There are five major styles of t’ai chi ch’uan, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated:
- Chen-style (陳氏) of Chen Wangting (1580–1660)
- Yang-style (楊氏) of Yang Lu-ch’an (1799–1872)
- Wu- or Wu (Hao)-style (武氏) of Wu Yu-hsiang (1812–1880)
- Wu-style (吳氏) of Wu Ch’uan-yu (1834–1902) and his son Wu Chien-ch’uan (1870–1942)
- Sun-style (孫氏) of Sun Lu-t’ang (1861–1932)
The order of verifiable age is as listed above. The order of popularity (in terms of number of practitioners) is Yang, Wu, Chen, Sun, and Wu/Hao. The major family styles share much underlying theory, but differ in their approaches to training.
There are now dozens of new styles, hybrid styles, and offshoots of the main styles, but the five family schools are the groups recognized by the international community as being the orthodox styles. Other important styles are Zhaobao t’ai chi ch’uan, a close cousin of Chen-style, which has been newly recognized by Western practitioners as a distinct style, and the Fu style, created by Fu Chen Sung, which evolved from Chen, Sun and Yang styles, and also incorporates movements from Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang).
The differences between the different styles range from varying speeds to the very way in which the movements are performed. For example, the form “Parting the wild horse’s mane” in Yang-style does not at all resemble the very same movement in Sun-style. Also, the Sun 73 forms take as long to perform as the Yang 24 forms.
All existing styles can be traced back to the Chen-style, which had been passed down as a family secret for generations. The Chen family chronicles record Chen Wangting, of the family’s 9th generation, as the inventor of what is known today as t’ai chi ch’uan. Yang Luchan became the first person outside the family to learn t’ai chi ch’uan. His success in fighting earned him the nickname Yang Wudi, which means “Unbeatable Yang”, and his fame and efforts in teaching greatly contributed to the subsequent spreading of t’ai chi ch’uan knowledge.
This information, and more about Tai Chi, can be found at the following Wikipedia link; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_Chi