Reference books

Reference books

Postby redtwister » Fri Sep 07, 2007 4:32 am

Hopefully Louis feels like taking this up Image

What do you think, from a scholarly point of view (quality of translation, background, historical situating of the works) of the following:

Barbara Davis' book The Taijiquan Classics, with commentary by Chen Wei-ming?

Douglas Wile's T'ai Chi's Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art

Lost Tai'-Chi Classics from the Late Ch'Ing Dynasty (Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture)

Lost Tai'-Chi Classics from the Late Ch'Ing Dynasty

I am trying to build my collection of helpful materials to use in the self-study aspects of my practice, but i don't have a ton of money to waste buying and trying, and this is one of the places I have seen the most credible and thoughtful discussions by people who practice what they proclaim.

I will post some form questions later elsewhere. I am waiting for commentary from my teacher first before I extend my queries outward.

Chris Wright
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Sep 08, 2007 4:51 pm

Greetings Chris,

Without knowing your background or what your learning objectives are, it would be hard to assess which among these books you would most appreciate, but from my perspective they are all very worthwhile.

Barbara Davis’ book on the core taijiquan classics is probably the best place to start, for the simple fact that studying the taiji classics adds a vital dimension to “the self-study aspects” of taiji practice, as you put it. Barbara does excellent work, and her book includes some very good historical and textual analysis. Her inclusion of Chen Weiming’s commentaries is also an important contribution. I would encourage you to read other translations of the taiji classics as well, and consider them from a comparative perspective. The taiji classics are subtle and nuanced texts, and no one translation will capture them definitively. Take your time, and try to find ways to integrate the classics into your daily practice.

I read Douglas Wile’s _Lost T’ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty_ when it first came out in 1996, and it had a huge impact on my thinking about taijiquan’s origins, history, and textual traditions. It remains the most rigorous and scholarly book on the subject in English. It also introduces the first English translations of a body of taiji texts, including documents by Wu Chengqing, Wu Ruqing, Li Yiyu, and texts thought to be transmitted by Yang Banhou through the Yang and the Wu Jianquan families (dubbed the “Yang Family Forty Chapters” by Wile). I return to these texts frequently, for there is much to ponder in them.

Wile’s book, _T’ai Chi’s Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art_ may not be as immediately accessible and interesting to the average taijiquan student, but for one interested in exploring the pre-history—what Wile calls the “genetic materials”—of taijiquan, this is an important source. Doug explores and translates texts from the sixteenth to eighteenth century martial traditions, including texts of Qi Jiguang, Wang Zhengnan, and Chang Naizhou.

Take care,
Louis Swaim
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Postby redtwister » Tue Sep 11, 2007 1:54 am

Well, my teacher Elizabeth Wenscott is a student of Hsu Fun Yuen, one of CMC's senior students in the 1950's.

I have trained, albeit on and off, since 1994, and had moved out of Chicago away from my teacher. I have been trying to become more regular in my study and to find some people to play push hands with. i have gotten somewhere with both, and now I am working on improving my form again (not merely getting back to a certain level, but surpassing it.)

As I have limited access to my teacher, and since one has to do the work oneself, i have been trying to deepen my grasp of the fundamentals and feel out different ways that the postures can be correctly expressed physically. Peter Lim's web site has been a profound stimulus for me because he took me into a wider world of Yang frames, training methods, etc. (

So, I am experimenting with different ways of performing the postures, but with the same taiji principles, such as trying to understand different frames (High, Medium, Low and Fast/Slow), large circle/small circle, two-person, and if there really is a 'long boxing' form, i.e. a Yang form with fa jing. My teacher taught Hsu Fun Yuen's 64, CMCs 37, a two-person form, sword, staff, spear, broadsword, push hands, da lu, and free fighting, but I only learned the 64 form and push hands between 1994 and 1998, in part due to my own difficulties with time and money (the wonderful birth of my son in 1997 quickly took a high toll on my time for formal classes and new forms.) And even with what she taught, I feel that there is more quite often than any one teacher teaches, including mine.

I am also trying to find other methods of non-form training and i am looking for a decent neigong school in Baltimore as another supplement. I think that it would be unproductive at best and unwise at worst to attempt to learn meditation and neigong techniques from a book. Books I think are best when one has the base from which to comprehend them.

I have been drawn both to material outside of CMC and my immediate background, back into the Yang family, and also into further trying to understand the application of the main principles better within the form I learned.

Hsu Fun Yuen has his own 64 part form, but IMO all of it recognizable within the Traditional 103 posture form. Part of my study has been to try and see what my form has kept, what is has not kept and how it performs the postures and the applications compared to say traditional Yang Cheng Fu (through Fu Wong Zhen, Yang Zhen Duo, Yang Sau Chang, Tung Ying Jieh, Yang Ban Hou, et al). I am trying to understand the Yang style from some study of its many variations, to try and improve my own form. IMO Hsu Fun Yuen's form in some ways has elements of CMC and more traditional Yang Cheng Fu elements, and therefore i feel I would benefit from this cross-fertilization.

For example, right now i am simply working on 3 things, aside from daily practice: Single Whip, and differentiating between Lift Hands and Strum the Lute, which even though they end up in the same basic position in Hsu Fun Yuen's form, do not get there by the same means at all...

I am completely staying away from Wu and Chen styles, if only because i feel that they are too different and that I am not competent enough in Yang to maintain myself, but the writings of the principles i think from the traditional texts will still be very helpful.

Thank you for your suggestions as well, I will take them to heart.

Sorry to be so rambling. A lot in the head that is not completely worked out. I don't usually try to explain this all in writing Image

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Postby shugdenla » Tue Sep 11, 2007 2:42 pm


Did your teacher, Elizabeth Wenscott, teach at the Japanese Cultural Center in Chicago for awhile?
One of my teachers, Dr Wu (former Kang Tai on Clark Street-now retired) taught at the Center when he first came to US and I recall the name but never studied with her)
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Postby Steveg219 » Tue Sep 11, 2007 5:28 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by redtwister:
<B>... has been a profound stimulus for me because he took me into a wider world of Yang frames, training methods, etc. (

Thanks for sharing your experience. This is a great link!!

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Postby redtwister » Tue Sep 11, 2007 5:30 pm

Yes, Elizabeth did. That was where I took classes with her.

I knew of Dr. Wu's Kang Tai Chi on Clark St., but I never studied with him. I did on occasion go to his shop for gan mao ling and Chi Kwan Ye Wan.

Hsu Fun Yuen still owns a school at 6014 N. Broadway, but back then his school was at Lunt and Clark.

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Postby redtwister » Fri Sep 14, 2007 3:08 pm


Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

I am familiar with those and will work with your idea of attention to alternate translations to get different nuances. Since all translation is also interpretation to some degree, no doubt I will get something a little different from each.

I am an assiduous student of philosophy and history, so even texts with no practical use are always of interest to me and I tend to look for a wide range of materials. I am looking forward to reading "Beyond the Closed Door", for example.

I admit to being disappointed by the amount of clutter that is out there, but this is the same for every topic. As a lifelong student of German classical philosophy from Kant to Nietzsche, I find much of what is written to be worthless, often nothing more than something that fills that checkbox in a yearly university review for "published something". It is best to read the original and use secondary texts as just that (unless a secondary text itself breaks new ground itself), but it is always helpful, even here, to speak to someone who is well-versed in the available materials for recommendations on translations and commentaries, to at least minimize the amount of time and money one spends sifting through materials.

For that, your commentaries on translations and original texts are really invaluable and deeply appreciated.

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Postby ophachew » Tue Sep 18, 2007 6:27 pm

redtwister, sometimes your private studies depend on what you want to focus on also.

For example: good Yang style books are "Tai-chi Touchstones: Yang family Secret Trasnsmissions" translated by Douglas Wile. "Mastering Yang style Taijiquan" translated by Louis Swaim.

Plus Bruce Frantzis has many good books in regards to theory. Not to mention Cheng Man-chings books have been compiled by his students.
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Postby Audi » Sun Sep 30, 2007 12:05 am

Hi Chris:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">For example, right now i am simply working on 3 things, aside from daily practice: Single Whip, and differentiating between Lift Hands and Strum the Lute</font>

Why did you decide to work on these particular things?

As for your original post, I would vote for all the book you mentioned, plus a few more, depending upon what you would like to pursue the most and in what order. I find some books, or often portions of books, to be exquisitely practical; whereas others are helpful to understand theory in the broad sense. Yet others are helpful to understand the assumptions, cultural context, theoretical framework of other books that I had not fully appreciated or may even have misinterpreted.

Take care,
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Postby redtwister » Sun Sep 30, 2007 6:28 am

I decided on those three for a few reasons.

In working on lift hands and hands strum the lute, i realized I was thinking of them as moving very similarly, but they do not. I had been working on understanding the motion of the waist in lift hands, and what the relation between the right hand and the left leg was in the motion.

I was also working on waist motion in general with some moves, as having worked with someone else, i noticed that in some places where I turned my waist to close, they closed then opened again, generating a kind of whip-like motion. This was most evident in single whip. I do not mean, btw, that he did the form with a whipping motion, but we were discussing large circle and small circle, and it came about through that discussion.

What originally prompted me to think about this was something I had read that Yang Cheng-Fu practiced single whip statically for opening energy and hands strum the lute for closing power. This helped lay the groundwork for my first realization (even though lift hands and hands strum the lute end up in a roughly similar position, how you get there is not the same) and set the table, so to speak, for the second in trying to understand the motion into single whip and the correct movement of the body.

I was finally drawn further into this focus by watching video of Fu Zhongwen on youtube and really being drawn into his performance of single whip and hands strum the lute.

Both seemed to raise a common issue for me and so i decided to spend some time in working on my form with these in particular.

Hope this clarifies.

On books, I am actually reading T.T. Liang's Imagination Becomes Realtiy (edite by S.A. Olson) which is very helpful and clear to me (and the way he starts his form through the first White Crane Spreads Its Wings is identical to Shu Fun-yuen's form, as well as other aspects as i look through the book.) I am also trying to take to heart some of his ideas on push hands to try and incorporate this into my practice sessions.

Other than that, I have picked up Chen Pan Ling's book, Tung Ying-chieh's Red Book, and Vincent Chu's book. I was already reading Douglas Wile's Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions (I have read and re-read it and see it with new eyes each time), and i have a large selection of Cheng Man-Ch'ing, Wolfe Lowenthol's memoirs, and other materials, like the books Louis' has translated.

I am however always looking for things that might really stand out and assist me in my practice.


[This message has been edited by redtwister (edited 09-30-2007).]
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