The Four Major Tai Chi Chuan Styles and the Men Who Founded Them


The Lineage of the various Tai Chi Chuan systems is sometime murky, sometimes easily traced. What is of high interest, however, is the way Tai Chi Chuan is modified by each generation. One would think that the principles rule, and nothing should ever change, but change is the only constant in this universe.
Check out the video, then we’ll go over the four Masters who contributed most to the development of Tai Chi.

Mythically, Tai Chi Chuan was invented by a Zhang Sanfeng in the twelfth century. This is probably not true, as history does not support his existence in connection with Tai Chi. He is first mentioned in connection with the martial arts in the 17th century.

Actually, Tai Chi most likely comes from Chen village. Chen Wangting was a retired general just following the fall of the Ming Dynasty, and he was supposed to have created the Grand Ultimate Art for the children of the village. Chen village actually exists, and the idea that a retired general, sore from combat, would create a slow method for continuing his training rings true.

Yang Lu Chan visited Chen village, and the story goes that he observed the Chen family training in secret, then came forth to save the Chen family during a challenge. This sounds suspiciously like the plot from a chop sockie movie, or maybe the rumor put forth by one martial arts school to elevate themselves. Chances are that Yang worked for the Chen family, trained with them, and then moved on.

Yang taught Tai Chi in Beijing during the second half of the nineteenth century. He taught people who had money (nothing wrong with that), but it is wondered if he tailored his art to retain old men with health problems, and who needed to be treated gently. At any rate, the low stances and sometimes explosive quality of the Chen style moved over to a higher stances and emphasis on ‘emptying the body.’

The next person to significantly impact Tai Chi was Wu Chien Chuan. He was a cavalry officer, and he learned the art from his father, who learned from Yang. Wu taught the broader public, and the stances raised ever higher, and the movements became more subtle and refined.

The last important person to contribute to the evolution of Tai Chi Chuan was Sun Lu Tang. Sun was expert in Pa Kua Chang and Hsing i, and learned Wu style and blended concepts to create his own style. This was in the early part of the twentieth century.

There have been many other people who have contributed to Tai Chi, and this article does not intend to slight them. However, the four men listed here were the founders of distinct styles, and contributed to the growth of the martial art significantly. This should give you an overview of tai chi chuan, and a brief understanding of how that discipline came into being.

Arguably, the most significant contribution to Tai Chi Chuan in America is the introduction of the Five Army Theories. These can be seen at Five Army Tai Chi Chuan.

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