A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
by Yang Jwing-ming
(Yang’s Martial Arts Academy, 1986, 276/246 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
The pair of books under consideration in this review were published in 1986, and I’m assuming that the 1996 releases titled Tai Chi Theory and Martial Power: Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications: Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan are revisions of the same books.
Author Yang Jwing-ming was named by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the ten people who have “made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years.” It’s easy to see why. A prolific teacher, organizer, promoter, and author of more than forty books and more than fifty videos on various kung fu and exercise arts, Yang also is one of the most generous martial arts authors I’ve read. He might want to sell you his books, but he seems to want you to learn real kung fu even more, and he’s willing and able to help out.
The first volume of Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, subtitled, Tai Chi Theory and Tai Chi Jing, is one of the most highly detailed analyses of the stated subject to be found in any tai chi book. Chapter one introduces tai chi, describing the main functions of the art and giving a relatively complete summary of its history. Also included are the parameters of tai chi training and keys to proper ways to learn tai chi.
Chapter two is a very thorough explication of chi, from general concepts through health, chi generation, and chi’s relationship to the mind. There follows a section that illustrates in words and pictures how the chi channels through a number of martial arts hand forms—or mudras—to produce a variety of effects. After that, Yang presents a group of chi kung exercises designed to sensitize one to chi and to increase its flow. After all, the author points out, “If a Tai Chi practitioner does not know and experience the feeling of Chi flow, how can he really understand Chi?”
A section on chi’s relation to breathing is accompanied by several useful diagrams of the Microcosmic Orbit that show how chi is propelled through it by the breathing pattern. This leads to a section on chi transportation throughout the entire body, namely, through the Macrocosmic Orbit.
Postural matters come next, with discussions of linked pairs of body parts—hands/wrists and elbows/shoulders—singular body parts—head and chest—and other linkages—waist/hips/thighs and legs/knees/feet. Yang winds up the chapter by exhorting readers to practice the form slower and slower, to develop a sense of enemy, and also to practice the form fast.
Jing, or tai chi’s whole-body power, is the subject of chapter three, which occupies more than half the book. Beginning with a general discussion of jing, Yang moves on to the differences between jing and li, or conventional muscular strength, before delving into the range and basic categories of jing. The roles of various body parts—feet, legs, hips, waist, spine, torso, and hands—are discussed, as are balance, substantial and insubstantial, and accumulating jing in the postures. He follows this with an explanation of nine key points of tai chi jing and pointers for jing training.
After that, Yang goes into great detail as he covers more than fifty specific types of jing, some defensive, some offensive, including leg jings. This is really great material, particularly for intermediate and early advanced students, though it probably is a little beyond most beginners who are still struggling to learn the form and the general precepts of tai chi and are not prepared to do internal work. The numerous photos contain arrows to indicate the directions of movement.
After the section on jing instruction comes an extensive chapter of translations of the Tai Chi Classics, here referred to as “Tai Chi Poetry and Songs.” Each classic is translated then explicated to tease out hidden meanings, and there are plenty of photos here, also, to illustrate the concepts. Volume one concludes with a useful glossary of tai chi terms and ideas.
Volume two deals almost exclusively with tai chi’s martial applications. The introductory chapters discuss, in general terms, tai chi as a martial art. An analysis of tai chi techniques includes how martial sequences are created, and Yang says that there are more than 250 martial techniques in the Yang Style form, which can be divided into three principal categories: downing the enemy, chin na control, and cavity strikes.
And then it’s on to the breakdown of martial techniques. The author accomplishes this by taking each basic movement in the Yang form and breaking out applications in all three of the categories mentioned above. Thirty-eight movements are so explicated, accompanied by a total of 408 photos, each with arrows to aid in understanding the application. Additional illustrations showing cavity points, how force can be deflected, and other matters aid in the explanations.
A chapter on push hands comes next, but it is far more extensive than most similar sections in other tai chi books. It opens with list of sixteen key points, goes through some essential concepts, then discusses the use of the “Heng” and “Ha” sounds in martial training. Tai chi ball training is covered next, showing half a dozen exercises. Several push hands forms are illustrated, and Yang shows how chin na techniques can be applied within the push hands framework. Extensive photos and illustrations accompany the text.
Chapter four contains an analysis of the tai chi fighting set, and this is followed by a chapter on tai chi fighting strategy, which includes a number of drills in addition to details on connecting with the enemy, timing, faking, and other issues. The book winds up with several independent essays by Yang and others on timing, jing, and other tai chi strategies. Again, there are plenty of photos and illustrations.
I consider Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan—both volumes taken together—to be one of the most important books in my tai chi library. It is packed with solid information delivered by someone who not only knows the material well but who knows how to deliver that information well. The style might be Yang, but the principles and movements can be applied to almost any other tai chi style, particularly Wu Family or Northern Wu. Each time I’ve read it, I find something new to understand or contemplate. Tai chi books don’t come much better than this.