By: Yang Jwing-ming
Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan
Volume One: Tai Chi Theory and Tai Chi Jing
Volume Two: Martial Applications
by Yang Jwing-ming
(Yang’s Martial Arts Academy, 1986, 276/246 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
The pair of books under consideration in this review were published in 1986, and I’m assuming that the 1996 releases titled Tai Chi Theory and Martial Power: Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi Chuan Martial Applications: Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan are revisions of the same books.
Author Yang Jwing-ming was named by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the ten people who have “made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years.” It’s easy to see why. A prolific teacher, organizer, promoter, and author of more than forty books and more than fifty videos on various kung fu and exercise arts, Yang also is one of the most generous martial arts authors I’ve read. He might want to sell you his books, but he seems to want you to learn real kung fu even more, and he’s willing and able to help.
The first volume of Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, subtitled, Tai Chi Theory and Tai Chi Jing, is one of the most highly detailed analyses of the stated subject to be found in any Tai Chi book. Chapter one introduces Tai Chi, describing the main functions of the art and giving a relatively complete summary of its history. Also included are the parameters of Tai Chi training and keys to proper ways to learn Tai Chi.
Chapter two is a very thorough explication of chi, from general concepts through health, chi generation, and chi’s relationship to the mind. There follows a section that illustrates in words and pictures how the chi channels through a number of martial arts hand forms—or mudras—to produce a variety of effects. After that, Yang presents a group of chi kung exercises designed to sensitize one to chi and to increase its flow. After all, the author points out, “If a Tai Chi practitioner does not know and experience the feeling of Chi flow, how can he really understand Chi?”
A section on chi’s relation to breathing is accompanied by several useful diagrams of the Microcosmic Orbit that show how chi is propelled through it by the breathing pattern. This leads to a section on chi transportation throughout the entire body, namely, through the Macrocosmic Orbit.
Postural matters come next, with discussions of linked pairs of body parts—hands/wrists and elbows/shoulders—singular body parts—head and chest—and other linkages—waist/hips/thighs and legs/knees/feet. Yang winds up the chapter by exhorting readers to practice the form slower and slower, to develop a sense of enemy, and also to practice the form fast.
Jing, or Tai Chi’s whole-body power, is the subject of chapter three, which occupies more than half the book. Beginning with a general discussion of jing, Yang moves on to the differences between jing and li (conventional muscular strength), before delving into the range and basic categories of jing. The roles of various body parts—feet, legs, hips, waist, spine, torso, and hands—are discussed, as are balance, substantial and insubstantial, and accumulating jing in the postures. He follows this with an explanation of nine key points of Tai Chi jing and pointers for jing training.
After that, Yang goes into great detail as he covers more than fifty specific types of jing, some defensive, some offensive, including leg jings. The numerous photos contain arrows to indicate the directions of movement. This is really great material, particularly for intermediate and early advanced students, though it probably is a little beyond most beginners who are still struggling to learn the form and the general precepts of Tai Chi and are not prepared to do internal work.
After the section on jing instruction comes an extensive chapter of translations of the Tai Chi Classics, here referred to as “Tai Chi Poetry and Songs.” Each classic is translated then explicated to tease out hidden meanings, and there are plenty of photos here, also, to illustrate the concepts. Volume one concludes with a useful glossary of Tai Chi terms and ideas.
Volume two deals almost exclusively with Tai Chi’s martial applications. The introductory chapters discuss, in general terms, Tai Chi as a martial art. An analysis of Tai Chi techniques includes how martial sequences are created, and Yang says that there are more than 250 martial techniques in the Yang Style form, which can be divided into three principal categories: downing the enemy, chin na control, and cavity strikes.
And then it’s on to the breakdown of martial techniques. The author accomplishes this by taking each basic movement in the Yang form and breaking out applications in all three of the categories mentioned above. Thirty-eight movements are explicated in this manner, accompanied by a total of 408 photos, each with arrows to aid in understanding the application. Additional illustrations showing cavity points, how force can be deflected, and other matters aid in the explanations.
A chapter on push hands comes next, but it is far more extensive than most similar sections in other Tai Chi books. It opens with list of sixteen key points, goes through some essential concepts, then discusses the use of the “Heng” and “Ha” sounds in martial training. Tai Chi ball training is covered next, showing half a dozen exercises. Several push hands forms are illustrated, and Yang shows how chin na techniques can be applied within the push hands framework. Extensive photos and illustrations accompany the text.
Chapter four contains an analysis of the Tai Chi fighting set, and this is followed by a chapter on Tai Chi fighting strategy, which includes a number of drills in addition to details on connecting with the enemy, timing, faking, and other issues. The book winds up with several independent essays by Yang and others on timing, jing, and other of Tai Chi's martial elements. Again, there are plenty of photos and illustrations.
I consider Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan—both volumes taken together—to be one of the most important books in my Tai Chi library. It is packed with solid information delivered by someone who not only knows the material well but who knows how to deliver that information well. The style might be Yang, but the principles and movements can be applied to almost any other Tai Chi style, particularly Wu Family or Northern Wu. Each time I’ve read it, I find something new to understand or contemplate. Tai Chi books don’t come any better than this.
Taijiquan Theory of Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
The Root of Taijiquan
by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
(YMAA Publication Center, 2003, 270 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Yang Jwing-Ming is not only a proficient and significant martial artist of historical note, he also is an equally proficient and generous author who always seems sincere in his desire to impart what he knows to others. Taijiquan Theory is no exception. Its text is a compendium of songs and poems from the Tai Chi Classics, though the exact sources remain unnamed. Following the pattern of some of his other books—Tai Chi Secrets of the Wu Style, for example (see below)—Yang presents each Classic in three forms: the original text in Chinese characters, a direct translation, and a paraphrase of the translation, often with commentary.
The book is structured in ten parts, each one covering a particular aspect of Tai Chi. Following forwards by Grandmasters Li Mao-Ching and Abraham Liu and a preface by the author, Yang begins the body text with a section on the general concepts of Tai Chi. In it, he explores the roots of the concept of Tai Chi in the I Ching and other ancient Chinese writings, and he includes some background on the taijitu—the tai chi symbol—and how it depicts movement. In this section, he also goes into the basics of chi flow in the human body, defining the various meridians, vessels, and acupuncture points along those paths that are important for the Tai Chi Chuanist. The theory of yin and yang receives some in-depth treatment also, as does the general theory of Tai Chi’s Thirteen Postures and the three frame sizes (stance heights) adopted by practitioners.
Part two introduces the concept of regulating the body, which entails regulating the breath, the emotional mind, the chi, and the spirit. Yang begins this by explaining how to regulate the body via stationary postures then moving postures. Each of the next four parts delves more deeply into these four regulations.
First, in part three, the author goes into regulating the breathing, and he covers the basics of abdominal breathing, beginning with natural breathing, moving on to reverse breathing, and finishing with embryonic breathing. The reasons for adopting each of these forms of breathing and how each of them affect the practitioner are covered in some detail.
Regulating the emotional mind is the topic of part four. Yang starts this section by explaining the importance of regulating the emotional mind—not just for fighting, though it is critical for that purpose—but for improving the quality of one’s outlook on life. The principal subject covered here is the mutual dependence of the emotional mind and breathing, and that leads to the idea of comprehending human nature through Tai Chi.
Regulating the chi is covered in part five, beginning with the theory of using the mind to lead the chi. From there, Yang segues into the secrets of both the Small Circulation (Microcosmic Orbit) and the Grand Circulation (Macrocosmic Orbit). He introduces two breathing exercises designed to enhance the practitioner’s manifestation and circulation of chi: Yongquan breathing, or breathing from the Bubbling Wells in the soles of the feet, and Four Gates Breathing, which adds the hearts of the palms to the process. As if this isn't enough, there follows instruction on Five Gates Breathing, which adds the huiyin acupuncture point (located within the perineum). Tai Chi ball training finishes out the section.
Part six concerns regulating the spirit. This mostly entails raising the spirit energy to more highly activate the brain and opening the Third Eye. This requires the unification of spirit and chi.
Yang covers jin in the next part, beginning with a thesis of jin: what it is, how it is created, and how it is manifested. He explains the differences between external and internal jins, hard and soft jins, and long and short jins. The secret of jin, he maintains, is in the way one coordinates breathing with the expression of a movement. Last, he talks about storing jin and practicing the “hen and ha” sounds to enhance the power and expression of jin.
Pushing hands is covered in part eight. First, Yang describes the basics of push hands and its theory, then he proceeds to detail several push hands forms and practice methods. He also discusses rooting, and he gives a number of practical exercises to establish a root and strengthen and deepen it over time. Practicing methods for listening, following, attaching, and adhering come next, and then Yang goes into the six turning secrets of Tai Chi: circling, spinning, rotating, twisting, coiling, and spiraling.
Sparring is the subject of the next part, and here the author goes into various aspects of kicking, striking, wrestling, and chin na. Included are the concepts of the “central door” and “empty door,” both of which are tactical ways to approach an opponent, and the concepts of the “sky window” and the “ground wicket,” both of which are openings in an opponent’s defense. Several paired fighting strategies are covered in some detail—long and short, hard and soft, advancing and retreating—and these are embellished by a discussion of timing and the theory of what Yang calls the “Theory of the Fight of No Fight.”
Part ten concludes the principal text, and here the work ventures into the philosophical. The book finishes with a glossary and an index.
The text is enlivened by a number of photos, illustration, charts, and diagrams, some of which seem a bit arcane, though most are helpful in furthering the reader’s understanding. If I have a criticism, it’s that the title is misleading since the theories presented are taken from the Tai Chi Classics. Perhaps it ought to be titled, Taijiquan Theory Compiled and Translated by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. And I do wish the author had cited the sources of the original writings. But those concerns aside, all-in-all, this is another excellent offering from a master of the Chinese martial arts and of writing about them, and it is well worth adding to one’s martial arts library.
Tai Chi Secrets of the Wu Style
by Yang Jwing-ming
(YMMA Publication Center, 2002, 98 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
I often have noted in other book reviews that it can be useful to read different translations of the Tai Chi Classics and Neo-Classics. I recently reviewed Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan, a Neo-Classic by Wu Kung-cho, the second son of Wu Chien-chuan and translated for the newest edition by Doug Woolidge. (Review Here) Wu’s book, originally published in China in 1935, comprises his own relatively short text—The Lecture of Tai Chi Chuan—the Wu family’s version of the famous Forty Chapters long held by the Yang family, and some ancillary material, such as several forwards and a Wu family history. Two books later, I picked up Yang Jwing-ming’s Tai Chi Secrets of the Wu Style only to discover that it is largely another translation of The Lecture of Tai Chi Chuan plus the forward to the 1935 edition.
The two translations—by Woolidge and by Yang—demonstrate something not just about the art of translation but the way different translators approach and organize the same material. The translation by Woolidge is a straightforward and smoothly translated text without commentary, and the original Chinese version appears in its own section in the form of scans of the 1935 edition. Yang, on the other hand, presents a literal translation of each chapter or section—usually one to several paragraphs—followed by the text in Chinese and then a smooth translation with some commentary woven in.
This adds a lot of space to the book that would not be present in a straightforward translation, and it’s easy to see why it was done this way. Had Yang published just a straightforward translation, the book would be only sixty pages long, or less. That’s not much of a book, at least in terms of length. Including the literal translation and the text in Chinese pads the book out to adequate length. This issue of paucity of material for a full-length book was solved in the Woolidge translation by including the Forty Chapters, a history of the Wu family, and the other ancillary material, but even that book was shortish in terms of page count. Yang’s translation closes with Xiang Kairan’s preface to the 1935 edition, and here Yang eschews the smooth translation, opting to present only the literal translation and the Chinese text.
I’m not trying to be critical here, only descriptive, but the truth is that, while I can understand the inclusion of the Chinese text, the literal translation adds little to the book. These paragraphs are tedious to read, and the information in them is replicated fully and with additions in the more-smoothly translated paragraphs, so there’s little incentive to read them. Because you might be inclined, as I was, to read only the smooth translations, you can rip right through this 98-page book in no time.
If you didn’t have to pause to re-read—not for sense, but for comprehension. What this text lacks in length it makes up for in depth, and there’s a fair amount of information here, especially for those who have only been recently introduced to Tai Chi literature. But for others, there are no Tai Chi “secrets” here that can’t be found elsewhere. If you read Wu Kung-cho’s book, you won’t need to read this one except to get Yang’s expert take on Wu’s text. And while the Wu book has a version of the Forty Chapters that isn’t in this book, that’s no great loss here since there must be fifty translations of the Forty Chapters easily available, some online.
I usually consider Yang to be a reliable as well as authentic voice regarding Tai Chi, and many of his other books are true modern classics of the genre. But this book is one of his lesser efforts. Not only is it not actually “by” him, it’s short, and the material it contains can be found elsewhere. Buy it because you don’t have a copy of Wu Kung-cho’s book (which is kind of pricey) or because you are a Yang Jwing-ming completist; otherwise, you might be better served by one of Yang’s other books.
Health & Martial Arts
By Yang Jwing-ming
(Yang’s Martial Arts Academy, 1985, 122 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Yang Jwing-ming, is a true master of the Chinese martial arts, with expertise in White Crane, Tai Chi, and Chin Na, and other kung fu styles, and he has written extensively on those subjects. But in Chi Kung: Health & Martial Arts, he tacks slightly to the side of the martial arts to discuss the associated arts of chi kung and meditation.
Chi kung has attracted greater attention in the two decades following the roll over of the millennium, but when Yang published this book in 1985, it was relatively new to the West. For those still new to the subject, “chi kung” is an umbrella term for various exercises designed to stimulated and build the chi, or the intrinsic internal energy, so that it can be used for various purposes. These purposes fall into two major categories: increasing martial power and enhancing health and well-being, often with significant crossover effects between the two.
As there are literally thousands of chi kung movements, an overwhelming assortment presents itself to the novice. Indeed, chi kung exercises have become are so numerous and diverse as they continue to branch from their root, that they sometimes don’t seem to be in the same class of exercises as one other. They do, in fact, require their own taxonomy, some of which Yang lays out in this excellent primer for the concepts of chi and chi kung by an acknowledged and generous master.
After some short prefatory material, the book opens with an introduction of the basic terms and concepts of chi kung—including the superstitious mindset that surrounded the art in the past. Overarching all is the idea of the chi, which is defined as an element of the life force—one that connects the Spirit with the flesh. It is an ever-present component that, like the flesh, can be enhanced, strengthened, and willfully directed. Among the other terms and concepts is the idea of the chi meridians—the channels in the human body through which the chi flows, and cavities. Cavities are places where the meridians run close to the surface, usually at dimples or dips in the flesh, such as the solar plexus or the little dent on the inner side of the upper arm, between the bicep and tricep.
A brief discussion of yin/yang theory and the Five Elements theory leads to a section on the division of chi kung into two different schools: Wai Dan, or external, chi kung and Nei Dan, or internal chi kung. Obviously these coincide, respectively, with Shaolin kung fu styles and the Wudang arts of Tai Chi, Bagua, Hsingi, and so forth. Yang includes Liu Ho Ba Fa (Water Boxing) in his discussions of Wudang styles.
A historical survey comes next, and it is an interesting read. Most martial arts books relate a history of the martial arts, beginning with the Indian sage, Bodhidharma (Damo) bringing Buddhism and the rudiments of kung fu to the Shaolin Temple. They then continue with the spread of those two throughout China and to the neighboring nations and cultures of Japan, Korea, Okinawa, and so forth. Thus, most martial arts history is presented from a martial arts perspective and often ignores the already present nascent martial arts—and their associated arts—that already existed in China.
This book approaches the same material from a a different standpoint, revealing interesting aspects of martial arts history through its depiction of the development of chi kung and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Also there is a nicely detailed breakdown of how Buddhism spread and evolved. In addition, Yang begins at an earlier date than do most writers, with Bodhidharma appearing only about a third of the way into the several-page history. The upshot is that the author’s focus is not on the way Bodhidharma’s teachings seeded the kung fu arts tree, but on the development of the major branch that unfurled into the two branches of chi kung and TCM.
Yang’s version version of the Bodhidharma story is more rational than those related by most authors. While he gives several background details about the sage, his account, as with all historical accounts based primarily on legend—and even the actual existence of Bodhidharma—are in question, and Yang admits as much. However, Damo has become, he says, like some characters in dramas based on real life: an amalgam of several individuals—in this case, the many people who contributed to the migration of Buddhism from India to China and to the subsequent rise of the Shaolin martial arts. But let’s not quibble. These stories and legends—China's "Wild History"— are part and parcel of martial arts lore, and they have powerful connections to human archetypes, so we all tend to go with them whether we believe them or not.
Chapter two covers Wai Dan, or external chi kung, which usually is associated with Shaolin-style kung fu. This type of chi kung tends to use repetitive muscular contraction to bring chi to one area of the body or another for specific martial purposes or simply to then let it overflow from its source area into the meridian system as a whole. The earliest-known form of this is Damo’s Yi Gin Ching, a set of several movements that eventually morphed into the well-known Wai Dan chi kung, the Eight Pieces of Brocade.
After a bit of textual instruction that includes hints, tips, and a few warnings and prohibitions, Yang (or a student) demonstrates five chi kung forms, some simple, others somewhat more complex. Yang’s version of the Eight Pieces of Brocade is included—I say “version” because it seems that everyone does this set of exercises slightly differently. The textual instructions are good, and so are the photographs. You could easily learn these exercises from the instructions.
Chapter three takes on the more extensive and deeper subject of Nei Dan, or internal chi kung. The introductory material covers the basic aspects of chi development and movement, but before Yang gets to the meat of these matters, he gives the background of Nei Dan, which necessarily includes delving into the four major martial arts expressed through internal means: Tai Chi, Bagua, Hsingi, and Liu Ho Ba Fa.
This is followed by a discussion of principles. Each school—Wai Dan and Nei Dan—have advantages and disadvantages. Because Wai Dan tend to follow repetitive patterns in a way similar to calisthenics or yoga, they are easier to learn. Also, it is relatively simple to build up localized chi, so even short-term practice produces improved health and localized power that can be easily applied martially.
Nei Dan, on the other hand, tends to be more difficult to learn because the internal results cannot be perceived for a relatively longer period of time. However, when they are perceived, they are systemic rather than localized, flowing through and affecting the entire body. That perception leads to the concept of willful control over the flow. Because the effects of Nei Dan are systemic, these exercises generally require qualified instruction, patience, and caution to avoid excesses or stagnations of chi. Once the circulation of chi is complete and perceived and the practitioner gains some measure of willful control over it, the chi thus developed is much more powerful for martial purposes than that generated by Wai Dan exercises.
In the end, many martial artists practice a little of both types, and that tends to be the modern take on matters, but the methodology of Nei Dan exercises, which is Yang’s next subject, remains old-school. The human body hasn't changed much over the last couple of centuries, and methods to stimulate the chi that worked back in the day still work now. This section contains a great deal of good information about Nei Dan, including extensive discussions of the various channels of the meridian system, how the system functions, and many important acupressure points along the meridians that are useful for a martial artist to know. The text is supplemented by many illustrations depicting the principal meridians, with important points noted.
Next, Yang describes an exercise designed to dramatically increase the chi flow through the Small Circulation (Governing Vessel + Conception Vessel). This instruction is for those who do not yet have awareness of the flow. Next is a discussion of the idea that the chi circulating through the meridians is most vulnerable at given times of the day.
There is a lot more, so if you know nothing about any of this, this book is an excellent place to start. And if you do know something about chi kung, you still might find worthwhile information since Yang covers a lot of bases in some detail.
The next section is on the basic chi kung of seated meditation. Yang lays out the groundwork and methodology to be followed, and he enumerates what he calls the “mechanics of meditation,” which consist of fourteen rules. Common problems a novice meditator might experience are covered next, then it’s on to a description of the Grand Circulation, in which the chi is consciously circulated not just through the Small Circulation, but through the entire meridian system. At this point, Yang describes a set of seated chi kung that incorporates arm movement to teach the meditator to sense and willfully manipulate the chi. This material also is primarily for those who have no sensation of, or control over, their chi.
Chapter four covers chi kung and health, and it is principally concerned with TCM and its history, methodology, and effects. Massage and acupressure techniques are included.
The final chapter is on martial arts applications, but Yang doesn’t take up space here with a lot of photos and descriptions of specific techniques. Instead, he discusses the more targeted aspects of cavities and cavity strikes, sealing the breath, sealing the vein, and Iron Shirt and Golden Bell training. Techniques to develop the latter two are divulged, but this is not an instructional text, so the teaching material is slight. But Yang does provide a chart of the points that can affect the chi flow and the times of day they are most vulnerable.
Chi Kung contains many interesting ideas and their roles in the development and training of chi kung, TCM, and the martial arts. Intelligently written and highly informative, this was an important book of its day and remains so.