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A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
Secrets of the Tai Chi Circle
Journey to Enlightenment
by Luke Chan
(Benefactor Press, 1993, 134 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Most people who write about tai chi and related arts do so from an instructional standpoint. They relate the history, philosophy, and principles of tai chi, and they demonstrate a form and perhaps a few applications. Some dedicated authors go on to discuss the dynamics of tai chi and other more complex subjects. I don’t know of any other tai chi book, however, quite like Luke Chan’s Secrets of the Tai Chi Circle.
Secrets of the Tai Chi Circle is not an instructional or expository text. It’s a short novel that follows the life of a young man as he discovers and learns about tai chi in conjunction with discovering and learning about life. The setting is China—in proximity to Chen Village—but the time frame is never precisely defined, seeming to be any time prior to the 20th century and maybe as far back as two or three hundred years. Along the way, the young protagonist finds puzzles and answers, love and sorrow, and loss and attainment.
There are no rousing fight scenes here. This is a tai chi novel in the same way that Mark Salzman’s Iron and Silk is a kung fu novel (and, later, a movie), though Chan’s book is not as directly autobiographical. But while it is short on action, it is long on philosophy and filled with vignette-style episodes that attempt to convey the meaning of tai chi to life in a sincere and more realistic way than does the average kung fu story. After all, the lives of most of us are not punctuated with combat but are strewn with the daily vicissitudes that give us all plenty of trials and tribulations.
I'd call this a Category II book. It's a nice read, and I liked it overall, though I confess that it sometimes seemed facile, maybe because some of the vignettes were familiar to me from elsewhere. It’s not a book that will teach you about tai chi, but it will help you learn how to apply the principles of tai chi to everyday life, and that’s a pretty good endorsement. It's also a pleasant read.