Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reconsidering Tai Chi Chuan Classics

    "For those who want to go to the source, there are a few good books that attempt to translate the Tai Chi Classics into modern English.  There are, however, a few problems.  One is that the language used in these texts is Old Chinese, very much like Old English to us.  Old Chinese is often full of references to classical texts that at one time were required reading for any educated person.  As this is no longer the case, the references loose their meaning.  Sometimes it is difficult to translate or even understand the old words and phrases, as many are no longer in general use.
    Another problem is that Taiji practitioners often use common words in uncommon ways.  For instance, for most people, the phrase "to lock" would have an implication of tension when applied to the body.  Used in the correct Taiji manner, "to lock" the body simply mean to take the slack out of the joints and move in a more dynamic manner.
    A third problem is that the translators of these texts were often scholars with little or no ability in Taiji.  Chinese being a very interpretative language, translators are often at a loss for an exact translation when they do not fully understand the concept described.
    For all these reasons, the classics should be treated with some caution.  As Master Liang was fond of saying, "If you only believe in books, better not read books."  Do not treat anyone's writings as gospel.  The role of a teacher or writer is to point in the correct direction; the student's role is to follow the path indicated, testing as they go.  The other half of Master Liang's saying was, "If you only trust in teachers, better not have teachers."  What he meant is that we must make up our own minds in the end.  The teacher may have limited understanding or skills.  This is one of the reasons that learning Taiji can only really be done in person with a qualified teacher of proper lineage.  When you touch your teacher and feel what they are doing, it is worth a thousand words."
-  Gordon Muir, Yang Style Traditional Long Form T'ai Chi Ch'uan, p. 35   

Yang Style Traditional Long Form T'ai Chi Ch'uan; As Taught by Master T. T. Liang.  By Gordon Muir.  Berkeley, California, Blue Snake Books, 2008.  225 pages.  ISBN: 9781583942215.  Detailed black and white photographs of Mr. Muir performing the Yang long form, which precise descriptions of the movements for each named posture.  Mr. Muir was a student of Master T. T. Liang and Stuart Alve Olson.  VSCL. 

The Teachings of Master T. T. Liang: Imagination Becomes Reality.  A Complete Guide to the 150 Posture Solo Form.  Compiled by Stuart Alve Olson.  287 pages.  Minnesota, Dragon Door Publications, 1986, 1992.  Second Edition.  ISBN: 0938045091.  Hundreds of detailed and creative pictures of the form, including some interesting multi-exposure photographs of Mr. Olson doing the long form.  VSCL. 

Yang Style Taijiquan Classics

Yang Taijiquan Traditional Long Form 108 Movements   Detailed information and instructions for this form by Mike Garofalo. 

Yang Style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Taijiquan) Index 

Taoism (Daoism)   The underlying philosophy of Taijiquan is grounded in Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. 


  1. As I am myself a practicioner and have been translated some of the "classics", I have 2 observations:
    1 - I find the classics quite the opposite, the language is rather plain and some of the translations I saw tried to overinterpret simple instructions.
    2 - there is a very good free only translation blog called "brennan translation" that has very exhaustive and relevant translation.

  2. Thanks Sergio,

    Here is the link to the blog:

    Taijiquan "classics" are sometimes over-interpreted by scholars who do not practice the internal arts; but they can still provide interesting insights. Plain and simple is fine, but creative and complex also has its place in making matters interesting for some minds.


  3. While reading a commentary by Graham Parks about Friedrich Nietzsche, I came upon this quotation, attributed to Goethe "I hate everything that merely instructs me, without amplifying or directly enlivening my activity."