In China there are many ways to categories martial arts, but there are two main aspect. The first way to divide martial art schools is inward or outward, the second is animal or family based. The meaning of the later: there are styles which inspired by the movements and fights of an animal or animals, and there are the ones that created and perfected based on the views of the founder of the school. There are people who thinks that the creator of the Tai Chi Chuan was inspired by the fight between a snake and a little bird when he made up the moves and the base principles.
Inward and outward schools, incorrectly called by hard and soft schools, are mainly differs by usage of Chi. The outward styles mainly focused on the training of the bones and muscles, and improving and using the Chi is secondary. The students of inward styles, like the Tai Chi for example, mainly practice exercises which helps them to learn to collect and expand Chi, how to circulate it in the body and how to use it for defense or offense.
The knowledge about the beginning of the Tai Chi (Chuan) is long faded from memory. We don't have precise data about how it was created and by whom, just a few legends and no one knows which of them is true.
We share one of them, the one we think is true. In the years around 1200, the taoist Chang San Feng founded a temple for the practice of taoism in the mountains of Wu Tang where one could learn how to improve the ones life to the highest levels.
Master Chang, was insisted of the harmony of the Yin-Yang by training the body and the mind equally, and laid store by the natural meditation, the natural moving propelled by an inside energy, what should be practiced by the same level as the other skills. Although the Shaolin school had been practiced by centuries all round China, the society had been able to integrate the teaching of the taoist philosophy without degrading it to a ritual. The teachings of Tai Chi and the philosophy of the Yin-Yang spread by monasteries based on the model of the Shaolin. They adopted a modified training for the monks to help the faster mushrooming of the system.
The style always emphasized the inside strength and wisdom, so the Chinese categorized the Tai Chi as an inward school to different it from the Shaolin.
Of course after a time there were other schools founded which tried to fuse the elements of Tai Chi and Shaolin, like for example the Pa-Kua (eight trigram) and the Hsing-i (system of the form and mind).
Although it required much concentration, practice and devotion to reach a good level in Tai Chi, the developing of the monasteries (number of students and hierarchy) was fast, and not to long it was a great privilege to became a student. Those who reached a very high level became the leaders of the system and build an exceptional relationship between student and master while training.
This tradition was a prime reason why the practitioners of the Tai Chi believed that people need to educate themselves to became spiritual, kind, intelligent, responsible, to reach a high level of development, to enjoy the truth, to fight against the immorality and injustice and help those who are in need. While paying attention to the above, the combat side of the Tai Chi was begun to develop.
The base principles of the philosophy of the Tai Chi was easily used in combat to. Those who were skilled in Tai Chi Chuan developed fearsome abilities, mainly using the power of their mind.
The name Tai Chi Chuan first mentioned in the history of the Chen family, when a master named Wang Zongyue taught the style to the head of the family named Chen Wang. He passed the knowledge to his children and grandchildren and created the first family based Tai Chi Chuan system. It's main characteristics are the combination of slow and rapidly accelerated moves, and abrupt and very powerful stampings. This school is almost entirely used as a combat system.
The student of the famous Chen master, Chen Changxing (1771-1853), Yang Luchan (1779-1872). He reformed the original Chen system, made the moves slow and continuous, that made possible to use the forms of the style for health preservation. That made possible for he Yang styled Tai Chi Chuan to be widespread in Chine and later all around the world. Its important to know that he taught the original unchanged, form to the close family.
Yang Banhou (1837-1892), who was the son of Yang Luchan, had a Manchu student named Quan You, who was the captain of the bodyguards of the Emperor. His son taken a han family name (Wu), and thats why they called the style taught by him Wu(I).
Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) learned the Yang system from Yang Luchan (the modified form), after that he learned the Ceng style from Chen Quining, and after that he created his own Wu(II) style, called old Wu. Sometimes this style named after another great master of this school, Hao Wei-Zheng (1849-1920), Hao style, but it mainly known as „little Wu" or „old Wu".
The founder of the youngest Tai Chi system, called Sun Lutang (1861-1932), was already master in two inward school (Hsing-i and Pa-Kua) when he learned the „old Wu" style from Hao Wei-Zheng, he combined it with the elements of the other two styles and created the Sun Tai Chi.
Naturally the masters of every family style modified the forms to their mentality, build and temper, so it's not surprising to see two Yang styled form and notice that the moves or the implementation of the moves are quite different.
In China the Communist cabinet encourages the practice of the Tai Chi and even founds national researches to find out more about the mechanism behind it and how could it be used effectively in the health care and medicine.
In November 1956 the 24 character Peking form, which was created based on the Yang style, was introduced, followed by the 88characher form in 1957, 48 character form in 1979 and more simplified forms after that.
The 48 character form is interesting because it is the so called competition form, encompassing the characteristic elements of the five main style of Tai Chi - Chen, Yang, Wu(I), Wu(II), Sun - and in the blocks of the form it is quite easy to distinguish them even for a layman observer, but at the same time they fit in an unified frame.
In our school we teach the 37 step form of the Wu style (of the Singapore line). This form is made by from of the „young" Wu by dropping the repetitions but saving every move what has been in the original long form (more under The history of our school).