There are five family styles of tai chi chuan that have been widely practiced in the world. They are Chen, Yang, Sun, Wu and Wu. There are two Wu-styles that often bring much confusion to many of practitioners, as each have the same pronunciations in pin yin, only with a slightly different tone. One is Wu, second tone. And one is Wu, third tone. Although they share the similar tai chi principles, they are different styles.
Wu-style tai chi comes from Yang style. The founder of Wu-style is Grandmaster Wu, Quan-Yo who trained extensively with Yang-style founder Grandmaster Yang, Lu-Chan and his son Grandmaster Yang, Ban-Hou, learning both large and small circle tai chi chuan.
Grandmaster Wu, Quan-You later passed his learning to his son Wu, Jian-Quan and after decades of development it slowly evolved into a unique style of its own, earning the name Wu-style tai chi, and nicknamed "medium frame." The frame of Wu-style is relatively smaller comparing to Yang-style tai chi. Movements are more compact, yet non-constraining. It is relaxed, natural, and smooth. The form appears soft, gentle, serene, and harmonious.
Official Competition Form
The form we practice is Wu-style tai chi chuan 45 compulsory routine (second tone). This form was created in 1988 with the purpose of better promoting Wu-style tai chi and making competition possible with a standardized form. The competition forms were created by the Chinese Sport Committee derived from traditional Tai Chi family forms to be shorter standardized forms used for international competition. All the competition routines were created for the purpose of standardizing movements in order to better promote tai chi to the world.
After the Ching dynasty fell, all the martial arts families were competing to teach to the general public. Wu, Chien-Chuan (second generation Wu family) taught the round form with a small circle so as not to compete with the Yang big circle form out of respect for the Yang family. However, after the end of the cultural revolution in the 1970s, people tried to trace back the roots of all martial styles, many of which were well-preserved, and regain the original intention. These martial art origins are maintained within the short 45 Wu tai chi form.
It is shorter than the traditional Wu 108 form, but it preserved all the classic movements from the traditional form. It consists of 45 movements with 4 sections. It takes approximately six minutes to complete the form.
For the foot work and stances, Wu-style tai chi is known for its parallel footwork and "Uprightness in obliqueness" or diagonal body shape. When making a bow stance, the toes of two feet are required to face forward as much as you can to form two parallel line, the rear foot can point outward maximum 15 degrees. Body leans forward so the neck and rear foot would form a diagonal line, the nose, front knee and front toes would form another vertical line, and a shape of a triangle is thus formed which creates a strong support from foot to hand. This triangular structure of the body movements makes it very effective for combat.
From the perspective of martial applications, the emphasis is placed on being soft, gentle and still, while waiting for the move. We call it using the soft to conquer the hard, or using stillness to restrain motion, which is in line with tai chi chuan yin yang theory. When practicing the form, students have to pay special attention to uprightness, gentleness, lightness, and roundness in the movements.
To be good at Wu-style tai chi, it takes a lot of practice. Make sure every hand movement, body movement and footwork is precise. The absolute precision of every movement is the ultimate goal for practitioners. Throughout the form all movements and energies should be smoothly and fluidly connected without any pauses or stops. Remember that your upper body should be light, middle body should be flexible and lower body should be solid and heavy. Movements are initiated in the legs, directed by the waist and manifested through the hands
Always keep in mind, you should always keep your body centered and upright. Sink shoulders and drop elbows. Arc your chest and round your back. Lead the qi or energy to the top of the head for upright posture and healthy alignment. Loosen the waist and hips. Synchronize the entire body.
Lead the qi down to the dantian (abdominal energy center) with your mind. Dantian is the main place where we store our energy. It is located two to three inches below the navel and two to three inches inside the lower abdomen.
Wu-style tai chi is characterized by a very unique flavor. Its special softness, roundness, unique foot work, expanded postures, uprightness in obliqueness body alignment have attracted many enthusiasts around the world. To learn the complete Wu-style 45 form usually takes about 10 months in our school, and it takes years of practice to be good at it. To master it, it will take a lifetime of training.
I wish everyone happy training and enjoy tai chi.
The above is an original article by Chenhan Yang. His Wu Tai Chi (45-postures form) will be available in August 2021, publisher, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594397585.