December 3, 2011

Books: History of Chinese Martial Arts

Chinese Martial Arts: From 
Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century
Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century, by Peter Lorge (Cambridge University Press, $ 29.00, 340 pages)
Publisher's description: "In the global world of the twenty-first century, martial arts are practiced for self-defense and sporting purposes only. However, for thousands of years, they were a central feature of military practice in China and essential for the smooth functioning of society. Individuals who were adept in using weapons were highly regarded, not simply as warriors but also as tacticians and performers. This book, which opens with an intriguing account of the very first female martial artist, charts the history of combat and fighting techniques in China from the Bronze Age to the present. This broad panorama affords fascinating glimpses into the transformation of martial skills, techniques, and weaponry against the background of Chinese history, the rise and fall of empires, their governments, and their armies. Quotations from literature and poetry, and the stories of individual warriors, infuse the narrative, offering personal reflections on prowess in the battlefield and techniques of engagement. This is an engaging and readable introduction to the authentic history of Chinese martial arts."

November 28, 2011

Arthritis and Exercise

Exercise is the way to deal with arthritis, experts say. "Three years ago, federal health officials recommended that people with arthritis exercise moderately every day for about 20 minutes. But that's not what's happening. A recent study at Northwestern University looked at activity among 1,000 adults, between 49 and 84 years old, who had osteoarthritis of the knee. Ninety percent of the people were not exercising, according to lead scientist Dorothy Dunlop....Even more alarming, 40 percent of men and nearly 60 percent of women were total couch potatoes, Dunlop says." Read the entire article at NPR.
Tai chi, of course, is widely practiced for arthritis.

November 26, 2011

China to Build First Tai Chi Theme Park

"China will build a theme park showcasing the traditional martial art of Tai Chi in Wudang Mountains area, legendary home of the marital art and a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned as a center of Taoism," reports Xinhua News Agency in China.
This is to be a joint venture with the American company Landmark Entertainment, and is aimed at increasing tourism. Hollywood-directed performances of tai chi will be featured along with the Daoist (Taoist) heritage of the mountains.

November 21, 2011

New Movie "Man of Tai Chi" to Feature Keanu Reeves

Actor Keanu Reeves will make his directorial debut with "Man of Tai Chi," a martial arts film that will have at least forty minutes of fighting! "I want to make a good, solid kung fu movie. Good story, good plot — but let's get some good kung fu going!" He was interviewed on MTV.

November 10, 2011

Ed Young Art Exhibit

Ed Young, children's book artist and tai chi teacher, will be having an exhibit of his works in Abiline, Texas,  November 11, 2011-January 28, 2012 at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature. Young, who is about to turn 80, immigrated to the United States as a youth, and studied architecture, before turning to illustration.
In 1964, he happened to meet Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing, who was visiting the United States. After  Cheng decided to stay on, Young became one of his assistants and translators, and became a taiji teacher himself in the New York area.
Young's book Lon Po Po, the Chinese Red Riding Hood story, won the Caldecott Medal, the highest US honor in children's book illustration. Two other books, The Emperor and the Kite, and Seven Blind Mice, by Young himself, have won Caldecott Honors. Recent books include Wabi Sabi (with Mark Reibstein), Moon Bear (with Brenda Guiberson),  Hook, and Tsunami (with Kimiko Kajikawa). His newest book, The House Baba Built, a picture-book memoir about his boyhood in wartime Shanghai, is meeting with critical acclaim.
For an article about the exhibit, see the Abiline Recorder.
A video of Young discussing The House Baba Built can be seen at the BBC's site.

November 8, 2011

Tai Chi for the Blind

A troupe of people with visual impairment performed this September as part of Beijing's National Day celebrations. The team members were massage students from the Zhangcheng School for the Blind, and had only been practicing tai chi for three months. (Xinhua, September, 2011)
Wan Zhouying, the instructor, reported that his teaching techniques needed to be adapted for the team. "Sometimes, Wan could not explain some specific actions or poses by words then he would ask students to touch him. However, even those students imitated him by touching, Wan still had to correct their actions one by one." The students derived health, confidence, and betterment of massage skills.

October 28, 2011

New Books and Media

Celestial Healing: Energy, Mind and Spirit in Traditional Medicines of China, and East and Southeast Asia by Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD, with Kevin Ergil, MA, MS, LAc (Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, Qi, and Qi Gong), Laurel S. Gabler, BA, MSc (Thai Medicine) and Kerry Palanjian, BA, MBA (Shiatsu).
  "Historically, the influence of Chinese medical traditions, thought to be revealed from divine sources, extended East to Korea and Japan and as far South as Indochina, the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian Archipelago. As the distinct medical traditions of these regions encountered the ancient medicine of mainland China, they absorbed and transformed them based on their own indigenous healing practices, and herbal and plant resources. In Celestial Healing, Dr. Marc Micozzi has made the fascinating history and ingenious practice of these ancient traditions accessible to the Western reader."

Theory and Practice of Taiji Qigong by Chris Jarmey, Lotus Publishing, 2011
"Taiji Qigong is an easy-to-learn system of energy-enhancing exercises, which coordinates movement with breathing and inner concentration. If practiced regularly, it will give you more energy, improve health and help prevent illness. Taiji Qigong is widely practiced throughout the Far East and increasingly throughout the Western world. Research indicates that Qigong relaxes the muscles and nervous system (so improving the function of the body systems) and benefits posture, balance and flexibility of joints. This book acts as an in-depth instruction manual for the practice of the 18 Stances of Taiji Qigong (Taiji Qigong Shibashi), which is widely practiced throughout the Far East and increasingly throughout the Western world. Many of the exercises are loosely based on the movements and stances of Taiji Quan. The book covers: the theory and practice of Qi and Qigong; the general principles of Qigong practice, and the 18 Movements of Taiji Qigong."

"The late Chris Jarmey MCSP DS MRSS taught shiatsu, qigong, bodywork therapy and anatomy, and founded the European Shiatsu School. He was the author of many books on anatomy and bodywork."

July 31, 2011

Tai Chi's Ability to Change Mobility

People who take up tai chi practice are often surprised by the positive changes it creates in their lives. A report in the New Zealand Marlborough Express captures well the benefits of tai chi for someone who's been challenged by mobility problems.
"Seventy-year-old Lynda Neame said she started modified tai chi classes in 2008 after suffering from concussion, which caused vertigo and dizziness. "I thought I would learn how to stand up straight, walk in a straight line and get control of myself."
The benefits proved more extensive. Mrs Neame also suffered from osteoarthritis and had resigned herself to gradual loss of mobility because of the pain in her shoulders, legs and hips. "I spent an hour recovering after half an hour in the garden and thought `this will be my life'."
But with the tai chi, she can now also enjoy pilates, bike riding, swimming and her beloved gardening." 
 Marlborough Express (7/13/2011)

July 2, 2011

In Memory of Robert W Smith

The legendary Robert W. Smith passed away July 1st, 2011. "Mr. Smith," as he was commonly known, was a martial artist with an intellectual bent, sharp wit, great erudition, and great kindness. He served on the editorial board of Taijiquan Journal, and never hesitated to share of his expertise.
Born in 1926 in Iowa, Smith had a fascinating life full of reading, study, practice, much of it revolving around the Asian martial arts. After service in the Marines, he delved into Asian studies, and then became a CIA analyst in Taiwan, then an important US Pacific ally. Smith used his spare time in Taiwan to meet and study with as many martial arts masters as he could. One of his main teachers was Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing. After returning to the US, Smith and his family settled in Bethesda, where he worked and taught taiji classes for many years. In 1988, Smith retired and moved with his wife, to the Asheville, North Carolina area.
Smith's output of writing was quite remarkable. Beginning in the 1950s, he wrote reports for numerous magazines about his encounters with martial masters in Asia, blending history, anecdotes, observations, and philosophy, often in a conversational manner that belied his scholarship. These articles were followed by many books about individual martial arts. He collaborated on books with such figures as Donn Draeger, Cheng Man-ch'ing, and Benjamin Lo. He never hesitated to help other writers or to give advice (always signing his letters with a scrawled "R. Smith").
Robert Smith was also known for his sense of humor, which included three tongue-in-cheek books written under the name "John Gilbey" (which some mistook as serious). In addition to his wit, Smith was a very erudite man; and his writing and speech was always peppered with quotes (and jokes) from great literary figures.
Smith's own impact on Western adoption of Asian martial arts should be researched. It is safe to say that he helped pave the way for the blossoming of those arts in the West in the 1960s, particularly through his articles in Black Belt, Strength & Fitness and other magazines that preceded the fitness craze of more recent years. Though his focus was on the martial arts end of things, he also understood the power of the martial arts to help make one a better person, and was outspoken about the need for that in the world.
Robert Smith's presence will be sorely missed by all who knew him. We are fortunate that he left behind such a rich written record and a most interesting memoir: Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century.
For further information about Robert Smith, see the Tai Chi Center's article. An extensive bibliography of his writings is found on the Electronic Journal of Martial Arts.

April 26, 2011

Tai Chi for Heart Health

 A recent study reported on in US News found that tai chi "could boost heart patients' quality of life. Researchers split 100 patientswith heart failure into two groups: Half participated in a 12-week tai chi program, while the others spent 12 weeks in an educational program learning about heart-related issues, like low-sodium diets and heart-rhythm problems. At the end of the study, the tai chi group reported improvements in mood, less , less fatigue, and more energy than the others—and those in the first group were more likely to continue with some type of physical activity, according to findings published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Maintaining an exercise regimen is important in heart failure," study author Gloria Yeh of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center told HealthDay. "Tai chi may be a suitable alternative or adjunct exercise for these patients."

Tai chi is much more than sheer exercise. Yes, those who do take up tai chi find it has many unexpected benefits: improved balance and gait, mental focus, straightened posture, lower stress, improved immune system, and more. But tai chi is also "philosophy in motion," a martial art (improved balance and posture do wonders for "standing up for oneself"), and it can be a window into understanding more about Chinese culture. It is a calming, yet is exercise, and can be modified to fit anyone's physical needs, regardless of age.

April 4, 2011

New Tai Chi Books

Taijiquan and the Search for the Little Old Chinese Man is a mixture of ethnography and memoir. The book examines how identity is constructed through the practice of an art---in this case, taijiquan. At times seeming like Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk meets Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa, the book covers author Adam Frank's study of taijiquan in the US and China with Pang Tianzhu, among others. The author is Professor of Asian Studies at Honors College at the University of Central Arkansas.

Cheng Man-ch'ing (Zheng Manqing), taiji master and artist, was a practicing doctor of traditional Chinese medicine from the 1930s on. Cheng's Insights on Women's Medicine (女科心法 Nu'ke xinfa) has been translated by Douglas Wile, (Sweet Ch'i Press; order through Redwing Books). Cheng wrote several books about Chinese medicine on topics related to women's health, cancer, and orthopedics, as well as newspaper columns on meditation and tai chi. His books on medicine discuss theory, application, and prescriptions, and have interesting anecdotes about cases.

March 26, 2011

World Tai Chi and Qigong Day

People around the world will gather in local parks and gyms Saturday, April 30th, 2011 to celebrate World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. This annual grassroots event helps build awareness of tai chi and qigong practice, and provides students and teachers with a chance to mingle with fellow practitioners.
Tai chi (taiji) has its roots in Chinese martial arts traditions, and early on, became known for its health benefits. Its practice spread throughout China in the early twentieth century, and by the 1960s, began to spread rapidly overseas.
Western medical research has affirmed tai chi's benefits for a wide range of health and wellness quests: practice of tai chi--and its sister art, qigong (ch'i-kung)--improves balance, lowers blood pressure, diminishes symptoms of Parkinson's, MS, depression, shingles, and much more.
Just as important, though, is that tai chi and qigong are simply enjoyable to practice!

March 16, 2011

Low-tech Play Still Popular with Children

Do you wonder about kids and the onslaught of technology and how it will affect kids, creativity, and play? "Children still enjoy playing traditional games like skipping and clapping in the playground despite the lure of mobile phones, computer games, and television, a study published on Tuesday found.
Playground games are 'alive and well ... they happily co-exist with media-based play, the two informing each other,' it said."

The two-year study by researchers at the Universities of East London, Sheffield and the Institute of Education was titled "Children's Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age."
An interesting side-project: the British Library is collecting "oral histories" archive of childrens' games, and invites submissions of films and letters. (Reuters carries the full report.) It seems that this bodes well for the future of tai chi and other movement traditions.

March 14, 2011

New Tai Chi Books

 Three useful new books give tai chi practitioners interesting perspectives on practice from a very practical angle, with much attention to body mechanics.

The New Rules of Posture: How to Sit, Stand, and Move, by Mary Bond (Healing Arts Press, 2007). The author, a movement therapist with a background in dance and Rolf, presents a very accessible approach to understanding and correcting one's posture. This book will appeal to anyone who experiences postural problems or pain, or for practitioners. It will be helpful to tai chi teachers in analyzing structural problems that students commonly face.
A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion, by Martin Mellish (Singing Dragon, 2011). This compendium supplies tai chi enthusiasts with a wealth of ideas and images to use in practice. Good for self-study as well as for teachers, this book is a welcome and innovative addition to everyone's tai chi library. Mellish, who has a background in mathematics, uses such things as fractals--in easy to understand terms--to describe concepts of movement. The wide-ranging and always interesting material is presented in  text, drawings, and photographs.
Robert Chuckrow's Tai Chi Dynamics: Principles of Natural Movement, Health, & Self-development (YMAA, 2008) approaches tai chi in a similarly analytical manner as Mellish's book, however Chuckrow's is from a more intellectual view. In addition to details of body mechanics, he has included insights and techniques gained from his studies with Cheng Man-ch'ing (Zheng Manqing)

February 8, 2011

Tai Chi Queen Makes Good Showing in Contest

Who says there's no royalty in tai chi?
Tai Chi Queen, a six-year-old New Zealand mare, has been doing very well in the races, with over seven wins.
Read about her here.