The 20 Best, Must-Read Tai Chi Books [2021 Update]

Must-read tai chi books - CraftofCombat.com

If you’re looking to improve your Tai Chi practice or even to try and learn Tai Chi from home, then you’ll be glad to get a little extra guidance. There are some excellent books out there that can really give you extra insight into this awesome martial art and spiritual practice. Here are some of the best books on the topic!


Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises of T’ai Chi Ch’uan by Cheng Man Ch’ing

Cheng Man Ch’ing is, in fact, a professor of Tai Chi and this is his masterwork. He walks us through the beginnings of the Tai Chi tradition and shows us how to envision this martial art as a true medicine for the soul. With introductions from Madame Cheng and Bejamin Pang-Jeng Lo this is a deep insight into the practice of the art and is absolutely essential reading for any student.


Tai Chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions by Douglas Wile

This book is the culmination of three generations of Yang family masters passed down through the ages. It was the Yangs that took Tai Chi from a relatively unknown martial art to the huge all-encompassing popularity that it has in its native China today.

The tome contains transcribed oral instruction sets, verses, training songs that would have been used since the 19th century. It also includes biographies of all the important members of the family and details their contributions to Tai Chi. Most of the work has never previously been translated. Which is a shame as this work is out of print now and very expensive to buy.


The Five Levels of Taijiquan by Chen Xiaowang

Much more reasonably priced, particularly on Kindle, is The Five Levels of Taijiquan by Chen Xiaowang and this is very much a step-by-step guide to Taijiquan from the most basic of steps all the way through to the most advanced techniques.

The text is presented as the original Chinese alongside a, fairly literal, translation and has commentary from the Master Jan Silberstorff to add additional guidance and insight into each of the five levels. It is an incredibly thorough guide and it’s well laid out and easy to follow too.


T’ai Chi Ch’uan for Health and Self-Defense by T.T.Liang

There is an assumption made about the reader in T’ai Chi Ch’uan for Health and Self-Defense  and it is that you will already have mastered all of the basic forms of Tai Chi, so, if you haven’t you might want to hold off on picking up a copy until you have. Though you could always read it for intellectual curiosity’s sake a bit earlier.

The objective is to link those basic forms to the philosophy that underpins Tai Chi and then to explore how many variations of each form can be created and still be “correct” within the overall framework.


There Are No Secrets: Professor Cheng Man Chi’ing And His Tai Chi Chuan by Wolfe Lowenthal

This book is a little wordy and often for no good reason, which is a shame because underneath the verbosity is a very useful tale of a life lived in the pursuit of Tai Chi and its philosophy and it can be incredibly motivating and inspirational.

It begins with the story of a Chinese man who comes to New York in the 1960s and then returns to Taiwan to die in the 1970s and the man who knew him best (the author of the book) and how the Chinese man’s Tai Chi showed him the way to his own destiny.


Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen

If you like some pictures with your Tai Chi then Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen should be a very pleasant read, indeed. It is full of incredibly useful form instructions which have been illustrated in classic line drawings to make it clear to the user as to how they should be put into practice.

Louis Swaim provides additional commentary throughout the text whenever it is needed to help the modern reader gain a better understanding of how the philosophy beneath everything connects to each individual movement or part of this style of Tai Chi.


Steal My Art by T.T. Liang

Just in case you’d forgotten by this point, Tai Chi is a real martial art and while many people practice it to get the physical and mental health benefits, there are a rare few that practice it as a fighting discipline and one such man was T T Liang who moved from Taiwan to the United States in the 1960s with one goal in mind – to teach America about Tai Chi.

You’ll find mystical monks, opium dens, havens of government corruption, exciting prostitutes and a man whose life was incredible, fantastic and packed with excitement. T T Liang is Tai Chi’s Bruce Lee and this is his story. Don’t miss it.


Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain by Chungling Al Huang

The first thing that draws you to Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain by Chungling Al Huang is the introduction by Alan Watts, the Western philosopher who dedicated his life to making Eastern philosophy more accessible in the West. It sets the stage very well for a deeply informative but also very accessible work.

It was originally published in 1973 and is considered something of a timeless classic in Tai Chi literature. You’ll really appreciate the illustrations and super Chinese calligraphy inside its pages too. This is a great way to understand Tao and its relationship with Tai Chi.


Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

It may have the absolutely worst designed cover in the history of martial arts but Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming was a USA Best Books Award finalist and deservedly so. This text as you might guess by the title is very much focused on Tai Chi as a martial art.

It then links the natural power gained from the practice of martial forms to the health and wellbeing benefits that people have come to expect from Tai Chi. It’s fully illustrated with very useful diagrams too.


How to Grasp the Bird’s Tail if You Don’t Speak Chinese by Jane Schorre

Have you ever thought about the relationship between Chinese writing and the forms practiced in Tai Chi? In How to Grasp the Bird’s Tail if You Don’t Speak Chinese, Jane Schorre explores a relationship between the flow of Chinese calligraphy and the forms of Tai Chi in wondrous detail.

It is beautifully illustrated too, if a little short, but there is some bad news. It has been out of print for a very long time and if you want a copy, it’s going to set you back nearly $200. It is definitely worth a look, at some point.


The Manual of Bean Curd Boxing: Tai Chi and the Noble Art of Leaving Things Undone by Paul Read

The Manual of Bean Curd Boxing is, in fact, the second part of a three-part trilogy, though it is, by far the most essential reading of the three. It is mainly concerned with how we take our Tai Chi practice and make it a practical part of our everyday life.

It offers practical guides to getting things done without aggression, to lowering stress in your daily life, and on slowing down even when everyone around you appears to be speeding up. There’s a surfeit of wisdom and original exercises included that makes this a genuine classic of the genre.


The Power of Internal Martial Arts and Chi by Bruce Frantzis

Tai Chi is an “internal” martial art, that means it is concerned with mastering the mind more than it is with mastering physical forms. There are two other major internal martial arts in China – hsing-I and ba gua. This book seeks to disassemble each of them to enable direct comparisons between the three.

In particular, it looks at how energy within the body is stored and transformed in each art and the insight it brings is revolutionary to the way we practice Tai Chi. Bruce Frantzis has written many books about Tai Chi and this is his best.


Tai Chi Ch’uan: The Technique of Power by ​Horwitz, Tem and Kimmelman

Please don’t have a fit when you see that the Amazon price for this text is nearly $900! If you look carefully, you’ll see that you can buy a secondhand copy of this classic 1970s text for umm… less than $3! That makes it the cheapest book on our list by a very large margin.

It is an academic exploration of how the power of Tai Chi can be harnessed for spiritual, mental and physical health benefits. It touches on the history of the martial art as well as the philosophy to offer a very rounded picture of things


The Dao of Taijiquan by Jou, Tsung Hwa

This book was 100 years old recently and the edition here is the final pressing of the Centennial edition of the work, this will be the last and definitive version and it includes commentary and an additional 72-pages of work from Jou, Tsung Haw’s daughter Liz Jou.

The book bears witness to the power of Tai Chi to rejuvenate someone’s soul and give the purpose in life. It’s as close to a religious text as it comes in Tai Chi. Whether you enjoy the preaching or not, it’s a powerful story.


The Beginners Guide to the Tai Chi Form: Paul Read

You can buy this brand new on Kindle for less than $20 and that means it’s the cheapest new text on our list by far. It has a single focus when compared to most of the other books on the list which means it’s very easy to follow and accessible to readers at any stage of their Tai Chi development.

This is all about the forms. It begins with their history, touches on Tai Chi writings which influenced their development and then works on helping you to master each of the basic forms in 10 easy steps. You can’t ask for much more than that.


The Essence and Application of Taijiquan by Yang Chengfu

This is an English translation of a 1934 Chinese text by Yang Chenfu and it is considered to be, within the Tai Chi community, to be a landmark in the development of the martial art. The author works through a series of forms and offers his own interpretations of how to work through them.

It feels rather like what it must have felt like to be in a room with him receiving instruction and it is useful to read his student’s accounts of how they put this into practice as part of the book too.


Teaching Tai Chi Effectively by Dr. Paul Lam

Dr. Lam is one of the most famous modern-day teachers of Tai Chi and he doesn’t just Tai Chi to students, he teaches Tai Chi to those who will one day go on to teach Tai Chi themselves. To date, he estimates that he has trained more than 5,000 Tai Chi instructors.

This work is very much focused on what it means to be a good teacher and may not be suited for study by the more generalist student of Tai Chi but if you want to share your practice with others – it is the best text on the market today.


Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi by Peter Wayne

If you want the science of why Tai Chi is beneficial then you’ll want to pick up a copy of the Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi because it deals with the examination of how Tai Chia actually works and what it can do (and what it can’t) for its students.

It’s important to note that this study supports the idea that Tai Chi is good for your cardiac health, your bones, your muscles, your nerves, your mind and your immune system. So, don’t worry – you won’t be having your beliefs put to the sword at all.


Tai Chi Chuan and Meditation by Da Liu

Master Da Liu was born in 1906 in China and before he wrote this book, he had been studying Tai Chi for over 50 years. He arrived in the USA in 1956 to teach Tai Chi to Americans and his work won plaudits from the magazine Newsweek.

This short text is the summary of everything Master Da Liu felt he had learned on his Tai Chi journey and his focus on meditative practice is particularly illuminating. Given that this text is relatively low cost (both second-hand and new) it might be the perfect first addition to your Tai Chi collection.


Taoist Meditation: The Maoshan Secrets of Purity by Isabelle Robinet

This is a fairly heavy academic text which explains why it’s so expensive (even in paperback and don’t look at that hardback price of nearly $1,000!) and relatively hard to find. But it is the only proper exploration of the Mao-Shan Taoist tradition in China and given that philosophy’s influence over Tai Chi – it is fairly essential reading. Some of the rituals that were practiced in that time are absolutely fascinating.

It offers an extensive bibliography (mainly of out of print and even rarer works) that can help fuel further study for those who wish to continue their studies beyond the 20 books on this list.


Conclusion

So, there you have it. The 20 best Tai Chi Books to help guide your practice of Tai Chi and your spiritual growth. You’ll find that some are rather more affordable than others (as some of these titles are now out of print) but each of them offers a unique insight into Tai Chi that can really help your learning of this popular martial art.

Happy reading!

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