A Piece of the Puzzle

Long time readers know that I've written a fair amount about the origins of Chinese martial arts and how they changed during the 20th Century.  I reviewed the landmark book Marrow of the Nation by Andrew D. Morris back in May of 2009.  Here is a little excerpt of what I wrote:
The lineages allowed people to pretend they came from a great and pure martial line of masters dedicated to nothing but martial virtue and pure technique.  Inventing the lineages allowed people to write religion, rebellion and performance out of history. Some of the lineages may have been real, but they were not pure.  By claiming a lineage people were also renouncing the past, both real and imagined, they were saying in effect,  ‘Now THIS art, which was unfortunately secret for many generations is now totally clear and open!  Anyone with four limbs and two ears can learn it!’

There was a guy named Chu Minyi who served as a minister for the Kuomintang.  He invented something called Taijicao (Tai Chi Calisthenics) and in 1933 wrote a book called Tai Chi Calisthenics Instructions and Commands.  “Whereas traditional tai chi was simply too difficult for any but the most dedicated martial artist to master, tai chi calisthenics were pleasingly easy to learn and practice.”  They could be done in a few minutes and they used a counting formula like jumping jacks.  He also gets credit in the book for inventing the Tai Chi Ball practices.  (Hey, I didn’t write the book, but those tai chi ball exercises always looked a little too much like rhythmic gymnastics for my taste.)

Chu’s Tai Chi Calisthenics were performed on stage at the 1936 Olympics.  Fortunately or unfortunately he was a peace activist and so naturally supported the Japanese when they invaded and was later executed for treason.  But not before performing one last taijquan set in front of the firing squad.

Before reading Marrow of the Nation I had not heard of Chu Minyi.  But low and behold he has appeared on Youtube!  This stuff is mind blowing. 

His form and the push-hands are good, 'though I think it gets less lively in the later part of the form.  But the outfit is awesome!  Make sure you watch the whole thing because you see him doing Taiji ball and "stick" exercises on some weird apparatuses he invented.  This was before the invention of bungee cords or even dynamic rope so he must have done this with natural rubber.  Great stuff.  Then we see him playing tai chi hacky-sack! wow.  But what is he doing in his undies?  Grilling hotdogs maybe?

Tragic, weird and wonderful all at the same time.