By: Jesse Tsao
Tai Chi Bang
by Jesse Tsao, with Bill Coffey
(BN Publishing, 2012, 134 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
I can’t say that I really know much about the Tai Chi bang, or as it’s also called, the Tai Chi stick or Tai Chi ruler. At its basic, the bang is a wooden dowel, about a foot long, with rounded ends that can pivot smoothly in the palms. Author Jesse Tsao uses a length of bamboo, but attractively lathed versions can be purchased commercially. I’m a cheapskate, so I just used a rolling pin I got at the dollar store.
I’ve heard the ruler disparaged as a non-classical weapon or training device, to which I say: So what? Cave men might say the same of a straight sword. If practicing with an aid, whether the stick is long or short or is wood or sharpened steel, helps you move farther along your path, go for it. I’m a non-traditionalist.
I played with the bang form Tsao presents in this book for a short while, but I dropped it fairly quickly for a couple of reasons. One was time. I already practice Tai Chi and chi kung, and those take enough time as it is. Lack of time is one reason I no longer do a lot of things, and the others are age and lack of interest. These might not be issues, however, for folks who are younger or more dedicated that I am. The second reason is that, after playing with Tsao’s form, I grabbed my stick and did my own Northern Wu Style form with it, modifying the form slightly to accommodate holding the stick. So, basically, except for some of the more complex wrist twisting movements, you can create a ruler form out of your already familiar Tai Chi form.
This isn’t to say that Tsao’s book has no value. Anybody who’s seen Tsao’s application videos on YouTube knows he’s pretty good at Tai Chi. The book lays out his ruler form quite clearly, and it’s easy to follow. Another nice point is the reference to the Eight Immortals. A lot of us have noticed images of these mythic Chinese figures here and there, but Tsao presents five pages containing mini-biographies of them. Nice.
And to go back to the criticism that the short stick isn’t a classical weapon—well, maybe not. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used effectively. There’s a nifty martial arts scene in the otherwise fairly crummy movie titled The Island (1980) in which a karateka armed only with a belaying pin, which is about the same size and configuration as a bang, defends himself against a sword-wielding modern-day pirate. The pirate eventually wins (by cheating, if I recall correctly), but the episode shows how effective a bang can be, even against a sword.