There are different styles of tai chi which are named after the masters who developed variations of the original form. They vary mainly on how fast the movements are executed and how expansive these movements are. These styles are grouped into five schools which are recognized by the Chinese government. They are known as Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun, and Hao styles.
1. Chen. The first known tai chi style, Chen is characterized by slow, alternating, and explosive strokes. Tai chi masters usually discourage beginners from studying this form because of the complex movements and physical coordination required of this style.
2. Yang. This style is an offshoot of the Chen style and is the most popular of the five styles. The movements of the Yang style are calm, slow, steady, lyrical, and fluid, which help practitioners achieve a state of seeming bliss and relaxation.
3. Sun. This style is also characterized by smooth, flowing movements but omit crouching, leaping, and other more prominent features of other styles. The footwork or stepping in this style is unique in that the other foot follows when the other advances or retreats. In addition, it incorporates movements from Xing Yi and Baguazhang martial arts, as well as other martial arts.
4. Wu. This style proceeds from the Yang style and is therefore a third generation tai chi form. Wu style movements are slow, deliberate, and microscopic, as if no force or pressure is being exerted by the practitioner. Wu style, however, capitalizes on internal power, which is generated through the opening and closing of the joints, i.e. stretching. Alternating waves of high and low internal pressure give internal organs the benefit of a massage.
5. Hao. Often regarded as the “unknown” style, this school does not have many practitioners, even in China. Since it is very rare, not much can be said of it except that foot movements are minuscule, stance is high and short, and hand positions are very precise.
A sixth classification, simply known as “combination,” brings in the best features of each style as well as that of other forms of martial arts.