Welcome back mind-body students!
Many people ask me what style of tai chi I use to produce the forms for my courses and books. It’s a great question.
The short answer is simple: most of the tai chi that I teach comes from the Yang style. There are exceptions even in my most popular books and courses, however. The move “Grind,” for example, comes from the Chen style of tai chi.
A unique innovation that I have made in my teachings is doing the forms twice each: once to one side, and then the other side immediately after. This isn’t common in the Yang style of tai chi, or at least in the 108 traditional tai chi forms I learned.
While doing the forms the traditional way is great, I always felt that doubling up on each formallowed you to accomplish some important things for modern tai chi practice. First, it reduced the number of forms you needed to memorize, but still gave you a full tai chi ‘exercise.’ Second, it emphasizes balance in the body, which I believe leads to both better health and higher performance in martial arts.
But many times the reason that students will ask me about the tai chi form I teach is because they are curious about how many forms there are, and where they came from. I don’t know all of the history, but I do know a little bit.
The first style of tai chi was created by Chen, Bu of the Chen family. The Chen family kept its tai chi chuan (martial arts form of tai chi) a family secret for 14 generations. Then, in the early 18th century, Yang Lu Chan, who had stomach problems that he believed could be treated with tai chi chuan teachings, began acting as the Chen family servant.
One night, Yang Lu Chan was discovered practicing in secret by Master Chen. Chen when so impressed by Yang’s level of skill and motivation that he decided to break the four hundred year tradition and accept a non-Chen family member as a student.
Yang learned and practices with Chen for 18 years, and then returned to his hometown to teach his own form of tai chi: Yang style. Then his oldest son, Yang Pan Hou (1837-1892), taught Wu, Quan You, who would go on to found Wu style tai chi.
Today, there are five major styles of tai chi, each named after the family that founded them and preserved them. Chen style, Yang style, Wu (or Wu/Hao) style, Yu style, and Sun style. Yang is the most popular around the world.
Although the physical movements differ between each style of tai chi, there are deep similarities with regard to the meditative, internal skills that are emphasized. Unfortunately, much of what connects these practices, namely the energetic theory and martial arts applications, have not been passed down to many students in this last century.
I often say about tai chi, “It may take you 10 to 15 years to become a master, but it could take you 30 years to fine one.” That’s the reason I traveled from Israel to Boston in 1983 to study with Dr. Yang Jwing Ming. And after 25 years of studying and practicing with him (and a few other great teachers in areas such as yoga) I feel that I have the experience required to teach. If you are looking for a teacher outside my area, try very hard to find one with as much experience under true masters as I have (or even more!).
I won’t lie, it is very hard to find. The next best thing is probably to study the work of someone with that level of experience, and learn to mimic them, while also diving into the meditation practices and energetic theory. That is why I wrote my books Sunrise Tai Chi and Sunset Tai Chi. They are also available in DVD form so you can follow along on your TV.
And of course, there are always my blog videos! Here are a few for you to try today. Don't forget to share the blog with your friends and family!