Judge William Lee is a slow writer but his reviews pack a punch.
Master Jian Liu Jun teaches Tai Chi for self-defense and physical and mental health.
The True Mind DVD Tai Chi: Discover the Ancient Art means to be an introduction to the martial arts technique known as much for its philosophical tradition as it is for the characteristically slow movements. Unfortunately, the disc suffers from a presentation that unsuccessfully engages the mind and body. The technical quality of the disc is a further disappointment.
Tai Chi Chuan, literally translated as "supreme ultimate fist," is an internal martial arts practice with origins dating back to 17th century China, but it gained worldwide popularity in the 20th century. The introduction to the program tells us Tai Chi is "the principle that governs the life force of the universe." A colossal statement, certainly. The yin-yang symbol is a widely recognized image that conjures the idea balance and harmony. That's largely what the opening narration is trying to convey in its grandiose pronouncements about the philosophy behind the practice. This is the only segment of the video that is devoted to the theory of Tai Chi so it isn't easy making the connection between these ideas and the exercises that follow.
Master Jian Liu Jun is a doctor of Chinese medicine and he represents the Center of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan at Chenjiagou in Europe. Chen style is one of the five original styles from which the tradition developed. The bulk of the disc is devoted to watching Master Jian demonstrate the movements while instructions and observations are heard through English narration.
The first hour or so focuses on the spirals. Broken up as six parts, the spirals are the foundation movements for the later routine. The camera very patiently observes the exercises. The frame is typically a wide shot with little camera movement. The perspective almost always faces Master Jian straight-on so you can follow the exercise like it's a mirror image. The only problem is that the narration describes Master Jian's body position so it's the opposite of what you're doing if you're using the DVD as a visual reference. This can be confusing since it seems like the reversed movement (say, if you were turned to the left for an exercise and then repeated for the right side) isn't exactly the same thing. I could be wrong in that regard but it didn't feel like exactly the same movement to me. (I have been practicing a version of Yang style Tai Chi for several years so I could recognize the similarities in some moves but I still felt unsure if I was doing them correctly based on the visual reference and instructions.) Each spirals segment observes Master Jian demonstrating the move for several cycles and then he shows us what are the common mistakes to avoid.
The next part of the program focuses on the Form 8 or Figure 8, which is a routine that linked movements that can be performed in about three minutes. The routine is broken up as nine steps. These instructions come a bit faster than the spirals segment where the basics were covered. The big difference in this part of the video is the use of split screen to show the demonstration with front and back perspectives side by side. It's a step in the right direction in the absence of having an interactive three-dimensional hologram as a reference. Teaching the routine in nine manageable segments makes sense but what's missing is the final demonstration with the finished whole routine. Not having the entire form as an uninterrupted demo is a glaring omission.
The video quality of the DVD is below average. The program was shot in the Garden of Bronzes at the Coubertin Foundation in Saint-Remy les Chevreuse, France. That pastoral setting is poorly rendered in low-grade video that is rife with digital artifacts. The camera attempts to capture a wide depth of field when the program would be better served by focusing on Master Jian in the foreground and gently blurring the background. Instead the picture is a mess that appears flat, is hampered by blocky artifacts, and exhibits heavy edge enhancement and flickers when trying to resolve the fine details of the grass and trees. Stereo sound is acceptable with clear English narration balanced with natural sound effects like rushing water, birds and crickets.
Tai Chi: Discover the Ancient Art has good intentions as an introduction to the internal martial art but it suffers from an unappealing presentation. The introduction is heavy with big ideas that will come off as New Age hooey because they have no bearing on the rest of the program. The exercises are presented in a monotonous style that spends a lot of time observing technique but doesn't make the moves clear or memorable. Probably the biggest fault though is the poor video quality, which causes the program to look cheap and uninviting.
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