By: F. L. Yu
T'ai Chi Nude
by F. L. Yu
(And/Or Press, 1975, 64 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
T’ai Chi Nude has to be one of the oddest and most schizophrenic books on Tai Chi in existence. The first sixteen pages of this large-format book (8.5x11) deliver a historical, philosophical, and operational background on Tai Chi, while the remaining pages are devoted to photos of a short, non-standard Yang style form.
I want to deal with the expository matter first. This is definitely what I’d call a Category I Tai Chi book: one primarily for beginners or people interested in finding out a little bit about tai chi. As with most such books, it contains a few brief chapters devoted to the requisite background material. This material, however, is surprisingly well elucidated here, and it economically delivers a lot of solid information. I never heard of Yu before or since this book, but he obviously knows his Tai Chi. Or knew it. This is a fairly old book, and I don’t know if he’s still alive. It makes me wish he’d penned a longer and more in-depth book on Tai Chi, but to be fair, there were only a couple of such Category III Tai Chi books—for intermediate and advanced students—on the market at the time.
Now we come to the schizophrenic oddness. The majority of the book is taken up by photos of three attractive young people—two women and one man—performing the sequence in the nude. In explaining the use of nudity, Yu writes in the “Introduction”:
I have for many years wished to publish a work which makes plain the forms and principles of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, without their usual robed obscurity and purposeful obfuscation. In these pictures, the exact disposition of the spine, its true relation to the pelvis, and the actual configuration of the legs are all completely visible.
To be clear, these photos, in and of themselves, are not salacious. And perhaps the reader can observe the body’s structural elements that Yu mentions more clearly in unclothed performers. Perhaps. Frankly, I’ve never had much trouble looking at photos of clothed Tai Chi players and observing body alignments, etc., so, for me, not much is really revealed in these pictures except attractive young flesh in Tai Chi poses.
And “young” might be the operative word here. The physical alignments of these three young people are pretty good, but the models all seem to be in their early twenties. It might be that nude photos actually reveal postural keys to Tai Chi more than clothed photos do, but we also know that photos of experienced Tai Chi players are more interesting and accurate than photos of relative newbies. So the question one might rightly ask is: If Yu really wanted to reveal unrobed Tai Chi accurately, why didn’t he personally model for the nude poses?
Further, in the “Introduction,” Yu complains: “Space does not allow photographic coverage of the subject of the joined hands exercise of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.” If so, it’s simply because of poor book design. Each full-color photo, accompanied by two or three brief paragraphs of explanatory text, occupies a full page, where four or six would fit fine. It's a large-format book. That would have left plenty of space for more exposition or more photos. Plus, unlike boxes or kitchen cabinets, books are expandable, and it’s easy to add pages. The book is only sixty-four pages, but couldn't it have been a hundred? But then, do I really need to see a bunch of photos of people pushing hands in the nude?
I can’t really recommend this book for anybody except a beginner. Despite the relatively good quality of the expository chapters, they are still a gloss and limited in scope. And the photo sequence, even as a reference, is questionable due to the youth of the models and to the shortness, sketchiness, and non-standardness of the form depicted. But the serious collector of Tai Chi books might want it as a novelty, and amazingly, at the time of this writing it is still available.
Okay, now for the backstory, which I learned after publishing this review. I'll start with F. L. Yu's full name: Fu-ling Yu.
Tom Maxon, a longtime student of Robert Amacker, himself a student of Ben Lo, got in touch to let me know that Tai Chi Nude was a project originally begun by Patrick Watson, a student of Cheng Man-ching. Watson soon turned it over to Amacker, who wrote, produced, and published it under the pseudonym, F. L. Yu—Fu-ling Yu, or, more properly, Fooling You. "I was there," Maxon writes, "when he went over to Hawaii and hired models, and a photographer friend to produce the book." Tom put me in touch with Mr. Amacker, and here is his backstory for this book:
First of all, T’ai Chi Nude was definitely not my idea. It’s the last thing I would have suggested, in fact, and my initial response was to say it was a totally stupid thing to do. But let’s begin at the beginning. As a martial artist, I have a weakness for tolerating association with guys who can beat the shit out of me, even if I can’t stand them otherwise. This includes quite a few obnoxious and narcissistic sociopaths, I’m afraid, and the T’ai Chu Nude story involves one of them: the late Patrick Watson.
There is no denying that Pat had real martial skill, which is why Cheng Man-ch’ing insisted that his top students (the so-called “Big Six”) associate with him, despite their efforts to avoid doing this. But when he showed up on me and Martin Inn, my friend from high school in Honolulu and long time partner in the Taijiquan teaching business, and proceeded to slam both of us into the walls of our school in San Francisco with the force of a sixty-foot wave, I couldn’t resist hanging out with him. I roamed around the city watching him consume enormous amounts of food (he’s the only person I’ve ever seen eat with chopsticks in both hands), and then submitting to public humiliation on city streets with crowds of interested spectators gathered around. But dammit, he really was awfully good.
It was all fairly tolerable until one day he showed up with a copy of this giant picture book of extremely sexually stimulating pictures of good looking girls doing yoga titled Naked Yoga. (And by the way, thanks for mentioning that T’ai Chi Nude was of lesser prurient interest). This book, he told me with considerable glee, had already made fortunes for its creators (which was true; in fact, old copies still sell on ebay for hundreds of dollars). He said that we were now going to produce T’ai Chi Nude, a similar effort, which was going to make us both rich. I thought this was a terrible idea, one that would ruin my reputation forever, and probably not make us rich either, since Ward-off Left does not quite have the sex appeal of the Plow posture.
But Pat wouldn’t let up, insisting that I owed him my efforts for his diligence at securing my public humiliation. I suggested he do the whole thing himself and take all the money, but he said he was sure that girls would never pose naked for him (probably true), whereas they would for me (which also turned out to be true). I would go back home to Honolulu (where he imagined scantily clad girls roamed the streets and could easily be persuaded to doff the rest), while he would write all of the text. I reluctantly agreed to this, and he further assured me that all would go smoothly because he was enlisting a third partner, a very prominent lawyer, an old friend from high school, who would handle the legal end, the publishing, printing, and so forth.
Despite serious misgivings, I went to Honolulu, stayed at my mom’s apartment, and enlisted the aid of a great photographer friend there who had a studio in the Ala Moana Shopping Center. I put an add in the paper for models, and the whole story of that experience is pretty funny in itself, but I’ll cut to the chase. Upon returning to San Francisco, I called the lawyer and asked how it was going. I had the photos we needed, and when would production start? There’s a problem, was the answer. Was it possible that I had any skill at writing? At his office, I was presented with around a thousand pages of complete madness, a sort of James Joyce meets the Yellow Emperor.
It seems that Pat had gotten a cassette tape recorder and then proceeded to drive around in his car while pontificating and otherwise raving about Taijiquan in fifteen minute long run-on sentences. Then he sent these cassettes to troops of sycophants and slaves in New York City, who faithfully transcribed them as best they could. To say that it was an unpublishable disaster was a definite understatement. Could I rescue the project? The text of T’ai Chi Nude was the result.
But there’s more. If you look at the back cover, the picture there was what all the pictures should have looked like. The photographer really was very good, and the color and skin tones were all of that quality. However, when the entire print run was produced, the foremen of the job took off for lunch and the result was the hideous green-skinned disaster that you can see. The foremen was fired as a result, but unfortunately, our contract had no provision for such an eventuality, and even our high-powered lawyer told us that we hadn’t a leg to stand on, for either a lawsuit or a new print run.
So that is the sad story of T’ai Chi Nude, and perhaps you can see why I wanted you to hear it in its entirety. By the way, even the pseudonym of Fu-ling Yu was Pat’s idea.