Types of tai chi

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What is tai chi?

When most people think of 'tai chi' they are usually picturing tai chi for health. Tai chi for health & fitness was adapted from the once famous martial art of tai chi.

Finding a class

When a new starter scours the web looking for the art they are faced with an array of approaches that are all called 'tai chi' but are often quite dissimilar. In truth, there is often little consensus
It is important to find out for yourself what tai chi really means.


Virtually every tai chi school in the UK is teaching 'tai chi for health'. Usually there is no real syllabus and the material is simplistic.
Some classes may advertise themselves as 'tai chi' but are in fact teaching tai chi for health.

What is commonly being taught in a tai chi class

According to The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, most tai chi classes in the world offer solo form (a sequence of moves), and a bit of qigong. Not many classes actually do pushing hands.
Some do sword form. Occasionally, teachers speak of self defence applications. Things like 'san sau' are very, very rare, and rarer still are classes that teach anything approaching an actual martial art.


I strongly believe that students should limit themselves to learning and fully developing in just one style only. By learning many styles and collecting many forms we simply cannot have sufficient time to practice.

Few have the resources or talent to be the master of more than one style. The really good teachers focus on one style.

(Adam Hsu)

Tai chi for health & fitness

Faced with a major health crisis in the 1950's, the People's Republic of China turned to the old Yang style tai chi for a solution. They wanted a workout that could be performed by students of all ages.
The simplest way to achieve this was to remove the more demanding fitness component and the combat. Most modern tai chi classes are teaching an art that an old person could cope with...
By definition this cannot conceivably be a martial art.

Tai chi fighting method

Classes offering tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing) are very rare indeed. To train tai chi correctly you need a highly-skilled martial arts instructor who can offer a very comprehensive syllabus.
It is necessary to train all 13 areas of study.

4 styles

There are 4 traditional styles of tai chi: Chen, Yang, Wu and Hao.

Other styles

In addition to these 4 styles there are derivations such as Cheng Man Ching style and Sun style (tai chi, bagua, xingyiquan combination).
Some teachers create their own system, based upon a traditional style. This is fine providing they adhere to The Tai Chi Classics.


Not tai chi

The People's Republic developed tai chi for health forms e.g. 24 step. These are not tai chi. They are just choreographed forms. They have no martial value.


It is important not to get too hung up on tai chi styles. The Tai Chi Classics were written by Chang San-feng, Wang Tsung-yueh and Wu Yu-hsiang.
Wu created Hao style, but there are no known styles attributed to Chang or Wang. How come?


Style is not the main concern in tai chi. What matters most is the correct application of the tai chi principles at all times.
Ultimately, the 4 styles simply reflect differences of interpretation, preferences and individual emphasis. It is good that people practice different styles; it adds diversity and variety to the art.

Self defence applications

Self defence moves do not qualify as tai chi. They are simply not enough. You can learn a few self defence techniques quite easily but this does not make you a martial artist.
A credible tai chi martial artist should have the same standard of skill expected of any martial art: karate, taekwondo, judo, wing chun, ju jutsu, aikido etc. 

Kung fu - how can I tell?

You can easily gauge the credibility of a kung fu (Chinese boxing) instructor without challenging them to a fight. Participate in a number of lessons.
Watch the class carefully, see how well they know their stuff, determine how easily and comfortably they can apply their art. Look for a thorough and convincing show of skill.
See what their students can do.

5 missing pieces

Many tai chi classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for tai chi to function as a martial art:

  1. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  2. Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)

  3. Chin na (the art of seizing)

  4. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  5. Jing (whole-body power)

Without these 5 components, tai chi is lacking something and may not work in combat.

You must get fit

All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat and tai chi is no exception. There are many lazy tai chi classes in the world. This is naive in the extreme.

Cross-training tai chi
Our students train: massage, leg stretches, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.

Worth reading

Inspired by tai chi
The essence of the art
Tai chi principles
13 areas of study
Finding a tai chi class
Common misconceptions

Page created 9 January 1996
Last updated 8 April 1999