There are 5 styles of Tai Chi Chuan (Taiji Quan):
- Chen 陈 (the ancestor of all styles)
- Yang 杨
- Wu 吴
- Wu or Wu-Hao 武
- Sun 孫
Chen Wang Ting (陈王庭 1600-1680) created the original style of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen style, during the 17th century. It was taught exclusively to the family members and residents of the Chenjiagou village for five generations. Its techniques were Chenjiagou’s secret for two centuries.
In the 19th century knowledge of Tai Chi Chuan finally reached the outside world. Chen Wang Ting caught Yang Lu Chan (杨露禅 1799–1872), a foreigner working as a servant in Chenjiagou, watching the secret classes through a hole in the wall. Yang Lu Chan would watch through the hole and then practice in his room. Chen Wang Ting consented to taking him on as a student, yet he voluntarily omitted certain essential elements.
During the mid 19th century Yang Lu Chan and his eldest son, Yang Ban Hou (1837-1890) arrived in Beijing and began teaching Chen style to Manchu military officials as well as the Emperor’s praetorian guard in the Forbidden City.
One of the highest ranked Yellow Banner officers, Wu Quan You (1834–1902), was a student of Yang Lu Chan and Yang Ban Hou. His own son, Wu Jian Quan (吳鉴泉 1870-1942), initially a student of the Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan, created his own style of Tai Chi Chuan: Wu 吳.
Another one of Yang Lu Chan’s students was Wu Yu Xiang (武禹襄, 1812-1880), a rich mandarin from Beijing an member to the Qing dynasty. Yang Lu Chan also introduced him to Chen clan member Chen Qing Ping (陈清平, 1795-1868). Wu Yu Xiang, a student of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, went on to create his own style: Wu 武.
To distinguish this Wu武 style with the one created by Wu Yu Xiang (Wu 吳) it is sometimes referred to as Wu-Hao style. Hao refers to Hao Wei Zhen, a distinguished student of Wu Yu Xiang’s nephew, Li Yi Yu, who became a renowned teacher of his style. In fact one of his students, Sun Lu Tang (孫 祿堂 1861-1932) went on the create his own style of Tai Chi Chuan : Sun 孫.
A 6th form of Tai Chi Chuan is sometimes listed, Zhaobao忽靈, which takes its name from the village of it’s origin near Chenjiagou. Zhaobao style is simply a variation of Xiaojia (Small Form) school’s Chen style. It’s creator, Chen Qing Ping, married a woman from Zhaobao and began teaching Tai Chi Chuan there during the 19th century, at the same time that Chen Chan Qing began teaching Chen style to Yang Lu Chan.
Zhaobao has since been recognized as a legitimate style of Tai Chi Chuan by the Chen clan, but in order to keep the rival village’s name out of it, it is formally know as He 和 style Tai Chi Chuan.
Although the descendants of Yang Lu Chan have publicly admitted to their ancestor learning Tai Chi Chuan in Chenjiagou, some schools, notably the school of Yang style, still uphold the myth that Zhang San Feng invented Tai Chi.
This ancient myth tells the story of a travelling Chinese Taoist Monk, Zhang San Feng, arriving in their village and teaching all the secrets of Tai Chi to its inhabitants. According to the legend, Zhang San Feng hailed from Wudang Mountains, created Tai Chi Chuan around the year 1270 and went on to reach immortality.