A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
by Lawrence Galante
(Samuel Weiser, 1981, 208 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
If the measure of a tai chi master’s expertise is the quality of his or her students, then Cheng Man-ch’ing is certainly high on the list, having produced a large number of students who went on to excel in the art. This book is by one of them. Galante might not have been one of the “Big Six” or the “Little Six,” but he made his mark early with the publication of Tai Chi: The Supreme Ultimate. As a minor measure of the book’s basic quality, the forward is by T. T. Liang, one of Cheng’s most celebrated students and one of Galante’s other teachers.
Tai Chi: The Supreme Ultimate is a Category I book, geared primarily for practitioners in the early stages of their tai chi careers, but it is a fairly thorough one that would be of value to intermediate students as well as to beginners. It does, however, in many of its chapters on philosophy, spirituality, and other systems of belief, shade heavily into Category II, giving it greater depth than most Category I books.
The book opens with a short discussion of what tai chi is before moving on to the history of Chinese martial arts in general and tai chi specifically. It’s clear from the discussion and the photos that accompany it that Galante has experience in several styles of kung fu in addition to tai chi, the latter of which he learned from Kuo Ling-ying as well as from Cheng and Liang. He also includes short sections on bagua and hsing-I and harder styles of kung fu.
The history is a well done version of the standard story of the development of kung fu in China. Peppered throughout are basic precepts of tai chi, from the concept of chi to the application of yin and yang, breathing, neutralizing, and others. None are discussed here at length, but the text is descriptive enough to give the reader a good sense of what Galante is talking about.
The Tai Chi Classics are the subject of a short chapter that excerpts a few key ideas, such as relaxation, emptiness and fullness, balance, breathing, and concentration, among others, and explicates them at greater or lesser lengths.
A chapter on Taoist philosophy comes next. It includes a longish section on the I Ching and an even longer one on Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. This segues nicely into a chapter on spirituality, which goes on to relate spirituality to the tai chi precepts laid out in the previous section. The author then compares tai chi to other Eastern systems of internal energy development, beginning with yoga. In this section, he links the meridian system and the chakra system. Zen is next, with a succinct discussion of meditation and its importance.
Tai chi and Western psychology is the subject of the next chapter, which closes with a way in which tai chi can be outlined in terms of Western psychology. Tai chi and occult systems occupies the next chapter. Most tai chi books do not delve very deeply into this aspect of tai chi, though many cite tai chi and related arts as being forms of spiritual alchemy.
The following chapter discusses tai chi and health. In it, the author goes into the Five Elements theory of health, traditional Chinese medicine, sexuality, and scientific research into chi at the time of the book’s writing. This section contains several readouts from medical instruments attached to people doing tai chi.
The self-defense aspects of tai chi occupy the next chapter, and the advice is solid but probably already understood by a great many intermediate practitioners or above.
The form instruction for a version of Yang style fills the second half of the book. This appears to be Cheng’s 37-posture form illustrated by 187 photos. The text here is light, consisting mostly of photo captions, but the photos are accompanied by foot-weighting charts and arrows and lines to indicate the directions of the movements of the limbs. The photos are arranged across the top of the pages, and beneath is a second row of photos that show Galante performing appropriate applications on a partner. The photos are large and clearly display the movements. It’s nice to have the application photos flow along with the form photos as that helps give meaning to the form’s movements. A section on push hands and alternate applications closes the book.
Tai Chi: The Supreme Ultimate is a pretty nice tai chi book. It may be basically a Category I book, but its information is solid and deep, and almost any beginner or intermediate student would get something out of it.