A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
by Da Liu
(Schocken Books, 1978, 178 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Da Liu may be largely forgotten now, but he should be recognized as an early disseminator of tai chi in America—at about the same time that Sophia Delza, Edward Maisel, and Robert W. Smith also were introducing the art to Westerners. In his several books, Liu tends to treat the health, philosophical, and developmental aspects of tai chi rather than the martial, and The Tao of Health and Longevity is no exception. He acknowledges tai chi’s martial superiority, but he also points out that as people age, their interests and focus changes from external conflict to the search for inner peace. Tai chi, he maintains, is a sure road to the latter, as long as one keeps one’s feet surely on the path.
Liu sometimes lets his enthusiasm for actual physical longevity get in the way of his reason. Throughout history, there have been numerous claims of human longevity exceeding 130 years, and Liu cites three: “the remarkable Taoist master Li Ch’ing Yuen, who lived to be 250 years old”; Shirali Mislimov (Muslimov), who was reputedly 170 at the time of his death; and American Charlie Smith, who was 137. I don’t know anything about Li, but Mislimov’s self-reported date of birth is disputed, and various public records indicate that Smith was really 105 at the time of his death. The longest-lived person on record was Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who died at 122.
I think that it is a mistake to equate longevity with length of life rather than with quality of life. In his book, Tai Chi Dynamics, Robert Chuckrow displays a list of prominent tai chi masters and their ages at death. His chart dramatically shows that tai chi does not naturally impart extremely long life. Only two of the masters listed exceeded 100 years of age, and a surprising number didn't even reach 60. So rather than thinking of longevity as absolute length of life, I tend to consider it to be the staving off of creeping decrepitude for as long as one is able. For Calment, that was a really long time, while for others, it is shorter. The point is to retain health, flexibility, and mobility during the course of one’s life. Possibly these will impart a longer lifespan, but certainly they will make what lifespan we do have more interesting and useful as well as tolerable. Quality of life rather than length is the real point of Liu’s book, and he rightly attributes an improved quality of life to tai chi.
From his discussion on longevity, Liu goes into a history of Chinese philosophy and religion, including a substantial section on Taoism and another on Confucianism. The chapter after that covers the various physiological structures directly affected by tai chi—the central nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, circulatory system, and endocrine system—and along the way, he explains the concept of chi.
Breathing occupies an entire chapter, and Liu gives a few breathing exercises—without illustrations—both to explain his concepts and to give the reader practical guides to follow. Next comes the form instruction section for a version of Yang style. I didn’t analyze the form to see if it is a standard Yang style, but it numbers 93 movements rather than the usual 108. The text is fairly explanatory and the photos are clear but without directional arrows or charts of foot-stepping patterns. Ultimately, this is no better and no worse than the average for this type of material.
A handful of chi kung movements occupy the next chapter, but there are few photos or illustrations. The chapter after deals with aspects of health not directly related to tai chi or chi kung, such as diet, clothing, and shelter, and the effects of various movements people perform daily, such as walking, sitting, and sleeping.
Massage and acupressure are the subjects of the next chapter, which discusses how one can perform these on oneself to cure various minor ailments such as headache, sore throat, and stomach ache. No photos or illustrations go with these descriptions. Food occupies the next chapter, and Liu details several recipes for healthful and curative foods.
“The Relationship Between Man and Woman” is the title of the final chapter. Taoist sex practices are not often dealt with in tai chi literature, and while this chapter can’t be taken as the Kama Sutra of tai chi, at least Liu addresses the subject.
This may not be one of the best Category I books on tai chi, but it has a fair amount of information for beginners, especially those more interested in tai chi as an exercise and life enhancer rather than as a martial art. And a lot of that information would be of use even to the martially oriented.