Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan – Origin, History, and Forms

sun style tai chi founder Sun Lutang

We know that tai chi is considered one of the three main internal martial arts along side Xingyiquan and Baguazhang. In a rare instance in martial arts history, an advanced practitioner of Xingyi and Bagua also took up the study of Tai Chi and developed Sun style tai chi which showcases the influence of all three arts in a single form.

Sun style tai chi is an internal martial art founded by expert Sun Lutang. The style is characterized by smooth, circular movements, medium to high postures, and relatively gentle transitions between poses without issuing of force. The Sun sword form, short form, and 73 movement long form are the most common forms practiced.

To understand the originality of Sun style tai chi we need to understand the expansive internal arts experience of its founder, Sun Lutang. We are going to start there, then talk about and show video examples of the most practiced forms, Then we’ll end with resources to expand your knowledge of Sun tai chi or get you started with your learning.

Sun Style Tai Chi History

Sun Lutang was born in northern China in1860. In the time before his death in 1933, he practiced three internal martial arts at an expert level, founded his own style, published prolifically on tai chi and the internal martial arts, and taught at the Beijing Physical Education Research Institute for over a decade.

Early in his life, Sun Lutang studied Baguazhang under famous internal martial arts teacher Cheng Tinghua. Baguazhang is based on Taoist theory and the I Ching so we see the circular movements and philosophies pervading the movements of Sun style. Sun Lutang was also an expert practioner of Xingyiquan. Xingyi has characteristically linear attacks and retreats as well as being very quick and light with its steps. Xingyi’s influence in Sun’s development of his own forms is also noted.

Later in his life, Sun Lutang became a student of Hao Weizhen who was a master of Wu Hao style tai chi. What is unique about this relationship is that Sun Lutang is not only older but also an outsider at a time when styles were primarily shared among families. In one story of their relationship, Hao Weizhen fell ill and Sun Lutang took care of him. Sun Lutang was taken on as a student soon after. In another version, Sun Lutang was able to demonstrate considerable internal martial arts skill and was therefore accepted as a student. Either way, Sun Lutang was accepted as a student, was given full access to the Wu Hao tradition, and developed rapidly as a practitioner.

By the time he was in his 50s and 60s, Sun Lutang had contributed considerably to the writings and teachings of the time. Five of his texts were translated into English and are still considered some of the classic works on tai chi and the internal martial arts. He founded his own style of tai chi based on what he had learned from Taoism and the three internal martial arts and taught at the Beijing Physical Education Research Institute from 1914-1928.

Traditional Sun Style Tai Chi

Traditional Sun style tai chi was passed down to Sun Lutang’s family members and taught in Beijing and northern China. Uniquely, Sun taught not only his sons but also his daughter and grand daughters. This really helped not only Sun style’s adoption by a wider audience but also tai chi’s adoption by a wider audience including women and people looking to teach and learn an tai chi to improve health. Here is Sun Lutang’s daughter demonstrating the form.

Sun Style Tai Chi Movements

It is evident in the Sun style tai chi movements that there is influence from Wu style tai chi and the other internal arts. The step of one foot is followed by the other foot and the movements are kept light and quick. The posture is medium to high with a few lower movements where the spine remains erect. The hands circle continually throughout the form. While there are martial gestures such as pushes or punches, they are done without issuing force. Here is an example of a demonstration being performed by a class in Washington DC where you can see the Sun style movements clearly.

Sun Style Tai Chi Forms

There are just a few Sun style tai chi forms that are practiced regularly. Sun style has a long form which is 73 movements. There are also a variety of short forms which are practiced by different schools, most often as a stepping stone for learning the long form. Also, a small number of practitioners also study a Sun style sword form.

Tai Chi Sun Style 73 Forms

The primary 73 movement long form was standardized in 1989-1991 by Men Hui-Feng who like Sun Lutang, was a professor at the Beijing University of Physical Education. He based it off of the teachings of Sun Lutang and created a form that would be adopted by Sun style schools and used for competition.

The tai chi Sun style 73 form has many of the characteristic movements of tai chi such as Opening Movement, White Crane Flaps Wings, Brush Knee and Twist, etc. Many of the moves are repeated creating a compact form where the practitioner turns back to repeat sections and perform arm and leg movements on both sides. A modified version of the tai chi 73 Sun style form was created by Dr. Paul Lam who was a student of Men Hui-Feng. He reduced the difficulty of some of the movements to benefit practitioners who have arthritis or reduced balance and mobility.

This Tai Chi Sun Style 73 Forms Download is a list of all of the movements and here is a Sun style tai chi video showing the whole form.

Sun Style Tai Chi Sword

The Sun style tai chi sword form is unique because it contains characteristics of Baguazhang which is very circular in its stepping and has its own weapons forms. Sun Lutang created a 62 movement sword form which was passed on to his daughter and other students. Sun style, being a less common form of tai chi, means that there are not a lot of sword practitioners. There is however some original texts that were passed down and Sun style tai chi videos that teach the sword.

Sun Style Tai Chi Short Form

Like every family of tai chi, Sun style has multiple versions of the short form. Typically, a short form is used to teach all of the core movements of an art and the Sun style tai chi short form is no different. In these two examples, we see the typical follow-stepping, higher stance, and quick lightness of the form. Also like all styles of tai chi, many practitioners only learn the Sun style short form and still get enormous benefit from it. Sun style focuses on health and therefore the ability for a person to complete and continue to do the form is important. If you are limited by time, balance, flexibility, or endurance, this tai chi short form is of immense benefit.

Sun Style 13 Movement Short Form Example

Sun Style 38 Movement Short Form Example

Sun Style Tai Chi Video and Book Resources

If you have been looking for a Sun style tai chi video or related books, you can see that there are limited options. The good news is that Paul Lam created a really good instruction video and many of the early practitioners were really diligent about publishing notes. So while you might not find many modern resources, a handful of original resources are available to you. Check these out:

Sun Style Tai Chi Sword: A Guide (Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan)

sun tai chi style sword guide

Video with moves: Tai Chi Sun Style 73 Forms

Video with moves for Tai Chi Sun Style 73 Forms

Traditional Sun Style Tai-Chi: 1957 Instructional Handbook

Traditional Sun Style Tai-Chi: 1957 Instructional Handbook

Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan: Volume One: The 97 Postures

Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan: Volume One: The 97 Postures

Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan: Volume Two: The Companion Guide

Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan: Volume Two: The Companion Guide

An Overview the Main Tai Chi Styles

This is part of a series of articles that we wrote on all the most popular styles of tai chi. Keep reading in that direction or find out how to improve your tai chi form.

Yang StyleTai Chi Styles OverviewWu Family Style
Chen StyleZhaobao StyleWu/Hao Style
Sun StyleWudang Style Tai ChiCheng Man Ch‘ing Style

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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