After discovering Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s original, yellow Taijiquan book, practicing Taijiquan became everything to me. I moved outside, eating, drinking, and practicing under a Pin Oak tree. At heart, however, I am a skeptic, and seeing Taijiquan through the works of a single author did not satisfy my need to study more broadly. I later learned that the most ardent practitioners of Taijiquan suffer through the same phase.
My early passion with Taijiquan coincided with the earliest days of the Internet. There was little material online. The big box bookstores had a few titles, but for more detailed instruction, you had to search the pages of Tai Chi magazine or other martial art magazines for VHS videos.
At $50 or $60 dollars a tape, and $30 or $40 dollars a book, you had to be careful with your purchases. When one of the VHS tapes I bought for $40 was only thirty minutes, I became even more skeptical about the material available. It would take weeks for me to choose a tape or book. I became a pest to both the vendors and publishers of martial art material, seeking more information before making a purchasing decision.
Today, you can at least get previews of videos on YouTube, and some of the material I paid $60 for a decade ago is available for free. Unfortunately, some of the junk I bought a twenty years ago is still available, but in a different format and at incredibly high prices for what you get.
I understand if choose to not spend your hard-earned money with my instructional materials. What I do not want you to do is waste effort, money, on time, on junk.
The first martial art form I learned was Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan from Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s yellow Tai Chi book. It is no longer published. Dr. Yang has since formed his own publishing house. From it, you can get a plethora of material, but none of it is as condensed or as unique as this rare find.
The picture I include here is my second copy. I ruined the first. I used it so much, the spine broke, so I tore all the pages from the book, put them into plastic page-protectors, and bound them into a three-ring binder.
My process of learning from this book was simple enough. I started at Chapter One and worked my way through the book until the Sword Form, then stopped. The book starts with a history of Tai Chi, and how the postures relate to the eight trigrams of the Bagua. Chapter two is more esoteric. Detailing the principles of Tai Chi and how they relate to meditation and breathing. The breathing lessons and mechanics of meditation from this chapter have been invaluable to me in my mindfulness and meditation practice. This chapter even includes some self-massage you can use to restore your body after a meditation session.
Chapter three is the heart of the book. Here is the complete long form of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan as practiced by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. This is not the sequence as handed down by Yang Chengfu. The differences presented some confusion to me at first, but as I look back on my practice, I realize this was the right form to start my Tai Chi practice.
Chapter three begins with hand and stance positions. The Tou Tien standing posture was one of the most challenging exercises I had ever tried. I have since learned a similar stance from the Baguazhang tradition. Following the standing postures, the book presents breathing drills that teach you how to coordinate your breath with movement. I spent a month or more practicing these drills before I proceeded to the long form. I am glad I did, because nothing is better than the experience of a long, silent breath coordinated with a slow Tai Chi posture.
The rest of my spring and summer I spent outside, learning the sequence from the written text of the book. I did not know if I was doing right. I figured if I was ending as in the postures pictured in the book, I was close. It may have been another two years before I saw a video of Dr. Yang performing the sequence. Imagine my pride at seeing how close I had come. In fact, except for my higher stances, I had nailed the feel and flair of the sequence.
You can learn from a book. You can learn from pictures. You can learn from a video. You do not need a teacher standing next to you to learn Tai Chi Chuan. I am proof. Jou, Tsung-Hwa is proof. Even Yang Luchan is proof. He learned by looking through a whole in a wall.
I want you to be engaged in your Taijiquan practice. Nothing will ruin your engagement like getting cheated by expensive products that teach you little, or do not give you the tools to succeed. I don’t want you to be afraid to study on your own, so it is my intent to direct you to the best material and encourage you to practice on your own.
According to the good teachers, the ones we call experts and grandmasters, personal practice is the best practice. Today, more so than any time before, you can supplement your personal practice with one-on-one instruction from the best masters of this and the last generation, and in most cases all you need is a connection to the Internet.