Thomas, Howard
Paul H. Crompton Ltd.
London, England
1997, 138 pages

Mr. Thomas, with a degree in languages, tells the story of his experience with Tai Chi, bureaucracy, Chinese manners and most importantly that strange and intimate affection which is so often engendered by those fortunate enough to visit and relate to the Chinese people in their homeland. The first book of a trilogy the obvious comparison to "Iron and Silk" by Mark Salzman should be eschewed.

Thomas's story is his own, told honestly if sometimes dryly. His five years' experiences with coaches and masters are interesting and heavy with the mundane realities of study in the homeland of Tai Chi. This, at the very least, should be the kind of book— de-mythologized and straight forward— which one reads who wishes and hopes someday to gather some of the experience of studying in China. Liberally spiced with aphorisms and Thomas's true life experiences and insights, this is a travel diary for those who might go far to improve their arts and would like some first-hand knowledge of what it is like and what required.

As usual, publisher and martial artist Crompton has concentrated on substance rather than fluff. Though the book and the trilogy might be served by a stronger and more exact editorial hand, it remains an honest and useful account of one man's experiences doing what do many martial enthusiasts have only dreamt of attempting. Thomas's experiences lead to interesting and insightful observations — many of which tend to validate his own experiences. This circularity is a common event in martial arts which remains essentially a person-to-person type of localized phenomenon.

For instance, Thomas seems to feel that no on becomes a master without five hours of practice a day for the rest of his life. He also feels that, for the serious martial artist, learning the language is required. Having won a number of gold medals in Chinese competition he is mystified at his low scores in a American competition. Yet he takes the information with European grace. A good book about the experiences of one T'ai Chi student.