A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
Taijiquan Theory of Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
The Root of Taijiquan
by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
(YMAA Publication Center, 2003, 270 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Yang Jwing-Ming is not only a proficient and significant martial artist of historical note, he also is an equally proficient and generous author who always seems sincere in his desire to impart what he knows to others. Taijiquan Theory is no exception. Its text is a compendium of songs and poems from the Tai Chi Classics, though the exact sources remain unnamed. Following the pattern of some of his other books—Tai Chi Secrets of the Wu Style, for example—Yang presents each Classic in three forms: the original text in Chinese characters, a direct translation, and a paraphrase of the translation, often with commentary.
The book is structured in ten parts, each one covering a particular aspect of Tai Chi. Following forwards by Grandmasters Li Mao-Ching and Abraham Liu and a preface by the author, Yang begins the body text with a section on the general concepts of Tai Chi. In it, he explores the roots of the concept of Tai Chi in the I Ching and other ancient Chinese writings, and he includes some background on the taijitu—the tai chi symbol—and how it depicts movement. In this section, he also goes into the basics of chi flow in the human body, defining the various meridians, vessels, and acupuncture points along those paths that are important for the Tai Chi Chuanist. The theory of yin and yang receives some in-depth treatment also, as does the general theory of Tai Chi’s Thirteen Postures and the three frame sizes (stance heights) adopted by practitioners.
Part two introduces the concept of regulating the body, which entails regulating the breath, the emotional mind, the chi, and the spirit. Yang begins this by explaining regulating the body via stationary postures then moving postures. Each of the next four parts delves more deeply into these four regulations.
First, in part three, the author goes into regulating the breathing, and he covers the basics of abdominal breathing, beginning with natural breathing, moving on to reverse breathing, and finishing with embryonic breathing. The reasons for adopting each of these forms of breathing and how each of them affect the practitioner are covered in some detail.
Regulating the emotional mind is the topic of part four. Yang starts this section by explaining the importance of regulating the emotional mind—not just for fighting, though it is critical for that purpose—but for improving the quality of one’s outlook on life. The principal subject covered here is the mutual dependence of the emotional mind and breathing, and that leads to the idea of comprehending human nature through Tai Chi.
Regulating the chi is covered in part five, beginning with the theory of using the mind to lead the chi. From there, Yang segues into the secrets of both the Small Circulation (Microcosmic Orbit) and the Grand Circulation (Macrocosmic Orbit). He introduces two breathing exercises designed to enhance the practitioner’s manifestation and circulation of chi: Yongquan breathing, or breathing from the Bubbling Wells in the soles of the feet, and Four Gates Breathing, which adds the hearts of the palms to the process. As if this wasn’t enough, there follows instruction on Five Gates Breathing, which adds the huiyin acupuncture point (located within the perineum). Tai Chi ball training finishes out the section.
Part six concerns regulating the spirit. This mostly entails raising the spirit energy to more highly activate the brain and opening the Third Eye. This requires the unification of spirit and chi.
Yang covers jin in the next part, beginning with a thesis of jin: what it is, how it is created, and how it is manifested. He explains the differences between external and internal jins, hard and soft jins, and long and short jins. The secret of jin, he maintains, is in the way one coordinates breathing with the expression of a movement. Last, he talks about storing jin and practicing the “hen and ha” sounds to enhance the power and expression of jin.
Pushing hands is covered in part eight. First, Yang describes the basics of push hands and its theory, then he proceeds to detail several push hands forms and practice methods. He also discusses rooting, and he gives a number of practical exercises to establish a root and strengthen and deepen it over time. Practicing methods for listening, following, attaching, and adhering come next, and then Yang goes into the six turning secrets of Tai Chi: circling, spinning, rotating, twisting, coiling, and spiraling.
Sparring is the subject of the next part, and here the author goes into various aspects of kicking, striking, wrestling, and chin na. Included are the concepts of the “central door” and “empty door,” both of which are strategic ways to approach an opponent, and the concepts of the “sky window” and the “ground wicket,” both of which are openings in an opponent’s defense. Several paired fighting strategies are covered in some detail—long and short, hard and soft, advancing and retreating—and these are embellished by a discussion of timing and the theory of what Yang calls the “Theory of the Fight of No Fight.”
Part ten concludes the principal text, and here the work ventures into the philosophical. The book finishes with a glossary and an index.
The text is enlivened by a number of photos, illustration, charts, and diagrams, some of which seem a bit arcane, though most are helpful in furthering the reader’s understanding. If I have a criticism, it’s that the title is misleading since the theories presented are taken from the Tai Chi Classics. Perhaps it ought to read, “Taijiquan Theory Compiled and Translated by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.” And I do wish the author had cited the sources of the original writings. But those concerns aside, all-in-all, this is another excellent offering from a master of the Chinese martial arts and of writing about them, and it is well worth adding to one’s martial arts library.