Tambuli has classically been known for being the preeminent publisher of all quality things Filipino Martial Arts related, but there most recent releases are setting the precedent for Chinese Martial Arts texts. “Wisdom of Taiji Masters: Insights into Cheng Man Chings Art” by Nigel Sutton is the best text to come out of Tambuli’s stock and across my desk. A work well over 30 years in the making, Sutton’s book is a perfect last minute stocking stuffer for the Taiji player on your list.
Nigel Sutton has had the absolute honor to train under two generations of Cheng Man Ching disciples and decided to share the insights and philosophies of eight teachers of Cheng Man Ching Taiji: Lau Kim Hong, Lee Bei Lei, Zhou Mu Tu, Ho Ah San, Tan Ching Ning, Dr. Fong Fung Tong, Wu Chiang Hsing, and Koh Ah Tee. Not only is it unheard of to gain access to such a bevy of teachers, but to record, organize, and eventually publish the insight of these men into their art is a gift unto itself for those of us that would never have the chance to train with even one of these men.
Written with a smooth even tone, Sutton does well conveying the interviews as they were given. In other words he does not interrupt the flow and context of the information being shared via the teacher, but rather interjects contextual or cultural notes as needed. I liked reading “Wisdom” because though I was aware Sutton was guiding me through a story (series of stories) his presence was always well in the background, ensuring the spotlight was solely shining on the interviewee. He allows the teacher to spit his knowledge and leaves a trail of words for the student to continuously ponder on their path, as surely those words will never change in print but their meaning will endure a constant change of meaning.
Any time a task such as culminating a number of interviews and lessons into print form is taken on, one must take great care to ensure the “masters” at hand do not become too grandiose. Once again Sutton’s smooth editing circumvents such masturbatory tendencies and makes for quick reading. It is fascinating to garner so many different perspectives on the same art from disciples of the same teacher, a testament to the complexity and individuality of the martial arts in general, and Cheng Man Chings Taiji specifically.
Subjects such as push hands, nei gong, weapons, form, etc. are all covered, but honestly it is the actual process of listening to these teachers that is the gift. You can read about push hands all over the net from a number of people, but very few places can you sit and listen to a teacher convey a story and layout a lesson where you least expect it. “Wisdom” surprises you left, right and zhong ding!
Whether or not you are a practitioner of Cheng Man Ching Taiji, or just Taiji in general, I think you will enjoy “Wisdom of Taiji Masters” by Nigel Sutton. A unique and different perspective on a martial arts book that is well written and easy to read. Does the text harbor any ancient secret that will make your Taiji better? Most likely no. But perhaps a tip, a word of encouragement, or an honest criticism read herein will give you a different perspective on your practice and be the ripple that offers a fresh breath of air igniting your curiosity into the deep art of Taiji.