Exploring Tai Chi: Contemporary Views on an Ancient Art
Review in Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Summer 04
Reviewed by Sheila Turnage B.A.
In this, his second book on Taiji (romanized as Tai Chi on the front and back cover, and T’ai Chi in the text), instructor John Loupos offers readers a very personal perspective on this martial art: “Tai Chi is, on the one hand, a tool for personal development… On the other, it is a metaphor for living life in the clearest, most efficient, and most deliberate way.”
By consciously expanding his beyond the practice studio door, Loupos sends taiji’s principles echoing through every part of his life. He writes about practice habits, learning styles, conflict resolution, meditation, training, trust, and surrender, among many other things.
Some aspects of his inclusive approach will no doubt generate controversy. For instance, he recommends Rolfing and psychotherapy as valuable and sometimes necessary adjuncts to taiji. He devotes pages to various meditation techniques, including perineal breathing.
Diversity, one of the book’s many strengths, sometimes proves to be a double-edged sword for Loupos as a writer. While his chapters work well separately, the book lacks overall cohesion, probably because he shifts audiences with chapters.
Chapter 1 focuses on starting taiji study: choosing a teacher and school, practice habits, training, etc.; and it primarily addresses beginners.The chapter on fajing, which Loupos defines as “the incredibly explosive power that can be developed and expressed as a result of certain aspects of T’ai Chi training,” targets more advanced practitioners. Chapter 4, a brief section on maintaining taiji’s integrity in a fickle marketplace, often speaks directly to instructors.
As a result of these shifts in focus, reading the book is a little like examining a hand-full of pearls, but finding no sure thread to unite them. Individual pearls have value, however, and the best solution may be to read the book as a collection of essays. In this way, for example, the chapter “Dealing With Injuries” will give you food for thought even though Loupos admits taiji injuries are rare.
Loupos writes in an easy accessible voice tinged with humor. While the final chapter’s musings sometime seemed forced, his practical advice should benefit most students.
His thoughts on rooting, dynamic structure, and training tips are helpful and easy to understand. The chapter on fajing is intriguing, but harder to follow. His perspectives on meditation are interesting, as is his notion of using taiji principles to enhance life.
Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. Will readers agree with the specific ways Loupos weaves his martial arts throughout his world and his world into his martial art? Most readers will find his perspectives and ideas worth considering, worth discussing, and even, perhaps, worth arguing about.
Exploring Tai Chi
Review from Taijiquan Journal Vol.5 #1, Winter 2004
Exploring Tai Chi is John Loupos’s second book on taiji insights. It is similar to his first book, Inside Tai Chi, in in its blend of personal philosophy, practice tips and suggestions, not to mention a similar cover design and layout.
Loupos begins by covering various aspects of getting started, maintaining practice, and participating in classes. This includes the student-teacher relationship, money handling, learning styles, and helpful suggestions for gauging one’s progress. Loupos goes on to discuss the definition of mastery and makes sensible suggestions for those seeking a credible teacher. Other topics are psychological blocks to progress and the necessity of giving up preconceived ideas of how the learning process is supposed to go. The author draws a delightful parallel between the effects of taiji pushing hands and long-term deep tissue massage: while both practices are painful in their own way, each results in the body’s ability to relax deeply and enjoy life more.
Loupos leaves this philosophical side behind in the middle of the book, which deals with mechanics of solo form and push hands. Particularly useful are the partner exercises to improve root and alignment. Loupos focuses on transitions between stationary postures, something that is often missing in taiji training manuals. As with his first book, Loupos uses diagrams and photographs in a very useful manner.
A chapter on fajin (issuing force) represents a quantum leap forward for the average taiji student, in that its subject is usually reserved for those who have developed a serious advanced practice. Loupos does a meticulous job of explaining its biomechanics. Even beginners can grasp some of his instruction, such as the importance of keeping the joints relaxed. Loupos’s background in qigong and karate leads him to add sphincter control to this level of taiji, a practice that is not necessarily universal to taiji and which can add, rather than decrease, muscle tension if done incorrectly.
A chapter on training tips makes useful suggestions helpful for various stages of study. Beginners will appreciate his explanation of the Bubbling Well point on the sole of the foot, suggestions on the correct way to turn the back foot (turn the toe, not the heel), and a section on “how not to bounce.” More advanced students might find the author’s description of the physics of push hands interesting. Other sections include the importance of stretching, and standards judged in tournaments.
Any taiji teacher combine taiji instruction with some meditation activities. Loupos explains his belief that meditation is a powerful aid to reaching one’s full potential, and presents various meditation activities to that end. Material on perineal breathing can be an interesting adjunct for taiji practice.
He offers useful information that can be applied to areas either within or outside of traditional taiji practice. He offers suggestions for dealing with injuries incurred during martial arts training (or during any vigorous activity). Based in a realistic understanding that the softness of taiji sometimes is forgotten in practice, he includes mechanical, homeopathic, and other suggestions for healing the body.
Loupos makes a point that strongly reflects his message: “If you are going to commit yourself to better living through Tai Chi, you may as well try to remain congruent in other areas of your life.” He outlines how the principles of yielding and softness can be applied in relationships at home and at work. Others have found similar effects through other commitments, other practices. However, that lessons learned in taiji practice can have a positive effect in all areas of one’s life is a strong argument, and Loupos makes suggestions that that can help the dedicated individual get started in a positive direction.
As in his first book, Loupos finished by tying up loose ends with lecture notes and humorous anecdotes. Some are directly related to taiji; others are less so- Loupos’s attempts to compose raps and other ditties are not up to the level of the rest of the book.
Like Loupos’s first book, Exploring Tai Chi is a broad exploration both as a martial arts and as a lifestyle. As a martial artist, Loupos has made and shared a detailed study of technical and energetic details of taiji. Yet Loupos seems to be so eager to credit taiji with personal growth that one has to be careful to differentiate what is taiji and what is simply a sincere individual’s personal journey. That Loupos has achieved contentment through the lessons he has learned form taiji and his willingness to share its benefits in evident on every page.
Exploring Tai Chi by John Loupos
Amazon Customer Review September 23, 2003
Reviewer: Susan E. Suarez from MA United States
I am impressed with Mr. Loupus’ ability to write in a way that makes you feel as if he is sitting in the room with you, just chatting you up about Tai Chi.
Much like the feeling I get on that rare occasion when sitting in church, listenting to a sermon that seems to specifically address me and my issues, Mr. Loupus is able to address what the student is experiencing by answering questions, making observations and statements, and offering reassurance.
The learnings from this book are unusual in that the author exposes himself and his own experiences, sometimes beyond martial arts, both as a student and teacher of Tai Chi and as a participant in life. This book would even help a potential student who wants to understand what they would be getting into -if he/she were to make the personal commitment to learn the art that does not seem to be describable (is that a word?).
For new students, the book is a must as it compliments class instruction with “narration.” It progresses at the pace of the student, with new learnings in appropriate doses, as it is read. Additionally, some of those questions that are on you mind, “but you are afraid to ask”, are answered in Mr. Loupus’ work.
Further, the book is well-written – not too technical but informative and quite eloquent in its writing style.
Buy it. You’ll like it.
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