Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Review - Tai Chi Theory and Principal Precepts

Book © 2011 Larry Costner - Book review by Mari B. Hamilton Gromer

A short book (275 pages) by any reader's standards. But the facts are all here. After many hours of practice and study, I think I have finally found a book that helps me not only to play at tai chi with renewed vigor, but to understand why it is important to not only go through the motions, but to internalize the many concepts some instructors leave out. There are no steps to learn, no videos to watch, no explanation of tai chi forms.

One should practice daily. Mr. Costner boasts he has not missed one day in the past twelve years. An accomplishment to be proud of, surely. The quality of his practice though, is also so internalized that he promotes it to his daily living. A fascinating thing about tai chi is that it really does "get under your skin".

Mr. Costner translates the more esoteric aspects of tai chi into a concise and understandable notion. My practice has improved after reading about the history, roots and language of tai chi. His theory is that although you may play at tai chi unless you internalize the concepts and conception of the art it can be merely a "pretty dance".

In the first chapter he discusses that tai chi is a good investment for life. His philosophy is that in the coming years tai chi will ride two strong demographic and societal trends to become a dominant form of exercise through out the world. The first being the dynamic growth and increasing influence of China. The next is our aging population, which is not just an American phenomenon. As tai chi is a sport that one can enjoy well into their nineties and more, the handwriting is on the wall as far as more acceptance.

In the following chapters he discusses origin of tai chi, qi, jin, three treasures and the mind-body. Mr. Costner has a way of expressing these concepts in a simple, understandable and applicable way.

In the mind-body section, he helps you realize that along with yoga, tai chi is the preeminent mind-body exercise. The encouragement to use your mind to move your body, the concept of it, is so highly appropriate! Mr. Costner has really nailed this in his writings. I mean, so many people do just think of tai chi as a "pretty dance", but when you focus the power of your mind, tai chi becomes so much more fulfilling and relevant to daily life.

The most relevant area, in my mind, of the book is the chapter entitled The Seven Principal Precepts. All beginning in the letter P-they are as follows: Presence, Poise, Peace, have better Proprioception, have better Prolepsis, Persistence, and Patience. Each important precept is explained fully. When you internalize these precepts there is limitless knowledge to be gained by yourself and your students.

The encouragement to GO SLOWLY is something that I think is sometimes lost in the wish to rapidly advance the movements rather than to enjoy the movements you have already mastered. Through out the book, Mr. Costner continues to impress slow movement and gentle mindfulness.

The end of the book pulls it all together with a simple sort of haiku-like verse:

Not future, not past
Dignified grace
Muscles not taxed
Awareness of space

Creative intent
 Like a dog on a bone
Time well spent
Water melting stone

Whether master or novice, instructor or student, this book should be recommended as a 'must read' for all tai chi players. And I now return to page one.