Grandmaster Wang Peisheng’s Book on Wu Style Taijiquan

Taiji, being an internal art, is very difficult to write about descriptively.  One can of course describe the movements and many have done so.  But to attempt to map out what goes on internally is notoriously more challenging. The Taiji Classics do try of course, and are an essential resource, but they were written according to the aesthetic standards of the time, are verse rather than prose, require an interpreter, and, while they do sometime mention specific techniques,  they are not particularly technique specific, but are more description of the general principles of the art.

Written in 1983, Grandmaster Wang’s book: “Wu Style Taijiquan” was an early, and in my opinion an excellent attempt to write a detailed description of the art for a modern audience.  And while I doubt that this, or any book, could take the place of direct transmission, once one has “entered the door” so to speak, the book is a trove of helpful advice.

Personally I find line drawings (which this book uses) to be almost always more clear than photographs when depicting martial arts movements.  Master Wang’s 37 Posture Form is described in detail, movement by movement and that description includes both what is, or should be, happening internally as well as externally, and guidelines for application of the movements.

A couple of caveats when reading the book:

First, the applications depicted in the book assume that one understands taiji principles, and those principles are being used in the execution of the techniques.  Looked upon externally the applications will seem highly arbitrary and likely not work as intended. Without understanding the relationship of shen, yi, qi, and ji, as well as other principles, one will be merely trying to do external punching, bone locking, or whatever, and they will be disappointed by the results.  Contrariwise, I can personally attest that when executed by someone who does understand the art, the applications work just fine.  All that having been said, the applications are guides  not absolutes, and are best looked upon as indications how to do the form correctly, and not as how to defend oneself.

Second: If you learned Grandmaster Wang’s form from a teacher, you will notice that the sequence of Grasp Bird’s Tail shown in the book is somewhat different from how we practice it. You may look at things this way:  As you come to understand the art you will see that with most techniques all eight of the cardinal and ordinal techniques (peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lieh, kao, tsou), ward off, roll back, press, push, etc. can be found hidden within most movements.  Somewhere along the way Grandmaster Wang simplified the sequence to its current form but an astute observer can still see all eight of the techniques implied. The form depicted in the book following Grasp Bird’s Tail is identical to the form as we practice it.

For me the biggest value of the book is found in the preface, and the appendices.  These are devoted respectively to Grandmaster Wang’s advice on how and what to practice; the advice of his teacher, Great Grandmaster Yang Yuting, and a commentary by a Taiji master who was 98 years of age at the time of writing.

The book is of course older, and not glossy by any means, but for me it is a very valuable resource on my chosen art.