This compact book is both useful and unusual in that it is a guide to a traditional Chinese style of practice to enhance an understanding and use of qi which is written by a Westerner. Ioannis Solos studied at Middlesex University and at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and has lived in China for 12 years. It is very much a personal guide, based on years of study and practice of yi quan, which he translates as ‘mind (intention) boxing’.
The book is divided into four parts, as well as a preface and an introduction. For a relatively short book of around 200 pages with a lot of illustrations this structure does not help the flow of the work and at times ideas are repeated or hard to follow. That said,the underlying premise that ‘regardless of whatever manipulations you use, the ancient books uphold that the most important skills in acupuncture are controlling the spirit and applying intention to your needling’, is a simple but very important observationfrom which students and practitioners of all levels can benefit. His other observations, that students are often encouraged to practice qi gong but that this is often not related to the practice of acupuncture itself, and that the practice of nei gong (internal cultivation) takes time and hard work, also ring true.
Part 1 is a short section on ‘Controlling the Spirit’; how to focus the mind before, during and after a treatment. Part 2 is a longer section teaching the yi quan exercises. These take the simple core posture of zhan zhuang as their basis. Although Solos neglects to translate the term anywhere in the book, it is clear he is referring to the exercise standing like a pole or a tree, which many readers will be familiar with. What he does do is bring his own interpretationto the exercises, and relates them very clearly and astutely to the practice of acupuncture and their use in both treatment of others and self-treatment. Since Solos’ practice comes from a martial arts background there is also an emphasis on self-protection, which is different to medical qi gong styles. However, once again there are numerous sub-sections with notes, visualisations, additional visualisations etc; a layout which is not particularly helpful.
The final two parts are translations of Chinese texts which Solos has found enlightening in his studies and practice. The first, ‘Purple Cloud Masters Essential Methods for Painless Needle Insertion’, dates from 1929 and is a commentary and presentation of an earlier text. It is a fairly classic example of a text detailing the hard work, practice and repetition required to become a proficient practitioner of acupuncture. The second, ‘Detailed Exposition of the Intention and Qi Exercise’, dates from 1931 and is an example of a Chinese text detailing the exercises and practice which are needed to gain an in-depth knowledge of qi, particularly for self-treatment. Again the emphasis is on dedication, time and repetition. They are nicely presented and useful for the student and practitioner in the modern Western world, offering an insight into how the Chinese have traditionally approached their training, practice and health conservation.
In our fast modern world with all its pressures and distractions this book presents a valuable and revealing insight into a more traditional Chinese approach to learning and practice, grounded in patient repetition and scholarship, but it is let down by a disjointed structure and an inconsistent use of Chinese/pin yin and English translation.
Connecting the ideas and knowledge from the translations in Parts 3 and 4 with the ideas and exercises in the Preface, Introduction and Parts 1 and 2 would have been useful. There is some confusion caused by a lack of explanation of some terms; sometimes just Chinese characters are given, sometimes just the pin yin term, sometimes just an English term which is not explained. In the Introduction, for example, what is a ‘martial workout’? What is yi quan pole theory? What are the ‘various Cosmic Orbit practices’? Who is Jessica Kingsley who encouraged the author to write this book? Some will know, but not the students whom this book is primarily aimed at. Throughout Part 2 the titles of the exercises are given in pin yin and Chinese, with no English translation. At the end of Part 2 there is a bibliography, but it is in Chinese with just an English translation of the titles, not the publisher or place published. An index would have been useful. These issues are frustrating and detract from the teaching andexperience which this book offers.
(Reviewed by Rosey Grandage, EJOM Vol. 8 No. 1)
Rosey Grandageis a Chinese medicine practitioner, chartered physiotherapist and lecturer based in London. She is a senior lecturer on the BSc Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture Course and course leader for qi gong tui na in the University of Westminster’s Department of Herbal and East Asian Medicine. Rosey runs a clinic and community interest company art gallery in West London. She has a degree in International History and Politics, with a particular interest in China and Chinese philosophy and literature.