The movement art of Tai Chi is said to have been created by an immortal by the name of Zhang Sanfeng, but much more likely it was created by the members of the Chen family from the Chen village. Tai chi is known for its many health benefits, such as improved balance, improved circulation, stress relief, etc.
Tai chi also has a number of self-defense techniques incorporated into the form. The way to distill the martial arts purpose of each movement is best done with a competent teacher and/or a logical analysis using one’s own power of observation coupled with one’s intellect. There are also a number of articles and videos available on the internet that detail the different fighting uses of various Tai Chi movements.
There are a number of styles of Tai Chi Chuan, with all being derived from the original Chen Village style. Each style of Tai Chi Chuan is named for its originator. Thus, the style developed by Sun Lu-tang (” Sun” being his family name and “Lu-Tang” being his given name) is called Sun style Tai Chi, and the style developed by Wu Chuan-Yu is called Wu style Tai Chi after his family name. Some of the styles of Tai Chi Chuan that you may encounter are Yang style, Chen style, Wu style, Sun style, Hao style, etc.
Wudang style Tai Chi Chuan is rumoured to be the style created by the Taoist Zhang Sanfeng in the 13th century. This style is named for its place of origin, Wudang Mountain, which is a hotbed of Taoist spirituality. The movements of the Wudang form are performed with ease and grace, and with the flowing nature of water. Practice of the Wudang style is said to lead to a union with the Tao, or in everyday parlance, an altered state of consciousness that obliterates your ego-mind, or at least shuffles it aside for the duration of the practice and the afterglow that follows.
Chen Style is the most martially-oriented style of Tai Chi Chuan, with both slow, flowing movements, and explosive movements. It is said to have been created by Chen Wang Ting circa the 17th century. Chen Style is the family style of the Chen village.
The Yang Style is derived from the Chen Style and was developed by Yang Lu-Chan in the 19th century. The stances are deep, the circular movements are large, the movements are slow and flowing, and there is great emphasis on an awareness of the yin and yang of each movement. Yin and yang refer to complimentary opposites. For example: when you attack an opponent with speed and power (yang), your internal constitution should be one of calm (yin); when you rotate your torso to one side to avoid the opponent’s strike (yin), you should simultaneously be rooted with your legs into the ground in a strong stance (yang)
Wu Style (Wu Yu Xiang)
Wu Yu Xiang had learned both the Yang style and the Chen style of Tai Chi. This Wu style has a greater emphasis on internal development and has smaller circular movements than the Yang style. This Wu style has higher stances, movements that are slow and flowing.
Wu Style (Wu Chuan Yu)
The Wu style of Wu Chuan Yu is greatly focused on health and combat. Through the observance of certain pugilistic principles, this art can grant self-defense abilities that allow one to remain relatively unhurt, even when losing an altercation.
The Sun Style was developed by Sun Lu-Tang, who started learning Wu style (Wu Xiang Yu) at about the age of 50. The interesting thing about Sun Lu-Tang is that he was already a master in the internal martial arts of Bagua Zhang, and Hsing-I Chuan when he started learning Tai Chi. He was able to leave his ego aside and humble himself enough to learn a new internal martial art. The Sun style, like the Wu style he learned, has high stances and small circular movements. The emphasis is on Chi development and health, moreso than on combat.
The style I practice is called Kong style and seems to be derived from the Wu style of Wu Chuan-Yu. This is an observation of mine based on what I know of Wu style. The most popular style in the West is Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, though the Chen-style seems to be gaining traction. Whatever style you practice, the principles of good Tai Chi movement remain the same.