Sun Style of Tai Chi Chuan

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The Sun family style (孫氏) T’ai Chi Ch’uan was developed by Sun Lu-t’ang (孫祿堂, 1861-1932), who was considered expert in two other internal martial arts styles: Hsing-i Ch’uan (Xingyiquan) and Pa Kua Chang (Baguazhang) before he came to study T’ai Chi. Today, Sun style ranks fourth in popularity and fifth in terms of seniority among the five family styles of T’ai Chi.

He was also considered an accomplished Neo-Confucian and Taoist scholar, especially in the I Ching. Sun learned Wu/Hao style T’ai Chi Ch’üan from Hao Wei-chen (郝為真), who was Li I-yü’s (李亦畬) chief disciple. In creating Sun style, Sun Lu-t’ang was said to have used Bagua’s stepping method, Xingyi’s hand and waist methods, and Tai Chi’s continuity of movement.

Besides his earlier Hsing-i and Pa Kua training, Sun’s experiences with Hao Wei-chen, Yang Shao-hou, Yang Ch’eng-fu and Wu Chien-ch’üan influenced the development of what is today recognized as the Sun style of T’ai Chi. Sun’s son Sun Cunzhou (孫存周, 1893-1963) and daughter, Sun Jianyun (孫劍雲, 1914-2003) were T’ai Chi Ch’üan teachers, as well as Sun Cunzhou’s daughter Sun Shurong (孫淑容, b. 1918-2005) who taught in Beijing until her death.

Sun tai chi is well known for its smooth, flowing movements which omit the more physically vigorous crouching, leaping and Fa jing of some other styles. The footwork of Sun style is deceptively simple looking, and sometimes called the “free-stepping method of taijiquan”; for when one foot advances or retreats the other follows. It also uses an open palm throughout the entirety of its main form, and exhibits small circular movements with the hand.

Its gentle postures and high stances make it very suitable for geriatric exercise and martial arts therapy. Sun style tai chi formed the basis for a 32-movement set created by Australian teacher Dr. Paul Lam for the U.S. Arthritis Foundation subsequently called “Tai Chi for Arthritis”.

Sculptures of people performing Tai Chi

The most modern of the five major styles of Tai Chi, (the other four being Yang, Wu, family Wu and Chen) Sun Tai Chi was developed in the early 1900s by the famous grandmaster Sun Lutang and is unique in that it fuses Ba Gua and Xing Yi with classical Tai Chi Chuan.

Sun Lutang was born in 1861 as the son of a poor farmer. While still a young boy, Sun’s father died, forcing Sun to go work for a rich landowner to support his mother. Seeing that he was physically weak, the man said that he would give Sun food but refused to pay him any money. During this time, Sun took many beatings from the man’s cruel son but endured them for the sake of his mother.

Wishing that he could defend himself, Sun began studying with a local instructor in the style of Heng-Gung Shaolin kung-fu. Sun Lutang was a quick study. Later, at his employer’s home, Sun was fired for injuring one of the employer’s family members who tried to beat Sun. Sun Lutang returned home to his mother.

No longer interested in working, Sun spent his time practicing martial arts and would often eat wild vegetables that he found in the countryside to relieve the burden on his mother.

His mother then sent Sun to live with and work for his prosperous uncle. While working for his uncle, Sun met an internal martial arts instructor by the name of Li Kuiyuan and began learning Xing Yi. He went to live with his teacher and began training full time.

After learning all he could from Li, Li suggested that Sun go study with his teacher, Kuo Yunshen. Sun studied with Kuo for eight years before graduating. Upon graduating, Sun went to study Bagua with the famous master Cheng Tinghua. Sun spent three years studying Bagua . Upon finishing his study of the art, Sun left his master and went out into the world to test and improve his skills.

Sun was in Beijing when he met the famous Tai Chi master Hao Weichen who was visiting the area and had fallen ill. Being unfamiliar with the territory, Hao was unable to meet with his friends and was forced to check into an inn. When Sun found Hao ill he called a doctor and took care of him. After Hao recovered, in gratitude for Sun’s care and goodwill, Hao taught Sun Wu Yu Xiang style Tai Chi.

Now that Sun had mastered the three traditional internal styles of Chinese martial arts, he began developing his own style. Incorporating elements from Xing Yi and Bagua into his Tai Chi, Sun style T’ai Chi Chuan was born.