A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Secrets of the Wu Style
by Yang Jwing-ming
(YMMA Publication Center, 2002, 98 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
I have often noted in other book reviews that it can be useful to read different translations of the Tai Chi Classics and Neo-Classics. I recently reviewed Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan, a Neo-Classic by Wu Kung-cho, the second son of Wu Chien-chuan and translated for the newest edition by Doug Woolidge. (REVIEW HERE) Wu’s book, originally published in China in 1935, comprises his own relatively short text—The Lecture of Tai Chi Chuan—the Wu family’s version of the famous Forty Chapters long held by the Yang family, and some ancillary material, such as several forwards and a Wu family history. Two books later, I picked up Yang Jwing-ming’s Tai Chi Secrets of the Wu Style only to discover that it is largely another translation of The Lecture of Tai Chi Chuan plus the forward to the 1935 edition.
The two translations—by Woolidge and by Yang—demonstrate something not just about the art of translation but the way different translators approach and organize the same material. The translation by Woolidge is a straightforward and smoothly translated text without commentary, and the original Chinese version appears in its own section in the form of scans of the 1935 edition. Yang, on the other hand, presents a literal translation of each chapter or section—usually one to several paragraphs—followed by the text in Chinese and then a smooth translation with some commentary woven in.
This adds a lot of space to the book that would not be present in a straightforward translation, and it’s easy to see why it was done this way. Had Yang presented just a straightforward translation, the book would be only sixty pages long, or less. That’s not much of a book, at least in terms of length. Including the literal translation and the text in Chinese pads the book out to adequate length. This issue of paucity of material for a full-length book was solved in the Woolidge translation by including the Forty Chapters, the history of the Wu family, and the other ancillary material, but even that book was shortish in terms of page count. Yang’s translation closes with Xiang Kai-ran’s preface to the 1935 edition, and here Yang eschews the smooth translation, opting to present only the literal translation and the Chinese text.
I’m not trying to be critical here, only descriptive, but the truth is that, while I can see the inclusion of the Chinese text, the literal translation adds little to the book. These paragraphs are tedious to read, and the information in them is replicated fully and with additions in the more-smoothly translated paragraphs, so there’s little incentive to read them. Because you might be inclined, as I was, to read only the smooth translations, you can rip right through this 98-page book in no time.
If you didn’t have to pause to re-read—not for sense, but for comprehension. What this text lacks in length it makes up for in depth, and there’s a fair amount of information here, especially for those who have only been recently introduced to Tai Chi literature. But for others, there are no Tai Chi “secrets” here that can’t be found elsewhere. If you read Wu Kung-cho’s book, you won’t need to read this one except to get Yang’s expert take on Wu’s text. And while the Wu book has a version of the Forty Chapters that isn’t in this book, that’s no great loss here since there must be fifty translations of the Forty Chapters easily available, some online.
I usually consider Yang to be a reliable as well as authentic voice regarding Tai Chi, and many of his other books are true modern classics of the genre. But this book is one of his lesser efforts. Not only is it not actually “by” him, it’s short, and the material it contains can be found elsewhere. Buy it because you don’t have a copy of Wu Kung-cho’s book (which is kind of pricey) or because you are a Yang Jwing-ming completist; otherwise, you might be better served by one of Yang’s other books.