Reviews (pre 2017)

Tai Chi Masters of the 20th Century 2 DVDs filmed by Dick Watson
by Dan Docherty
I attended the International Yongnian Taijiquan Festival in 1997 and did the tour of Yang Lu-chan's house, Wu Yu-xiang's villa and the Chen pharmacy. It was a veritable smorgasbord of TCC.

This two disc package was put together by Dick Watson, doyen of British TCC, from footage taken by him at the first Yongnian Festival in 1991. As he plainly states on the cover it is amateur filming. While Dick may be no Zhang Yimou, the material is priceless for it shows long dead masters in action as well as some, then young turks, who are now established elder statesmen of the TCC world.

Disc 1 shows Yang style spear training with 3 metre poles. Interestingly the spearmen all have the left hand forward which is also the way I usually practice. There is Chen style Tui Shou training which appears to use something like the Nine Palace stepping of Wu lineage.

As I watched Fu Zhong-wen, aka "Mr. Push Hands", in action I thought of the terrible story told by Yang Zhen-duo of how Fu gave Yang Cheng-fu 'Hong Kong Foot' ointment to treat "eczema" of the penis (with disastrous consequences).

Ma Yue-liang is seen performing Nine Palace step and Da Lu; this is followed by free Tui Shou and a ludicrous display of "empty force". It is sad to see a skilled person go down that dead end road. His wife, Wu Ying-hua, then demonstrates what is purported to be Wu Jian-quan form. While her postures are perfect, there is almost no coiling and very little centre line rotation. It is hard to believe that her father couldn't do it better than that. Ma and wife both lived long and are now both long dead.

One of the eternal debates in the TCC world is whether when in a front stance one should lean into techniques. Yang Cheng-fu's son, Yang Zhen-duo, leans into every thrust in the Yang sword form; unlike other Yang exponents, he seems in no doubt.

Other luminaries include Sun Lu-tang's daughter, Sun Jian-yun, who showed her father's blend of Nei Jia Chuan now referred to as Sun style TCC. I saw her demonstrate in 1997 when she was clearly unwell. Now she is gone also.

A young Chen Zheng-lei is seen in action, lithe, fast and sudden. I bumped into him in 2006 when he was filming at Chen Village, still bent on world domination. In contrast to him there is a demo of the rare (in Europe) Zhao Bao form. Zhao Bao is a village close to Chen village which has its own martial tradition. I visited the village in 1994. They claim that their TCC comes from Chang San-feng and Wudang Mountain. It is, however, clear that their forms owe much to the Chens, though their performance is somewhat softer and the sequence is different.

Disc 1 concludes with a demo of Wu Yu-xiang form; light with high stances.

Disc 2 features a variety of "losed door" demos , invitation only. Probably the most interesting performances are Yang Zhen-duo, sporting a natty waistcoat, giving a detaled explanation of postures such as Single Whip and Brush Knee Twist Step and Feng Zhi-jiang of Chen Style. Feng is interesting on two counts, he was top student of Chen Fa-ke and he it was who was selected to teach an obstreperous Bruce Frantzis a lesson many years ago. Frantzis later asked to be accepted as Feng's student; he was rejected. "Many are cauld, but few are frozen" as we say in Glasgow.

This DVD set is a must buy for the serious practitioner; it contains a wide-range of rare and unusual material featuring what is now largely a dead and dying generation of masters and is only £18 including pi&p see longfei-taiji web site for details.


 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF QI – ZHANG YU HUAN & KEN ROSE (PARADIGM PUBLICATIONS, ISBN # 0-912111-63-1 (£17.99))
Reviewed by Dan Docherty
Being a Qigong healer and practitioner these many years I found this book to be beautifully produced with many interesting little nuggets of information. This is in no way a “how to” book, but an analysis of the concept of “Qi” in all its manifestations.

We have chapters dealing with Qi and the literary tradition, philosophy, the arts, medicine (interesting link is made between Qi in medicine and in shamanic dance), Qigong, the martial arts and daily life. The tricky subject of internal alchemy is particularly well-handled. The bibliography and index are satisfactorily detailed and the book is well-illustrated with extensive quotations from classical Chinese texts.

There is considerable etymological analysis of relevant Chinese characters and terms. Did you know for example that there is a special character coined by Taoists to express their personal notion of Qi?

Unfortunately there is some questionable scholarship, for example the authors just blindly accept that Chuang Tzu was the author of the Taoist Classics “Zhi Bei You (Zhi travels North)” and “Ke Yi“, thus making the works appear to be authoritative. Likewise some of the stories about famous Tai Chi Chuan and Shaolin masters and their use of Qi would seem to be classic examples of Munchausen syndrome

Jim MacRitchie, all round nice guy and ex President of the North American Qigong Association once assured me that Qigong was a modern term coined some time after WWII; I told him I was dubious and can now refute his asseveration. The authors reveal that the term, as far as they could ascertain, was first used in the Taoist text “Records of The Clear Mirror of Religion” by Xu Xun during the Jin dynasty (265-420 AD) though the term Qigong it seems was not widely used until after 1949.

Finally if you are looking to get a detailed well-written account of “Qi” this is the book for you.


 

THE FIGHTER’S BODY – AN OWNER’S MANUAL BY CHRISTENSEN & DEMEERE (TURTLE PRESS $18.95; ISBN 1-880336-81-2)
by Dan Docherty
I was given a review copy of this book and it took a considerable time to read and even longer to get round to writing this review. Mr. Christensen, whom I never had the pleasure of meeting, is an ex policeman from Portland Oregon with almost 40 years martial arts experience. Wim is a friend of mine, who works as a personal trainer and martial arts instructor from Belgium; he has competed successfully in Chinese full contact fighting and has coached the Belgian team since 2001.

The book’s main aim is how to use food, supplements, vitamins, minerals and fluids so it deals largely with diets, making, gaining and losing weight, training and eating for and at competitions, training sessions and gradings. Many of the issues raised are important to society in general but the book is precisely targeted at martial artists. The book presents both short and long term solutions to specific problems and the authors claim to have personally used every eating plan and training regimen presented.

Individual food types are discussed in considerable detail and this is vital because proteins help repair injuries, many vegetarian diets fail to have the right balance making the individual injury prone and more susceptible to nerve damage. The current fad for low carb diets is dealt with too. I once had an ectomorphic student staying with me for a few weeks. He was training for full contact at the time I was following just such a diet and he ate what I ate. The result was burn out so I got him to switch to eating rice, bread etc so he felt better, trained better and fought better.

The book doesn’t neglect the female fighter and points out that they particularly need to monitor their intake of calcium and magnesium and to make sure they get enough iron to make up for what they lose in menstruation.

The discussion of fluids is also very sound. A lot of people think drinking fruit juice is healthy, not realising the calories involved, the authors advise diluting it with water – a practice I have followed for many years. Energy drinks are discussed in detail; interestingly they advocate drinking 2-4 cups of coffee (plain black) about an hour before training to boost performance. Green tea is also encouraged though only skimmed milk is recommended.

Given the recent movie, 2 Super Size Me” and the current debate on obesity, the fast food facts are useful with detailed calorific contents being given for specific meals. The answer is to losing weight is to combine moderate negative calorific balance with extra training. Some methods for more radical weight loss are also discussed. While incorrect.

A lot of unexpected points and side issues are mentioned. For example, less sleep can cause an increase in hunger and affect the metabolism leading to weight gain. How do you identify and deal with allergies and food intolerance? Eating plans are tailored to specific training approaches. It is not enough to eat the right food, but also to prepare it properly – steaming and boiled are recommended.

Each chapter starts with “Fast Facts” which concisely present the key points. I’ll mention a few of these. “…to lose fat you must burn more calories than you consume.” “…the worst reaction to sudden, harsh calorie restriction is the loss of lean muscle.” “…sweating five per cent of your water can affect your performance up to 30 per cent.” Some of our more traditionally minded instructors would be horrified to learn that they actually advocate drinking water in class.

The authors cover a variety of training methods such as bag work, running, sparring, weights, aerobics etc. and how to use them to control your weight. The authors seem to both be big believers in consumption of nutrition bars and protein shakes as well as taking creatine for power and muscle mass.

The book ends with a chapter on the mental approach and training logs; there is also a bibliography. The only real criticism I have is that lifestyles and the time factors involved in following all the advice given would be a problem for many martial artists. That said, the advice given is excellent and I thoroughly recommend the book – particularly for instructors and serious competitors.


THE TAIJIQUAN CLASSICS BY BARBARA DAVIS (North Atlantic Books – ISBN 1-55643-431-6; $16.95) 
reviewed by Dan Docherty
This book passes two crucial tests. It is better than other books on the subject and it tells us a few things we didn’t know before.

The author, Barbara Davis, is also editor of the quarterly “Taijiquan Journal” and practices Cheng Man-ching style. She is an academic and this comes across in her approach, which tends more to writing about the translated material than explaining how to do it.

The book contains the Chinese texts and translations of the five major TCC Classics along with a translated commentary from Chen Wei-ming and a further commentary from Ms. Davis. There is also a considerable amount of background material.

The received orthodoxy of the origin of the Classics is the strange story from the Wu Yu-xiang lineage that in 1852 the texts were discovered in a salt cellar in Wu Yang and handed to Wu’s brother who happened to be the local magistrate. As the author’s researches show, said brother did not take up his post till a year later. The strange absence of the Classics from the Chen clan except for a few phrases is discussed and the obvious answer is because Taijiquan did not originate with them.

Mostly I would agree with much of Ms. Davis’s translations but “Song of Playing Hands “ for “Da Shou Ge” is faintly ludicrous and clearly derives from the author’s lack of practical fighting experience. This is manifested repeatedly as she continually identifies martial application from a pushing hands point of view. Having said that she is overly kind to the works of Wile, Lo and others as her translation is “Chapman’s Homer” compared to their sorry efforts.

She does not take the internal alchemy references very far, most likely because it is not a major part of her practice. I would not place as much credence as Ms. Davis does on the commentary of Chen Wei-ming who had no great repute as a fighter (in his writings he admitted no knowledge of pressure points and sword application) as well as being a questionable historian. Novices will also encounter difficulties as the book seems to consider each classic to be of equal importance. This is not the case.

Barbara Davis’s book is certainly the best and most comprehensive translation of the Classics on the market and I recommend it most heartedly.


 

We Are Not Amused 
by Dan Docherty (Combat Magazine 2001)
I’ve just finished reading Robert W. Smith’s new book, “MARTIAL MUSINGS: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in The 20th Century” (Via Media Publishing Co., 1999, ISBN 1-893765-00-8). For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Smith is an old buffer now (born in 1926, in Iowa) who has practiced martial arts for more than 50 years and best known for his writings on Chinese martial arts.

 Brought up in an orphanage, Smith wrestled in high school, after which he joined the Marines where he learned some crude judo. He took up boxing and later coached it, though he now believes all boxing should be banned. In 1947, on doctor’s advice he gave up boxing for judo, an art for which he still has some affection.

After university, Smith had a desk job with the CIA in Washington before being posted to Taiwan (1959-62). While in the Far East, he met a whole bunch of people who were or subsequently became big names and Smith’s reminiscences of these times are the best part of the book.

Smith is nothing if not inconsistent. He says of a demonstration by Aikido’s founder, Ueshiba, “…to me, the feat seemed authentic and marvellous”; in the next paragraph this becomes, “His performance may have been legitimate.” He quotes a Judo 6thdan on aikido techniques being unrealistic and ineffective, then describes a demonstration by Koichi Tohei, a top student of Ueshiba, who took on and threw five high ranking judoka who attacked him repeatedly all at once.

We learn that Wing Chun is “a minor boxing method” and “an obscure system” and Bruce Lee “was an even worse actor than a fighter”. None of the Ultimate fighters “could stand before a middling sumotori”. Ali “is an overweight light-heavy with the punch of a pillow who could not stand with earlier heavyweights.” Tell that one to Big George, Smokin’ Joe and a host of others

I sometimes wonder what planet Smith lives on. He relates, “…the leading American martial arts magazine offered us (Smith and Donn Draeger) its editorial slot but when we insisted it be substantively sound and non-commercial and that it be changed from a monthly to a quarterly format, the owner lost interest in us.” Quelle surprise.

Referring to his old collaborator, Draeger, he says, “…his books had all the wit and humour of Marine Corps administrative memoranda.”

Smith has a fund of embarrassing stories about Mas. Oyama, Nishiyama, the Gracies and Sylvester Stallone to name but a few. Smith rightly criticises some of the techniques taught by the legendary Captain W.E. Fairbairn who pioneered self defence training for the Shanghai Police in the 1920s and the Special Operations Executive during WWII, but in his own books there are plenty of techniques shown by “Smith-approved masters” Gao Fang-xian, “the top Northern Shaolin boxer”, Cheng Man-ching, “the Master of Five Excellences” and Hong Yi-xiang which are either questionable or downright ridiculous.

The Professor’s advice on dealing with a street attack is, “…keep your mind on your own legs. This way everything will work out fine.”

Smith says of nine time in a row All Japan Judo champion Yamashita, “…I think Yamashita’s technique would have been even better if he had relaxed more…” Attacking the “furor over winning”, he says that in a worldly sense the “quintessential men of Zen were invariably losers”, quoting three examples from fiction and mythology to back up this penetrating insight. He also shares his opinions on ballet with us, “Compared to taiji, ballet afforded no root, kept too much qi in the head and arms” and “Alas it knew nothing of relaxation”. Unfortunately there are no photos of Smith in his judogi showing Yamashita how to relax or in his tutu and pink tights showing ballet dancers how to root.

 For Smith a good teacher “…will be gentle, not forceful; he will be mild not blatant; he will be moderate and modest, but courageous. Out of thousands of students, Smith gave permission to teach to only 12 who had spent more than five years with him.

For British martial artists (or practitioners of “combatives” to use Smith’s term), there are interesting anecdotes about the late great E.J. Harrison, Syd Hoare (an almost forgotten hero of British Judo and Sumo) and Rose Li amongst others.

We have Smith’s tale of a shame-faced Terry O’Neill, standing outside Rose Li’s studio having been banned for missing taiji practice one Saturday and going to France with the national karate squad to compete instead. Some people! Thankfully Smith also gives Madam Li some constructive criticism, concluding that her form is “often double-weighted and not relaxed”, “…the result of inadequate learning or dilution of Liu’s original form by a young woman…” And these are his friends!

Nowhere does Smith discuss the many differences between Cheng Man-ching and Yang Cheng-fu’s postures or Cheng’s other teachers. Smith (“a world’s leading authority on Asian martial arts”), tells us in one sentence that he didn’t care for weapons apart from some staff work then gives us three pages on guns and hunting.

He mentions the imprisoned boxer, Reuben “Hurricane” Jackson, which seems to be mixing Reuben “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer, and George Jackson, the black activist who was shot dead. Smith has an interesting prose style; on page 219, “…it was mostly wonderful”, while on page 220, “Most of the time it was only wonderful”.

Smith’s knowledge of Chinese is at times pretty suspect. He translates the character jin as “tenacious energy”, whereas the character contains the radical for strength and thus indicates not tenacious energy but skilled (as opposed to brute) force. Smith says that to become capable of jin requires “mastering your essence (i.e. sperm) and qi ”. There is no mention of Kung training in jin techniques. Smith gives us a picture of him and three fellow students trying to push Cheng, basic physics would reveal to Smith that because of the body mechanics involved this is impossible not because they hadn’t mastered their essences.

Smith wants it both ways. On the one hand we have the invincible Cheng Man-ching, but, “…taiji is or should be a gentle art, practiced nowadays mainly for health”. We have students of Hong Yi-xiang who practiced Shaolin and Nei Jia Chuan winning San Shou tournaments whereas apart from the limited success of William Chen who also trained Western boxing Cheng’s students did little or nothing in this area.

Smith comes across as the Mr. Angry of the martial arts world trying like King Canute to turn back the tide. This is not a great book and probably not even a good one with far too much in it in the way of obscure quotes from Smith’s favourite writers and too many limp shaggy dog stories. There is little of value about martial arts in the last 20 years. There is nothing about the opening up of Mainland China and martial arts there, no history except recent history, nothing about martial arts from parts of Asia other than Japan and Taiwan. Despite all this, the book is often interesting with a wealth of (often highly biased) opinions on people and styles from a time long gone.

To his credit Smith opposed the insanity of US involvement in Vietnam and points out the ludicrous nature of the Rambo films and such where Hollywood has America winning instead of being defeated by peasants. (Incidentally he fails to mention that Ho Chi-minh practiced Tai Chi Chuan.)

Smith isn’t a great theorist or fighter or researcher. He lived in interesting times and he wrote about his experiences and for anyone interested in the passage of knowledge in the martial arts from Taiwan and to a lesser extent Taiwan to the West, this book is indispensible.


 

Chen Pan-Ling's Original Tai Chi Chuan Textbook BLITZ, ISBN0-9660240-3-6
Review by Dan Docherty
Chen Pan-ling (1891-1967) is one of those mysterious figures of the Chinese internal arts made legendary in the Western world through the writings of Robert W. Smith, who refers to him, in the foreword of this first English translation of Chen's textbook, as "perhaps the most knowledgeable person in the world on the principles, rationale and practice of Chinese boxing at the time of his death".

Chen was a radical in his approach. He refused to Bai Shi, he was selective about whom he taught and he didn't charge - the complete opposite of my own master in all three aspects. Chen's Tai Chi teachers were Wu Jian-quan, Yang Shao-hou, Xu Yu-shen and Chi De (the last three were all students of Yang Jian-hou, youngest son of Yang Lu-chan). He also visited and trained in the Chen  family village though we are not told with whom.

Chen developed his own Tai Chi form which is idiosyncratic in nature with elements of Yang, Wu, Woo and Chen style in it, but this form is not widely practiced outside Taiwan. The only person in Britain practicing Chen Pan-ling's Tai Chi that I know of is Robert Simpson of the Kuo Shu Institute.

The Chinese version of this book was published in 1963 in Taiwan; my copy of the long-awaited English translation was given to me by Dr. Alan Peatfield, a lifelong student of the Chinese martial arts who actually met the translators, Col. Y.W. Chang and his wife, Ann Carruthers in Crete. 

There is a lot of emphasis on facing south to begin the form, though we are not told why. In the historical section Chen adopts the conventional Chinese approach to religion of believing all truths -at least in part, accepting the legitimacy of Chen Wang-ting (not -tien as it is rendered in the book), Chang San-feng and even the absurdity of Chen Xin claiming his ancestor, Chen Pu, as the inventor of Tai Chi Chuan. A historian, Chen was not.

Chen claims that his book contains the most elegant postures and most effective fighting techniques from the Yang Chen and two Wu styles yet not a single fighting technique is shown, only some pushing hands near the end of the book. He also talks of a detecting area in advanced Tai Chi Chuan similar to radar, enabling masters to detect a surprise attack and to use invisible force to thrust the attacker away and to pick him up. He talks of practicing the solo form slowly and "someday you reach a level at which you know the meaning of understanding internal energy (tung chin). At that point you will know the real meaning of the speed of reaction, and the speed of striking. You can then possess one of the striking internal energies known as fa chin...".  And, "At a certain level of practice... when you strike, your striking force will be as strong as a bullet ejecting from a barrel."

Chen is both interesting and informative in his discussions of breathing, movement, posture, health benefits etc. related to the practice of the solo form. Many of the layouts and charts, such as Chen's Twenty Essential points for Tai Chi Chuan points, Training Method and so on are effective ways of communicating his ideas to the reader and his training as an engineer is evident in the methodical structure. The glossary is necessary as some of the terms Chen uses will not be familiar to the novice, but some of the definitions given such as, "nei kung - internal style martial arts" (probably they meant nei jia chuan); or "tao yin - Taoist exercise" are not helpful.

The translations of the Classics are poor, and often sound like Charlie Chan meets the son of Fu Manchu; e.g., "Apprentice needs sagacious teacher to view him face to face" instead of "to enter the door and be led along the path oral instruction is necessary".

The conclusion I came to is that Chen Pan-ling on a theoretical level had a lot of knowledge, but that he was weak on the practical level of how to use Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, though like many others he may have been a competent martial artist in other systems. The book contains a treasure trove of well-presented information that is likely to be of interest to novices and teachers of any Tai Chi Chuan school.

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T'ai-Chi Spirit and Essence; A new Vision of a Healing Process by Beverley Milne
Review by Dan Docherty
Pascale told me she had dinner once with a guy who was educated, handsome, rich - and a supporter of Jean-Marie le Pen. She walked out after the first course. In this book Beverley says her sole object is to seek and project Truth, Beauty and Harmony.

Reading this tome I began to wish that I felt as sure about anything as Beverley seems to be about everything.She says that by the early centuries of the Christian era exercises of unarmed combat "the heritage of all cultured Chinese" became known as kung-fu. It is not so.

In her history of the art she calls Chang San-feng a nobleman who was by birth (she wrongly states this was in the 11th century) obliged to practice Shaolin martial training. There is no evidence for this. She has him deserting the army when there is no evidence he ever joined an army. She says the name T'ai-chi Ch'uan was coined in the 15th century. There is no evidence for this; available evidence suggests the 19th century when this term was used in the Tai Chi Classics. She says it was developed by Buddhist monks, but the only Buddhist connection I know of was when Wang Lan-ting in the late 19th century sought sanctuary in a Buddhist temple after killing some Manchus.  

She is mistaken in her discussion of weight distribution. She accepts names like Strum the Lute, but renames "Parry and Punch" as "Open and Drive", "Single Whip" as "Bird's Beak", while "Kick" is called "Release"; "Shoot The Tiger" is "Release The Tiger". She calls the original terms "uninspiring, uncreative and unnecessary". Self-defence and traditionalists who are not in tune with the New Age need to be filtered out.Of course all this can only be properly transmitted to Westerners by women who because of their previous incarnations in China (Beverley was the daughter of a nobleman and has her personal guide who uses the vibration of his life as the poet Li Po - a notorious boozer) are in tune with the relevant spiritual energies, unfortunate Western males such as I being culturally conditioned to masculine dominance have a longer road to travel, before we can express the essentially feminine energies of the Tai Chi form.

 

Beverley says (so it is true) that the only sword in Tai Chi Chuan is the metaphoric and symbolic, double-edged Sword of Truth. The book reminded me of "Foucault's Pendulum" where Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Knights Templar, The Torah and all kind of things appear. Beverley talks of Jesus and Buddha and Prana and Hara and Kundalini and etheric energy movements, and auric effects. On the other hand she also reminds me of "The Modern Parents" in "Viz". The translations she uses of the Tao Te Ching and the Tai Chi Classics are poor and misleading; this perhaps explains some of her opinions, though she has some sensible things to say on posture, clothing, practicing a traditional long form rather than one of the modern short ones and doing the form on the other side.

The second half of the book consists largely of discussing Tai Chi Chuan from the Spiritualist point of view. It includes testimonies of mediums and students of Beverley of what they saw and felt during Tai Chi practice. This includes, colours, fire, Devas, being Chinese and

the 3rd century personality whom Beverley uses to talk to the T'ai-chi archetype.

Now there actually is something in this. Firstly, during the Ching dynasty in particular, Fu Qi, or planchette writing was extensively used to contact the spirit world in general and Chang San-feng in particular. Beverley does not mention this tradition at all and is presumably keeping it secret as her previous incarnations would be aware of it. I have seen spirits myself on four occasions. The first time being in Hong Kong shortly after learning Nei Kung. However, I've never seen or felt anything such as is to be found in the testimonies in Beverley's book. It's not something you can argue about. She and her students presumably believe what they say, so it's all True, Beautiful and Harmonious - for them.

The book is published by The Healing School of T'ai-Chi. (RRP £14.99; ISBN 0-646-19580-8)

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Chinese Swordsmanship - The Yang Family Tai Ji Tradition by Scott M Rodell
review by Dan Docherty
290pp, Seven Stars Books and Video, www.sevenstarstrading.com  ISBN 0- 9743999-0-6

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rodell personally though in 1990 I sam him perform most creditably in Taiwan at the Chung Wah Cup International Pushing Hands Tournament and subsequently have heard of him through his chief Russian student, my friend Mr. Albert Yefimov.

Mr. Rodell has done considerable service for the Wang Yen-nian and Yang Family sword lineages in particular and the Chinese martial arts sword enthusiast as well as the general weapons enthusiast in general by publishing this work which is a Tai Chi Chuan equivalent of works on European swordsmanship by the likes of Amberger (whose encomium appears on the back of the book) and Clements.

One of the unusual qualities Mr. Rodell brings to the subject is his extensive knowledge of Chinese imperial swords and weaponry as he is a dealer in the same and thus has handled many more weapons than the average practitioner. Indeed given the low ability of many an average practitioner, they will find the book “challenging”.

The book is well-illustrated throughout, especially the most diverting and somewhat impetuous discussion of the differences between the “public Yang” hand and sword forms and application and that of the Michuan (hidden/secret Yang transmission) from Wang Yen-nian which the author clearly favours.

As with any new book, there are some mistakes, the biggest howler being the confusion with the Wu (this character means martial) family of Wu Yu-xiang and his brothers with the Wu character (to vociferate or brag) adopted by the Mongolian Quan-you as his Chinese name. Some of the other history is dubious also, but this charge can be laid against almost any Tai Chi history ever written.

 There is some contradiction where he suggests that in public Yang sword form and Michuan hand form (“having drawn on …Xingyiquan, Northern Shaolinquan and snake boxing”) the footwork is active and advanced and active and versatile respectively while in Yang hand form and Michuan sword form there is “none” and it is “straight in and out respectively”. Yet later he has the techniques of the later Yang sword form paralleling those of the hand form. On a personal note as can be expected from someone coming from a different tradition I have some technical disagreements with the author.

These are minor criticisms. The fact remains that this a vastly better and more informative book than that of Chen Wei-ming, (one of Yang Cheng-fu’s top students) on Taiji sword (a creditable translation by Barbara Davis is available through North Atlantic Books ISBN1-55643-333-6) and that alone is a considerable achievement.


 

 TAI CHI SECRETS of the ANCIENT MASTERS by Dr. Yang Jwing-ming
review by Dan Docherty
YMAA ISBN 1-886969-71-X51295

This is the latest offering from Dr. Yang Jwing-ming and his YMAA Publication Centre. Dr. Yang is a publishing phenomenon who has single-handedly produced a huge number of writings on Chinese martial arts and Qi Gong. He is particularly noted for his skill in White Crane Boxing and is on the seminar circuit in Europe and the USA. I don’t know him personally, but I saw him demonstrating Tai Chi in America back in 1992.

One of the things Chinese scholars will like about this book is that Dr. Yang has included the original Chinese texts as well as his translations and commentary. The texts themselves have appeared in English before in one form or another, but not in the one volume. The use of the word “secrets” is overdone, but reading the book, I did get a couple of new insights  - on the concept of “Double Weighting” and Dr. Yang’s translation of shi as “patterns” instead of postures, his explanations of the difficult concept of suspended headtop are also good.

The texts are not all of the same quality or importance especially text 12 which purports to be an old Tai Chi Classic from the reign of the Emperor Qian Long (1736-96) during the Qing dynasty, and which claims “…Heng Ha, two Qi’s are marvellous and infinite” These are in fact the onomatopaeic names of two legendary Zhou dynasty marshals. Heng (Snorter) could discharge two columns of white light from his nostrils to consume his enemies, while Ha (Blower) could emit a deadly yellow gas, yet the good doctor takes all this at face value.

All in all the description on the cover “A Motivational Pocket Guide for Tai Chi Chuan” is a pretty accurate one and at £10.95 it is a worthwhile investment for the expert as well as the enthusiast.

**rating


 

Seven Tresures of Taijiquan edited by Jurgen Licht
Reviewed by Dan Docherty
This book was published by the editor, Mr. Licht, as a limited edition (1000 copies in English and the same in German) in 2001. The seven treasures of the title are the five major Tai Chi Chuan Classics, a work by Cheng Man-ching and a Taoistic parable on the concept of Wu Wei. All the works are presented in Chinese with an English translation and Mr. Licht was aided in his task by an unnamed sinologist.

Firstly, let me say that the production is excellent, in classical Chinese style; the book folds like a concertina and is protected by a hardback sleeve. For ease of reference, the Chinese text and English translation complement one another exactly on facing pages. A short preface from Mr. Licht and an introduction from Mr.Wolfe Lowenthal are followed by the texts without any background information about the five Tai Chi Chuan Classics, although Mr. Licht states he selected more or less standardised versions there being some variation in these texts from book to book.

The Da Shou Ge for once is correctly translated as the “Song of Striking Hands” instead of the incorrect, but more common “Song of Pushing Hands”, though it is one of the shortest versions I have seen and misses out Mian (cotton/soft) as one of the five strategies to be employed.

The Tai Chi Chuan Jing (Classic) is a fairly standard version also though it misses out the phrase (Tai Chi)… produces movement and stillness, which is strange since the passage in question is a direct quote from Zhou Dunyi’s Tai Chi Diagram. Against this, the explanation of double weightedness is better than the usual piffle. Again there is this dreadful concept of “yielding” for “zou” which just means appropriate movement and so can be in any direction not just back.

The Tai Chi Chuan Lun (Treatise) is pretty well ok as is the curiously translated “Extension of The Role of The Mind When Performing The 13 Postures” and the “Song of 13 Postures though “without effort” should be “without wasting effort”; but this is a matter of nuance.

Something of particular interest to Cheng Man-ching stylists is his “Song of Foundation & Application” which also appears in Cheng’s book on the 13 Postures. The translation is all right except for the strange failure to recognise the Taoistic term “Bao Yi” (Embrace The One) from Lao Zi and also much used in the writings of the Complete Reality School of Taoism.

The seventh and final “Treasure” is Licht’s own parable in Chinese style on the concept of “Wu Wei”, which is both reasonably amusing and conveys the essence well., The book concludes with a brief glossary explaining some of the key terms.

While Licht’s work is by no means definitive, he has done good work here and the book is sure to strike a chord with practitioners of the Cheng Man-ching method in particular and the beautiful production and limited availability make it also a collector’s item.


Scholar Boxer by Marnix Wells NORTH ATLANTIC BOOKS; ISBN9 781556 434822 51895; $18.95
Reviewed by Dan Docherty
If anyone deserves the sobriquet “scholar boxer” it is Marnix Wells himself, who is a career sinologist based at the SOAS in London. I was first introduced to him by the late Danny Connor. Despite his scholarly nature Marnix has for many years been competing enthusiastically on the UK internal martial arts scene both in forms and pushing hands often against men half his age and is also a Chinese opera enthusiast.

His book is about “Chang Naizhou’s Theory of Internal Martial Arts and the evolution of Taijiquan”, (the Chinese title is “Chang Naizhou Wuji Quanshu” , meaning “Chang Naizhou’s martial art complete book”

For those who don’t know, Chang (1724-1783?) was a teacher of eclectic martial arts based in Henan Province between the Northern Shaolin Temple and Chenjiagou, the home of the Chen family. It was at a time when, under Emperor Qianlong, martial arts practice was proscribed and books about it were burned, hence Chang’s writings could only circulate amongst disciples. They were only published after the 1911 revolution and were then used to train local militia. However, there is some dubiety about how much interpolation and extrapolation has been done by persons other than Chang.

This is a very difficult book. Professor Douglas Wile had a go at some of this material in his book on Tai Chi’s Ancestors and did not do a great job. As far as I can make out Marnix’s translation is accurate but I find rendering Yin and Yang as ‘shady’ and ‘sunny’ is very awkward. Work this out:- “Energy takes one side. It cannot on four sides both together take.”

Marnix correctly identifies the many similarities between Chang’s art and the Quanjing (Classic of Boxing) and also Tai Chi Chuan; for example Golden Cockerel on One Leg, Seven Stars, Cross Hands, Single Whip, Ride the Tiger, Draw the Bow, Cannon Punch, Tiger Embraces Head etc. all exist in Chang’s art and in Tai Chi Chuan and in the Quanjing. Some techniques of Chang’s are also similar to some Tai Chi Chuan techniques though they have different names.

However, the differences are very striking. The major one is the posture. In a great many of Chang’s illustrations the centre line between the crown of the head and the coccyx is broken with the head tilted up or down and with raised shoulders. There are many Buddhist references in the text, which suggest influences from the nearby Shaolin Temple.

The illustrations show the boxer wearing either bangles or gloves and Marnix relates how on a visit to my teacher’s gym in Hong Kong in the early Seventies he saw boxing gloves being used in sparring. In fact we only used gloves when training for Chinese full contact competition applications were otherwise done with bare hands. Heavy metal bangles are often used in external martial arts as a type of conditioning.

I found myself underwhelmed by much of the material, “Level fist down plants: middle finger second joint leads Energy.” “In Face-on Prone dynamics, to enter Sunny Energy, the Head must be Prone and planted.” “At the Face, eyebrows must relax, nostrils must distend, lips must open, Energy must exhale, the sound must go “ha.” This last is in fact one of the onomatopaeic  names of one of two mythical marshals from the Shang dynasty, the other being “Heng”. I find it absurd.

Bad editing by the publishers make it appear that Chang Kejian (c.1860) taught both Chen Chang-xing and Yang Lu-chan. I later talked with Marnix and he made it clear that he was only saying that they were contemporaries. However, there are plenty of tall tales about Chang and others connected with him that are related as fact.

This is difficult material and it raises more questions than it answers. Marnix has done a considerable service to the Tai Chi community in writing it though that is done very much from a Chen style perspective. Very definitely a must read book for the serious Tai Chi Chuan practitioner. As it says on the back cover, “Scholar Boxer” opens a unique window into the peak of the Manchu Qing Empire. It is fascinating to look through that window.