Between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, Tai Chi Chuan developed into four main branches or styles: Chen, Yang, Sun and Wu.
Let's examine briefly what differentiates the Wu style from the others.
The Chen style is by far the oldest one, which is why it is also called Lao Chia or 'old framework'. It is characterized by very low postures and an alternation of slow flowing movements and fast, tense and whipped ones.
The Sun style has small postures and fast agile movements, which gives it its name of Huo Po Chia or 'lively-stepped framework'.
The Yang style, which is widespread in Italy, is also called Ta Chia or 'big framework' due to its wide postures, and its slow flowing movements. People often choose it as a way to keep fit, though it can also be considered a tough and efficient martial art.
The Wu style itself is then divided into two: Wu Yu Hsiang and Wu Chien Chuan. The former (also called Hsiao Chia or 'little framework') was founded by Wu Yu Hsiang and is characterized by tighter movements, and later inspired the previously mentioned Sun style.
The other was named after its organizer Wu Chien Chuan (1870-1942), who was the son and disciple of the founder of the Wu style, Chuan Wu (1834-1902), who in turn was the disciple of the founder of the Yang style, Yang Lu Chan.
Although the transliteration of the names of the two Wu styles is identical they are not to be confused. The Chinese ideograms are different and so too their respective techniques. The Wu Chien Chuan style is characterized by its slightly leaning-forward postures and its medium-wide movements.
If one places on one side the Chen style with its low postures and whipped movements, and on the other the Yang style with its wide postures and slow movements, the Wu style is situated between the two. In fact the Wu style is often referred to as Chung Chia or the 'medium framework'.
Traditionally, the basic bare-handed figure of the Wu style is composed of 81 movements. In 1953 , Master Wang Pei-sheng reduced the number of movements in the sequence to 37, but left its principles unaltered. Born in the county of Hebei in 1919, Wang started studying Tai Chi Chuan in Peking/Beijing when he was still a child. At 14 years old he became a disciple of Yang Yu-ting, one of the last members of the Chuan Wu lineage. After teaching for several decades, he realized that too much time was spent trying to learn and practice the traditional long sequence. In order to meet the needs of his disciples, he changed the Wu sequence by removing the postures and movements that repeated themselves in the same form and by modifying their order so as to take into account the degrees of difficulty and the physical strain required by the different movements. The result is a sequence of only 37 movements (or 36+1 as the opening movement is not always considered an actual movement) that takes no more than 15 minutes to perform.
The Wu style, which is little known or practiced in Italy, has preserved intact the three basic characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan: as a therapeutic treatment, a martial art and a method of meditation.
First of all, the correct repetition of the sequence creates a state of good health and well-being because each individual movement stimulates different organs that are associated with specific illnesses. People who suffer from specific health problems or who are too weak to perform the entire sequence may limit their practice to the repetition of the specific movement designed to heal their illness. For example, those who suffer from diabetes or have gastro-intestinal problems can practice the "catch the bird by the tail" movement.