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on 30 June 2011
This book carries the subtitle 'The Literary Tradition'. This is explained in the Preface, (written by Susan Foe), as a reference to a more literal and exact process of translation, rather than an emphasis upon a more poetically inspired translation. Foe points out that certain expressive Chinese words are very difficult to translate into compact English words or phrases, and that instead of trying match an often meandering (and bewildering) plethora of meaning, instead, the translators offer the most direct way of understanding the Chinese terms in English. The result is an easily accessible translation of various T'ai Chi Chuan texts that convey a mixture of technical advise and profound wisdom.

The paperback (1979) edition contains exactly 100 pages and is separated a Preface, an Introduction, a Glossary and nine chapters, which represent the following texts:

1) T'ai Chi Ch'uan Ching - Chang San-feng.
2) T'ai Chi Ch'uan Lun - Wang Tsung-yueh.
3) Expositions of Insights into the Practice of the Thirteen Postures - Wu-Yu-hsiang.
4) Song of the Thirteen Postures - Unknown Author.
5) Song of Hand-Pushing - Unknown Author.
6) Five Character Secret - Li I-yu.
7) Essentials of the Practice of Form and Push-Hands - Li I-yu.
8) Yang's Ten Important Points - Yang Cheng-fu - Commentary by Chen Wei-Ming.
9) Song of Form and Function - Cheng Man-Ch'ing.

Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo writes the calligraphy featured in the book, and provides a very interesting Introduction which discusses a number of theories about the origination of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, including the traditional and the modern ideas. Lo, of the Universal T'ai Chi Ch'uan Association, has been assisted in this translation by Susan Foe, Robert Amacker and Martin Inn, all members of the Inner Research Institute School of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The stark simplicity of this book makes it a very compelling read, and something of a martial arts classic. The translators have produced a very popular work that has been used by many as a philosophical supplement to their T'ai Chi Ch'uan practise. More than this, however, this book conveys in reliable English, a deep Chinese system of holistic thought, and is literally a breath of fresh air in a world where materialism is taken for granted. Superb.
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on 18 August 2000
The collection of writings that comprise the Tai Chi Classics make it a book of wisdom, rather than of tuition. One can read and reread it and re-examine the nuances of the prose each time. It is analagous to Sun Tze's art of war, but is more to do with individual combat, the application and understanding of Tai Chi Ch'uan, in terms of the integration of mind, body and spirit. It contains texts from the legendary Chang San-feng (1279 - 1368 A.D.) right up until the modern day writings of Cheng Man Ching. It has formed the literary foundation of both Yang and Wu styles of the art, and a basis for the teaching of the art. I consider it essential reading for any serious student of Tai Chi Ch'uan.
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on 8 October 2015
"The Essence" was published in 1979. Amazon currently state that it is the "first English translation of the classic texts of Tai Chi Chuan". Except that it isn’t. Others say that it is a "classic" in its own right. Even though, for the main classics, it gave us less than the pre-existing literature.

There are five writings generally accepted as the Tai Chi Chuan "classics". These are: the Tai Chi Chuan Ching; the Lun; the Exposition of Insights into the Practice of the 13 Postures; the Song of the 13 Postures; & the Song of Pushing Hands. These all appear in "the Essence". A further four works by Li Yi-Yu, Yang Cheng-Fu and Cheng Man-Ching respectively are also included.

English translations of these big five classics began appearing in the 1960's with Delza's (1961) "Tai Chi Chuan Body & Mind in Harmony" and Maisel's (1963) "Tai Chi for Health". Both of these books included three of the classics as appendices.

The first English language appearance of all five classics was in Cheng Man Ching & Robert Smith's (1967) "Tai Chi, the Supreme Ultimate Exercise etc". Smith's foreword carefully noted his own role in this book. But it makes no mention at all of Cheng's "Number One Chief Disciple" T.T. Liang and his work as the translator of Cheng's material. Liang can also be seen in some of the book's photos practicing with Cheng.

T.T. Liang's own book on the classics first appeared in 1974 i.e. 5 years before "the Essence". Liang's book "Tai Chi Chuan for Health & Self-Defence" featured all five classics and much more. Liang didn’t just translate the classics though. He added his own commentaries to help readers understand the material.

Liang and the authors of "the Essence" all studied in the Cheng Man Ching lineage. Yet “the Essence” came about as lead author Benjamin Lo, per his introduction, had "read some English translations" but felt that their “meaning seemed incomplete”.

I can't say whether Lo had read the prior translations in the books of his own teacher Cheng Man-Ching and Cheng's senior student T.T. Liang. What I can say is that "the Essence" is much less complete and useful than Liang's. Liang added significant commentary to his translations. Lo et al have no commentaries. Not a single one. And this despite co-author Susan Foe, in her preface, noting the key role of commentaries in Chinese classics.

The essence of Lo's translations of the five classics are generally in keeping with the prior works by Cheng and Liang. Lo stated that he had “somewhat altered the order” of the Lun but I see much more of a re-ordering of "the Expositions" compared to other versions.

Foe made much of the difficulties of translating the classics. Other authors including Davis (The Taijiquan Classics) and Swaim (Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan) have explained this in much more detail. Foe also stated that the classic Songs “are poems and not meant to be sung”. This may be so but they weren’t necessarily meant to be spoken either. Davis and Swaim allude to their mnemonic nature and chanting. Docherty (Instant Tao) recounts his own teacher being taught to memorise the Classics by chanting them while doing internal conditioning exercises.

So, no singing, no commentaries and yet “the Essence” isn’t without its attractions……

Pages in "the Essence" feature few words and much white space. It’s a format that invites us to linger and to contemplate the texts with minimal distraction. That said, I particularly enjoyed the occasional pieces of Benjamin Lo’s Chinese calligraphy which were distributed throughout the book and positioned beside relevant text.

Although not without its good points, as mentioned, I wouldn’t buy "the Essence" again.

Reading between the lines I suspect that "the Essence" suffered from being a translation by committee. It gave much less insight than the prior Liang book. More recently Dan Docherty's illustrated "Decoding the Classics for the Modern Martial Artist" has given further insights.

So, if you are after a book to best help you understand the Tai Chi classics then go with Liang or Docherty. Go the whole hog and buy both. It's useful to compare translations.

If your priority is a more meditative, contemplative, experience with a book that also looks good on the coffee table then "the Essence" is the one for you.
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on 20 July 2014
Been learning Tai Chi for 4 years and now is the time to study these books.
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on 23 December 2014
The classics make clearer. recommended reading.
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on 27 September 2014
Good little book.
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on 6 March 2015
A superb book. A translation by an accomplished master which can deeply inform and guide ones inner practice and understanding of t'ai chi
Tim - Natural Way Tai Chi
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