There are 4 major styles of tai chi namely, Chen ,Yang, Sun and Wu. Chen style is more rigorous and martial orientated; Yang style is gentle and graceful; Wu style is lively and Sun style contains much Qi gong practice for relaxation. Chen is the oldest style and Yang is the most popular. The principles of tai chi are based on Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the natural balance in all things and the need for living in spiritual accord with the patterns of nature. According to this philosophy everything in nature composed of the two opposite, but entirely complementary elements of the yin and yang working in a relationship. Tai chi means, in Chinese, "the supreme ultimate". Tai chi consist of the short form, 42 form(long) and small frame boxing which is rarely practice outside of Chen's village and was only passed to few close door disciples, the long sword, broad sword and spear. The tai chi broad sword & spear is really seen and practiced outside of China. Many students who practice tai chi today don't know that tai chi has these other extra sets.
The origin of tai chi is not clearly known but can be
traced back to the book written 300 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty(1100-1221
BC). In this book it says that "in all changes exists taiji, which causes
the two opposite in everything". The reliable sources traced the development
of tai chi back to Chen Wangting, a 16th century Royal Guard of the Chen
village in Wenxian country, Henan province, China. After he retired from
the army he lived a simple life and teaching martial arts. In 1670's Chen
several Tai chi routines, which includes the old small frame form still practiced today. He was greatly influenced by a famous general of the imperial army, Qi Jiguang, who wrote an important textbook on military training, boxing in 32 forms, but was also influenced by other schools of boxing at time. By combining the martial art exercises with practice of Daoyin and Tuna, shadow boxing became a complete system of exercise suitable for all aspects of health care.
Tai chi was passed on to and refined by further generations
of the Chen family but was not widely practice outside of the area of Chen's
village until the 19th century when Yang Luchan learned Chen style tai
chi whilst employed in the Chen household. Yang Luchan became a highly
skilled in tai chi, develop his own particular style of tai chi, which
he taught to a great number of students including the Imperial Court. Yang
style is most popular and widely practice today and is suitable for all
people in all ages . All
the other major schools of tai chi in practice today, including the Sun and Wu schools originate from either Chen's style or Yang's style.
Tai chi might seem very slow and ineffective in terms
of self defense don't be mistaken tai chi can be lethal because of the
use of internal energy. A wise man once said "if we breath air to
live we can also use this idea to protect our selves" this is clearly seen
when one practice tai chi which improves the cultivation of internal energy.
In my mind Tai chi and all other internal styles Hsing I, Baqua etc. are
more powerful that physical arts and has more health benefits than all
other external styles of martial
art. There is no age limit when one practice tai chi of which is the opposite when practicing the external art.