By: Tseng Ju-pai
(Tai Chi Chuan)
by Tseng Ju-pai
(Paul H. Crompton, Ltd., 1975, 78 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
To be clear from the outset, the coolest thing about this book is its title, Primordial Pugilism, which is an inventive alternative translation to “grand ultimate fist,” as “Tai Chi Chuan” usually is translated. The author, Tseng Ju-pai, was a direct student of Yang Cheng-fu.
This is definitely a Category I book, in general no better and no worse than the average. Its introductory expository material is adequate. The section on Tai Chi history, which is a little wider-flung than in many other Tai Chi books, credits Wang Tsung-yeuh as the principal disseminator of Tai Chi prior to the art’s adoption by the Chen family and stirs a few unfamiliar elements into the mix.
The history however, should be taken with a grain of salt. It states that Yang Ban-hao and Wu Quan-yu both died in the Boxer Rebellion. I don’t know if this is true, and the statement makes me yearn for an adequate history of Tai Chi written by a professional historian. But I checked the dates of the Boxer Rebellion—1899-1901, and it doesn’t seem that Yang Ban-hao, whose date of death is variously given as 1890 or 1892 could have succumbed in the rebellion. Wu Quan-yu’s death was reported to have occurred in 1902, so I suppose he could have been a late casualty of the conflict.
The historical section is followed by a chapter on principles and techniques, and actually lays out the basics of the Thirteen Postures, unlike most books of this caliber. A couple of pages of excerpts from the Tai Chi Classics are next, then there is a fairly lengthy section on applications, accompanied by photos. But as with a great many of these well-intentioned efforts, there’s not much of it that you can really follow.
Form instruction occupies the last chapter, though the textual descriptions of the movements are weak and are not accompanied by photos. Instead, the entire form sequence is depicted on two fold-out posters tucked into a pocket inside the back cover. I’m not sure why. Maybe you’re supposed to tack them up on the wall, but if so, the designer sure made things difficult by printing on both sides of both sheets, so you’d have to untack and retack the posters periodically if you were trying to use them as visual aids. The more than 300 photos on these two posters show a pretty detailed Yang sequence, but they depict four different people performing it in a scattershot manner, with shots from the famous Yang Cheng-fu photo sequence mixed with shots of the author and two others.
For the curious only, or those, like me, who love the title.