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By: Tem Horowitz & Susan Kimmelman (with H. H. Lui)

Horwitz, Tem--Tai Chi Chuan.jpeg

Tai Chi Ch’uan

The Technique of Power

By Tem Horwitz & Susan Kimmelman, with H. H. Lui

(Chicago Review Press, 1976, 234 pages)


Review by Christopher Dow


Tai Chi Ch’uan: The Technique of Power, by Tem Horwitz & Susan Kimmelman (with H. H. Lui), is a worthwhile addition to Tai Chi literature. It is not a form-instruction manual; the authors leave that for personal interaction with a live teacher. “This book is intended as an introduction and a reference,” the authors write in their preface. “It is not possible to learn Tai Chi from a book.” Instead, the book is a survey of Tai Chi, its philosophical background and history, its precepts and methodology, and other Tai Chi-related matters, such as the Tai Chi Classics. However, it does have nine pages of small photos of their teacher, H. H. Lui, demonstrating a Tai Chi form—included, the authors state, merely for reference.

The opening chapter, “Reflections on Getting Up in the Morning,” sets the philosophical tone, reminding foremost that existence in reality entails change—change that the authors believe is absolutely necessary for Americans who are trained in efficiency and planned and ordered lives based on rigid social and cultural structures. Tai Chi and Taoism, they say, are viable methods to help reintroduce meaning and connection into our lives.


The next chapter discusses Tai Chi in broad terms, laying out its precepts and methodology. It covers the yin/yang dichotomy and defines the meaning and purpose of “form.” Throughout, the text is straightforward and refreshingly honest.


Like anything else, in order to get the most out of Tai Chi you have to make it your own. Practically, this means arranging your life so that you can, and do, practice every day, by yourself. Some teachers claim that ten minutes of daily practice is sufficient. This is false advertising. Tai Chi is not a magic panacea or any kind of instant short-cut. It’s a fair deal—you receive in proportion to what you give.


They also council patience because Tai Chi takes time to mature in the practitioner. This is wisdom that newbies need to heed.


Next is a chapter of H. H. Lui performing a form that largely seems to be a cross between Yang and Wu family styles but as stated above, the photos are meant merely for reference and are not accompanied by any sort of verbal instruction beyond the names of the movements.


Tai Chi history and an introduction to the Tai Chi Classics occupy the following chapter. The authors relate the received history of Tai Chi with appropriate grains of salt, all the way from Bodhidharma to the public dissemination of Tai Chi by the Chen family and on through the Yangs, Wus, and so forth, marking the beginning of Tai Chi’s established modern history. I would call their take on Tai Chi history sensible, but they, like most Tai Chi practitioners, seem to delight in the old, admittedly apocryphal stories. The Classics are not related here, but they are introduced, and their background and importance are discussed. The chapter closes with a limited Tai Chi family tree.


Readers new to Tai Chi literature might be thrown a bit by some of the historical names cited by the authors. It’s not unusual to see various spellings of names in different Tai Chi books, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen more unusual ones than here. For example, Wang Tseung-yue becomes Wang Chung-yueh, Yang Cheng-fu becomes Yang Ching-pu, Wu Yu-xing becomes Woo Yu-sheong, and Li I-yu is Lee I-yu. Many other names, however, are spelled conventionally, and it’s not hard to suss out who the authors are talking about.


The chapter on the Tai Chi Classics is one of the longest, partly because it takes in not just several of most important of the standard Tai Chi Classics, but the I-Ching and Chuang Tzu, as well. These passages are ably translated by Lui, and the material is as readable and well-stated as just about any other version of the Classics in Tai Chi literature, and it is better than many.


The next chapter, “Inner Worlds: Tai Chi, Mysticism, Magic, Meditation, and Alchemy,” delves into these subjects with acceptance that is sensible and practical, but also that is firmly grounded in the nascent New Age philosophies of life and health that were just burgeoning at the time of this book’s publication—which also coincided with the first major flowering of Tai Chi in the United States. Being from that period, it carries some of the excesses of that movement, but not to excess. One passage places this book firmly in its time. On page 172, there is a reference to Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.


I first encountered this book as assigned reading for a course in cultural anthropology in 1969, just after it had been published and when most readers—like the authors of Tai Chi Ch’uan—accepted it as a real and true addition to ethnographic literature. This belief took eight sequels and several decades to be thoroughly debunked as fiction, though some readers had been skeptical from the beginning. So it is mildly amusing to see the first in the series cited here as a genuine source to back up claims regarding spirituality. However, most of material the authors present and the sources they cite are much more validly grounded in truth and reality than are Castaneda's works and should be of interest to people with spiritually inquiring minds.


The following chapter covers human physical dynamics, exercise, body alignments, kinetics, and chi. Co-author Kimmelman, is a dancer, and a lot of this chapter melds her understanding of human dynamics as well as Tai Chi. After this comes the final chapter, which continues in a similar vein.


Tai Chi Ch’uan: The Technique of Power is a worthwhile read. Is there anything new here than in other similar books? Not really, but it is better and more deeply stated than most, and what it says is thorough, encompassing, philosophically moving, and powered by intelligent writing. Recommended primarily for beginners, though intermediate students also would benefit from reading it.

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