By: Erle Montaigue
Self Healing: Chinese Exercises for Health and Longevity
By Erle Montaigue
(Boobook Publications, 1986, 80 pages.)
Review by Christoopher Dow
Self Healing, by Erle Montaigue, is a basic introduction to Chinese healing arts, including meditation, chi kung, Tai Chi, Bagua, massage, Taoist yoga, breathing strategies, and nutrition.
For those who don’t know about Erle Montaigue, he was an Australian martial artist and teacher with expertise in all three of the major internal schools: Tai Chi, Bagua, and Hsing-I. He learned these arts in China, even studying with Yang Sau-chung, one of Yang Cheng-fu’s sons. A prolific author, he wrote extensively on the internal martial arts, the death touch (dim-mak), and other aspects of Chinese healing arts. I count eighteen books that he authored and two that he coauthored, and he wrote many articles for martial arts publications. In addition, he was an early adopter of video to disseminate his teachings. He died of a heart attack in 2011 at the age of sixty-two.
Montaigue covers his subjects roughly in the order listed in the first paragraph above. Chi kung is the most-covered subject in this slim volume, and he begins his discussion with a chapter on the history and basic philosophy of chi kung. This history—a glance at the principles of chi kung—is basically fine, but I take some exception with his definition of chi kung. The problem here is that he defines chi kung, which embodies an incredibly broad and diverse array of practices, simply as the one chi kung exercise known as Standing Post. There are many hundreds, if not thousands, of chi kung exercises, and though Standing Post is a powerful exercise in its own right, saying that it is chi kung is like saying a tree is a forest.
Okay, I’m being a little snarky here. Although Montaigue does offer this definition, he does show a couple of clusters of other chi kung exercises. And to his credit, he describes not only how to do them but what they are good for in terms of health and the meridian system.
From here, Montaigue goes on to describe Tai Chi, Bagua, Taoist yoga, massage, breathing techniques, and nutrition. Each of the first four contain several exercises or techniques, but the treatment of their subjects is superficial. The next chapter, on breathing strategies, is a bit more complex in terms of information, and it delineates several types of breathing techniques, describing both their function and purpose. The chapter on nutrition also is a little more involved, discussing nutrition in general before digressing on several types of foods that are beneficial or harmful.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. Montaigue was an acknowledged expert in the field of the internal martial arts, and I expected a lot more from the book, which turns out to be a rather superficial introduction to the subjects it covers. But at the same time, I expected to like this book less than I did. Its short length and superficiality left me begging for more depth and detail, but the truth is that there actually is a lot of worthwhile information in it—especially for beginners looking for a quick survey of traditional Chinese medicine and the internal martial arts.
One final criticism is that the writing, while readable, is somewhat choppy and sloppy. This might be due to the fact that the book is one of Montaigue’s earliest. I haven’t read his later works to see if his literary style improved over time. Perhaps later.