DAILY PHOTO: Snake Creeps Down Taiji Statue, Montreal

Taken in Montreal in March of 2011

This sculpture by Ju Ming is apparently called “Single Whip,” though it reminds me more of “Snake Creeps Down” because of it’s downward slope of the arms. At any rate, it can be found in Victoria Square in downtown Montreal.

5 Reasons to Practice Yang Style 24 Form

With slight variations, this taijiquan (tai chi chuan) sequence is alternatively called: Yang Style 24 Form, the Yang Style Short Form, Beijing Standard Form (occasionally Peking Standard Form), or Simplified 24 Form. Here are some reasons to give it a try.

 

5.) Widespread: It’s the single most popular taiji form in the world. This means, if you’re the gregarious type, you can join groups in parks all over the world.

4.) Balance: It’s good for your balance and you don’t want to fall and break a hip.

3.) Moving Meditation: It’s a great way for fidgety individuals to work up to meditation. All the meditation without having to stay perfectly still.

2.) Scalability: It’s scalable to fitness level. Because taiji is popular with older people, many modifications have been developed for those who aren’t ready for the classical expression of the form.

1.) Gentleness: There’s virtually nothing to go wrong — as long as you “know thyself.” i.e. There are no contraindications, at least for the simplified form.

POEM: Tai Chi

do you know the way it flows

the glide it rides from highs to lows

coiling left to unwind right

weight of water, strong or slight

twisting, turning, a fire burning

riding tides and then returning

do you feel the way it flows

sometimes it speeds, most times it’s slow

BOOK REVIEW: T’ai Chi Classics by Waysun Liao

T'Ai Chi ClassicsT’Ai Chi Classics by Waysun Liao
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book conveys the teachings of three tai chi masters of old: Chang San-feng, Wong Chung-yua, and Wu Yu-hsiang. However, those masters’ treatises take up only a small portion of the book. That’s not a criticism. No doubt the treatises were cryptic and sparse, and so they are presented with commentary embedded rather than as literal translations. The treatises discuss the concepts that each of the masters thought was essential to the art, and the author conveys these complex and ethereal ideas in a way that is as understandable as possible.

Before presenting the three treatises in chapters four through six, the author offers a three chapter background on essential concepts for the tai chi student to understand. Chapter 1 presents historical background on tai chi and differentiates temple style from the family styles of tai chi, as well as giving insight into the philosophical underpinnings of the art. The second chapter offers a primer on chi, the life-force energy that is at the conceptual heart of tai chi. Chapter 3 describes jing and the means by which chi is expanded and transferred.

After the three treatise chapters, there is a final chapter that is intended to take the book from theory to practice. Most of the final chapter is a step-by-step description of a tai chi form, and consists of line drawings of the positions with bullet point descriptions of the movements. However, the chapter begins with some lists of key philosophical concepts as well as clarifying ideas about movement fundamentals.

There are line drawings throughout the book, not only to show physical positions in the practice but also diagrams to help convey the difficult concepts discussed throughout the book as well as Chinese calligraphy characters. Besides the calligraphy, these graphics are crude, looking as one might expect in a notebook. I don’t think the crude form of the graphics is a problem, and the notebook effect it creates may be an intentional aesthetic. As I don’t believe one can learn a martial art or other system of movement from a book, the fact that the graphics don’t offer much detail isn’t a problem.

I found the book to be thought-provoking and would recommend it for students of tai chi and qi gong.

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BOOK REVIEW: Tai Chi Chuan Classical Yang Style by Yang, Jwing-Ming

Tai Chi Chuan Classical Yang Style: The Complete Form QigongTai Chi Chuan Classical Yang Style: The Complete Form Qigong by Yang Jwing-Ming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book is one stop shopping for students of the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Long Form (i.e. 108 forms.) That’s not to suggest that it only describes the sequence of that form. It does that, but it also offers lessons in the history of the art, explanations of chi and qigong, and elucidation of the fundamentals of the art.

The book is divided into four parts. Chapter one examines the history of this martial art and places Tai chi chuan in the context of Chinese martial arts as well as the Yang Style within the context of Tai chi chuan. The nine sections of the first chapter also explore Tai chi chuan as a means to healthy living, and provide guidance to students on how to go about taking up the practice.

Chapter two consists of five parts that delve into the concept of chi (qi), or energy. This section mixes together mythology of traditional Chinese theory on chi with scientific explanations where science has something to say on the matter.

The third chapter describes the 13 postures of Tai chi chuan, which are a set of fundamentals that feature prominently in the martial art. This is a relatively brief section and is where the book becomes photo intensive.

The fourth chapter offers students guidance about the unarmed element of Yang Style of Tai chi chuan. While the capstone of the chapter is a systematic walk through the Long Form, there’s also coverage of some Yang Style fundamental movements as well as presentation of meditation practices taught in the system. It should be noted that this book doesn’t cover the sequence of the Yang Style Short Form (a.k.a. 24 Forms, or the Beijing Standard Form.) (I mention that because that’s the most popular form in the world and many students may want to learn about it specifically. This book offers many insights into the minutiae of the component forms, but doesn’t describe it as a sequence.) There is a fifth chapter, but it’s only a brief conclusion.

With respect to ancillary matter, like most martial arts books, it’s graphic-intensive. The bulk of the graphics are photos that are used in chapters 3 and 4 to clarify the movements and postures. Said photos have arrows and other figures drawn onto them to help clarify the movement involve. There are also a few line diagrams and maps, and chapter 2 has a many scientific photos, diagrams, and anatomical drawings.

There are three Appendices. The first provides a list of the forms of the Yang Style Long Form. The second is a glossary of the many Chinese terms mentioned in the book. The final Appendix provides information about the DVDs that are available to be used in conjunction with the book (there are markers throughout the book to provide suggestions of when students should turn to the video lessons.) There are end-notes of cited material, but I read the Kindle edition, and most of these were unavailable because Chinese characters didn’t convert to the electronic format. This was no big deal for me because I couldn’t read the Chinese reference material anyway, but if you read Chinese, you might opt for the hard copy of the book.

I learned the Yang Style short and long forms several years ago, and bought this book to provide some background and technical guidance. I found the book to be interesting and informative, and would recommend it—particularly if you’ve learned the Yang Style (but one may find the early chapters interesting even if one hasn’t.) The author uses a number of entertaining and educational stories and the book is readable and insightful for students of all levels.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Sensual Body by Lucy Lidell

The Sensual Body: The Ultimate Guide to Body Awareness and Self-FulfilmentThe Sensual Body: The Ultimate Guide to Body Awareness and Self-Fulfilment by Lucy Lidell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This is a book about body awareness. It explores the subject by presenting tidbits from a range of movement and posture systems.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is a brief overview of the subject of bodily awareness. This section discusses what it means to be aware of the body, how body and mind / emotion are connected, and it sets up the need for the practices described throughout the rest of the book. The second part deals with a series of solitary activities that one can do to improve one’s quality of posture and movement. It forms the bulk of the book. The nine chapters of this portion of the book can themselves be divided in two. Three of them deal in aspects of bodily awareness: breathing / voice-work, grounding, and sensation. These sections borrow and adapt from established systems in a generic sense (e.g. the section on grounding uses a number of techniques drawn from yoga.) The other six chapters each deal with a system of bodywork, including: self-massage, African dance, Tai Chi, Eutony, Kum Nye, and running.

I’ll describe two of these specifically because they aren’t household names. I suspect most readers can imagine what the following look like: self-massage, African dance (even if it’s from a Paul Simon video), Tai Chi (from old folks in the park), and running. However, it’s probably reasonable to assume that some readers will have no idea what Eutony or Kum Nye are. Eutony is a system developed by a Danish teacher, Gerda Alexander, during the 20th century to use explorative movement to work toward more efficient movement. As far as I can discern, the founder is no relation to F. Matthias Alexander who developed–the more famous–Alexander Technique (AT is mostly well-known among actors, actresses, and would-be entertainers.) However, Eutony might be put in the class of techniques like the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais that were developed last century and work toward improved use of the human body. However, the approach seems much different from Feldenkrais, which is highly structured, while Eutony is apparently not.

Kum Nye isn’t well-known either, but not because it’s a johnny-come-lately, rather because it’s ancient and obscure. Kum Nye is a Tibetan system of yoga. A lot of the techniques shown seem to be designed to help one gain the suppleness needed for extended sitting in meditation, but there are also “flying” techniques and other standing techniques that will help loosen one up, perhaps to free one up for more meditation.

The third part is shorter: three chapters presenting systems of partner-work. The first chapter is on Aikidō. For those unfamiliar, this is a Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba that emphasizes harmony and flow. The chapter features a few basic drills from that martial art. The next chapter is on relating to others in a general sort of way, e.g. body language, emotion, etc. The last chapter is about massage.

Graphics are utilized heavily throughout the book. These include color photographs and drawings. Given what the book tries to do–showing these various approaches to movement–the graphics are essential. In the unlikely event that there are any prudes who read my reviews, you may want to make a note that there is a fair amount of nudity throughout the book. It’s not gratuitous or raunchy, but if you’re one of those people freaked out by nudity, this is probably not the book for you (nor the subject to be studying, for that matter.)

The book’s strengths are its valuable subject, its organization, and its use of graphics. Its weakness is in the number of approaches that it examines. There are too many for one to get any great insight into any particular system, but it’s too few if the goal is to give the reader a menu of movement and bodywork systems from which to find on right for them. I guess I wasn’t really clear what the objective was. If it is to show the reader a variety of paths so they can find the one best for them, the menu is too small. However, if it’s to show the reader one path consisting of all these elements, then it’s muddled. Among Western health and fitness purveyors there’s a tendency to think that if you take anything that’s good and ram it together with anything else that’s good, you’ll get something great. This is clearly not true; sometimes you get a pudding sandwich. This book feels a lot like a pudding sandwich.

If you are looking for a limited survey of movement and body awareness systems, and are okay with the list mentioned, you should check this book out. It also has some good general information about body awareness, though it’s a bit pedestrian for experienced practitioners.

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POEM: Kung Fu Calumny

Source: cliparts.co

                                                              Source: cliparts.co

 

I have a particular set of skills.

No, not ones that pay the bills.

While Liam Neeson may kick some ass,

my skills are more in the realm of sass.

My course won’t teach you a spinning kick,

or how to head-butt to a brick.

No, nothing so stoic or taciturn,

for mine is the art of the kung fu burn.


If you wish to unleash the power of derision,

tell them their kung fu lacks vigor and precision.

If that has not the effect desired,

tell them their kung fu is sloppy and uninspired.

If you haven’t yet gotten their goat,

tell them their moves makes vomit rise to your throat.


That’s just a sampler; wisdom ain’t free.

But you can learn more for a nominal fee.


[Disclosure]

Just one thing, whatever you do.

Don’t use against anyone who knows kung fu.

(Even the old ladies who do Tai Chi in the park,

may rip you apart like a school of bull sharks.)

BOOK REVIEW: A Guide to Chinese Martial Arts by Li Tianji & Du Xilian

Guide To Chinese Martial ArtsGuide To Chinese Martial Arts by Li Tianji
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This is a brief guide to the martial arts of China. The bulk of the book (about 150 pages of the book’s 178 pages) tells the reader about three major branches of Chinese martial arts: Chang Quan, Tai Chi Chuan, and Shaolin Kung fu at a general level. (The book devotes space to those arts in the same order–i.e. the largest number of pages discuss Chang Quan, then Tai Chi, and the smallest number to Shaolin. This may be surprising as your average non-Kungfu practitioner is least likely to have heard of Chang Quan—by name anyway. Chang Quan is a general term that encompasses several Northern Styles—some of which might be more familiar to general readers [of martial arts books.]) The book also has a brief chapter that describes the history of martial arts in China from ancient times through the modern era, and one that talks about the many schools of martial arts of China (in no great detail because there are so many of them) as well as the various strengths and purposes of these arts.

The bulk of the illustrations are line drawings used to show typical sequences for each of the three major branches of martial art mentioned above. However, there are some black and white photographs and copies of relevant art works and documents as well.

I found this book to be interesting and informative. There’s a bit too much space devoted to describing techniques for my taste. However, I realize that I may be in the minority in that regard. I don’t believe that martial arts can be taught via books or media, and, therefore, there’s a diminishing value to detailed descriptions of technique. In this sort of book one only needs to get a feel so as to be able to see how the martial arts compare and contrast with others.

I’d recommend this book for someone who wants to learn a bit about the nature of Chinese martial arts. It may not be of much value for an expert, but for a kungfu neophyte it provides some interesting information about the history, tactics, and training methods of Chinese martial arts. It’s originally published by Foreign Languages Press in Beijing, but I don’t suspect there is any more bias than there would be if it was published by anyone else (i.e. it’s the rare martial arts book that doesn’t present the martial art under discussion as the ultimate fighting art.)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi by Peter M. Wayne & Mark Fuerst

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp MindThe Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind by Peter Wayne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This book provides an overview (and a laymen-friendly literature review) of the scientific findings about tai chi, and it helps a beginner get started in his / her own practice. (Tai chi, short for tai chi chuan, is a Chinese martial art that is called an internal–or soft–style.)

The authors achieve an impressive tightrope act. And they manage to do it in a way that reads sincerely, while at the same time providing useful information for all readers. Often books on the science of Eastern health-enhancing activities (e.g. tai chi, chi gong, or yoga)–even if they are positive on the results of such activities—take digs at people’s beliefs about ideas like chi, prana, meridians, or chakra as the authors attempt to distance themselves from such beliefs. On the other hand, books that cater to the spiritually inclined—even when they are couched in scientific terms—may resort to third-hand anecdotes about the supernatural powers of some ancient master or report methodological train wrecks that support their views alongside sound studies, as long as the latter don’t present any evidence contrary to their belief system. In short, such books often talk in scientific lingo while showing a complete lack of understanding of the scientific method. In this book, Wayne manages to navigate these rocky shores because he’s both a scientist and a longtime tai chi practitioner who genuinely accepts that there may be more at work in the practice than science fully understands. Thus, he knows the importance of testable hypotheses and when a study needs to be validated by more a robust follow-up study, but he also reports on the traditional beliefs and isn’t adverse to writing about studies evaluating the benefits of spirituality (note: showing that being spiritual has benefits doesn’t mean that the benefits result from anything spiritual or supernatural.)

The book has 14 chapters divided into three parts. The first part introduces the reader to tai chi, describes the dimensions along which tai chi has been shown to offer benefits (the authors call these “the 8 active ingredients of Tai Chi,” relating them to pharmacological medicines), and explains how tai chi can be simplified for beginners (even the short form sequences take a while to be memorized—let alone building any grasp of the intricacies of said forms.) The second part consists of six chapters that report the findings of studies on the health effects of tai chi, as well as discussing the possible mechanisms of those benefits. The topics discussed in this section include: increased balance, bone density, pain mitigation, cardiovascular health, mental performance, psychological well-being, and sleep quality. The book’s last part suggests ways in which the reader can build a tai chi practice. The five chapters in this section deal with the interactive practices of tai chi (tai chi isn’t just the solo forms that you’ve seen elderly people do in the park), integrating tai chi with other health and fitness practices, the potential for practicing tai chi at work, the role of tai chi in creative practices, and tai chi as a practice of lifelong learning (this last chapter gives beginners tips about how to start a practice.) There is also an afterword about how tai chi might play a part in building improved health and well-being in the present era.

I found the book to be well-organized to achieve its objective. It’s packed with food for thought. Neophytes will find a lot of benefit in this book, but I suspect even advanced practitioners can glean insights—particularly if said advanced practitioner hasn’t been reading up on the scientific findings. Humor, quotes, and stories are used to lighten the tone and illustrate key points. There are some photos and other graphics where needed (mostly in chapter 3), but they are relatively sparse for a book on a practice like tai chi. (That’s not a complaint. I think there are far too many attempts to teach movement arts through books—an impossible task—and not enough effort put into conveying the kind of ancillary information that is transmissible in book form.)

I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in knowing more about the health benefits of tai chi, and moving beyond the platitudes often heard but seldom evaluated.

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