By: Wang Peisheng
Wu Style Taijiquan
by Wang Peisheng & Zeng Weiqi
(Hai Feng Publishing Co., 1983, 234 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
This book is titled, Wu Style Taijiquan, but those with a background in Wu Family style Tai Chi might find the form depicted to be considerably different from what they practice. I certainly did when I bought this book early in my Tai Chi training. I was practicing Wu Family style and hoping for some insights into that, but the book merely confused me because the movements were so different from what I was doing. I didn’t understand what was going on until a few years later, after I learned the Wu Style form that I now practice and gradually came to understand the history of the Tai Chi family tree.
Confusion about Wu Style Tai Chi comes from the fact that there are three very distinct styles that can be called Wu. The first was created by Wu Yu-hsiang, who learned from the Chen Family at about the same time that Yang Lu-chan learned from them. It is a very distinct style that was taken up by the Hao Family and is now called either Wu/Hao style, or simply Hao style. The second is Wu Family style, created by Wu Quan-yu, who learned primarily from Yang Ban-hao, son of Yang Lu-chan and uncle of Yang Chen-fu. Within the next generation, the Wus produced two highly developed exponents who were not family members, and when the Wus subsequently departed Beijing to spread their art through southern China, those two exponents, particularly Wang Maozhai, remained behind to continue their tradition, which is now referred to as Northern Wu style.
Northern Wu has become as distinct from Wu Family Tai Chi as the latter is from Yang style. One could, with some degree of accuracy, say that Northern Wu is very similar to what the Wu Family practiced before they reduced their style’s frame, making their movements more and more compact. Or, alternately, you could say that Northern Wu is intermediate between Yang and Wu Family styles in terms of the expansiveness of the movements. But of course, time has had its effect on Northern Wu, too, bringing modifications in sequence, movements, and frame size.
The author of Wu Style Taijiquan, the late Wang Peisheng, was a highly respected master of Northern Wu style who created one of Northern Wu's variants: a 37-movement solo form. The book leads off with a chapter that contains a brief bio of Wang, which shows his pretty impressive background, then succinctly discusses Tai Chi principles. Most of the remainder of the book is occupied by a highly detailed exposition of the solo form created by Wang.
The depth of detail of this instructional material far exceeds that of almost every other basic Tai Chi manual I’ve ever seen. The text explains not only how one moves the body, but also how the body should feel inside. Then comes an explanation of one or more ways in which the movement can be applied to an opponent. This is, of course, not an exhaustive catalog of potential applications since any given movement might embody significantly more than one or two application. But Wang has chosen applications that are very instructive in demonstrating how the force and energy of Tai Chi might be applied, and therefore, how the body should feel inside when performing the movement.
Running concurrently with the instructional text are two sets of excellent drawings, complete with arrows to indicate the directions of movement. The first set, containing 240 drawings, illustrates the solo form’s movements. The second, containing 273 drawings, shows the described applications.
The book finishes with two chapters that contain brief bios of Wang’s teachers, Yang Yuting and Wu Tunan, and their words of wisdom regarding Tai Chi practice. This is really good stuff, both from a historical perspective as well as from a theoretical standpoint. The final two pages depict figures showing a number of vital points described in the book.
I’d have to call this a Category I book since it is primarily a form instruction manual, but it is a very excellent one of its type and well worth the read, particularly for practitioners of Northern Wu style, which is not well represented within Tai Chi literature. For another take on Northern Wu, see Tina Chunna Zhang's Classical Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan.