Saturday, September 3, 2016

4 out of 5 stars for Wisdom of Taiji Masters by Nigel Sutton

In the interests of disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes.

Title: Wisdom of Taiji Masters: Insights into Cheng Man Chings
Author: Nigel Sutton
Publisher: Tambuli Media
Format: Softcover
Pages: 167
Price: $21.95 (US)

"If you say that you only pay attention to the health aspects of the art then it not gongfu, it is merely exercise.  This is wrong."
                                                                    -Shifu Tan Ching Ngee

    For the longest time, I had an misinformed idea of what taiji (Tai Chi) was.  Granted, the only version I had ever really seen was the old people in the park version of it.  It took me years to realize what taiji was, and how it could be an effective martial art. Funny part is, being an aikidoka, I should have seen that coming.  There is a lot of similarities in taiji and aikido.  Which, I think is why I was able to get so much out of this book.


    This book delves into the heroes/instructors of one particular branch of taiji, Cheng Man Ching's taijiquan.  This is a branch of the Yang Style taiji.  From what little I know, Yang style still is a martial art, as opposed to be just a health practice, as some of the other taiji has become.  Shifu Cheng Man Ching taught for a long time in Malaysia, where his system flourished under constant physical scrutiny from other local martial artists, i.e. they challenged him often.


    One thing I really liked about this book is that it looks more at the philosophy of taijiquan rather that the techniques.  As I am not a taiji practitioner, I don't know how helpful that would have been.  However, when you talk about the philosophy, the practices, and the stories of a martial art, then it becomes more widely useful.  As an aikidoka, I found so much in common with the ideas and ideals of taiji.  I think everyone, regardless of style can pull some information from this book to add to their own knowledge.


    The one thing I think I would have liked to see better, which is only a small flaw, is that the author writes as though the audience has a basic understanding of taiji, which I don't.  However, with a quick youtube search, I can find demonstrations of the ideas he's describing.  For example, I didn't know what "pushing hands" was.  So I went and found several different versions of the practice and was able to keep reading.
    I also was not as in awe of the subjects of these books, as I gather the author was.  That's due to my lack of familiarity rather than any fault of his or theirs.  Again, its due to my lack of knowledge about taiji and taiji practitioners and masters.


    Overall, I have to give a very high 4 out of five ninja stars.  I really enjoyed the stories about the masters and their abilities.  Their theories of martial arts, despite the softer reputation of taiji, were soundly practical, and I can appreciate that .  As an aikido practitioner, I got a lot out of this book.  Aikido suffers much of the same stigma of the new-age, health aspect that I think taiji does as well.  I was able to take many ideas and quotes and substitute the word "aikido" for "taiji" and write it in my journal.  I truly believe that anyone who reads this book regardless of style will be able to take something useful from it and grow as a martial artist.

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