Wu Quanyou was a military officer cadet of Manchu ancestry in the Yellow Banner camp in the Forbidden City, Beijing and also a hereditary officer of the Imperial Guards Brigade. At that time, Yang Lu-ch'an was the martial arts instructor in the Imperial Guards, teaching t'ai chi ch'uan, and in 1850 Wu Ch'uan-yu became one of his students. In 1870, Wu Ch'uan-yu was asked to become the senior disciple of Yang Pan-hou, Yang Lu-ch'an's oldest adult son, and an instructor as well to the Manchu military. Wu Ch'uan-yu had three primary disciples: his son Wu Chien-ch'uan, Wang Mao Zhai and Guo Fen.
Wu Ch'uan-yu's son, Wu Chien-ch'uan, and grandchildren: grandsons Wu Kung-i and Wu Kung-tsao as well as granddaughter Wu Ying-hua were well known teachers. Wu Chien-ch'uan became the most widely known teacher in his family, and is therefore considered the co-founder of the Wu style by his family and their students. He taught large numbers of people and his refinements to the art more clearly distinguish Wu style from Yang style training.
The Wu style's distinctive hand form (Taolu), pushing hands and weapons trainings emphasize parallel footwork and horse stance training with the feet relatively closer together than the modern Yang or Chen styles, small circle hand techniques (although large circle techniques are trained as well) and differs from the other t'ai chi family styles martially with Wu style's initial focus on grappling, throws (shuai chiao), tumbling, jumping, footsweeps, pressure point leverage and joint locks and breaks, which are trained in addition to more conventional t'ai chi sparring and fencing at advanced levels.
Grand Master Wu Chien-ch'uan revised and enriched the art of t'ai chi ch'uan handed down from his father Wu Ch'uan-yu, he omitted some of the repetitions, Fa-jing , stamping and jumping movements to make the form smoother, more structured with continuous steady movements. This form promoted the health aspects of Tai Chi and was more suitable for general practitioners though it still contained all the martial applications and training.
The Shangai Wu-style Fast Form kept the original Fa-jing 發勁 (release of power), jumping, attacking and stamping movements to be studied by those eager to advance their T'ai Chi practice. This advanced form was not yet taught openly. Another Form is the usual 108 Wu family form.