Second Look: Wisdom of the Taiji Masters

Wisdom of the Taiji MastersOur renewed look at Nigel Sutton’s “Wisdom of the Taiji Masters,” was inevitable. Like a good British murder mystery, there is more to the search and intuition than to the closet full of clues. Despite the wealth of time spent by professor Cheng’s and other Tai Chi students on the secrets and questions posed by his practice, the fun is in the continuing pursuit of solutions that claim to point in the right direction.

Cheng Man Ching’s legacy seems, at first glance, to be an indisputably positive assessment of Professor Cheng and his disciples, along with the specific fighting aspects and their relation to the seemingly huge network of practitioners. Opponents and players march a spectrum across the playing field. The book highlights players and teachers who good-heartedly receive their licks with no complaints, although it does not thoroughly reveal how some of the “magic” was performed. We sometimes get the feeling that there are hidden tricks and obscured prestidigitation.

This truly engaging profile of the art highlights the clear belief that, despite opposition from practitioners of some Chinese and non-Chinese styles alike—Tai Chi is not just another style, not just some conglomeration of whatever happens; that Tai Chi embraces a systematic approach to matters martial and exploratory. One of the things we most like about this book, is that we have never read so many descriptions of matches and defeats, such a wide variety of techniques and linked skills.

This book is a testament to that elongated journey, imbued with a deep martial sensitivity, which happens when a whole community—even a scattered community—works with one another to explore a core practice like Push Hands. Professor Cheng’s legacy may arguably lie in his emphasis on a Push Hands curriculum; however, while the many voices in this book speak to that issue, the chorus is not entirely resonant.

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