October 25, 2010

"Traditional Sun Style Taijiquan Course" - Book Review

"Traditional Sun Style Taijiquan Course" by Tim Cartmell and Troyce Thome is quite possibly the greatest treatise on Taijiquan ever, and most certainly the best text on Sun Family Taijiquan yet written to date!  Certainly this is a biased opinion, but one steeped in logic.  I have never settled nor compromised when it has come to my martial arts instruction.  I am not that good, so I figure by surrounding myself with the best teachers and training partners I would be able to gleam at least a notion of an idea of solid martial prowess.  When I met Tim 8 years ago I knew I had found one of the most clear, concise teachers of anything throughout my life.  The fact that he could not only teach what he knew, but apply it in just the manner he described... that was golden!

  Tim has broken new ground with a very old martial art.  Co Authored with Troyce Thome (one of Tim's Sun Taiji students) who helped develop this book in a textbook type format for her students at local community colleges in southern California.  Whereas many Taiji texts have taken a very metaphysical approach to their writing, "Traditional Sun Style.." is much more pragmatic in its language and platform.  Broken into seven chapters the practitioner familiar with Sun Taiji will be giddy with the wealth of information that has never been shared, as Sun Taiji is probably the least known and certainly the least covered in terms of material available especially here in the west.  Those not familiar with Sun Taiji will still get more than their monies worth with the chapters on history, principles of practice, and posture testing.  Again many Taiji books on the market have taken liberties with some of their approach to history, and though principles are universal many authors cannot articulate these principles in a coherent manner.  Cartmell and Thome have really set a precedent with this invaluable addition to the Chinese martial art pantheon.

Preceded by a basic intro and acknowledgements, the book starts with Dan Millers invaluable biography on Sun Lu Tang.  To date I know of no other more thorough and accurate account of Sun Lu Tang's fabled life.  Those familiar with Cartmell's work will recognize that this is the same text found in previous writings on Sun Family Martial arts.  

Chapter two is arguably the most eloquently written; most important chapters in all the book.  In a clear concise manner the author lays out the foundations and development of Sun Style Taijiquan.  The history of Taijiquan can be a confusing nebula of myth and fact, and this chapter helps to consolidate and make understanding the many influences in the development of what Sun considered his "crowning achievement."

Thome offers her expertise in the health field with the third chapter on the various health benefits of Taijiquan.  Troyce has again consolidated much of the information we practitioners have had to scour the internet for.  Speaking of the mind - body connection, the importance of balance and strength building from Taijiquan for seniors, Thome really encapsulates the many benefits gained from diligent practice of Taijiquan.

Chapters 5 and 6 (we will return to 4 in a moment) are the body of the text outlining the basic stances, footwork, and movements in the form, followed by step by step instruction in the movements of the traditional Sun Taiji form.  Pictures of each ending posture are provided along with the most detailed and clear instructions for each movement.  One could literally learn step by step how to perform the form via this text, if they were so inclined.

Chapter 4 is one of the best written chunks of information ever put out regarding Taijiquan practice I have seen!  Principles of using ones intent, proper structural alignment, relaxation, and coordinated movement are all topics that have been discussed ad-naseum by authors over the past 50 years.  Yet all too often these authors fall into strange thinking models, or do not fully understand the art / language / culture they are writing about.  Those gaps in understanding are sometimes filled with metaphysical terms foreign to the bulk of the readers, whom in turn begin to use these terms in their own teachings, and before you know it we have a generation or two whom no one truly understands what the message is they are trying to convey.

This is not the case with Tim!  Laid out over 5 super sized pages Tim makes understanding these principles almost too easy.  And these principles are universal to all martial arts because all martial arts are practiced by humans who are by and large built with the same physical structure.  So practitioners of all martial arts would be wise to read Tim's words in regards to intent, structure, relaxation, and coordinated movement.  Hell, dancers would find this information invaluable as well.

Chapter 7 is the gem of the book though.  Posture testing is something I think of as being integral to ones martial practice, yet Tim is one of the only teachers I have ever had (outside of the late, great Mike Martello.  Actually Tim and Mike shared many similar views, opinions, and approaches to the arts.  It is the greatest shame they never met.) who posture tested my movements in the various I have trained.  I know of no other text that speaks about posture testing, let alone one that lays out the basic guidelines for proper testing.  Again practitioners of all systems will find this information of the greatest benefit to their training of forms, combat and health.

In the end "Traditional Sun Style Taijiquan" is breaking new ground and setting a precedence for future Taijiquan writings.  In terms of Sun Taiji their is next to nothing on the market, and what little is on the market is garbage comparatively.  If you practice Sun Taijiquan you are foolish not to spend the measly $30 on this important text.

Enjoy,
Jake

1 comment:

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