The Sun style (孙氏) tai chi chuan is well known for its smooth, flowing movements which omit the more physically vigorous crouching, leaping and fa jin of some other styles. Its gentle postures and high stances make it very suitable for martial arts therapy.
Sun style tai chi chuan was developed by Sun Lutang, who is considered expert in two other internal martial arts styles: xingyiquan and baguazhang before he came to study t'ai chi ch'uan. Today, Sun-style ranks fourth in popularity and fifth in terms of seniority among the five family styles of t'ai chi ch'uan. He was also considered an accomplished Neo-Confucian and Taoist scholar, especially in the Yi Jing and the Tai chi classics. Sun learned Wu (Hao)-style tai chi chuan from Hao Weizhen, who was Li Yishe's (李亦畬) chief disciple. Sun style tai chi chuan is considered to be part of the umbrella of Sun style internal martial arts developed by Sun Lu Tang.
Besides his earlier xingyi and bagua training, Sun's experiences with Hao Weizhen, Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu and Wu Jianquan influenced the development of what is today recognized as the Sun style of t'ai chi ch'uan.
The Sun style is a syncretic martial art, influenced by t'ai chi ch'uan, xingyiquan and baguazhang. One of the styles of t'ai chi ch'uan influencing the Sun style is Wu (Hao). The footwork of both styles are similar in that when one foot advances or retreats, the other foot follows. The Sun style also exhibits small circular movements with the hand.
Sun Style has a higher stance, less kicking and punching, all movements have the same tempi, and a very strong Qigong emphasis making it more popular with older practitioners.
When the Chinese Sports Committee decided to standardise the official competition set of the four major styles, namely, Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun Styles, Sun was certainly the least known form. However while it is not as spectacular in outward appearance as Chen style, once a learner passed through the surface one soon got hooked with its depth.
Essentially, Sun style has the same tempi. The movements are continuous, slow, even and with agile steps. Chen style has changing tempi, slow movements to gather force and fast movements to deliver force (fa jin). Chen style often expresses explosive force while Sun style has a softer inner force throughout. Physical exertion is as important as mental focus in Chen style whereas in Sun style mental focus (using the mind and not force) is much more important than physical exertion.
I found that learning Chen style without a background of softer style (eg. Sun or Yang), one could easily fall into the trap of becoming fixed with hardness. Being predominantly hard will hinder your progression to reach a higher level of balanced soft and hard inner forces (the balanced force, like Yin and Yang in balance has much more power). Whereas it might takes longer to learn a soft style such as Sun’s to reach a level high enough for self-defence, you can always add hardness and fastness later.
While all Tai Chi of different styles improve health, it is harder for older people to learn Chen style as it is more vigorous and requiring lower stances. Practitioners of Chen style are more likely injure themselves in training. I understand a lot of Chen style practitioners have injured their knee joints. There was a saying in the old days that to graduate from the movement Golden Guard Stamping Ground, you should practise stamping on a flat stone, and when you bore a hole through the stone you would become proficient at this movement. I am not too sure how many people have really followed this method. If anyone follows it, one will have a good chance of crushing one’s menisci (the little shock absorbent disks inside the knee between the bones) before a hole is bored on the stone!
There are many stamping grounds, jumping in the air and bending down like Falling Lotus (both legs on the ground) type of movements in Chen style. These movements require special precaution and method of training to avoid injury. Whereas in Sun style, the constant following step help you not to put too much physical pressure on the knees. This is especially protective for older folks and people with arthritis of knee. The method of following step in Sun style improves mobility therefore helpful for people with arthritis.
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