Last updated on November 23rd, 2023.
The art of Tai Chi has been practiced for centuries as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being. Its roots can be traced to ancient China (although its exact origins are a bit obscure) and it has been likened to a cross between martial arts and meditative arts. Today, Tai Chi in its various forms is practiced by millions around the world. So how many types are there, and which are the most popular?
There are five types of Tai Chi and among these, three are most popular:
- Yang: Has the most practitioners
- Chen: Is the form of Tai Chi that started it all
- Wu styles: Known for its low-impact approach
Tai Chi is often described as “meditation in motion” with its graceful movements and controlled breathing. Tai Chi is an umbrella term referring to a handful of unique styles. Like yoga, the different forms of Tai Chi have their own nuances and benefits. Keep reading to learn what makes the various types of Tai Chi unique and which three are the most popular to practice.
How Many Different Types of Tai Chi Are There?
Like other traditional practices that have roots going back centuries if not longer, the art of Tai Chi comprises a number of distinct disciplines. If Tai Chi is the trunk of a massive, well-established tree, then the different types of Tai Chi are the branches.
There are five primary types, or styles, of Tai Chi that are practiced today. They are:
- Chen style: This type of Tai Chi goes back to the 1600s and is the oldest discipline
- Yang style: The second-oldest type of Tai Chi but widely considered to be the most popular of the five styles
- Wu style: Another popular form of Tai Chi that descended from the Yang style
- Sun style: With more intricate footwork and hand movements, this type of Tai Chi has a smaller following than the others
- Hao style: This is the least commonly practiced type of Tai Chi and is typically reserved for advanced practitioners of Tai Chi
All five types combine elements of meditation and martial arts but each approaches things in a unique way. Are you interested in learning Tai Chi but don’t know where to start? Keep reading for a deeper dive into the three most popular types of Tai Chi and how they differ from each other.
What Are the Three Most Popular Types of Tai Chi?
To the untrained eye, the Chen, Yang, and Wu styles of Tai Chi appear very similar to each other. What differentiates one style from another may seem to be nothing more than minute details and subtle nuances but upon closer examination, the differences between them are significant.
Here’s a closer look at the three most popular types of Tai Chi and what makes them unique.
1. Yang Style Tai Chi
This style has the distinction of being the world’s most popular type of Tai Chi. With its slow, gentle pace and straightforward techniques, it is easy to see why this form of Tai Chi has the largest number of practitioners worldwide.
Yang style Tai Chi is ideal for:
- Those who need adjustable stances due to physical limitations
- Practitioners for whom complex and intricate movements are difficult
- People recovering from illness or injury because of its low-impact nature
Of all the types of Tai Chi, the Yang style is the most approachable and inclusive, and it is for this reason that it enjoys the largest following.
2. Chen Style Tai Chi
This is the oldest form of Tai Chi and was developed by a former army general who wanted to create a discipline based on physical training techniques used by the military.
For example, practitioners take deeper, lower stances in Chen type Tai Chi, and some movements require techniques involving:
The resulting Chen style has obvious martial arts components woven into its techniques and movements.
3. Wu Style Tai Chi
The Wu style is similar to the Yang style but has shorter, more abbreviated movements.
It is based on an intermediate stance (as opposed to a low stance or a high one) and utilizes footwork and body positioning moving forward and backward as opposed to being stationary.
Like the other forms of Tai Chi, this discipline has strong military roots as its creator was a former officer.
Which Is Harder Tai Chi or Yoga?
In the well-being space, Tai Chi and yoga rank as the most common practices for improving physical and mental health. Much of their popularity can be attributed to the low barriers to entry and their adaptability to varying skill and fitness levels.
Neither Tai Chi nor yoga takes a one-size-fits-all approach toward their practitioners, so the question of which art is harder to practice lacks a straightforward answer. In reality, each can be challenging in its own unique way.
For instance, certain types of yoga require great flexibility and strength to perform challenging postures, often one right after the other. Similarly, there are styles of Tai Chi, such as Sun and Hao, that have sudden, abrupt movements and intricate footwork that demand:
Advanced forms of Tai Chi and yoga can challenge even the fittest and most athletic of individuals.
What Is the Best Tai Chi for Seniors?
Tai Chi is ideal for seniors because it combines physical movement, breathing techniques, and meditative practices, into a single activity. With five different disciplines, however, some types of Tai Chi are better suited for older practitioners than others.
Most notably, the Yang style, with its gentle, flowing movements and comfortable stances, is the lowest-impact discipline in the Tai Chi family.
As such, it is the best Tai Chi for seniors. There are a number of benefits that this ancient practice can offer to its older practitioners, including:
- Improved coordination and maneuverability, leading to decreased risk of falls
- Increased cardiovascular activity
- Enhanced mental capacity through better sleep and deeper relaxation
For seniors seeking a more challenging form of Tai Chi to practice, the Wu style offers movements that are more abbreviated and sudden for a more exhilarating workout.