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What is Sun Tai Chi?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The internal martial art Sun tai chi is the tai chi chuan style developed by Sun Lutang. Of the five major variants of tai chi chuan, all of which are internal martial arts, Sun style is the fourth most popular and the most recently developed. Internal martial arts are mainly concerned with focusing the mind to control a relaxed body, as opposed to utilizing brute strength. Some defining features of Sun tai chi are a general use of smooth, graceful movements; a main form that makes use entirely of open palms; and particularly unique footwork.

The name tai chi chuan can be translated as "supreme ultimate fist." The oldest of the five main styles was developed in the 17th century, while Sun tai chi dates from the early 20th century. The five styles share a similar philosophy, though the training methods can differ markedly. All forms of tai chi chuan draw on Taoist and Neo-Confucian ideas and philosophies. The term "supreme ultimate" actually refers to the unity of the yin and yang as represented by the familiar taijitu symbol. The taijitu may be more commonly known as the "yin yang" symbol, recognizable as interlocking black and white teardrops. As an internal martial art, tai chi chuan studies the principles of yin, the receptive, and yang, the active.

Sun Lutang was a master of two other Chinese martial arts before he began to study tai chi. He was also a noted Taoist and Neo-Confucian scholar. He initially learned the Wu/Hao style, which is the third oldest tai chi chuan style. His own style, which would eventually come to be named after him, is informed by his studies and prior mastery of martial arts xingyiquan and baguazhang. Two children of Sun Lutang became tai chi chuan instructors in their own right, and the Sun tai chi style surpassed the Wu/Hao style in popularity after Lutang's death.

Sun tai chi is known for its graceful, flowing movements and the absence of many vigorous forms found in other tai chi styles. This lack of leaping, crouching and other powerful movements may contribute to its popularity. Its calmer technique makes it appealing to older people and those who are less physically fit. The lack of strenuous moves makes Sun tai chi a good form of exercise for those who require a less demanding workout, while also imparting all the benefits of learning an internal martial art.

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