I want to thank Hengyu for bringing up this topic of Ho Chi Minh’s evident taijiquan practice, and Danny for his introduction to the Luo Jihong material.
I printed out the Luo Jihong article so that I could read it at leisure, and I find much to admire in his investigative/experimental approach to taijiquan. His approach demonstrates what a number of detractors seem to miss about the role of taijiquan theory. Some martial artists (at least 'internet martial artists') dismiss the taiji classics as “poetry” or ephemeral philosophy that is a waste of time, claiming that the only thing that matters in martial practice is that “it works,” and, more importantly, that it works “in a fight.” That sounds very tough and pragmatic, but it misses the fact that taiji theory came out of practice and experimentation. Therefore, for it to make sense, it must be tested through practice. Classical taijiquan theory is not something that you idly read or recite; you have to integrate it into a rigorous, investigative endeavor. And, as Dong Yingjie said, “To learn something good you have to use your mind a little.” (Wile, T’ai-chi Touchstones, p. 147)
As for the subject of Ho Chi Minh, I was very interested to learn of his connection with Zhou Enlai, their meeting in Paris, their common involvement at Whampoa Military Academy in the 1920s, and Zhou’s sending Gu Liuxin to tutor Ho in taiji in the 1950s. To summarize my impression, the film footage likely predates the time Ho studied with Gu in the ‘50s. That means that Ho had prior knowledge of taijiquan, and had either studied it in southern China in the 1920s, or had learned from taiji practitioners in Vietnam. To me, it is recognizably a Yang-derived style, or perhaps Wu Jianquan style. Zhou Enlai must have known of Ho’s interest in Taijiquan, and sent Gu as a goodwill emissary.
All of this sparks my interest because of my background in Chinese history, and more specifically because of something that I’ve been thinking about recently because of some reading I’m doing on the discourse of sports and physical education in modern China. I recently read a fascinating book by Adam D. Frank, _Taijiquan and the Search for the Little Old Chinese Man: Understanding Identity through Martial Arts_ (Palgrave, 2006), which is an ethnography taijiquan. Frank, an American anthropologist, studied Wu Jianquan style taijiquan in Shanghai as fieldwork. Currently, I’m reading Andrew Morris’ book, _Marrow of the Nation: A History of Sport and Physical Culture in Republican China_ (University of California Press, 2004). Morris’ book is an excellent investigation into the development of “tiyu,”—body culture, or physical education—in late Qing and early republican China. His attention to the role of martial arts in this evolution is very thorough, and substantiates many things I’ve thought about regarding the emergence (and survival) of taijiquan from a secret family art to a public practice. In any case, the nexus of Zhou Enlai, Gu Liuxin, and Ho Chi Minh is a fascinating example of the subtle ways something like taijiquan has played a role in transnational and intercultural exchanges.
[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 09-03-2007).]