This book distinguishes itself from the pile of books on tai chi chuan sitting on the shelves of your local bookstore. Most tai chi books are large-format, glossy books with full-color photographs of the various moves of the solo forms–usually the Yang-style short form (also called the Beijing Standard Form [or the like.]) Sutton’s book, on the other hand, is mostly text about the history, philosophy, tactics, and lesser-known dimensions of tai chi chuan. In short, while most books give little indication that there’s more to tai chi than the solo form, Sutton builds his niche in focusing on everything other than the solo form. Those who’ve practiced tai chi will be familiar with the on-going debate about whether the art is primarily chi gong (energy work for health purposes) or a martial art. Sutton comes down on the latter side.
The book consists of 32 short chapters (mostly 2 to 4 pages.) It isn’t written as a how-to manual, but rather as a series of meditations on various aspects of tai chi. As I mentioned, the book deals more with “push hands,” the “san shou” fast forms, and weapons than does most books on tai chi. It doesn’t try to teach these methods, but instead tries to offer insight on them. The book would be of most value to someone who has some experience with the art, but who isn’t an expert. The latter might find it boring, but those without minimal knowledge might have trouble visualizing what the author is attempting to convey.
There are some black & white graphics in the book. They are static photos in a section at the middle of the book. The pictures don’t convey a sequence or details of any particular movement, but instead capture various masters within a movement so as to give the reader a taste of the art. There are also a few line drawings used to show items such as weapons and the yin-yang symbol.
The oddest part of the book is the last chapter (which is far longer than the others and is out of character with the rest of the book.) It consists of extended bios on a number of teachers under which the author has trained. I understand the value of paying homage to one’s teachers, but the bios in this section are long and are inconsistent with the general approach of the book. In essence it’s like a 15 page dedication on a 125 page book. The teachers covered seem to have nothing particular in common other than that the author trained with each of them as some point in his life (i.e. they cover different styles and are from different locales.) That said, there are some interesting nuggets about some of these individuals.
I’d recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about tai chi. However, if you’re purely interested in learning the solo forms for chi gong (i.e. you don’t want to know about tai chi as a martial art) then one of those other books may serve you better.