T'ai Chi's Ancestors
The Making of an Internal Martial Art
224 pages, Softbound $19.95
Available through Plum Publications: yes
Douglas Wile has produced a number of important books on the
study of T'ai Chi. His Lost
Classics we consider a neatly written and stimulating
piece of work. Now he has come out with a text that is essentially
a translation of important - indeed fundamental - documents
on martial arts.
sources he has presented have long been considered crucial
to the amazingly small canon of classical Chinese writing
on martial arts. This is sometimes a surprise to people considering
how long Wushu has occupied so much of Chinese consciousness.
But think of this: the English language has a long tradition
of fine theater. Yet texts on acting were almost non-existent
for centuries. Now we have more books on bowling than centuries
of English history produced on acting. How many other subjects
- even in this age of books-as-products- have still been unexplored?
Point is that there are few texts and fewer translators.
comes the rub. Wile is a T'ai Chi practitioner. And, true
to the title, these texts do presage the natural development
of T'ai Chi. Sort of. But the question raised is more interesting
than that. It boils down to what, exactly, is T'ai Chi. Let
us consider an example. I used to suggest to my T'ai Chi students
they memorize the T'ai Chi Classics. Then after some thought
I would suggest to ALL my Kung Fu students that they read
the classics because they were, after all, written rules that
might be applied to any Kung Fu style. In fact Adam Hsu once,
after returning from Taiwan, handed me a nicely hand bound
copy of the T'ai Chi Classics. His comment to me, "Memorize
is nothing in the Classics, beyond certain technical points,
that is not true to all Kung Fu worthy of the name. These
is nothing in these translations that is not universal rather
than specific in the martial world. T'ai Chi is not separate
from Kung Fu, to our eye;, it is simply a methodology of gaining
classical, true Kung Fu skills. These translations are "T'ai
Chi's Ancestors" because they point to true Kung Fu.
Even the apocryphal story of Chang San Feng repudiating Shaolin
and turning to internal arts because the former "...
had strayed from the path." shows us the truth: there
is a real Kung Fu and it is easily lost. T'ai Chi, an obscure
style hidden away in central China, AND 100 other styles that
have survived the Cultural Revolution because of their obscurity
and the poverty of their surroundings are the real classics
and the real ancestors. Important classics written in skills
and human bodies instead of rare books but equally valuable
as texts of centuries past. We need to preserve these "texts"
wherever we find them. After all, Alexandria is burning.
Chi Chi-kuang's "Essentials of the Classics of Pugilism"
"Epitaph for Wang Cheng-nan"
Ch'ang Nai Chou's Writings on Marital Arts
to this book!