Taijiquan - The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power

by Yang Yang

Zhenwu Publications 2005, ISBN: 0-9740990-0-7

The cover of Taijiquan, the Art of Nurturing, the Science of Power by Yang Yang

Yang Yang was born in Henan near Chen Village and began studying taijiquan at the age of 12 to manage a congenital heart condition. When he moved to Shanghai to attend university in 1979 he began to study with Gu Liuxin, Chen Zhaokui (18th Generation inheritor) and Feng Zhiqiang. He became a formal disciple Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang in 1988. His Chen taijiquan credentials are impeccable. Yang Yang is also unique in that he has several degrees and since moving to the United States has earned a masters and is now studying taijiquan as part of a Phd in kiniesology at the University of Illinois. His background in traditional taijiquan, Chinese academia and now Western scientific academia makes this a most unique book.

‘Taijiquan, The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power’ is an excellent book. It is well written. Easy to follow, and scrupulously referenced. Yang Yang’s stated aim in producing this book was ‘to provide a resource documenting a complete training system’. As such it is an excellent first book for a beginner (of any style of taijiquan), and is also highly useful for many experienced practitioners as it represents an overall approach that may highlight absences or imbalances in training regimes.

Yang Yang identifies three core strands of the taijiquan system:

·         Qigong – principally wuji meditation (standing or sitting)

·         Taiji forms – slow movements

·         Push hands – two person drills for sensitivity and martial training

Rather than going through a specific form this book looks to give an insightful overview of the aspects of taijiquan that would be relevant to students of any style. It covers: an overview of taijiquan, its principles and key concepts; what to look for in a teacher; wuji meditation; taiji form; and push hands.

The overview introduces the concept of ‘gong’ (which is a general overall quality that you gain from consistent and diligent study), the importance of nurturing and how to improve oneself physically, mentally and spiritually. Even for experienced martial artists this is a good chapter. It is interspersed with lots of sayings from the martial arts, which are given in Chinese and English and often accompanied by an explanation to clarify the insight these sayings offer. There is also an extended quote from Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang on his 12 principles, plus numerous quotes from philosophical classics like ‘Mencius’, ‘The Daodejing’, and ‘The Yang Family Forty Chapters’. For my taste it was a little heavy on the comparative religion, but I guess the book was written more for an American audience.

The chapter on finding a teacher offers good solid advice on what to look for and the warning signs of what to avoid.

The chapter of wuji meditation is particularly interesting as many other books either glide over this with hardly a comment or go into such detail that it becomes impenetrable. Rather than re-inventing the wheel he quotes extensively from Wang Feiming’s book on the Taiji Stick and Ruler. This covers the basics of posture quite thoroughly and then enables Yang Yang to reflect and comment on the text. I found that this worked well and having the two perspectives allowed the reader a better insight into the subject.

The chapter on taiji form is good. Again it concentrates on general principles rather than the specifics of one style. He begins by explaining why we should practise form: first taiji forms are a form of qigong that enable you to nurture and gather energy, second they exercise xin / yi building a solid connection between mind and body and third it teaches you the body mechanics of chan si or silk reeling. The discussions of posture, zhong ding (central equilibrium), relaxation and breathing are all excellent and full of insight. Yang Yang’s fundamental position is that the forms build on the gong that is begun in wuji meditation, but whereas the goal of wuji is perfect balance, the form teaches the limits of stable movement. The chapter closes with a detailed explanation of the effects that doing taiji forms has on the nervous system, again showing Yang Yang’s unique knowledge of both Eastern and Western scientific approaches.

Yang Yang’s approach to push hands is that it is very much a continuation of the zhong ding (central equilibrium) training that was begun with wuji meditation and developed with forms practice, the difference being that in push hands you are practicing zhong ding while someone tries to disrupt it. It’s an interesting point of view and one that provides consistency and coherence to his whole approach. I can also see how using this form of bio-feedback loop would give good results that aren’t purely focused on either just health or just martial arts. The chapter on push hands also covers the basic concepts of: peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou, kao and zhan, lian, nian, shui.

Overall this is a very good book. It thoroughly covers the basics in a way that I believe is clear enough for beginners to follow but offers more than enough insight to still be relevant after years of practice. It is chock full of interesting sayings from the Chinese martial arts, covers a good range of subject and offers a range of perspectives. For anyone who wants to take it further there are copious references and citations in the bibliography, not just to the classics, but also to academic journals covering sport science. Finally, this is also an extremely well presented book. The paper is of a good quality, the design and layout are excellent. A great deal of care seems to have been taken over all aspects of this book, making it a great investment.

Glenn Gossling 2011

With the first edition now sold out the book can be a little costly from the likes of Amazon, the best way to get it would be the new second edition which can be purchased directly from the publishers at:

http://www.chentaiji.com/books/books.html

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