Monday, December 8, 2008

Book Review: T'ai Chi Ch'uan For Health and Self-Defense: Philosophy and Practice

By Nick D'Antoni

Following up on the “Back to Basics” theme of the 2007 conference, I’ve been spending most of my taiji reading time exploring my collection and re-reading some of the books that I came across fairly early in my studies.

I’ve tried to approach each of these old friends as though meeting them for the first time and it has proven to be a very interesting and rewarding experience. I could go on about that and the whole notion of cultivating “beginner’s mind”, but instead what I thought might be fun, and perhaps more useful, would be to call attention to some of these older taiji texts. As I was re-reading one particular book my old copy was literally disintegrating in my hands, cover falling off and pages coming unglued from the spine, edges crumbling. I was holding it carefully together with a rubber band. Needless to say, I was pleased to discover that it is still in print, and I ordered a new copy so I could check out any changes. I received a pleasant surprise when what arrived at my local bookstore ended up being a brand new copy that is nearly exactly as
it was. Even the covers remain essentially unchanged! Of course the price has gone up from the $4.95 printed on my old copy. But I think the book remains a bargain at the current published price, $12. What I’ve written in this issue is more of a synopsis and recommendation than a review, and there are a couple more recommendations slipped in at the end. So, with that said …

Master T. T. Liang’s book is an important and relatively early English language taiji publication, and one I think should be in nearly every taiji player’s library. It is densely packed with information presented in clear language and a format that makes it accessible to both the beginner and advanced student. In his chapter on “The Essentials of T’ai Chi Ch’uan” Master Liang describes an ordered method for the process of learning taijiquan that moves from careful study of the principles until mastery is achieved, then moves on to the specific techniques, and finally, once mastery of the techniques in abstract is accomplished, one is able to combine the principles and techniques to apply to practical use. One can clearly hear echoes of other notable early teachers in the outline of this method. (For example, Cheng Man-Ch’ing comes immediately to my mind with his three levels of development each of which is further subdivided into three levels.) This underlying progression should guide and inform the student in her/his approach to all the material in his book and he gives us a lots and lots of content to think about and to study in practice. Master Liang begins with a brief discussion of fundamental principles, a short “personal view” or philosophy, and an outline of a “Complete Set of T’ai Chi Exercises.” A good portion of the book is devoted to translations with commentary of classic taiji texts: “T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classic”, “T’ai Chi Ch’uan Treatise”, “Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures”, and “Song of the Substance and Function of the Thirteen Postures.” Each text is presented in a series of short sections in which the translation is followed immediately by Master Liang’s explanation and illustrative commentary.

Elsewhere, he presents thorough discussion of fundamentals and essentials along with some very understandable
explanations of more advanced concepts. Also included is a translation of the “Song of Pushing Hands”, a short section of “Stories of the Masters”, a chapter on the meaning of the Five Elements, some philosophical points of similarity between taiji and Lao Tze, and a chapter consisting of bits from several other short documents reflecting on elements of taijiquan.

While re-reading this book, I found it impressive to recall that these are some of the earliest detailed translations with detailed commentaries ever published directly in English by an accomplished taiji master.
And though some of these texts have now been translated and commented upon many times, T. T. Liang’s remarks remain powerfully relevant. His commentaries contain insights that are sometimes unique and often enlightening and inspirational. I hope you will take my recommendation and get a copy, or go back and make a thoughtful rereading of it if you already own it. I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

©1974, 1977 by: Master T. T. Liang
Edited and with a Foreword by Paul B. Gallagher
publ: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-394-72461-4

No comments:

Post a Comment