By: Wu Tunan
By Wu Tunan
(Originally published by The Commercial Press, LTD, 1936. Brennan Translations, November 2015. 147 pages.)
Review by Christopher Dow
I’m afraid this review is going to be very short. That isn’t because I don’t think this book has no value. It certainly does to Wu Tai Chi stylists who practice straight sword. And Wu Tunan was a venerable Wu sword stylist whose advice should carry weight. He was a student of Wu Chien-chuan and produced a number of disciples of his own. Most of us who are familiar with him know him from photos taken when he was much older: slender as a reed, bespectacled, and white-haired with a long, flowing white beard. That is not the Wu Tunan pictured in this book. This one is a young man, whose portrait at the beginning shows a friendly and knowing smile.
The problem with this book for the average reader of martial arts literature is that the background and principles of Tai Chi in general and Tai Chi sword in particular are exceedingly brief. Perhaps the author understood that anyone who came to this book already would be well versed in Tai Chi history and principles. But he does give an interesting if sketchy take on the development of the straight sword and the art of wielding it, though there is a definite irony to his conclusion that students should learn a sword form—most preferably a Tai Chi sword form—to elevate their ability to defend their country. It would seem that martial artists of his generation were somewhat stuck in a shadowland between a past, where the martial might of individuals might actually contribute to victory, and the future, where high-powered weapons of war virtually supplanted the edged weapons of old.
Nonetheless, its is good to have a document on Wu’s sword form, for which he was apparently somewhat famous—and for which he devised the names. Except for the three pages of introductory material and a concluding chapter of just two pages that describes the general functioning of the sword movements, the entirety of the book is form instruction. Anyone who has read many of my reviews knows that I believe that such documents are virtually valueless except to practitioners of the same or similar styles or to those who desire a completist understanding of the use of any particular style or weapon. So I will recommend this book only to individuals with those proclivities. For others, there just isn’t much here to grab hold of.