A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
Chinese Mind-Body Boxing
by Robert W. Smith
(Kodansha International, 1974, 112 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
The pen of Robert W. Smith produced a number of classic martial arts books. An early American researcher and writer on the martial arts—and in particular, the Chinese martial arts—Smith probably wrote more on the subject than anyone at the time except Bruce Tegner. As is the case with Smith’s previous book on Bagua (review HERE), Hsing-I appears to be the first description of the art in English.
Smith opens the book with a chapter on the history of Hsing-I, which, like Tai Chi and Bagua, was, it seems, developed by a mysterious Taoist monk living in remote mountains. Those mysterious Taoist monks sure were a creative lot. Maybe it was all that fresh mountain air. After presenting a chart showing the art’s family tree, Smith goes on to delineate the art’s two major schools: the Shanshi-Hopei School and the Honan School. A mini-biography of Sun Lu-t’ang, who went on to develop Sun Style Tai Chi, takes up about half of the latter section.
The relationship of Hsing-I to Tai Chi and Bagua is the subject of chapter two. Wrapped up in this is an examination of the stillness/presence inherent in the internal martial arts. Hsing-I fundamentals occupy chapter three, and chapter four details the five basic actions of Hsing-I. These are: splitting, crushing, drilling, pounding, and crossing. Each of these are given a thorough explication before Smith shows how to link them together into a single routine. Then comes an application section in which Smith demonstrates several uses for each basic action.
Chapter five is titled, “The Twelve Styles,” and it covers the dozen auxilliary movements that have been added to the five basic movements. Chapter six shows the Consecutive Step Yunnan Boxing, which links several movements into a single sequence that was once standard practice by Chinese Nationalist soldiers. Functions follow the form description. Longish chapter seven contains words of Hsing-I wisdom from a number of significant masters: Kuo Yun-shen, Pai Hsi-yuan, Liu Ch’i-lan, Sung Shih-jung, Ch’e I-chai, Chang Shu-te, and many others.
Throughout, there are plenty of photos to illustrate the movements. In the introduction, Smith apologizes for the diversity of the people in the photos, who are often his various teachers and fellow students. I counted seven different individuals in addition to Smith himself. No apology necessary. They all look proficient, and the photos are all adequate at the very least.
While this book will find its primary readership among Hsing-I, and perhaps Bagua, exponents, the words of wisdom from the masters in chapter seven contain plenty of substance for Tai Chi folks, as well.