July 18

Book Review: Simplified Tai Chi Chuan

Overall, I enjoyed Simplified Tai Chi Chuan: 24 Postures with Applications & Standard 48 Postures (Revised).

After many years of reading books on Okinawan martial arts, it’s refreshing to learn new information from the Chinese martial arts, and it’s enlightening to corroborate information between the two styles.

To me, the first three chapters were the most beneficial of this book. That almost seems contradictory, since the final two chapters are dedicated two the 24 postures with applications and the 48 postures.

I’ll explain why.

First of all, the history and philosophy of martial arts are always interesting to me. Dr. Liang and Mr. Wu do it in a way that’s different from another prolific YMAA writer, Dr. Yang, but effective, nonetheless.

I found their explanation of yin and yang very beneficial, explained to me in a way that resonated with me that hadn’t before. Additionally, they goes into detail about the five element theory, which I also benefitted from.

Dr. Liang and Mr. Wu go to great length to suggest the proper body movements and breathing for tai chi chuan practice.

Finally, they provides a number of stretches and qigong exercises, adding to my growing library of them.

As the authors say, “it is never an easy task to learn from a book.”

I would agree. They provide great information for body awareness and positioning as you’re in the postures, but I take issue with some of the applications here. I would prefer to see principles of movement taught by tai chi chuan as opposed to the selected applications that are in this book.

There are two people in this book: White and Gray. White is always attacking Gray, and Gray is always showing you the applications of the moves.

Except White’s punches often look very much like a traditional karate-ka’s, a position that is often criticized. It’s something I’m to move myself and my students away from in karate for the purposes pointed out in that link.

Two, some of Gray’s defenses seem awfully contrived.

For example, in the second application of Wave Hands Like Clouds, White attacks with a simultaneous punch and a kick. I don’t watch a lot of UFC, but it’s the closest thing to actual street fighting I see. And I don’t see a lot of simultaneous punches and kicks.

Further, White often appears to have the ability to throw a second punch when Gray completes his initial defense. Some moves, in particular, suggest Gray moving directly into the line of White’s attack.

This means one of a couple of things.

One, the pictures were taken for one of the earlier editions of the book.

Two, the authors are showing very basic interpretations.

Three, a combination of both.

Whatever the case, there is a DVD available to accompany the book (as is with most YMAA publications).

To give you a preview of what the moves look like, YMAA has selected a few videos to watch on their site.

What’s more, they’re great at giving you a PDF excerpt.

Pick up this book if you’re serious about tai chi, but work the applications with an instructor you trust to help you decide whether you think these will work for you.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

December 27

Book Review: Tai Chi Qigong by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

If you’ve ready any of my reviews here or here, you know that while I consider karate my primary art, I’m a sponge when it comes to gathering information about other styles of karate or martial arts in general.

In my last review, I explored qigong for the first time. I’ve practiced tai chi chuan for more than three years now, but qigong – or chi kung – is an element that is rarely covered in our class.

Tai Chi Qigong: The Internal Foundation of Tai Chi Chuan begins by covering the basics of qi, or chi – I’ll use qi because it’s the convention in the book. I would hazard a guess that most of the first chapter is the same as Dr. Yang’s Simple Qigong book. Either one will give you a decent primer on qigong. The only new stuff – for me, at least – in this book’s first chapter was covering a brief history of tai chi chuan, or taijiquan.

The key part of this book for me was the second chapter, which talks about yin and yang – the root of tai chi chuan.

Dr. Yang writes that the qigong series in this book are based on the theory of yin and yang: two opposing forces that must balance each other. “If the balance is insignificant, disaster will occur,” he says. “However, when these two forces combine and interact with each other smoothly and harmoniously, they manifest power an generate the millions of living things.”

By understanding this, he says, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll accomplish in your practice.

He discusses still and moving meditation, breathing, mind and movement, and ways to classify tai chi chuan.

The third chapter brings together a number of pictures displaying how to perform the series he mentions. I personally find these chapters less useful than the theory sections since I would much rather learn movements from a live interaction or, at a distant second place, via video. I think there are many intricate movements we miss out on my trying to practice techniques from a book.

Luckily, there is a companion DVD.

If you’re interested in learning more about this book or about martial arts in general, leave a comment here or shoot me an email.

Resources:

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in order to review it.)

December 3

Book Review: Simple Qigong Exercises for Health

Several weeks ago, a student raised his hand in class to ask me what I knew about energy and chi. I warned the class, saying that I had no formal background in chi cultivation, but explained I had been reading a book in which the author discussed chi throughout his 300+ pages in The Power of Internal Martial Arts and Chi: Combat and Energy Secrets of Ba Gua, Tai Chi and Hsing-I by Bruce K. Frantzis.

In it, Mr. Frantzis tells a story at one point about feeling confident in his sparring ability against one of his teachers, only for that teacher to lodge energy in between his shoulder blades. He says the chi required several months of extensive massaging to relieve.

Needless to say, after reading that, to concept of using chi has seemed almost mystical to me. Since it was hard for me to wrap my mind around that idea, I sought out other ways to learn about it, and happened to come across a copy of Simple Qigong Exercises for Health: Improve Your Health in 10 to 20 Minutes a Day. I’d hoped this would help explain chi to me a little better. (Note here: Chi, qi, and ki are all the same thing. Chi kung is also the same as qigong. For the purposes of this review, I will refer to it as qi since that is how it appears in the book.)

For somebody who’s entirely new to qi, I would recommend this book.

“Qi is the energy or natural force that fills the universe,” Dr. Yang writes.

Three types of qi exists: heaven qi, earth qi and human qi. All of these energies must balance, according to the Chinese. Otherwise, we experience natural disasters – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes – and disease, among other things.

The bulk of this book focuses on the Eight Pieces of Brocade – both sitting and standing versions – exercises developed in China nearly 1,000 years ago by Marshal Yue, Fei in order to improve his soldiers’ health. Yue, Fei is described by Dr. Yang as “a great scholar of the Chinese classics… a brave and shrewd general who skillfully defeated the enemies of his country.”

By using the pieces, Dr. Yang says you’ll activate “the qi and blood circulation in your body, helping to stimulate your immune system, strengthen your internal organs, and give you abundant energy.”

Not only does he explain the theories involved in qigong practice, but he even has pictures to illustrate how to do the actual sets of exercises, plus an extensive glossary and index to help you find what you need.

If you’re like me, though, you’ll probably want the DVD. I’ve found books to be great for learning philosophy and history, but not so great for actual technique.

Resources:

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in order to review it.)