A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
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Booklets and Pamphlets
Reviews by Christopher Dow
William C. C. Chen's Tai Chi Chuan
by William C. C. Chen
(The William C. C. Chen School of T’ai-chi Ch’uan, 1973, 62 pages)
Next on our list of small-press martial arts publications is William C. C. Chen’s Tai Chi Chuan. This publication falls in the middle of the spectrum of our subject. This is actually more of a little book than a booklet, being 4.25x7 and perfect-bound. It’s sixty-two pages long with a mixture of typesetting. The introductory material appears to be professionally typeset, while the captions for the photos in the instruction section appear to be set on a good quality typewriter. The instruction section features excellently reproduced, if small, photos of Chen performing the form. This, after all, a small book.
The brief introductory material begins with a one-page foreword. Even if it doesn’t really say much, it is by none other than Robert W. Smith. This is followed by an introduction that’s obviously not written by Chen since it refers to “Master Chen” in the third person. But no matter, it’s only four pages—small pages, remember—but not bad, considering the shortness. After a thumbnail tale of Chang San-feng being inspired to create Tai Chi while watching the fight between the snake and bird, the writer gives thumbnail definitions of several principles that underlie Tai Chi, all of which are valid and excellent, such as relaxation, slowness, diaphragmatic breathing, single-weightedness, circularity, and unity of movement. There’s not a lot of discussion here, but these are very important points to keep in mind and body when performing Tai Chi, and here they’re succinctly and clearly enumerated.
The next page gives some context to the time frame during which most of the booklets and pamphlets I’m discussing in this series were published. This context is a small notice stating: “For those interested in seeing the complete flow of T’ai Chi Ch’uan movements, there is a ‘super 8’ film available for sale.” The contact information follows. This page is interesting for a couple of reasons. First and funmost, of course, is that the homeviewing medium is super-8 film. Since then, Chen has been seen on a succession of different visual formats: videotape, DVD, and YouTube. And that points to the other interesting aspect: It shows that Chen is not only a master of Tai Chi but a masterful innovator in the dissemination of the art via a medium that can graphically display the entire flow of the movements.
Returning to his little book: Almost the entire remainder is filled with photos of Chen performing a 60-movement Tai Chi sequence. Each major movement is depicted in two to six photos, with arrows. The names of the movements are at the tops of the pages, but there is no explanatory text. Chen is fairly young here, and his posture is a little more erect than I’ve seen in some later film footage of him doing his form, in which he was extremely sung. Two pages of similar photos of two young women pushing hands, with arrows, close out the book.
Although the production values are a little better than those of Wong’s booklet, Chen’s little book has the same intended audience—his students—and wasn’t produced for sale in a bookshop. I don’t remember how or where I got this one, either.
Quick & Easy T’ai-chi Ch’uan
Eight Simple Chinese Exercises for Health
by Yang Ming-shih
(Shufunotomo Co, Ltd., 1974, 61 pages)
The next booklet represents the most professional of these types of publications, and was published by a company that apparently produced other entries on Chinese and Japanese subjects, such as cooking, flower arrangement, and bonsai, in what the company called the “Quick & Easy Series.” These are 6"x4.25" booklets with comb binding. Quick & Easy T’ai-chi Ch’uan is by Yang Ming-shih—yes, of those Yangs.
Q&ETC is sixty-two pages long, and very thick pages they are: every page is heavy card stock that is coated on one side. Coated means that the paper stock has a glossy or semi-glossy coating applied to one or both sides. The reason for the coating is that photographs reproduce more crisply on coated stock than on uncoated stock, which will soak up a little of the ink, blurring the image slightly. Ink can’t soak into coated stock, so there’s no blurring. With all those thick pages, it reminded me of some of the children’s books I bought my daughters when they were young—the kinds of books that are hard for toddlers to destroy and whose pages are easy for their little, inexperience fingers to turn.
I guess the idea of the books in the Q&E series is that you can use them to learn to do something relatively simple, and that the comb binding allows the books to lie flat on a table so you can refer to them while your hands are otherwise occupied with the activity depicted in the book. (See the sample open page.) The secret to the fact that the activity in the Tai Chi book is not Tai Chi, however, lies in the booklet’s subtitle: Eight Simple Chinese Exercises for Health.
The exercises are chi kung that concentrate on movement rather than breathing, all done in a moderate horse stance of slightly varying height. They are, in fact, a venerable chi kung sequence known as the Eight Brocades, although the book does not name them as such. The Eight Brocades is a chi kung sequence that's been around for centuries, and while it does have an energy component, that is only moderate, with many of the movements focusing more on developing the tendon system and opening the body rather than on directly strengthening the meridian system and chi flow.
Each exercise occupies several flip pages, and the photos are accompanied by basic instructions. The exercises are all pretty good, and while they aren’t Tai Chi, they are strung together into a sequential form that is a simple-to-learn but effective daily practice of light intensity and moderate duration.
Personally, I’ll stick with the several chi kung I already do, which also open the body but that are more energy-oriented than the Eight Brocades, and I'll let my Tai Chi deal with tendon development. But the Eight Brocades might work for you, particularly if you don't want to practice Tai Chi. It’s possible that this book could be found via the Internet. It had a cover price then of $2.50 and was distributed by Japan Publications, which published other titles of interest to martial artists, such as Acupuncture Medicine by Yoshiaki Omura (Review Here). But even if you can't find it, instructions for the Eight Brocades can be found in many places, such as the Internet and martial arts/chi kung books and magazines.