Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan is one of the 3 major styles of Tai Chi Chuan. The others are Yang and Chen. Each of these 3 styles is named from the family that has practiced, taught, and passed it on to later generations. Traditionally, the study and practice of the art has been “family property”. Family members devote their lives to teaching and practicing the art. They are also considered to be the ultimate authority on their style. “Tai Chi” is a contraction of the more traditional term “Tai Chi Chuan”. Chuan is a general term that can be translated as “martial discipline”, or “boxing”.
The slow motions one usually identifies as Tai Chi Chuan are known as “The Form” or “The Chuan”. This is a series of movements that may last from 10 minutes to 1/2 hour. The Form is very important and is the basis for training in Tai Chi Chuan. The form has aspects of health, martial arts and meditation. However it is still only a part of the complete training in the art. The martial aspect of The Form is not readily apparent to the uninitiated. A simple answer could be “You must be able to do it slow before you can expect to do it fast”, but there is much more to it than that. Besides the obvious martial benefits of balance, co-ordination, and looseness The Form also cultivates qualities like a relaxed focused mind and healthy resilient body. It trains the core motion and reactions of the practitioner, increasing the person’s martial potential. The Form also contains, in its movements, a myriad of martial applications and the elements of power generation. These are hidden from an untrained observer in much the same way that fine poetry will not be revealed to someone who has not learned the language yet. The Form is the basis of Tai Chi Chuan but “Push Hands” is considered the “gateway into martial arts”. There are also other martial exercises beyond Push Hands. The confusion about Tai chi Chuan being a martial art has probably arisen in part because many Tai Chi Chuan schools only practice The Form and exercises focused on health and meditation. This may be because the founder of the school has not learned the martial practices or that the students do not have the desire or have progressed far enough to learn them.
Two reasons. First, respect to the teacher and the art becomes, since the art is passed on and taught by family members, respect for the generations that have worked and refined, and passed the art on so that you can learn it. Second, that the lineage and teachers of a person is the best measure, short of actually working with them, of their proficiency in the art. This is because the art can not be learned from a book, it requires hands-on training. Books (e.g. the Tai Chi Chuan classics) can be used to help solidify and promote understanding (“sign-posts on the road”) but no more than that. Family members traditionally accord the greatest respect and are the ultimate authority on the art. This authority may seem arbitrary to western thinking but it is based on practical facts. Family members learned and practiced Tai Chi Chuan with the greatest masters alive – the older generations. They would start as young as 3 and practice full-time. Furthermore, advanced training and concepts where only available to family members or those very close to it (“disciples”). It is hard for an outside practitioner to achieve that kind of focus or to have that quality and diversity of teachers.