How To Grasp The Bird's Tail If You Don't Speak Chinese : A light-hearted look at meaning in Taijii

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9780965771603: How To Grasp The Bird's Tail If You Don't Speak Chinese : A light-hearted look at meaning in Taijii

This book shows how Chinese calligraphy reveals the deeper meanings - mysterious or playful - found in the names of taijiquan movements.

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From the Back Cover:

A unique book for students and teachers of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), attempting neither to teach Taiji, nor to treat it in a scholarly way. Instead, it celebrates the names of the Taiji movements -- the Chinese names! It celebrates the visual beauty of Margaret Chang's Chinese calligraphy. It celebrates the imagery within the Chinese characters. It celebrates the mystery, the poetic ambiguity intrinsic to the Chinese language. It celebrates the possible meanings there -- concrete and metaphoric. There are occasional playful and light-hearted interpretations reflecting the author's own Taiji experience and musings. Also, occasionally, there are potentially relevant stories or paintings to enjoy. All this is offered in the hope that readers will find pleasure in discovering their own meanings in these Chinese names and in the movements of Taiji.

Both Jane Schorre and Margaret Chang are devoted Taiji artists, who have practiced and taught Taiji for many years. In addition, Margaret Chang is an accomplished painter and calligrapher who counts among her foremost teachers Prince Pu Ju, brother of Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Beginning The more I study Taiji, the less I seem to know. Or at least, the more there is to learn. This is really not surprising, considering the many facets of Taiji. It is an exercise for health, a system of self-defense, a method of meditation, an expression of a way of life, a choreography of dance movement, a vehicle for spiritual growth, a path to self-realization, and a celebration of the life force within us and more. But each of these is only a facet of the whole that is Taiji. In my on-going learning, I find over and over again that each small new discovery tends to open up a whole unexplored territory requiring me to become a beginner again. Along the way I have given up on any dream of ever becoming a master of Taiji, and am hoping instead to someday become a master of beginning. But I find this is what keeps my Taiji forever fresh and absorbing. There is always something new to play with.

An example is the casual observation that finally resulted in this book. It all began one day when my friend, Margaret Chang and I were having lunch together after our Taiji session. She was explaining that, to help her Taiji students get a feel for the movement, she tells them that An, usually translated into English as Push, is the Chinese verb used for massage, to push into something. And somehow knowing this always changes the quality of their movement, even if only in a very subtle way. This brought up a memory of being told, years ago by a Chinese man, that without understanding Chinese it was impossible to fully understand Taiji because one would never know what the names mean. The man himself is gone from memory, but not his words, in spite of the fact that I dismissed them at the time. I was sure then that any meaning would be in the movement, not in the names. Those were the days when I knew a lot. But I did not know how much our interpretation of meaning in a name can affect the quality of our total Taiji ex-perience. It took the process of this book to begin to learn that.

Margaret's bit of information about An set off a small alarm in my head. What else did she know about Taiji that I did not just because Chinese is her native language? It seemed more than a little unfair she had such an advantage over me. In talking about other names, we realized many of them lose a lot in translation. While often true of any translation, this seems especially true of translation from Chinese, because of its nature, which we will discuss later.

Much in the names of Taiji movements is lost to those of us who, since we do not know Chinese, must rely on the usual English translations. It occured to me that exploring each name for possible meaning might be fun. These names run the gamut from the most poetic to the most prosaic, and from the near sublime to the near ridiculous. Some have to do with profound philosophical subjects, reflecting Daoism and Buddhism. Some suggest ways of deporting oneself, while others suggest only ways of moving. Some are simply the names of everyday objects or are about using objects. Some describe the movements of animals or ways of dealing with animals. Many about kicking or hitting seem to be straightforward descriptions of self-defense movements.

Reactions to the names run as wide a gamut. I am surprised and delighted to find many of them bring to mind stories told in Zuangzi, the Daoist classic second only to Laozi. Some of the Taiji names can evoke a sort of spiritual resonance. Some carry with them a host of associations, while others suggest little more than the obvious, so there seemed to be little to say about them. Some do not seem to make much, if any, sense. Some, in studying them, have changed my feeling about a movement, and therefore changed the way I move.

Eventually, along the way a wonderful game evolved, resulting in this book. It is like a giant puzzle to be taken apart and put back together again, or like a secret code to be broken in order to decipher the message. And imagine my surprise when there actually did seem to be a hidden message in the end!

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