The Iaido Journal  Aug 2002EJMAS Tips Jar

Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong 
by Bill Douglas, Alpha Books, New York, 1999.

ISBN 0-02-862909-4, paperback.
US$18.95/C$28.95/GBP12.99.  354 pp.(1)

Reviewed by Raymond Sosnowski
11 August 2000; 28 March 2001 (revised)


 The more I uncover about Bill Douglas, Inc., the more disappointed I become.  Curiosity about his actual style, since his version seemed to be different than the style that I learned, led me to his DVD offering (in lieu of the videotapes).  It seems to me that the purpose of the book and the DVD is self-promotion for him, his wife, and his company’s corporate programs.  Don’t get me wrong – I see no problem with making a living through the arts – but I do believe that it all belongs in perspective; Douglas, Inc. has gone out for the hard sell.  It seems to me that the opportunities in the book for real education and information were squandered in favor commercial interests (2).  Mr. Douglas is also the promoter of “World T’ai Chi and Qigong Day.” At face value, it seems like a wonderful idea; however, I cannot help but think that behind it all is simply free publicity for Douglas, Inc.


Now that the Complete Idiot’s Guide ® (CIG) series and IDG Books’ ... for Dummies ™ series, as well as other copy cats, are now part of our bibliographic landscape (a quick search of yielded 622 CIG titles and 647 IDG titles), it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before they invaded the martial arts – as of this writing, only CIG has martial arts topics, which include Tae Kwon Do (Sept 1998), T’ai Chi & Qigong (Nov 1998), martial arts (Dec 1998), self-defense (Nov 1999), and Karate (July 2000).  What piqued my interest in this particular is that the author chose to highlight Kuang P’ing (Guang Bing in Pinyin) Yang (KPY) style of T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan in Pinyin; “TCC” is the acronym used here), rather than the Peking (Beijing) style of 24 postures (Lie, 1988), or the Cheng Man-Ching style – often, but incorrectly, referred to as the “short” (Peking/Orthodox) Yang Style – of 37 postures in 60 moves.

There are now only four other books available on this form, including the original of Li Po & Ananda (1975), and a reissue of the seminal text by Sifu L.-Y. Kuo (1999), reviewed by Sosnowski (in press). Sifu Kuo brought the style to the US.  However, only Lee et al. (1996) seems to capture the essence of this style in book format; his short version (Lee, Lee, Johnstone, 1989) is a nice introduction too.  Sifu Kuo’s widow has published her own book on KPY TCC (S. Kuo, 1991), as well as another of his practices (S. Kuo, 1996); in my review of the latter (Sosnowski, 1997, 1998), I pointed to her former book as one with good format and layout, but criticize it distorting the actual practice (too straight-limbed), which is why I can recommend it only with deep reservations.  Against this background, I review this present book.

It is difficult for me to read and review this book as if I were a target “Idiot” or “Dummy” so the approach I take is that of an instructor presenting this material, since for several years I did actively teach this form.  So, my perspective in reviewing is rather different than that of the target reader.  Unfortunately, my overall reaction to this book is basically the same as for S. Kuo (1996) – too much extraneous material and not enough detail to the subject at hand (Sosnowski, 1997, 1998), which does not serve the target audience well in my opinion.


A hallmark of the IDG and CIG books is the use of specific icons to highlight parts of the text  – IDG also has icons associated with the side-bars; however, in CIG, icons are only used in side-bars.  I personally like the idea of icons, but I find that three of the five used here are counter-productive.  The first one for “Sage Sifu Says ...” is a stereotype “Chinaman” with conical straw hat, droopy moustache, goatee, holding up the index finger of the left hand; I find this demeaning and insulting to my teachers (this should not to be construed as an appeal for political correctness).  Two others I find problematic are “Ouch!” with a karate-ka (Karate practitioner) holding his aching hand from a failed attempt at tameshiwari (breaking) on a single board, and “A T’ai Chi Punchline” showing a tsuki ([Karate-style] punch) breaking through a board; these are simply out-of-context and project the wrong message – there is no relationship between T’ai Chi and Karate.  I suspect that these are the fault of the publisher.

Many of the caricatures that appear at the beginning of each section and chapter are also misleading.  In my opinion, the two worst offenders are at the beginning of Part 1 and Chapter 2.  The caricature at the beginning of Part 1, “T’ai Chi: Relax into It,” shows a young male, black-belt Karate-ka lounging in a horizontal Position (p. 1); however, this is a Western idea of “relax”, and I have taken this very position to illustrate to my former T’ai Chi students the idea of relax in the West.  It’s wrong; relax in our Western culture is passive, whereas in Chinese, the term “sung” connotes an active process that manifests full mental awareness and a minimum amount of energy to stand upright.  The caricature at the beginning of Chapter 2, “Let’s Get Physical,” shows our Sage Sifu (from the set of aforementioned icons) from the waist up with a weight lifter’s physique in a body builder’s pose (p. 15).  Wrong again!  TCC is an internal art, and we are cautioned against using li ([raw] muscle power) instead of ch’i (internally developed power).

A major pet peeve of mine is the romanization of Chinese.  There are two major styles, modified Wade-Giles (mWG) and Pinyin, which is the official style of the PRC (People’s Republic of China).  I prefer the former for reasons (3) stated in Sosnowski (1999); however, I believe above all that an author must be consistent within a book, that is, use one or the other, but not both.  In this text for example, “T’ai Chi” (mWG) is used rather than “Taiji” (Pinyin); however, instead of “Ch’i Kung” (mWG), “Qigong” (Pinyin) is used.  This will be confusing to the beginner, who is the target audience, and sloppy on the part of the author in my opinion.


A lot of material is covered in two introductory sections, “T’ai Chi: Relax into It,” and “Suiting Up and Setting Out,”and there are a number of nicely written segments.  The problem is that they are intermixed with a number of misleading statements.  There are two particular points in Chapter 1 to be aware of.  First, the statement “T’ai Chi is easy and effortless (p. 11)” is just unrealistic and misleading, especially to beginners – it’s as difficult to learn as any advanced form because of the effort it requires.  Secondly, the segment on the “Historical T’ai Chi” is just plain wrong – there is no evidence that it is 1200 years old (historically we can only trace it back to the 1700’s), and it was not a monastic practice nor connected to the Shaolin Temples (it was a civilian art associated initially with the Chen family in their village).

The rest of the chapters certainly read better if you ignore the marketing hype.  The chapters of Section 2 are extremely helpful including finding the right class, where and when to practice and the introduction of vocabulary.  I found the segment on T’ai Chi styles somewhat skewed: Mulan Quan was included (it is not a recognized style of TCC; I’ll have more to say on it below), while two of the recognized major styles, Sun and Hao/Wu were excluded.  I also strongly disagree about advocating the use of videotapes if an instructor is not available.  I contend that nothing replaces an instructor.  I suggest instead that you go to seminars first for basic training if a regular instructor is not available.  My rationale is that, if you have no basic concepts about doing TCC, then you simply cannot properly learn from a video, because you don’t know what you are looking at, and, therefore, you do not know what you are looking for.  On the other hand, segments on instructor personality, how T’ai Chi is taught, where is the dan tien (tanden in Japanese), and breathing seem to be very well written.


Part 3 introduces the practice of Ch’i Kung (Qigong).  Some parts are well done and others continue with misinformation.  Sitting Ch’i Kung and warm-ups are basically done well; moving Ch’i Kung again introduces a set from Mulan Quan.  What I find particularly odd is the absence of standing Ch’i Kung, chan chuang (Lam, 1991).  Yu chou chang (“universal post” or “pile exercise”) has a strong association with KPY TCC (L-Y Kuo, 1994, 1999; S. Kuo, 1991, 1996; Lee, Lee & Johnstone, 1989; Li Po & Ananda, 1975).  Sifu Kuo would refer to it as T’ai Chi’s “Million Dollar Secret.”


Part 4 is dedicated to the KPY form.  First, simply skip the history because it’s a fabrication, that is, it is quite out of line with the accepted history of TCC.  In general, using a single photo to illustrate a posture in a form is just not good enough.  Several photographs in Part 4 do not properly illustrate postures; and in others, the direction of the gaze appears to be wrong (4).  I mentioned in the Introduction that only one text (Lee et al., 1996) adequately represents the form.  Also, including arrows in the photographs to indicate movement would have been very helpful.  This Part would also benefit from foot stepping diagrams and multiple views of the postures.  The classic presentation of a single photograph per posture appears in L.-Y. Kuo (1999), but that does not pretend to be a teaching text.  Unfortunately, the pictures in Part 4 leave one with the wrong impression of the form.


Part 5 is devoted to “other things,” mostly filler as I see it.  That filler is the Mulan Quan short form, fan form and sword form.  And here is why I protest including Mulan Quan.  It is not T’ai Chi, but rather an attempt to merge T’ai Chi and Chinese dance that was concocted for modern wu shu (“martial arts” in Chinese).  It is my opinion that this is no more than martially inspired dance and theater, that is, entertainment.  In fact, if you read the ads in the back of the book, this is no more than free marketing for the author’s wife, who is a Mulan Quan instructor – nowhere else have I ever seen Mulan Quan associated with T’ai Chi.

The only redeeming feature of this section is the introduction of t’ui shou, which is generally referred to as “push hands;” I prefer the term “sensing hands” as being more accurate, rather than “push hands” which is more popular in the vernacular.  However, it is simply too short, even as an introduction.  I believe that beginners would be better well served by something a little more comprehensive – too many times this aspect is glossed over, if mentioned at all.  Real T’ai Chi practice consists of two parts: solo and pairs practice where solo practice means the form.  Pairs practice consists of three separate practices:

  1. t’ui shou of which there are five types; however, this text covers only the first type, that is, single-hand with fixed-step,
  2. san shou (a two-person form of forty-four moves per side), and
  3. free sparring.

In this era of “T’ai Chi for health,” this last particular pair practice, free sparring, is most often neglected – in fact, I doubt if there are more than a handful of knowledgeable and qualified instructors in North America; the only person I have ever heard of actively teaching in the northeastern US is Sifu William C. C. Chen in New York City.  Without pairs practice, the solo form is no more than an empty dance, form without meaning and without feeling.  Likewise, without the solo form, pairs practice degenerates into mere pugilism.


It is currently in vogue is to present arts like TCC and Aikido as panacea for the ills of modern society; I am getting sick and tired of all this hype – let’s just skip all the marketing noise and spend more time practicing.  Unfortunately, Part 6, “Life Applications,” continues in just this vein.  This section is more filler as far as I am concerned.  Furthermore, by now the beginner is simply overloaded with information.  Instead, if you wanted to put T’ai Chi in a larger framework, then a discussion of Taoist philosophy and ethics would be appropriate.  T’ai Chi is an “internal” art; with conscientious practice, and change comes from within ... quietly.  Only through practice does the student experience this.  As such, T’ai Chi changes the person, and this is manifested in all aspects of life.  The hype in this final part of the book seeks to compartmentalize this change as therapy, as a booster for workers, which is just another blatant marketing plug for the author’s business, and as a cure-all for all the problems in our modern society.


While my expectation with respect to the quality of this text was high, given the author’s credentials, the delivery seemed rather erratic to me.  I recognize that the task of writing is quite arduous, and the results are not always consistent; however, there is simply too much misinformation here for my liking, and I believe that many fine opportunities at education, especially that oriented towards beginners, were squandered.  On the other hand, it is also very difficult to dismiss this book out of hand, in spite of all its shortcomings.  Although I cannot recommend it in good faith without reservations, I do hope that those who find it will use it as first step to T’ai Chi and go far beyond the misinformation, hype and blatant marketing in this text.


Ho’o, Marshall
1986 Tai Chi Chuan, Ohara Publications, Burbank, CA.  111 pp.

Kuo, Lien-Ying
1999 T’ai-Chi Ch’uan in Theory and Practice, presented by Simmone Kuo, Berkeley, North Atlantic Books, CA.  123 pp.

1994 The T’ai--Chi Boxing Chronicle, translated by Guttmann, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.  141 pp.

Kuo, Simmone
1996 Shao-lin Ch’uan - The Rhythm & Power of T’an-T’ui, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.  150 pp.

1991 Long Life, Good Health through Tai-Chi Ch’uan, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.    134 pp.

Lam, Kam Chuen
1991 The Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung Exercise, Simon & Schuster, New York.  191 pp.

1994 Step-By-Step Tai Chi, Fireside, New York, 143 pp.

Lee, Martin, Lee, Emily, & Johnstone, JoAn
1989 Ride the Tiger to the Mountain: T’ai-Chi for Health, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.       179 pp.

Lee, Martin, Lee, Emily, Lee, Melinda, & Lee, Joyce
1996 The Healing Art of T’ai-Chi -- Becoming One with Nature, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York.  144 pp.

Li Po (Brayne, Thomas), & Ananda (Cutler, Cecile)
1975 [Kuang P’ing T’ai-Chi] Wave Hands Like Clouds -- A Chinese Yoga of Meditation in Motion, Bamboo Publishing, Albion, CA.  116 pp.

Lie, Foen Tjoeng
1988 T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Chinese Way, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York.  128 pp.

Sosnowski, Raymond
in press “Book Review: T’ai-Chi Ch’uan in Theory and Practice by Kuo Lien-Ying, presented by Simmone Kuo,” submitted to the Journal of Japanese Sword Arts, and to EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences,

1999 “A Review of the T’ai-Chi Classics: Study Material for Internal Principles,” Ryubi -- The Dragon’s Tail, The Newsletter of Kashima Shinryu/North America, 7(2), 9-17, 10 July.

1998 “Addendum to the Book Review: Shao-lin Ch’uan - The Rhythm & Power of T’an-T’ui by Simmone Kuo,” Journal of Japanese Sword Arts #91, 10(4) 15-16, April; submitted to EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences,

1997 “Book Review: Shao-lin Ch’uan - The Rhythm & Power of T’an-T’ui by Simmone Kuo,” Journal of Japanese Sword Arts #85, 9(10), 19-21, October; submitted to EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences,

Yang, Jwing-Ming
1998 Qigong for Health and Martial Arts: Exercises & Meditation, 2nd ed. (Ten Essential Sets of Qigong Exercises), YMAA Publications, Boston, MA  175 pp. [1st ed., 1985.]

1997 Eight Simple Qigong Exercises for Health: The Eight Pieces of Brocade, 2nd ed., YMAA Publications, Boston, MA.  93 pp.  [1st ed., 1985, published as The Eight Pieced of Brocade (Ba Duann Gin): A Wai Dan Chi Kung Exercise Set for Improving and Maintaining Health, 70 pp.]


(1) Originally submitted to the Journal Of Japanese Sword Arts.

(2) With this being the case, my view of this book has really dimmed from my original conclusions in the section “The Bottom Line.”  In my opinion there are much better sources of information without all the excess baggage.  One author I can recommend without reservation for Chinese martial and health arts is Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, at; – I plan to review two of his Chinese weapons books on T’ai Chi sword and Northern Shaolin sword.  Another good source for T’ai Chi and Ch’i Kung material is Wayfarer Publications at  For this style of Tai Chi, the Kuang P’ing (Guang Bing in Pinyin) Yang style, my personal recommendations are Lee, Lee & Johnstone (1989) for the “short” form (the first fifteen postures), and Lee et al. (1996) for the “long” form, along with Lam (1991) for standing meditation/Ch’i Kung.  For the standard “short” form of 24 postures, try either Ho’o (1986) or Lie (1988) [I am partial to the former for the structure of the form, and to the latter for the presentation of the motions within the postures], and for a non-standard short form, the “Small Circle” form, see Lam (1994), which also has nice sections on warm up exercises and two-person practices.  Dr. Yang’s T’ai Chi books are good sources for intermediate and advanced practices.  Given the myriad forms of Ch’i Kung, Dr. Yang’s books are a good place to start; he covers the various different levels of theory and practice, and does so quite well. For a comprehensive treatment of common and relatively simple set, try Yang (1997) [the standing set also appears in Lam (1991)]; for an “anthology” of Ch’i Kung sets with a minimum of theory, go to Yang (1998).

(3) “Until the 1970's, the romanzation of Chinese was generally based on either the Yale or Wade-Giles systems.  Beginning in the 1970's, Pinyin, a romanization developed in mainland China in the 1950's as a standard, and based on the Cyrillic alphabet, began to be used in the U.S.  Usage was spotty at first; it is still common to see both Pinyin and modified Wade-Giles in the same text.  All systems are less than perfect; individually, each system has its own good pronunciation renditions as well as not so good.  My preference is to use modified Wade-Giles, because Pinyin is a “translation of a translation,” but this is, of course, a minority opinion, as most writers and publishers have moved to embrace Pinyin.  [A very small minority that do use Pinyin also include modified Wade-Giles either within the text or in a glossary, which I find to be an acceptable alternative.  At least this way, one can relate the terms and names between older texts written in modified Wade-Giles and the more recent texts written in Pinyin.] (Sosnowski, 1999)”

(4) There appears to be a good reason for that.  I checked out his DVD: Anthology of T’ai Chi & QiGong: The Prescription for the Future (2000), and I watched him demonstrate his form.  And I did not recognize it at first.  I learned the KPY TCC form as taught by Dr. Chiang, Yun-Chung, and I have watched students of Sifu Kuo demonstrate their KPY TTC form at the now defunct T’ai Chi Farm in Warwick, NY, on a number of different occasions during the annual Chang San Feng Festivals that I attended between 1988 and 1997.  What I saw on the DVD bore only a slight resemblance to either two of these.  Upon further analysis, I noticed the peculiarity that was throwing me off.  In the KPY form that I recognize, the head stays in the direction of the “virtual” opponent; in the form on the DVD, the head followed the hands as they moved – this is reminiscent of the committee forms of TCC from the PRC (Peoples Republic of China); for example, see Lie (1988) – it is interesting to note that this first committee form of 24 postures (Lie, 1988) did not initially have this “wondering” head motion as presented in Ho’o (1986).  I have no idea where this KPY variation came from; I do not believe that the author presents us with his lineage. 

TIJ Aug 2002