Sensing Hands


Stuart Alve Olson
Multi Media Books, $19.95

It's a modern tendency, in the world of the disgruntled and the shallow, to confuse a failed effort with a bad effort. Such, despite press, is not the case. Sensing Hands is a case to the point. It is, to our way of thinking, a failed effort but by no means does that qualify it as a bad effort. Stuart Alve Olson's new book is about the Pushing Hands practice of T'ai Chi, particularly Yang style. He renames, or rather re-interprets, the Chinese to "Sensing" hands because, no doubt like every T'ai Chi instructor, he has been frustrated by trying to point out technical skills to students congratulating or castigating themselves on who pushed whom while simultaneously missing every subtlety. 

There are a number of good things about the book. It contains a new translation of Yearning K. Chen's admonitions on the art. It has some very salient points on practice. Where it totters is in the descriptions of the exercises. Olson breaks up the standard Four Hand Exercise into an introductory group of partner practices. The trouble begins with the almost complete inadequacy of the photographs taken at possibly the worst angle conceivable for instruction. 

The instructions are dry, at time incomplete and the technical vocabulary is assumed on the part of the reader. Even for those who can learn from books, it is not easy going. And arrow, an illustration, the reviewer longed for a break from the unchanging shoulder level camera and the rarely changing angles. Tough going. An instructor's book to pick up a few new exercises.

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