of choice.

Deeper, longer stances, more common in large frame styles, can aggravate the knees and back. If your knees are already strong, deeper, longer stances can make your legs stronger at a faster speed. Small frame styles, such as the Wu style, are usually better for upgrading the health of your internal organs.

For elders, the bigger movements of large frame styles may be easier to remember initially and the smaller styles more fascinating once you have some tai chi background.

Meghan (not verified) wrote 8 weeks 1 day ago

Style

As a brand new Mother of two (20 mo and 3 mo) and a stepmom to 1, i am in desperate need of peace and serenity. I feel the smaller stances would work better for me to start out and i can move into the larger stances as i learn more about what i am doing and all the background i am able to. No trainers near me and unable to afford to buy a video, is there a recommended link i can go to so i can begin my journey?
please n ty.

Energy Arts Team 1's picture
Energy Arts Team 1 wrote 8 weeks 7 hours ago

Energy Arts Youtube Channel

Hello Meghan, 

Thanks for your interest.  Please check out our Youtube Channel which features free instructional videos:

https://www.youtube.com/user/EnergyArtsVideos

Kind Regards, 

Energy Arts Team

Visitor (not verified) wrote 15 weeks 16 hours ago

I'm afraid I'll agree with

I'm afraid I'll agree with the previous person about the Taoist Tai Chi Society.
I've seen instructors who forgot the set, didn't correct any movement.
One instructor treated me like a kid. Respecting that she is an instructor, I wanted to complain this in a proper way.
Asked from the head of the country (holland) the official way to report the situation.
What happend next? I got no answer. Nobody wanted to hear my story. They all shut down.

My only way was to quit. This made me to think of a cult structure.
What would you think?

Viisitor (not verified) wrote 16 weeks 11 hours ago

Taoist Tai Chi

I cannot let the comment on the Taoist Tai Chi Society and practice go unanswered. I have been practising this Tai Chi variant for 4 years and cannot disagree more with everything said. The Society is warm, welcoming and in no way cult-like, filled with ordinary people around the world who have found this tai chi a wonderful approach to maintaining good health. The instructors are excellent and train continually. Body awareness is certainly an integral focus that naturally expands through practice of tai chi. If this particular commenter had a bad experience, I can assure you this was not typical.

Visitor (not verified) wrote 32 weeks 2 days ago

Taoist Tai Chi

As a former practitioner (2 1/2 yrs) of Taoist Tai Chi, I would warn those thinking of joining that group to be very careful. The form itself is very strenuous, even more so than 'standard' Yang style, from which it is derived. Back and knee problems are common, and the instructors have little or no ability to deal with these issues. Instructors have generally received only 2-3 years of training, and deal only in the motions of the set. The training in chi awareness and body awareness is non-existent. The Taoist Tai Chi Society that you must join is operated in a very cultist sort of manner - other styles of Tai Chi are never discussed. All things considered, this is a very poor way to learn Tai Chi.

Debbie Cannatella (not verified) wrote 36 weeks 5 days ago

Taoist Tai Chi

What are your thought on Taoist Tai Chi... a modified Yang style developed in the 60s for the Western Culture. I initially learned Yang form but gravitated toward the Taoist form.

Anne Crichton (not verified) wrote 42 weeks 6 days ago

Tai Chi for older People

I am disappointed to note that you do not mention Sun Style tai chi as suitable for older people. It is a small frame form, high upright stance, follow step for better balance and includes qigong throughout the form. Known for its agile stepping this form was the foundation for Dr Paul Lam's Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention, a simplified version of Sun Lu Tang's original Sun Style form.
Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention has been endorsed by the CDC of America as effective and suitable for older people in preventing falls.
New Zealand trained many instructors in this form and as a result of free classes for older people the cost of falls and fractures to the health budget was significantly reduced.
I am familiar with Yang and Chen tai chi, both of which have potentially injurious movements. They require careful teaching and need to be modified in order to make them suitable for older people.

Energy Arts Team 1's picture
Energy Arts Team 1 wrote 42 weeks 4 days ago

Sun style is good

Hello Anne, 

We've updated our post with information about the Sun style.  Thanks for your feedback.  Bruce has always been a supporter of the Sun style as a reliable form.  

Kind Regards, 

Energy Arts Team

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