A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
is published by
All material © 2016
by Yeung (Yang) Sau Chung
(Tai Chi Co., 1977, 42 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Tai chi folks have, over the many, many years of the art, have produced some curious books, and Practical Use of Tai Chi Chuan: Its Application and Variation is one of them. Its length is so brief that there isn’t enough room on the spine for the book’s title and author.
Yeung is the son of Yang Chen-fu, using an alternate spelling of the family name (Yang Zhen-ming and Yang Shao-zhong being other names he went by). He opens this small book with a three-page exposition of tai chi that has a bit of substance, but it’s relatively slight compared to what is delivered by most Category I books. If you want to read about tai chi’s history, principles, and basic practices, you can find much, much more complete information elsewhere.
Next comes a fold-out page that contains, on one side, a series of photos of the Yang style long form, and on the other side, a written list of the names of the movements. On the plus side, the photos are all of Yang Cheng-fu. You often see some of these historic photos in other books, but it’s rare to see the entire sequence at one time. On the minus side, the photos are the size of postage stamps and are pretty grainy, so frankly, they’re not particularly helpful. And amusingly for a book in English, the photos display right-to-left, so if you’re going to examine the sequence, you’ll have to reverse your normal reading direction. Nor is the list on the reverse side helpful—at least for those of us who do not read or speak Chinese—as they’re all in that language, both in Romanized characters and in ideograms. This is despite the fact that the movements are given English names in the pages that follow.
The rest of the book is taken up with photos and descriptions of applications from the form. The top half of each page describes an application illustrated by a photo, usually of Yang Cheng-fu pushing around another guy. The bottom half shows a potential follow-up action that emerges from the top application. The photos that illustrate this are usually of Yeung Sau Chung applying the movements to several other people. All the photos are of relatively mediocre quality, though that is to be expected in the case of the ones of Yang Cheng-fu.
I’m not a big fan of such books. Sure, with a partner and diligence, you might be able to suss out how an applications really works, but single static photos of applications are pretty limited in describing dynamic movement. Of course, when this book first came out, we didn’t have the proliferation of application videos that we now do, so maybe it was a more valuable work at the time. But not now.
If Practical Use of Tai Chi Chuan has any value now, it’s in its presentation (poor as it is) of the sequence featuring Yang Cheng-fu and in the somewhat better photos of him applying tai chi to his sparring partner. My copy of this book is old, but apparently there is a newer edition with a different cover on the market. Buy it if you want or need to look at Yang Cheng-fu’s form, but don’t if that isn’t something that interests you.