walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & Qigong_, Bill Douglas

As noted in an earlier post, my son wanted to go to church, so I took him to our UU parish church in the next town over and it was a super awesome Tai Chi introduction with some lovely readings from various translations of the Tao te Ching. What's not to love? I had this book on my shelves from _before_ I started doing any martial arts and I never actually read it until today. To be completely honest, I skimmed large chunks. It really is pretty horrible trying to learn martial arts from books; videos are only somewhat better, but web videos are awesome, because they can chunk it down to exactly the right size and pair it with a written description and link it to related information/videos. Obvs, in an ideal scenario you go to a class and have a 1-1 teacher student ratio and your teacher is highly competent but ideal scenarios are not easy to stumble into.

So is this book worth anything at all? Well, it suffers from the usual chatty writing style of this series and the other one with the yellow covers. It benefits from the here's-what-I'm-going-to-tell-you, now-I'm-telling-you, here's-what-you-should-retain structure of these two series, bracketed by motivational stuff at the beginning and a little push out the door at the end. The pictures are black and white, and like entirely too much martial arts photography and video, the background and clothing is poorly match to create contrast to enable the viewer to understand what's going on.

Here's an example of _much better photography_ that makes it extremely clear what is going on:


There's a lot of stuff out there; much of it is _nuts_ because this is alternative medicine/philosophy/wtfery and martial arts, and the field is just rife with wacky ideas. And unsafe advice, I might add.

Douglas _does_ say you should adjust stuff and not force anything, but but but but. He says it in that way that is going to make a lot of people try too hard anyway. I don't understand why people do this (actually, I do, but when I do, I get mad, and I don't like being mad, so I forget why people do this, and then I go, why do people do this? round and round). So he gets a B- for safety.

Several chapters are, mystifyingly, devoted to mulan quan. I'm not sure why! On the one hand, this is probably the only book out there with mulan quan pictures and descriptions in it, so one hesitates to say it shouldn't be here. On the other hand, why? I mean, that's a little odd.

Douglas' style is Kuang (or Guang) Ping Yang. Seattle is a bit of a mecca for martial arts, but there aren't any certified teachers of this style there (altho there are apparently two in Walla Walla http://www.guangpingyang.org/find_certified_teach.htm). That makes this book a bit of a misfit for someone who is shopping their local tai chi choices and using this book. The general advice (how to find an instructor based on compatibility, for example, is good, altho at times a little non-specific) is fine, and there is obvs a lot of overlap in the movements, but, but, but.

I skimmed the QiGong, because, well, I will give you an example.

"Bone Marrow Cleansing" this is a heading that falls between "Mindful Movement vs. Mindless Exercise" and "Becoming Elegant with Mulan Quan". Bone Marrow cleansing is a set of movements (there are numbered steps and 4 not terribly helpful photos) with this claim: "the energy is encouraged and allowed to flow through the body, even the bone marrow, to cleanse this tissue of frantic energy. The tissue can function at a higher, clearer level if not burdened by old stress."

I don't have many opinions about my bone marrow, but I don't feel that it suffers from frantic energy or old stress. Perhaps this could help you, if you feel differently.

[ETA: A way better discussion of the topic can be found here, which I am much less motivated to mock, because it actually makes some sense to me. _Some_. I don't necessarily really believe it, and I'm not sure if we are supposed to. http://ymaa.com/articles/muscle-tendon-changing-and-brain-marrow-washing-qigong]

There's a box (one of the punch line boxes) in this section, which claims, "Sometimes in class, students express their concern for the environmental repercussions of releasing their heavy or toxic energy down into the earth. Look at this like our physical human waste, which becomes fodder or nutrients to the earth."

Clearly, Douglas is sincere, and this is a set of ideas that works for him. This set of ideas does not work particularly well for me.

Also, I didn't much care for his warmup exercises. Another example of risky stuff that he kinda sorta accepts has risks, but then brushes those risks aside. He's got a hip rotating warmup. "Close your eyes as you rotate the dan tien. At first this may challenge your balance, but you'll get better." That's not a great way to handle a balance issue at this point. Better to handle it by opening the ideas for the first n times, and then as one becomes accustomed, practice closing the eyes. Given how much tai chi is marketed to seniors, and given that this is a hip rotating warmup, you would _think_ there would be some recognition of the nerve issues associated with hip replacements, but, nope, nothin' here. Go check out Dr. Paul Lam, instead.


oh, and this is one of the all time best surveys of things-you-should-look-out-for-as-an-instructor that I have ever seen for any instructor led activity:


I'm very happy that I was finally motivated to read this book. It helped me navigate through a bunch of topics that are handled much better on various websites, but I would have had trouble structuring that exploration on my own. Now that I know a bit more about it in an orderly way, the book is of no particular further use to me, and I would recommend finding a more current and relevant overview if you want a book to accomplish a related purpose.
Tags: book review, health
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