Sun Lutang (1860-1933), founder of Sun-style Tai Chi, was a martial artist of formidable reputation. Aspiring fighters came from all over Asia to challenge him and study with him. Sun’s arts were Xingyi and Baguazhang. He learned Bagua from Cheng Tinghua and Xingyi from Guo Yun Shen, both dominant masters in their time.
To get an idea of what Sun practiced in his fighting career, here’s a great video of Master Xia Boya demonstrating Sun-style Baguazhang and Xingyi. As a bonus, at the end he performs 32-sword (“Li Tianji’s Sword”). It’s the most beautiful demonstrations of that form that I have ever seen.
In 1914, when Sun was in his fifties, he met Hao Weizheng, who taught Sun what is now called Wu/Hao Tai Chi. In these later years, Sun abandoned fighting, focusing instead on healthful exercise and longevity. When young men came to him to learn to fight, he told them to find another teacher!
As Sun incorporated Wu/Hao into his practice, he developed his own style of tai chi, one that contained elements of Bagua and Xingyi as well. In this next video, a 4th generation disciple of Sun Lutang practices Xingyi. You can clearly see some of the distinctive elements of Sun-style Tai Chi, such as the back-weighted 30/70 stance called 三七势 Sān Qī Shì (literally “three seven form”).
The Sun style is characterized by lively and distinctive footwork involving 跟步 Gēn bù (the following step), neat turns, and a signature opening and closing of hands (kai shou he shou) that follows every major movement in the form.
开手 Kāi shǒu Open hands
合手 Hé shǒu Close hands
Sun tai chi is also comparatively upright and small frame, with no extreme low form, so although it has all the benefit of other styles, it is particularly accessible for people of all abilities, and is especially favored by the elderly.
Here’s a great video from a Sun-style martial arts conference, in which you can see Sun-style Bagua, Xingyi, and Tai Chi:
Despite having little opportunity for education in his early life, Sun became a distinguished scholar through sheer intelligence and hard work. He wrote several important books, including one on Xingyi (published in 1914) and one on Bagua (1916).
The book pictured here was written in 1924. This volume is available in translation by Tim Cartmell and it includes a very interesting biography of Sun by Dan Miller, based on interviews (also translated by Cartmell) with Sun’s daughter, Sun Jian Yun.
The biography contains a tantalizing anecdote about a mysterious letter that was delivered to Sun’s home upon his death, and a maddening story about how his diary, containing a detailed record of his entire career and teaching, was lost.
The book is illustrated by photographs of Sun himself demonstrating the movements of his form. In the photo shown here, Sun demonstrates sanqishi when performing the Sun-style Shantongbei (flash through back).
See also Styles of Tai Chi. I will be posting two more pages on Sun-style Tai Chi, one on the traditional long form and another on the modern competition form.