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Review by Christopher Dow
T’ai Chi Nude has to be one of the oddest and most schizophrenic books on tai chi in existence. The first sixteen pages of this large-format book (8.5x11) deliver a historical, philosophical, and operational background on tai chi, while the remaining pages are devoted to photos of a short, non-standard Yang style form.
I want to deal with the expository matter first. This is definitely what I’d call a Category I tai chi book: one primarily for beginners or people interested in finding out a little bit about tai chi. As with most such books, it contains a few brief chapters devoted to the requisite background material. This material, however, is surprisingly well elucidated here, and it economically delivers a lot of solid information. I never heard of Yu before or since this book, but he obviously knows his tai chi. Or knew it. This is a fairly old book, and I don’t know if he’s still alive. It makes me wish he’d penned a longer and more in-depth book on tai chi, but to be fair, there were only a couple of such Category III tai chi books—for intermediate and advanced students—on the market at the time.
Now we come to the schizophrenic oddness. The majority of the book is taken up by photos of three attractive young people—two women and one man—performing the sequence in the nude. In explaining the use of nudity, Yu writes in the “Introduction”:
“I have for many years wished to publish a work which makes plain the forms and principles of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, without their usual robed obscurity and purposeful obfuscation. In these pictures, the exact disposition of the spine, its true relation to the pelvis, and the actual configuration of the legs are all completely visible.”
To be clear, these photos, in and of themselves, are not salacious. And perhaps the reader can observe the body’s structural elements that Yu mentions more clearly in unclothed performers. Perhaps. Frankly, I’ve never had much trouble looking at photos of clothed tai chi players and observing body alignments, etc., so, for me, not much is really revealed in these pictures except attractive young flesh in tai chi poses.
And “young” might be the operative word here. The physical alignments of these three young people are pretty good, but the models all seem to be in their early twenties. It might be that nude photos actually reveal keys to tai chi more than clothed photos do, but we also know that photos of experienced tai chi players are more interesting and accurate than photos of relative newbies. So the question one might rightly ask is: If Yu really wanted to reveal an unrobed tai chi, why didn’t he personally model for the nude poses?
Further, in the “Introduction,” Yu complains: “Space does not allow photographic coverage of the subject of the joined hands exercise of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.” If so, it’s simply because of poor book design. Each full-color photo, accompanied by two or three brief paragraphs of explanatory text, occupies a full page, where four would fit fine. It's a large-format book. That would have left plenty of space for more exposition or more photos. Plus, unlike boxes or kitchen cabinets, books are expandable, and it’s easy to add pages. The book is only 64 pages, but couldn't it have been 100? But then, do I really need to see a bunch of photos of people pushing hands in the nude?
I can’t really recommend this book for anybody except a beginner. Despite the relatively good quality of the expository chapters, they are still a gloss and limited in scope. And the photo sequence, even as a reference, is questionable due to the youth of the models and to the shortness, sketchiness, and non-standardness of the form depicted. But the serious collector of tai chi books might want it as a novelty, and amazingly, at the time of this writing it is still available.
by F. L. Yu
(And/Or Press, 1975, 64 pages)