Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
I happened to stroll into my local library the other day while I was waiting for some paperwork to be processed next door and one book caught my eye, Tai Chi: A Practical Introduction by Paul Crompton.
Sitting down and reading the book, I was caught off guard by how much I enjoyed this author's writing. The author spends enough time on topics to enlighten the reader about Tai Chi without becoming bogged down by the details. He doesn't profess to know specifically a definitive answer but attempts to present all arguments for how Tai Chi has and can be viewed.
The introduction of the book goes through some of the history of Tai Chi. There is a good mix of mysticism and facts. The author has attempted to also link events in Chinese history to the development of Tai Chi, giving the reader an additional historical perspective of Chinese culture and how it has influenced Tai Chi. The author further distinguishes "paqua" (eight diagram) and chi kung, two other styles often associated with Tai Chi.
Next, the author applies modern day physics to Tai Chi, attempting to explain some of the reasons for why Tai Chi works. The physics gives the art more of a modern feel and helps those who are not interested in the mystical aspect.
At this point in the book, the author begins his instructions of Tai Chi. He starts with what he describes as "introduction exercises." While most of these aren't Tai Chi specific, they were all good examples of how to become aware of oneself and comfortable with one's movements. As noted by the author, many students skip this part of their training and it reflects when they simply parrot techniques in Tai Chi rather than embrace how their own body moves.
The author spends a bulk of the book going through 48 distinct forms sets of Tai Chi. I will note, these aren't all the movements that can be found in Tai Chi; but they are the most common that can be seen universally in all Tai Chi forms. The names of each form indicate the lineage of the Artist and do vary from style to style; however, most students should recognize the movements. The illustrations were adequate, using drawings rather than actual models. The descriptions, as with most of the book, go into enough depth to give a reader the sense of the movement without delving deep into the details. Because of this, students should take caution that not everything is detailed here and there is more to each form tham can be described in writing. Things like breathing, focus, and body timing of each movement are all equally important and perhaps purposely left out of the descriptions.
The author progresses on to speak about push hands. He tries to illustrate the movements of push hands without a partner to explain some of the basic moves. This section is very brief and honestly one of the more difficult things to write about without starting a whole new book. Thus, there isn't a lot of detail that one can derive from this portion of the book.
Overall, Tai Chi: A Practical Introduction, was a nice read and would enhance the knowledge of any student who is just starting out in the art of Tai Chi or curious about Tai Chi. As the title implies, it is merely just an introduction and there is much more one can learn given time, training, and many other factors.