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How to Grasp the Bird's Tail If You Don't Speak Chinese Paperback – June, 2000
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This is an interesting and enjoyable work that celebrates and explores the names of taiji movements. . . . . The aim here is not to give any definitive meaning of the words or names, says the author, but only to explore possible meaning. Letting go of this aim is necessary because both words and names can be interpreted in many ways and on many levels -- at least as many as there are facets to Taiji.
Taiji Quan, like so many other aspects of Taoist cultivation, can be practiced on many levels. To understand and play with the meanings of the movements can be both informative and fun! In this case both the author and the calligrapher have worked together to create a delightful interweaving of fact, fancy and erudition to inspire and enlighten taiji practitioners everywhere. -- The Empty Vessel, Summer 1998 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Text: English, Chinese
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However-- I have to disagree that there is deep meaning in the movements at all, let alone in the Chinese names as opposed to the English translations. This is a martial art; or if it's not really a martial art anymore as it's frequently taught, it still has martial origins. The movements aren't mystical clues a la Dan Brown; they're punches, kicks, throws, blocks, etc. They don't have MEANING, they have PURPOSE. Furthermore, the names for the movements are often misleading, uninformative, or open to interpretation. Chen taiji stylists say "six sealing, four closing"; Yang taiji people say "like sealing, like closing", or shorten the whole thing to "apparently closing". The two phrases sound very similar in Mandarin; they're written with different characters, but the martial artists who originally came up with the names were illiterate, so we don't really know what they had in mind. I'm inclined to think it means six parts sealing, four parts closing, except I don't really understand what the difference is between the two verbs in the first place.
Some names are dull and descriptive, like "turn body and chop with fist"; some are fanciful, like White Goose (Crane, Stork, whatever) Spreads Wings, Step Back and Repulse Monkey, or like Needle at Sea Bottom--an other example of an ambiguous name. Does that name just describe the movement, which kind of looks like trying to pick up a small object while wading in the ocean; or does it have something to do with attacking the Sea Bottom (perineum)? Or is it both?
Well, this author thinks that the meanings of the movements are to be discovered, not in the martial purposes of the movements, or in trying to guess what the originators had in mind, but in her own free-floating New Age imagination. She also doesn't seem to be aware that there are other taiji styles besides Yang. Well, Yang style is the most popular, and having the characters and the pinyin for the common Yang style movements all in one place is useful, and the book is very pretty; but the completely unrestricted flights of fancy about what the movements "mean" are much worse than useless, imho, and the narrow, New Agey perspective on the nature of tai chi is very misleading.
Enjoy it for what it's worth, just don't limit yourself to this.
For those of us who can't read Chinese, each position in the form is described with a Chinese character. The Chinese character is broken down into its constituent parts. Each part is translated into English. The bits and pieces of English are rolled up into a meaningful whole.
I taught my Chinese student T'ai Chi.
She taught me Chinese using the same book.