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Booklets and Pamphlets
Reviews by Christopher Dow
In this multi-part review, I’m going to tackle something you don’t see much of these days: booklets and pamphlets. Publications such as these, along with newsletters and some other sorts of printed matter, have largely fallen by the wayside, supplanted by webpages on the Internet, print-on-demand publishing, and digital books. But back in the days before personal computers, when somebody had something to say that wasn’t long enough for a book or that couldn’t otherwise find a mainstream publication venue, they’d put together a small publication, sometimes with typesetting done on a typewriter, basic graphics, and quick-copy or photocopy reproduction.
Occasionally, these sorts of booklets and pamphlets were produced and distributed by publication companies, and a few of them might even have ended up in bookstores. But just as often, they were amateur to semi-professional products intended for small circulation, such as to members of a group, such as a school, organizaton, or club. These sorts of publications tend to be of varying quality not only in production values but in the information they contain. Sometimes, they hold something of some degree of complexity or substance, while at other times, they’re little more than curiosity pieces.
Most of these booklets were not available to the general public at the time of their publication, and a great many of them probably enjoyed only a limited number of copies. Such publications are part of what used to be known as the small press movement, which died upon the advent of the Internet. Small press publishers were anything from amateur one-timers to long-term hobbyists to serious advocational practitioners, and their publications occupied the void between a writer’s own filing cabinets and regional, professional, and mainstream publications. They were the training ground—and the dumping ground—for a wide variety of efforts, usually centered around specific topics. Popular types were poetry and literary magazines and sci-fi fanzines. You could rightly call the material I’ll look at in this series as martial arts small press, even if some of it brushed the edges of “legitimate” publication.
To be clear, I’m distinguishing booklet- and pamphlet-style publications from periodical-style publications, such as magazines, newsletters, and digests. Booklets and pamphlets are usually one-off efforts, while periodicals are on-going for a shorter or longer span of time in the form of serial issues. Also, I’m not talking about brochures, flyers, and hand-out types of literature, all of which, though one-offs, are of a lesser scope. I hope to cover periodicals in a future series.
Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of these martial arts small press publications floating around out there. I have a few in my collection of martial arts literature, so I’ll go over those first, and I’ll add to the list as I learn about others. Be aware, however, that many of these are no longer available except by accident or good fortune—which, according to the Taoist sage, are the same thing. Hey, maybe there’s a secret yet ultimate Tai Chi manual out there in some salt shop or bookstall, just waiting to be chanced upon!
First, a note on typesetting. These days, anyone can produce professional quality typesetting at home, but in the days before personal computers, professional typesetting had to be done on specialized typesetting equipment, and that cost bucks. Some of the publishers of small press publications opted for that, but others went the home-production route by setting body type on a typewriter and headlines with an obsolete graphics technology called rub-on type. An average typewriter with a cloth ribbon produces inferior-quality type for the purposes of reproduction. The letters will be both blobby and broken. Higher quality typewriters, such as the IBM Selectric, which use carbon ribbons and have interchangeable fonts, produced sharper, higher-quality results, though still not quite those of professional typesetting.
The second note is that I’ll also refer to the different ways that these publications are bound, such as saddle-stitching and perfect binding. For those who need a quick tutorial on binding types, Click Here.
Tai Chi Chuan
by Her Yue Wong
(Her Yue Wong, 1973, 60 pages)
In this first installment, we’ll look at Tai Chi Chuan by Her Yue Wong. Published in 1973 by the author, this booklet is a perfect example of the most basic of these sorts of publications. A note on the back cover indicates that Wong was in Oklahoma City at the time, but as far as I can recollect, he moved to Houston, Texas, and taught Tai Chi there in a park. I met him very briefly at the Southwest United States Kung Fu / Wushu Exposition, held in Houston in 1986. I heard this story about how he started teaching: His first students were his kids, who wanted to learn Tai Chi from him, He said fine, he’d do that as long as they kept up their grades and went to college. I don’t know if the story is apocryphal or not, but it’s a good one.
His publication is a saddle-stitched, 5.5x8.5 booklet with poor-quality type set on a typewriter. Usually, a booklet of this type was reproduced and trimmed in a small printing operation rather than by photocopy—especially at the time that this booklet was published, since photocopy operations at the time were in their infancy and still pretty crude.
Wong starts out with a short preface that leads into the standard Chang San-feng legend, with the caveat that no one is really certain about the origins of Tai Chi. He mentions the three major styles of Tai Chi and the names of a few masters, all without context. The next section outlines the principles of kung fu in general and Tai Chi specifically, the idea of chi, and how Tai Chi integrates the yin and yang. It’s all very cursory but completely straightforward and genuine. Next is a form list for a long Yang Style form, and the rest of the booklet—52 pages—is form instruction, with adequate text and well-done line drawings that include arrows to indicate the direction of limb and body movement.
Obviously, Wong’s students were the intended audience for this booklet, and it probably suited it’s intended purpose well. If Wong had expanded the expository material, the book could have found wider publication since these sorts of books were burgeoning at the time. My copy was autographed on the cover by Wong in 1979, but he did that for someone else, not me, and I don’t remember how or where I acquired this copy.