Oh, Sun Style Tai Chi: How do my joints love thee! Thy conscious breathing expands my bones and chi connection. Sun Style, I must admit, I love thee more than the showy and obvious Chen Style. Your internal power, Sun, I feel much more than the Wu Style of my 30s. Oh my dear Sun, even my first tai chi love-Yang Style, did not grow so dear to me as you, sweet soothing Sun. There are even days, I prefer to practice you Sun, than the centuries old BaMen Tai Chi, my bones are honored to flow. There are so many ways I love you Sun Style, I am compelled to expound upon some of them: my joints! chi connection, aging gracefully, discreet and humble, breath connection and who doesn’t love human rights activist Master Sun Lu Tang?! (Beware: this is a longish post ;)
While I could go on and on about the numerous health benefits of tai chi in general, I’m going out on a limb to say you’re aleady aware of many of those benefits and perhaps even some of the extensive medical research on tai chi. (If not, find loads of tai chi research on PubMed and through Harvard Health’s tai chi research department.) Being blessed to train in numerous tai chi styles now, I can personally attest that Sun Style relieves the aches and swellings in my joints considerably better than any other style that I have studied in the past 20+ years.
The ”go big or go home” attitude of my Generation X landed me in ”go home on a stretcher” mode numerous times in my past. I’ve had many, many injuries, some quite devestating and life altering, like losing the ability to walk and having to learn how as an adult. My multiple joint injuries have given me what many doctors call early onset arthritis and some other not-so-nice diagnoses. My tai chi training began, like many, with the most popular style in the U. S. - Yang Style tai chi. I started with Yang short form and over a decade later committed the entire 108 long form to memory. (If you’re wondering why a twenty-something Gen X-er would embrace slow motion tai chi, check out my book Surfing the Sea of Chi) I LOVED Yang tai chi. It helped me in so many ways I was utterly astounded, which is why I’ve never stopped studying chi arts after my Yang introduction.
The short version of my tai chi herstory is: I started with Yang short form for about 10-12 years, then began my formal qigong training, studied Wu Style at a community college for several years, picked up a little Chen training from fellow enthusiasts and videos, then began formal training with martial arts Grand Master Jeff Cook in The Way of the Pointing Hand, which includes numerous qigong exercises and meditations along with several open hand and weapons tai chi forms--ancient stuff. Only when GM Cook moved away did I eventually study Sun Style tai chi. At first I thought it was too gentle, too soft, too small and offered me little challenge beyond remembering the choreography. But with a few years‘ practice, the internal power of Sun Style became evident.
On days when one of my knees may be very swollen and achy, I’ve learned through experience to practice Sun Style instead of the other sets I know to put less stress on my knee. Time and time again has proven to me that while the other forms are enjoyable and beneficial to me in many ways, Sun Style is the one that gives me consistent and thorough relief from swelling and aching not only in my knee, but all of my joints. I’ve experimented with the various routines I know and found this true for me every single time.
In thinking about this a couple years back, I decided to stop publicly teaching more ancient forms of tai chi, focusing instead on promoting Sun Style in my open classes. I now lead Sun Style classes under the titles Tai Chi 1, Tai Chi 2 and Sun 73 because I know that regardless of who comes to class, even those with joint damage like me, they will NOT get hurt or further damage by the practices they’re using to stay healthy. This makes sense to me.
Also compelling me to favor Sun Style is the powerful internal movement of chi that just keeps growning stronger the further into the form I go. Master Sun Lu Tang, the creator of Sun Style, was not only an undefeated martial arts master in his time, he was also a well-known master of qigong and energy arts as well as I Ching and herbalism. Embeded within the seemingly soft, subtle movements used in Sun Style, is this renowned master’s understanding of building, circulating and expressing the body’s innate chi power. This intent to develop internal chi within Sun Style is evident once one understands the almost invisible spiraling motions made by the lower dan tien (energy center) in the specific movements of the form.
In my past, the expressive display of chi spiraling in Chen style fascinated me to the point of learning some on my own (no teacher in my area). Teaching myself some silk reeling exercises, I could feel the connection between physical movement of the lower dan tien and the building of chi. While I enjoyed this training, the very obvious nature of it’s practice left me desiring something more subtle and discreet, which Sun Style provided me years later. Now this situation reminds me of Lao Tzu’s words “One’s weapons should not be on display.” To me, the discreet, subtle nature of Sun Style is evidence of it being the evolution of tai chi, following the way of Dao.
The genius of Master Sun is also evidenced in the attention to the breath found within this system. No other style of tai chi that I have ever studied puts as much emphasis on the breath as Sun Style’s deliberate pausing of footwork to draw attention to the life-giving wind within us. This is a large part of the chi/energy power developed and felt in Sun Style practice. And honestly, all the fancy footwork in the world won’t keep us healthy if we aren’t fully breathing. Thanks to Sun Lu Tang drawing attention to the breath, that will not happen in Sun Style training. The obvious attention to breath keeps us connected to the chi of the practice which in time leads to greater energy awareness, circulation and expression without a display of force.
In my late 30s I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to do Yang’s famous Snake Creeps Down movement as I got older because of how it strained my sensitive knees. When I discovered the smaller more knee-friendly Sun, I realized I could age into this particular practice. In fact, I’ll be able to do all of it until the day I die because it makes my joints feel better, not worse. In striving to master myself, I consciously let go of activities and relationships that do not foster this goal, choosing instead to focus on what will keep me healthily evolving as I age. Hopefully, if I stick with it, I will become the best possible version of myself, following in the footsteps of Master Sun Lu Tang and the many before me to embrace the way of The Dao as a method of self-realization.
While no book can teach us as well as the experience of our practices, reading the first of Sun Lu Tang’s five books on martial arts opened my eyes to the level of his mastery and personal evolution. In the preface of Xing Yi Quan Xue-The Study of Form-Mind Boxing is a brief biography of Sun Lu Tang along with many historical photos and references. Here I learned that Master Sun single-handedly transformed the Chinese perception of martial artists from being one of street thugs to practical philosophers. He was the first person to write about the relationship between martial arts practices and Chinese philosophy, teaching the educated literate elite that martial artists follow a code based on the way of balance found in nature and didn’t just needlessly look for a fight.
Master Sun most likely had many opportunities to test and hone his skills as he ruffeled a lot of feathers in the male-dominated martial arts communities of China in the early 1900s. He was the first male master to openly teach martial arts to women. No doubt this alone drew him
lots of criticism but because no one could beat him in a fight, Master Sun was able to do as he saw was right. Decades before the women’s rights movement in the U.S., Sun Lu Tang understood that women had as much right to the knowledge and skills to keep themselves healthy and well as did men. In fact, he taught that because women were often the target of male abuse, it was more important for them to learn martial arts than men as a form of self defense agaisnt those who would abuse them. Talk about being evolved ahead of his time!
In a personal examination of the tai chi forms I know, it has become clear that tai chi has evolved through the centuries to serve the era and people of it’s time. Sun Style tai chi is the most recent incarnation of a continusouly evolving energy art designed specifically to propel it’s practitioners into greater self-awareness and self-control/mastery. In 2,500 year old BaMen Tai Chi, the movements are large and aggressive in nature—tai chi orginated as a martial art (not just for health) and here it shows in the ancient BaMen form. Hard to believe but centuries ago we were a more violent species and one needed to know how to defend from daily physical aggression. In the younger but more popular Yang Tai Chi, body movements also go low to the ground in addition to being large and expansive—fighters were now getting low to uproot their opponants.
At the turn of the 20th century, along came Master Sun Lu Tang synthesizing several different martial arts. By combining the best of what he knew-the dynamic stepping methods of Ba Gua Zhang, the leg and waist techniques of Xing Yi Quan and the muscular relaxation of Tai Chi Chuan-he developed Sun Style Tai Chi. As the industrial world had greatly expanded at this time, wealth had grown so that fighting for food and resoucrces had decreased significantly. No longer did the people need to defend themselves from bandits, now they had to keep themselves healthy and reduce the many stressors brought on by a faster paced world. Master Sun understood that as people were no longer predominantly working in the fields they were moving less and needed to become strong and healthy again. At a time when the Chinese were known throughtout the world as ”the sick men of Asia,” Sun Lu Tang taught that for a country to be healthy and strong, it’s individual people must be healthy and strong. The gentle, small movements of Sun Tai Chi did not stress the less than healthy bodies Master Sun was teaching. The small movements also accomodated the shrinking of public and personal space as popluations exploded the world over. Sun Tai Chi even made practitioners pause for a moment and notice their life-giving breath. Now well into the 21st Century we see that the overall world health has decreased to the point that humans are now the first species on the planet to breathe so poorly that we suffocate in our sleep (think sleep apnea). With the rise of Covid-19 two years ago we all became much more awary of our personal space. With the evolution of Sun Tai Chi, breath work is built right into the moving meditation exercises that stay well within our own personal space.
Having been a wandering explorer most of of my life, I wound up studying different styles of tai chi because as I moved I was unable to find teachers of my previous styles. I took what lessons were availalbe in the new area I was in. I wanted to continue studying Wu Style (characterized by a high stance and uprooting movements), but could not find a teacher when I left New Mexico. Now, with Sun Style Tai Chi growing exponentially, teachers of Tai Chi 1, Tai Chi 2 and Sun 73 can be found almost everywhere, making it much easier to learn/study as people have become more mobile. If you move about and are looking for a Sun Style teacher, you can use the International Teacher Locator found at the Tai Chi for Health Institute’s website here: https://taichiforhealthinstitute.org/instructors/
A huge body of modern medical research has been conducted on Sun Style Tai Chi and found it to be a safe and effective form of exercise for anyone, regardless of previous health conditions. Becasue of this, many health organizations around the world have endorsed, adopted and are actively promoting Sun Style Tai Chi offered through the international Tai Chi for Health Institute, through whom I am board certified to lead tai chi. Some of these well known and respected organizations endorsing Sun Style Tai Chi incluce: the World Health Organization, the Centeres for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, the American Arthritis Foundation, Diabetes Australia and many lesser known entities as well.
With endorsements from numerous health organizations because of it’s many health advantages having a growing number of Sun Style Tai Chi leaders, it’s easy to see why Sun Tai Chi has made it to the Senior Olympics! That’s right. Even those of us who are slow motion activists have the opportunity to strut our stuff and perhaps even take home Gold in the process! Because Sun Style has become so widely accepted, it’s relatively easy to contintue training to greater and greater depth of understanding and skill level, making it readily available to improve modern day health of practitioners whether total beginners or master level practitioners. No matter how much one studies Sun Style, it will always be possible to find a teacher that knows more and can advance our understanding while continuing to maintain and even improve health and well-bing.
Wow! It’s no wonder that I love you, Sun Style! So many benefits you give me that I cannot give you up! From your expressive Leisurely Tying Coat maneuver to the invisible power in Opening/Closing Hands, you make me feel better in every way, Sun Style! I’m eternally grateful to the forward thinking genius of Sun Lu Tang for helping me age gracefully into the 21st Century in my well-used Gen X body! If you‘d like to explore Sun Style Tai Chi for yourself, go here to see my current class schedule: https://www.beachsideqigong.com . You can also check out my free YouTube Tai Chi 1 playlist here (https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlawGPHypZNVlQf_Ev3fMM4CCx8OgQFPc ), where you’ll find each and every lesson in the basic movements. To see my entire video training selection including Tai Chi 1, Tai Chi 2, Sun 73 (in progress) and loads of qigong training videos go here: https://www.beachsideqigong.com/memberplans. Access to the whole library is FREE for three days before the minimal $7.99/month subscription fee gets billed.
Chi Arts Timeline with 5 Family Styles of Tai Chi
& BaMen Tai Chi