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Review by Christopher Dow
Yearning K. Chen’s Tai-Chi: Its Effects and Practical Application is one of the older books in English on tai chi. It is, as were most books of its day, what I call a Category I book—one most useful for beginners. It presents a few fairly brief chapters on tai chi history, philosophy, and principles that are followed by a somewhat lengthy series of pictures, accompanied by text, that describes the full-length Yang style form.
The expository material is fairly basic, but opens up with a little more complexity in the chapter titled, “T’ai-Chi Ch’üan as Related to Dynamics,” which utilizes principles from physics to describe the way tai chi works. You don’t often see this level of detail on the workings of tai chi in Category I books. The following chapter, “T’ai-Chi Ch’üan as Related to Psychology,” though short, is a nice description of the way tai chi uses the mind to motivate the chi. It’s not going to give you any “secrets,” but it will introduce this concept to beginners and give them some direction in striving to achieve the mental aspect of tai chi.
The next chapter, “T’ai-Chi Ch’üan as Related to Moral Life,” is even briefer and doesn’t really address the stated subject, instead delving into the idea of balance with regard to action and life in general. Nice, but I’ve never observed tai chi to make one better or more moral. In fact, I’ve met a couple of pretty bad people who were pretty good at tai chi.
The form instruction material, which occupies about half the book, is composed of gray-scale drawings based on the famous series of photos of Yang Cheng-fu performing the long Yang form. The verbal instructions that go along with the drawings are fairly decent, but as with most such instructions, completely useless if you already know how to do the form. Unlike most such form descriptions, this one includes a gridded chart showing the stepping patterns executed during performance of the form. All-in-all, the instruction material is a pretty good for a book of this caliber, even if it is, in the end, kind of useless.
Next is a longish chapter on applications that, except in a few instances, are not accompanied by illustrations. Two chapters on push hands wind up the book, neither of which would provide much help in actually learning how to do four corners or da lu.
For a book of this style and age, it is pretty decent—especially the chapter on tai chi dynamics. But these days, if you’ve read more than five books on tai chi, you’ve heard most of it before, and sometimes a lot better. But as one of the earliest books in English on tai chi, it’s earned a place in the tai chi bibliography above its obvious station.
by Yearning K. Chen
(Unicorn Press, 1971, 184 pages)