New Tai Chi Books

This year, I have acquired a couple of books that I can recommend. One is an instructional manual by Chen Zhenglei for Laojia Yilu and Erlu. I’ve been using it as a review of Laojia Yilu, in connection with a video project comparing the Yang and Chen traditional long forms.

Chen’s Tai Chi Old Frame One & Two

In this book, every movement of the form is described in careful detail, with multiple photographic demonstrations by the author (a grandmaster of such eminence that I don’t need to cite his credentials). You certainly could not learn this rather difficult routine by studying Chen’s book. But if you already know Laojia, it is an invaluable resource for refining and correcting your form. I am working it to tatters.

Another book that has recently come to my attention is Martin Mellish’s A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion. This beautifully illustrated volume uses sketches, photographs, and diagrams to evoke, explain, and describe the internal experience of Tai Chi.

A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook

This book is not a manual for learning specific forms or styles. Rather, it is a guide to fundamentals such as posture, stepping, balance, and breathing. It would be equally useful to beginners, more advanced students, and (especially!) instructors. It is an attractive and readable book, too.

General Qi’s House

General Qi Jiquang was one of the most famous and successful military leaders in China’s long history. He came from a military family and assumed a hereditary post in Penglai, Shandong Province, at the age of 17.

The temple overlooking the sea at Penglai

Despite his youth, Qi quickly distinguished himself as an exceptional strategist and leader. Qi is best known for eradicating the threat of Japanese Pirates along the coast, but he was also famous for defending Beijing from Mongol invaders and directing the fortification of the Great Wall.

The Great Wall

In 2018, I traveled to China with a group led by Master Jesse Tsao. In Penglai, we visited General’s Qi’s residence.

General Qi Jiguang’s House and Garden
The garden at General Qi’s house
Statues of children playing in front of the house
The general’s horse is saddled and ready to go.

Read more on General Qi’s life and accomplishments here: General Qi is also famous for his manuals of military strategy. Read about the Jixiao xinshu here:

Wuhan Tai Chi

I have traveled to China twice with groups led by Jesse Tsao. Both trips were wonderful. In 2017, we spent the last weekend in Wuhan. I’m not sure I’d ever even heard of the city before that trip—I certainly didn’t know anything about it. I have only the best memories of it now.

We visited the marvelous Yellow Crane Tower, which is set on a hilltop and surrounded by a beautiful public park.

We visited a huge lake, also set in a beautiful park—the Chinese do not skimp on parks!

If you look at a map, Wuhan is riddled with lakes. I don’t know which this was.
From the far end of the park, the lake looks as big as an inland sea.

But the best thing was Tai Chi in the middle of the city. On Saturday morning we walked to a nearby mid-town park which was, like all the city parks we saw in China, full of people dancing, walking, working out, playing games and—what we were looking for—doing tai chi.

We had no plan, no appointment, nothing set up in advance. We just went to the park. And there we found the lovely Master Tan, dean of martial arts for this whole city of 11 million!

Master Tan in coral on the right; I am to her left in black.

She led us through 24, the 108, Laojia, and a couple of qigong routines I wasn’t familiar with. It was thrilling. We agreed to meet again the next morning.

We thought about these lovely people this year. Jesse inquired: all were well. I like to think their tai chi protected them.

Sunday morning, in addition to everything we did on Saturday, she demonstrated Wudang Tai Chi sword for us. The whole encounter was unforgettable.

On our last night in China, several of us went walking in a long, wide pedestrian mall not far from our hotel. There is no crime in Wuhan; we were assured we would be perfectly safe, and it certainly felt that way. Safe and relaxed. Throngs of people strolled and shopped into the evening hours, and we joined them, feeling what it might be like to live in China, in Wuhan. I loved it.

32-Step Taijijian

Thirty-two-step Sword, also called the simplified sword form, is a short routine for Tai Chi straight sword that was developed in the 1950s, around the same time as the 24-step simplified taijiquan. Li Tianji was the master who created this form.

Purely Yang in style, 32 is a shortened and somewhat rearranged version of the longer traditional Yang Sword form. All of the movements in 32-sword are drawn from Yang Sword, though some of them are executed somewhat differently.


I first learned 32-sword from my friend Long Feng, then relearned it with Hu Pei Yi, an excellent instructor from Jiangyin. I was learning yet again from Frank Lee when the pandemic intervened. Over the winter (of 2020), I studied an excellent tutorial by Li Deyin.

The tutorial is an hour and forty minutes long and it’s in Chinese, though as I have pointed out before, his demonstrations are so clear that you can understand a lot without words. Also, with a modest vocabulary for sword and the list of names, you can follow more of what he says than you might have thought. I especially like Professor Li’s back-view demonstration at 1:28.

Though simple enough to be learned easily the first time, 32 is both subtle enough and robust enough to reward frequent practice and ongoing study. It employs most of the major sword fighting techniques found in Yang sword, yet it takes only three to four minutes to perform.


Two good demonstration videos to study:

Chen Sitan:

Wu Amin:

There are two lists of names, which I have combined. The modern names specify the footwork (or stance) and the sword technique employed. The traditional names indicate the movements in Yang Sword from which the 32-steps have been derived. 起势,Qǐshì (Beginning) and 收势,Shōu shì (Close form) are not included in the 32 steps. Here is my combined list: 32-sword-list (PDF)

Kung Fu Fan

Kung Fu Fan is one of two fan forms created by Li Deyin in the early two thousands. Both are popular and widely practiced, at least in China and among Chinese people living here, and both are usually performed to a piece of music also called Kung Fu Fan.

Here is Master Faye Yip performing Kung Fu Fan. She is Li Deyin’s daughter, and I think of her as the gold standard for both of his fan forms.

Fan Form

In an earlier video, Master Faye performs Kung Fu Fan with a group of students at a workshop in Madrid.

Kung Fu Fan has 52 movements, divided into six sections corresponding to six sections in the music. The first and last sections are slow and Tai Chi-like. The second section is faster, the third faster still. The fourth section repeats the second section exactly, and the fifth section starts out fast and emphatic, reaches high point, then stops and slows dramatically.

Most of the movements in Kung Fu Fan are based on traditional tai chi forms, especially sword forms, with the fan substituting for the sword. In the list I’ve got, the names of the movements are followed by the name of the traditional movement in parenthesis. Here’s the list: (PDF) kungfu fan

I’ve found a two-part, two-hour instructional video by Li himself. It’s in Chinese but as usual, he presents it so clearly, with such ample demonstration, that you can learn without understanding what he’s saying (though I wish I could!). The captions that appear on the screen match the list in the PDF above.

Instructional videos:

Just for fun, and not to be missed, check out a couple of WOW renditions of the same form in tournament play:


Kung Fu Fan is an entertaining piece to watch, fun to perform, not to mention good exercise in practice.  It works very well as an ensemble piece for as many people as you can fit on the stage. It’s not that hard to learn, at least well enough to perform in the back row, so a lot of people get to be in on the act.

My weekend practice group has performed with as many as seven people, in settings as diverse as Chinese New Year parties, community centers, and nursing homes. Above, Long Feng, Hu Peiyi and I (L-R front row) perform Kung Fu Fan  for a senior lunch at the Gus Garcia Community Center in Austin in 2018.

Wudang Mountain

Just got back from China. I traveled with a group (fewer than twenty) from all over the US plus four from London. Our leader was Jesse Tsao, wonderful Tai Chi master and teacher ( We saw some amazing sights on a three-day Yangtze River Cruise and four-day tour of Wudang Mountain.


Purple Heaven Palace, Wudangshan

The temples on the mountain were beautiful: Purple Heaven Palace (紫霄宫, Xǐ Xiāo Gōng), Tianyi Zhenqing Palace (天乙真庆宫tiān yǐ zhēn qìng gōng) and Dragon’s Head incense burner, and the Golden Summit. The summit in particular was breathtaking.


The view from the Golden Summit

There’s a school half-way up the mountain, next to the hotel where we stayed. We visited with the master, who told us (Jesse interpreting) about the history and philosophy of his school, and who kindly gave us each a signed copy of a little book. I can make neither heads nor tails of it, but I will surely treasure it. Must figure out what it is.


Yu Xu Palace Courtyard

Yu Xu Palace, which I have seen in so many videos, surprised me. It always looked to me as though it was set in a vast remote plain. There are no plains to be had in that part of China, however, and Yu Xu is in fact right in the middle of Wudangshan village (武当山, Wǔdāngshān). The interior of the Yu Xu Palace was closed for renovation, so we saw only the famous courtyard. Loved it.


I did some Chen on the mountain.

As far as tai chi is concerned, we had several amazing sessions with Jesse. Most fascinating to me was a comparison of the first sections of the four traditional long forms (Yang, Chen, Sun and Wu). I had never understood how closely the first part of the Yang 108 parallels the first part of Laojia.

On the last two mornings, we found a group at a park in Wuhan. Master Tan led us through the traditional Yang-style long form and 24; then we did a qigong routine that was new to me. She called it shí bā shì (十八式, 18-forms) Tai Chi Qigong (太极气功, Tàijí qìgōng). I found a video and a list of the names of the movements. Nice routine. Master Tan’s recording, like the track to the video, includes cues for breathing. 呼吸 hūxī is breathe; hū  is exhale and xī  is inhale.


Tai Chi and Qigong with Master Tan in Wuhan city park

18-form Tai Chi Qigong video and names of movements:

  1. 起势       Qǐ shì
  2. 开阔胸怀 kāikuò xiōng huái             open the mind/heart
  3. 挥舞彩虹 Huīwǔ cǎihóng                  wave the rainbow
  4. 轮臂分云 Lún bì fēn yún                   circle the arms to divide the clouds
  5. 定步倒卷肱 Ding bù dào juǎn gong
  6. 湖心划船 Hú xīn huá chuán             row on the lake
  7. 肩前托球 Jiān qián tuō qiú               hold up the ball in front
  8. 转体望月 Zhuǎntī wàngyuè             turn over the full moon
  9. 转腰推掌 Zhuǎn yāo tuī zhǎng        turn waist push palm
  10. 马步云手 Mǎ bù yún shǒu                horse stance cloud hands
  11. 捞海观天 Lāo hǎi guān tiān              fish the ocean to see the sky
  12. 推波助浪 Tuī bō zhù làng                  push to make waves
  13. 飞鸽展翅 Fēigē zhǎn chì                    pigeon spreads his wings
  14. 伸臂冲拳 Shēn bì chōng quán        stretch the arm to punch
  15. 大雁飞翔 Dàyàn fēixiáng                  wild goose soars
  16. 环转飞轮 Huán zhuǎi fēilún             ring around the flywheel
  17. 踏步拍球 Tàbù pāi qiú                        step and slap
  18. 按掌平气 Àn zhǎng píng qì               push palm for calm energy

We also did a Beijing-style silk-reeling Chen routine that blew me away, but I don’t have any idea how to find it on the Internet. Still looking for that one.

Silk Reeling

During a recent spell of bad weather, I was looking for Tai Chi that I could practice in a small space, inside. Of course, Ba Duan Jin and Nei Kung are good for that. But also, silk reeling exercises are an excellent workout, especially for the legs, as well as good practice for improving all of the Chen empty-hand forms.

Chen Bing explains the most basic silk reeling exercise in a short video that has English captions: Chen Bing one-hand outward chan si jing.


Chen Bing demonstrates Silk Reeling

An article in Wikipedia explains the principle that gives this kind of exercise its name, Chán sī jīng (纏絲精). Chan means winding or spiraling, and si means silk or thread.

“The name derives from the twisting and spiraling movements of the silkworm larva as it wraps itself in its cocoon [and the action of reeling the silk for thread]. In order to draw out the silk successfully the action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. Too fast, the silk breaks, too slow, it sticks to itself and becomes tangled.”

Chen Xiaowang  lectures and demonstrates at length (45 minutes) in his video on silk reeling. English subtitles help, though I’m sure we miss a lot not understanding the Chinese. It would take a lot of patience to work through this video; I confess I haven’t done it. Yet.


Chen Xiaowang on Silk Reeling

For a great crash course, Jesse Tsao demonstrates a number of silk reeling variations in a short clip on YouTube from his full-length video on silk reeling, available on his Taichihealthways website.  The full video is excellent, well worth the small cost. I have a number of his instructional videos, and they’re good—all in English, too.

Here are eight variations I used from those Master Tsao demonstrates:

  1. One hand outward (across the top palm down)
  2. One hand inward (across the top palm up)
  3. Two hands inward (like Brush Knee Push)
  4. Two hands outward (like Cloud Hands)
  5. Two hands outward (opening)
  6. Two hands inward (closing)
  7. Two-hand blocking left and right
  8. Forward and backward (like Dao Juan Gong)

Red Sky in the Morning

I have a new book out! I am fortunate to have made quite a few friends in my neighborhood who are Chinese and practice Tai Chi. I’ve been meeting with them on weekends for three years now.


Most speak no English (they are older people visiting grown children in the US), which is why I am trying to learn Chinese. Among those who do speak English, I have come to know Lily Blackard, who is Chinese, born in Vietnam, and now a naturalized American citizen.

As soon as Lily learned that I was a writer, she asked me if I would write the story of how she came to this country as a Vietnam War refugee. I jumped at the chance, both to learn more about her experience and to revisit that era in our history.

The result is a small volume (a little more than a hundred pages) that combines Lily’s story, as she remembers it from forty to fifty years ago, with a general history of the war and its aftermath. I was doubly fortunate that a wonderful watercolorist and friend, JU Salvant, offered to illustrate the book.

Red Sky in the Morning is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon. The print edition is expensive but beautiful because of the paintings, which include a gorgeous cover of red sky and sea. The ebook is a bargain, as it contains full-color illustrations as well (though some older Kindles might display only black and white).

If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! The paintings are available as high-quality prints on heavy watercolor paper from