Posture Names

Postby Audi » Sun Jun 03, 2001 9:07 pm

Hi David and everyone,

I do agree that the eight energies are basically the same energy. At least for Yang Style, I understand that energy to be ward off energy. What I meant to convey by my resistance to too directional a focus on the energies is that it may result in an interpretation that would apply to all martial arts.

Although I think the "superiority" of T'ai Chi is often overblown, I do think that basic T'ai Chi principles are simply not shared by most other arts. For instance, I do not believe my Karate or wrestling were based on or even really used ward off energy. What I have seen or experienced of Aikido, even where softer than T'ai Chi, also does not seemed to be based on ward off energy. All of these arts, however, have means of moving energy outward and upward.

I also have no objection to learning how to move energy in all directions and agree that this is one aspect of the four square energies. I simply would not consider the mid level block I learned in Karate, which deflected attacks to the side, an instance of Roll Back. As a result, seeing the essence of Roll Back as being the ability to move energy sideways could, in my opinion, be misleading.

If directionality works as a "hook" for you, I have no problem with that. Your practice and the level you appear to be at will teach you what is helpful to you on your path.

My resistance to your formulation comes from possible interpretations (I am unsure whether yours is one of them) that view T'ai Chi basics as the same as or even applicable to most other martial arts. Although many of the basics sound the same, that has just not been my experience. Perhaps all this is semantics, or perhaps not. If there is not general agreement on what is more or less unique to T'ai Chi and not applicable to other arts, perhaps I should start a separate thread.

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Postby tai1chi » Mon Jun 04, 2001 4:28 am

Hi Audi,

First, I'm not sure if anyone is really arguing that the "8 energies" are merely directions of "one" energy. Well, there are, after all, more than just "8" directions. There's also "up" and "down", for example. And, I think all "directions" are relative to where one, and one's opponent, is located in space (or time). So, one way or another, all the energies have directions; but they aren't limited to any direction. However, I'd argue that these energies can be expressed in different directions and can be transformed by changing directions. Anyway, I understand what you mean when you say:

"I simply would not consider the mid level block I learned in Karate, which deflected attacks to the side, an instance of Roll Back. As a result, seeing the essence of Roll Back as being the ability to move energy sideways could, in my opinion, be misleading."

I agree. It would be misleading to suggest that Roll Back (Lu) is simply a deflection sideward. It would, imo, be equally misleading to suggest that it could not be. In general, I'd guess that one thing that distinguishes Lu from a middle block (in Shotokan, for example) would be the emphasis on linearity as opposed to circularity. All tjq movements must be circular, or generated from circular movement, and this emphasis doesn't exist in all karate styles. However, lack of emphasis on circularity wouldn't be the main difference. That, I would argue, would lie in the "intent" of the movement, not in its "shape." Though, "shape" or "form" will certainly distinguish one movement from another. Personally, I feel that the best way to address these issues is to think in taiji terms. I.e.: there's no "forward" without some "backward", no "left" without "right", etc., etc. For me, tjq differs from other martial arts because it is that phenomenon, not the way a particular animal moves or fights, or other theory. Even if there are physical differences, moreover, I'd argue that they are just superficial. IMHO, what separates "Longfist" (or Chang quan) from tjq is almost strictly intent. I would argue that that is why different arts share similar names for movements, and very very often similar movements. Afaik, tjq contains no unique stances, and probably less non-traditional stances than either xingyi or bagua (though I'd say they don't have unique stances either. Training methods, though, are another thing.) "Softness," of course, is a quality apparent in most forms of tjq, even if they also contain "hard" movements. It (softness) is not sought in Longfist, even when the motions are circular. And, though, softness and circularity are "characteristic" of tjq, they are not necessarily "unique" to tjq. When the average person is 70, he or she usually cannot depend on being stronger or faster than a 25 year old. The movements we do in tjq are generally, ime, meant to eliminate or diminish the need for strength and speed, specifically. The words of the Classics apply directly to that, no? "Although there are many martial arts, they all depend on the strong defeating the weak, or the swift defeating the slow." This, in tjq, is precisely what we do not seek. "How" we accomplish this is another thing, and there may be more than one road to Rome; but, the intent remains the same. BTW, I don't think that if one uses strength and speed that one is not doing tjq. I'm just saying that depending on it is against the basic principle.
Oh well, just some Sunday evening thoughts.

Steve James
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Postby Audi » Fri Jun 08, 2001 9:50 pm

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the reply. I appreciate and agree with your thoughts.

Best regards,
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Postby DavidJ » Fri Jun 08, 2001 10:38 pm

Hi Audi,

I think I finally understand the distinctions that you are making regarding Tai Chi and other martial arts, and why you are making them. I think I know what you're getting at, and I agree.

I don't want to blur the lines between what is Tai Chi and what is not, I just haven't had the need to define Tai Chi in terms of other martial arts.

Since Tai Chi is my main focus I really don't bother too much with comparing it with what the other martial arts do or not. I've found useful stuff everywhere. Karate, Judo, Aikido, Jeet Kune Do, for example, all contain bits that I really like. If I see something that I like in another art I'm free to study it, turn it inside out and look at it coming and going, adapt it, adapt to it, etc.

I think that some of the difference here is only language. My use of the term 'directionality' seems to differ slightly from your usage, and I think you misunderstood what I meant by a 'hook.' I was getting at what you expressed.

I use the expression 'a hook to hang it on' as shorthand for that which relates directly to the result I want.
I hope this doesn't confuse matters worse, but in a way it has nothing to do with technique at all, because in real-life application, what is happening at any given moment changes, and the technique(s) that would be effective change. By directly relating to what result I want I'm not stuck trying to "think" of what technique I want. This is a way of bringing clarity to practice.
In terms of principles the entire long form is a hook to hang them on. (This is by no means an original expression.)

I've stated this before, but I repeat it for clarity: for me Tai Chi is in the priciples of movement, and the application of those principles to movement. I don't see any technique or sequence of techniques as being carved in stone. If I recall correctly, you expressed something similar before.

This relates directly to what Jake noted under the "push hands" thread: "But I think it is important to keep in mind the 'not having any idea of what the opponent might do next' notion," and to what Michael said about 'Wuji.'

For example, if someone throws a right toward your face, do you stop and ponder the options, or are the options already there? Do you think, 'should I take one from column A or column B?' or are you already in motion? Having everything that you know at your fingertips is part of what 'having a hook to hang it on' is all about.

What Steve was saying about no 'left' without 'right,' no 'up' without 'down,' no 'forth' without 'back,' is a major part of this. The potential for all of these are present at every moment in the 108, and thus all of the jins are too. Every position, and I don't mean just the "final posture," is a place to move from.

I hope this helps. I appreciate your feedback.


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Postby DavidJ » Thu Jun 21, 2001 3:08 am

Hi Audi (and Louis),

A few more terms for the glossary.

Zhan (adhere) Nian (stick) Lian (link) Sui (follow).
Ting (listening) fa (emitting) dong (understanding) na (seizing).
And the difference between jin and jing.

Generally in English adhere and stick mean the same thing, and I wonder at that similarity in Chinese - poetic reasons? (I know that poetry was used in many cultures in the past for ease of memorization.)
Also Ting and dong are musical sounds, is this deliberate?

David J
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Postby Audi » Sun Jun 24, 2001 11:11 pm

Hi David:

You asked about "Zhan (adhere) Nian (stick) Lian (link) Sui (follow)". Did you read the article about these concepts in T'ai Chi magazine, Vol. 25, No. 2, p. 35? I found the article simply fantastic from both the practical and theoretical viewpoints and would love to hear of your or others' reactions.

The article expressed much of why I find T'ai Chi strategy very different from most other martial arts and indeed most other endeavors. I also find these concepts critical for correctly examining the logic of many of the posture applications and avoiding the temptation of "improving" them to conform to other theories of movement that share some other T'ai Chi viewpoints.

When I get a chance, I plan a separate thread to ask some questions and share some thoughts. If you or anyone else would like to go ahead of me, however, please do not hesitate.

In the meantime, the short translations or "hooks" (I like your use of this term) I would propose for the concepts are as follows: Zhan (make stick), Nian (be sticky), Lian (connect or be continuous), Sui (comply).

Linguistically, I think "zhan" refers to what you do when you affix a poster to a wall or a stamp to an envelope. It is written with one of two alternate characters. On the right side of both characters are elements that depict the cracks on a heated tortoise shell on top of a mouth (originally a circle, but written for the last 2000 or so years as a square because of the difficulty of writing circles with a brush). Together these elements form a character pronounced identically as "zhan"/adhere, but meaning to "divine" or "tell fortunes". As far as I know, this character lends only its sound, but no meaning to the other characters. On second thought though, "zhan"/adhere is a critical element in listening energy, a view that might have been influenced by the graphic incorporation of the concept to "divine" intentions.

The left side of one of the characters meaning "zhan"/adhere is three short strokes that are a reduced form of the character representing the currents of water in a river. This is the character found in some of my dictionaries and in Yang Jwing Ming's books. The character, written in this way, can also mean apparently to "moisten" or to "barely touch." My guess is that moisten was the original meaning of this character, and that "adhere" is an extended or borrowed meaning. "Barely touch" is also an interesting meaning in the context of push hands that I would appreciate somebody expanding upon.

The character used in Yang Zhen Duo's new book (and elsewhere) is written with the left side consisting of strokes resembling an elongated asterisk and depicting standing or bound rice stalks. The interpretation of the origin of this character might be "the activity sounding like 'zhan'/divine that is like what rice does in a pot (i.e. stick to itself and to the pot)."

Yang Cheng Fu's concise and somewhat criptic explanation of "zhan"/adhere is to "lift up and to pull up high" (uproot?)(ti2 shang4 ba2 gao1). I think the reference is to making the opponent stick to your body and then using your yielding to uproot him or her.

Nian can confusingly be written with the second of the two character versions of "zhan"/adhere explained above. In the few Chinese T'ai Chi writings
I have, however, it is consistently written with a character that shares the same elements on the right side as the other characters described above, but that here probably lend their sound by rebus logic to mean "zhan"/adhere. The left side of the character is a picture of standing stalks of mullet, or some other grain, with droplets interspersed among the leaves or roots. The interpretation of the character might be "the quality of glutinous/sticky mullet that is like what things do when they are stuck to something." A less supportable interpretation of the elements would be "divining the truth of a matter through sticking like glutinous mullet."

Yang Cheng Fu explains "nian" with what appear to be evocative literary terms referring to emotional bonds. I am unsure of the appropriate translations, but would propose "being reluctant to part with and being devoted to" (liu2lian4 qian3quan3). Based on the article referenced above, I believe the difference between "zhan/adhere/make stick" and "nian/stick/be sticky" is that "zhan" is what you do to make the opponent stick to you and become uprooted and under control, while "nian" is what you do to make yourself stick to, detect, and disturb the opponent's movements. I think nian and zhan together (zhan nien jin) are the foundation for listening energy.

Lian is written with elements that probably refer to carts moving in a line or in caravan. It means to link up in a series. From the article I referred to above, I think the T'ai Chi usage of the term has both active and passive aspects. A translation like "be continuous" might capture this better than "connect" or "link," which might sound only like an active process.

Yang Cheng Fu explains "lian" as being "to put oneself aside and not leave/part from" (she3 ji3 wu2 li2).

The etymology of the character used to write "sui" is exceedingly complex. A full explanation might have references to the left hand, hills, ramparts, meat scraps, and the Sui Dynasty. In short, the elements of the character may be intended to indicate the way a landslide follows unstoppably down a hill side (I am shamelessly plagiarizing in this paragraph from one of my books). The character can apparently have connotations of both compliance and capriciousness, depending on the viewpoint of what is being complied with.

I like "comply" as a hook, because I think the essential T'ai Chi use of the terms refers to letting the opponent do what they want in their rush to leave the "dao" of the situation. In this way, one appears to give the opponent what he or she wants.

Yang Cheng Fu uses an expression to explain "sui" that employs literary grammar that is beyond me, since I am a beginner in Chinese and almost a complete neophyte in literary Chinese. I think the phrase might be translated as "to yield here and to consent there" (bi3 zou3 ci3 ying4). Perhaps, Louis or Jerry (or anyone else with an inclination) can help here.

As for your questions relating to "Ting" (listen(ing)) and "dong" (understand), I can add the following. For various reasons, I believe it to be highly unlikely that these words have especially musical connotations to a Chinese speaking "ear."q By the way, the "o" in the Mandarin word "dong" is much closer to the "oo" in "foot" than the "awe" in "awesome." In many older systems of transliteration, this word is actually spelled "dung," since Mandarin makes no distinctions between "ong" and "ung."

I would gloss "ting" as "listen(ing)" and "dong" as "understand(ing)". In T'ai Chi contexts, I would propose a definition of "ting" as "to use touch to sense the direction, length, and strength of the opponent's energy." For "dong" I would propose "to understand the opponent's offensive and defensive intent through listening and other energies." Both are words a Chinese five year old would be familiar with outside of T'ai Chi contexts.

"Fa" is a very common word or word element that does mean "emit," but which is not at all literary in tone. "Launch", "issue," "display," and "break out in" might be other equivalents depending on context. The character used to write it is a series of elements that add up to "standing firmly on the ground with two feet to loose an arrow with a bow." As you know, it is the "fa" in the term "fa jin" (issue energy/power/force).

"Jin" and "jing" in the context of energy, power, force, and strength are written with the same character. The right side of the character has a picture of a bicep on a flexed arm. By itself, the character is pronounced "li" and means (crude/raw/native) strength. The left side of the character is a picture of something that traditionally has been thought of as streams running in underground channels, but which some recent scholarship thinks is a picture of the warp (or vertical) threads of a loom. The reference would either be to the hidden strength of an underground stream or the inherent strength in the fibers of woven cloth.

I have read one or more books written by people who, I assume, speak fluent Chinese that say that the pronunciations "jin" and "jing" are interchangeable in T'ai Chi contexts. All the dictionaries I have, however, distinguish "jin" in the meaning "strength/energy" and "jing" in the meaning "strong/powerful." I believe Cantonese makes a similar distinction, reserving "ging" (pronounced in the upper departing tone (mid level)) as an equivalent to "jin" and "gihng" (pronounced in the lower departing tone (low level)) as an equivalent to "jing". All in all, I am guessing that the pronunciation "jin" is probably more appropriate in the T'ai Chi uses. These uses always seem to refer to the the noun, such as "fa jin," (issuing force) "ting jin," (listening force) "peng jin" (ward off force/energy). I defer, however, to whatever Louis or Jerry might have to say on these issues.

As an aside, I recall at one seminar I attended that Yang Zhen Duo repeatedly used "r" colored pronunciations of jin/jing when using the term by itself. Adding this "r" (which replaces the "n" or "ng" in pronunciation) can effect changes in the proceeding vowel. "Jinr" would be pronounced similarly to the "ger" in "germ" or like a one-syllable equivalent to the "Gee Ir" in "Gee, Irwin". "Jingr" would be pronounced the same, but with strong nasalization. I do not think either pronunciation would generally be used in compounds like "fa jin" and "peng jin," regardless of context.

The significance of "r" colored pronunciations apparently varies according to context, speaker, and regional accent, but I do not believe they would ever characterize a literary pronunciation of a character. I speculate that Yang Zhen Duo used this pronunciation because of his "accent" and because he was primarily giving simple matter-of-fact instructions in the relatively "intimate" atmosphere of a seminar and not engaging in an abstract philosphical discussion of characters. the flavor of this would be like the diffence between saying "you need to loosen up to feel power flowing in your arm" and "you need to be relaxed in order to sense the intrinsic energy flow in the limbs." Again, I would welcome any comments or corrections from anyone with more knowledge about these matters than me.

Na means to take or hold. It is a very common word. The character used to write it could be interpreted as meaning "to join with the hand." Although "seize" is the normal translation for T'ai Chi contexts, I believe the English word is too specific. From what I have read, I think "na" in T'ai Chi simply refers to that moment when you make the opponent apprehensive and cause his/her qi to rise. You thus "take" and "hold" their energy under temporary control. "Na" is also used in the the general martial arts phrase "qin na" (joint locking), which could be translated as "seizing [and] holding."

As I understand it, na/seizing/taking is usually a necessary prelude to fajin/issuing power, and in this T'ai Chi differs from most other arts which lack this requirement. Perhaps this is worthy of a separate thread along with listening energy, understanding energy, neutralizing/transforming energy, and issuing energy.

I hope all this is responsive to your request. One day I'll figure out how to condense the one- or two-line definitions into a glossary that might be handy, informative, but not seem to claim to be authoritative.

Happy practicing,
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jun 25, 2001 6:05 am

Greetings Audi,

You have made some astute and helpful observations about the terms zhan, nian, lian, and sui. First of all, I agree with your assessment of Zhang Yun’s article on these important terms in Vol. 25:2 of Tai Chi magazine. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read in that magazine in a long time. In fact it was so good I purchased a copy of his book, _The Art of Chinese Swordsmanship_. Although the sword form presented in that book is different from the traditional Yang version (it’s a short Wu style), Zhang’s book has valuable information for any serious taiji practitioner. It is clearly written, and presents taiji principles that are applicable to all styles.

I’m curious about several spots in your post where you attribute some explanations of zhan, nian, lian, and sui to Yang Chengfu. Could you give a source? It’s not that I doubt that he used the explanations you mention, but that I’d like to track down specific instances of his uses. All of the phrases you mention in fact appear in a short text in the “Yang Forty Chapters” titled simply “Zhan Nian Lian Sui.” The Chinese text appears on p. 136 of Douglas Wile’s _Lost T’ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty_, and Wile’s translation on p. 67. It’s very likely, then, that the explanations preceded Yang Chengfu, and that he was quoting this material. I especially like the closing line of that text: “If you want to know the conscious movement of the other, it’s imperitive that you understand the gongfu of sticking, adhering, connecting, and following—but it’s so subtle!”

The four character explanation for nian that you mention: liulian qianquan, is indeed an interesting phrase. The “reluctant to part” rendering you suggest for liulian is quite close to it, but I think it carries an entailment close to “obstinate” or “tenacious.” The second half of the phrase, qianquan, can mean sticking to someone figuratively “like a parasite.”

You asked for input on the phrase used for explaning sui: “bi zou ci ying.” Again, you’re onto something with the “here” and “there” in your suggested rendering. The first and third words are contrastive pronouns that are often used in the compound phrase “bici,” which can mean “that and this,” “there and here,” and “you and me.” In this phrase the pronouns are personal pronouns, with the bi referring (as it often does in taiji texts) to “the other.” I would render it “The other moves, I respond.” Wile’s rendering is “. . . I respond to my opponent’s movements.”

Take care,
Louis Swaim
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Postby Audi » Sat Jun 30, 2001 4:08 pm

Greetings Louis,

Thank you for your correction about my sources. The quotes I used are indeed from the “Yang Forty Chapters.” I obtained them from Yang Zhen Duo’s new book. From comments in the introduction or preface about Yang Cheng Fu’s writing, I mistakenly interpreted the attribution to Yang Cheng Fu before the beginning of the “Forty Chapters” as meaning “handed down FROM Yang Cheng Fu” as opposed to “handed down BY Yang Cheng Fu.” I similarly misinterpreted the songs or poems later in the book that are associated with Yang Ban Hou. In any case, I marvel at the generosity of spirit that has lead the Yangs to share these manuscripts with the public now and before.

I am also a little chagrined at your helpful references to Douglas Wile’s Lost T’ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty. I had read this book with great interest to supplement my understanding of the origins of the T’ai Chi that has come down to me. I breezed, however, through the text of the actual “Classics” he provided, put them aside for later study, and forgot that Wile had provided them in English and Chinese in the book. As a result, I struggled needlessly to translate them from Yang Zhen Duo’s book. One not insignificant consolation is that I think I have a better appreciation of the passages I labored over than I would have otherwise had. I think I also have received another lesson about how the spirit one brings to an endeavor can materially affect the result.

Thank you also for your translations, which were either beyond my abilities or my energy level. Speaking of which, would you have any comment about the translation of the common defect in doing nian/sticking that Zhang Yun called “bian”? He translated it in his articles as “to be weak or flat.” The only character my dictionaries list with this pronunciation and with the meaning “flat” do not hint at the meaning “weak,” although they do list the additional meaning of “tablet.” This is the character that has a door leaf at the top (“hu’”) and bound bamboo strips at the bottom (“ce”).

The Lost T’ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty has a different character in the same place in the text. This character is pronounced identically to the first one I cite above and is also graphically identical, except that it is enclosed in a three-sided box. Wile translates the character as “insufficiency.” My dictionaries, however, list only the meaning tablet for this character, although I could see how it might be interchanged with the simpler version and thus share the meaning flat and whatever meanings I have been unable to find.

In Yang Zhen Duo’s book, the character that appears for this word is composed of the simple “bian” character (“hu” on top of “ce”), but with the person radical at the left. My dictionaries show this only with the pronunciation “pian1” and with the meaning “to lean” or “to be biased.” Can you explain these apparent discrepancies? Might there be a richer layer to the word expressing this defect than would be indicated by the translation “insufficiency,” however possibly justified by other parts of the text?

Best regards,
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jul 01, 2001 7:17 am

Greetings Audi,

You wrote:

‘. . . . would you have any comment about the translation of the common defect in doing nian/sticking that Zhang Yun called “bian”? He translated it in his articles as “to be weak or flat.”’

This is actually a very interesting question (well, for some of us anyway!). Yang Zhenji’s book has a photoreproduction of the handwritten Yang Forty Chapters manuscript that was given to him by his mother (Yang Chengfu’s wife) in 1961. For the text titled “Ding Bian Diu Kang” (‘butting, insufficiency, separation, and resistance,’ see Wile, pp. 67, 136), there is a handwritten emendation for this character bian3. In the title, on the right side of bian, there is a crossed-out character, “qu1” as in qubie (distinguish), then to the left is written in “pian1” with the person radical. In the text itself, where bian would be (beginning the second seven-character line), the original manuscript instead has qu. Next to it is the emendation: pian. I have no way of knowing who made these emendations or when they were made. They appear to be written with pen or pencil rather than brush. The manuscript is in brush. The emendations appear to be attempts to 1) reconcile the apparent manuscript error evidenced by the difference between the title’s “bian” and the text’s “qu” (both share the three-sided box radical, which could account for a scribal slip), and 2) to make a judgement as to the intended character. The judgement in this case was for “pian”—evidently the source of the pian usage in the version in Yang Zhenduo’s book. This is the same pian as found in other taiji texts in the formula “bupian buyi” (no leaning, no inclining)—a phrase actually lifted from neo-Confucian Zhu Xi’s commentary on the early Confucian text, the Zhong Yong. My preliminary opinion is that the judgement here was mistaken, and that bian3 was in fact the intended character in this text.

One thing that encourages my opinion is this: One of the other major recensions of the ‘Yang Forty’ first appeared in publication in the 1985 Hong Kong reprint of Wu Gongzao’s 1935 _Taijiquan jiangyi_. (See Wile’s Lost. . ., p. 58 for a fascinating summary of the early transmissions of these texts.) I have this beautifully reproduced version produced by the Wu family (sometimes called “The Gold Book”). It has a color photoreproduction of another version of the Yang Forty in Wu Jianquan’s own caligraphy. The handwritten preface states that it transmits material that was passed to Jianquan’s father, Quan Yu, by Yang Banhou—material that had been in the family for over 100 years. In this manuscript, the character in both the title and the second line of the text discussed is “bian3”. There are no emendations.

The other thing that makes me think bian is the intended character is that while bian3 is kind of a rare character, it does have a definition that makes sense in the context of this document. Chinese-English dictionaries don’t tend to have it, but Chinese dictionaries do. My Hanyu Dacidian, for example, give as one gloss, “bu yuan” (not round), and my Ci Hai gives a similar gloss. It would appear that Zhang Yun’s rendering of bian as “to be weak or flat” draws on this meaning. The meaning is “flat” as opposed to rounded or spherical, hence something like “deflated,” or “not filled out.” The bian character with the 3-side box radical shares this meaning with the homophonous bian character that you mention that deletes the radical.

How best to translate bian into English? I’m not sure; maybe “collapsed?” That doesn’t quite capture it. (Wile’s ‘insufficiency’ is actually how I would translate the second half of the phrase, buji.) I’m not proposing an answer, just thinking out loud. Any other ideas?

For what it’s worth, I also looked up bian3 today in my Dictionary of Essential Selected Taijiquan Terms (Jingxuan taijiquan cidian, pub’d. 1999, Renmin tiyu chubanshe). There is an entry for bian (the one with the 3-sided box radical), which I translate as follows:

“bian: One of the errors in taijiquan. It refers, first, to not being “filled” (baoman) or centrally aligned (zhongzheng) during form practice. Secondly, it refers to being “flattened” (bian) and controlled by the opponent as a result of one’s application of strength being inappropriate (jin li shi yong budang).”

By the way, I’m sure you didn’t struggle needlessly. If you can deal with the original texts, by all means do so! The closer you can get to the source, the better.

Let me know what you think.


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 07-01-2001).]
Louis Swaim
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Postby DavidJ » Fri Jul 06, 2001 9:02 pm

Hi Audi,

Thank you for the effort that you have put out at my request. Much food for thought (and I appreciate it) so it's taken me a long time to respond.

That article on Zhan, Nian, Lian, and Sui was partly the inspiration behind the question. I almost didn't post it because of the excellence of the article, but the more I thought on it the more I wanted feedback.
There seems to be a great deal of overlap in these ideas.

I like your hooks [Zhan (make stick), Nian (be sticky), Lian (connect or be continuous), Sui (comply)]generally, but I've a little trouble with comply.

I'll try to illustrate what I see. If anyone disagrees or can improve on what I say, please comment. I know that there is more to each of these.

Zhan (make stick) seems to be to get the other to stick to you, as opposed to the usual meaning for 'make stick' of making something permanent. The idea seems to be to trick the opponent, giving him/her something small to get a reaction then letting the reaction grow until it can be redirected. It seems to me that redirection can "lift up and to pull up high" and float the force away.

It seems to be that Zhan is provoking the opponent into overextending him/herself. I think that I see a few ways that this can be done.
A few ideas:
Setting up an offence while being defensive. Allow the other to push you into a position of better leverage.
Perhaps giving the opponent an opening that isn't real.
I think that giving the opponent the general idea that you don't know what you're doing can work wonders. Lead them down the garden path, as it were. Then, sort of "stick it to them." : )
I like the idea of slightly resisting someone's push with one hand and then helping them along with the other.

Much of this capability seems to rely on having a good grasp of what is possible from each position.

Nian (be sticky) in part, seems to be: dealing with what you are presented with. Literally staying in touch with what is happening and not being overly concerned with what you want to happen. This includes being sung and not falling for psychological games, or concluding that you can't get anywhere. This also includes paying attention almost as though you've never played before. Keeping it fresh.
Grain and moisture...
Divining the truth by sticking to the subject matter until you get there. Relentless and tenacious: two parallels in English: stick-to-it-iveness, and like when I was a kid and I was told that oatmeal would "stick to my ribs."
You mentioned emotional bonds - is this part of the fighting tactic by some to get the opponent really angry?

Lian (connect or be continuous) seems to be the easiest to understand, but maybe the hardest to do.
For me it is having a stategy. Knowing tactics is not enough. Some players are very good at tactics, ie. combinations that result in a gain in position, but they lack strategy. Strategy ties together both offense and defense. This is something that can go beyond general principles, I think that this may be the most creative aspect. This, too, relies on having a good grasp of what is possible from each position.
This linking seems to be the technical side of Nian and Zhan.
There is continuity explicit in a circle, and in the article circular movement is mentioned in relation to Lian.

Sui (comply). I almost like the idea of comply, but I think it takes it too far. If I understand correctly Sui includes the idea of going along with, but not of obeying. "Seeming to comply" or "to comply up to a point," might be closer.
In addition, this is similar to the English expression, "play it as it lays."
I am familiar with Sui from Hexagram 17 in The I Ching, where one of the main ideas expressed is adaptation, and not wearing oneself out with mistaken resistance.

Having a plan is good, but don't be too determined to stick with the plan. You may be trying to get something in particular done, but but don't be so intent on it that you miss opportunities that arise. This includes the concept of not trying to force your will on another, but to go along with the other and thus be allowed to influence and guide.

A small side note: all this works very well in chess.

I really like "to yield here, to consent there"

Where Louis wrote to you, > You asked for input on the phrase used for explaning sui: “bi zou ci ying.” Again, you’re onto something with the “here” and “there” in your suggested rendering. The first and third words are contrastive pronouns that are often used in the compound phrase “bici,” which can mean “that and this,” “there and here,” and “you and me.” In this phrase the pronouns are personal pronouns, with the bi referring (as it often does in taiji texts) to “the other.” I would render it “The other moves, I respond.” Wile’s rendering is “. . . I respond to my opponent’s movements.” <

There seems to be an allusion present in the yin and yang aspects of these contrastive pronouns, (which I note are reversed from the usual English usage "here and there" "this and that") And the contrastive pronouns often seem accompanied by contrastive verbs, like in the old American expression, "he chased her until she caught him."

Thanks for addressing the "sound" aspects of Ting and Dong. The pronounciation that I learned for the surname Tung has the "T" sounding halfway between T and D. That it is also transliterated as Dong makes sense with what you said about o sounding like "oo".

You gloss "Ting" as "to use touch to sense the direction, length, and strength of the opponent's energy." Is touching required? The "listening" seems to me to be paying attention: I believe I know what that kinesthetic listening is but is it limited to touch? We have other senses, aren't they included in "Ting"?

I like Dong simply as "understanding," because the quantity and quality of that understanding grows.

Fa "to loose an arrow with a bow" makes a great deal of sense with the dynamics that I've learned.

I get the idea from jin and jing being the same character that what they mean is drawn from the context in which they occur. One is what you have and the other is what you are.

I've seen na translated as grasp. I like this because it can include the idea of understanding. This may not be supported by the Chinese characters though...

"Bian" as weak or flat... You've used the analogy of the beach ball and this flatness seems to relate to deflation, like a flat tire, which corresponds to the ideas of insufficiency, not filled out, and being collapsed. I would note that a car with a flat tire would lean. The idea of movement being hampered seems to be there, too.

I agree that these deserve separate threads.

Having these concepts expressed in English is very useful to me, and I appreciate your efforts, along with Jerry's and Louis' efforts.
Thank you very much.

David J

[This message has been edited by DavidJ (edited 07-06-2001).]
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Postby Audi » Sat Jul 21, 2001 8:41 pm

Hi Louis, David, and others:

You all have provided a lot of interesting material. Since we have gone quite far down this road on this thread, I think I will forego starting a new one on Zhang Yun’s article and simply continue here.

Louis, thanks for the explanation of the various interpretations and origins of the “bian” character. I do indeed find such discussions fascinating. From what you describe, I think your view of what was originally intended by the text seems the most plausible. The concept of remaining sufficiently filled to have appropriate sticking power (“nian jin”) seems an interesting corollary to Yang Zhen Duo’s ceaseless urgings to be full and extended, apparently even during push hands. In any case, it is amazing how a little misplaced squiggle here or there can wreak havoc on a text. As far as a translation goes, I do not think I can improve on your thoughts, but perhaps something like “deflated” focuses on the correct points.

David, thank you for your comments about the four skills. I will respond to your ideas below, but first I wanted to propose some ideas about why physical contact may be so important in T’ai Chi tactics.

One thing I got out of Zhang Yun’s article was an increased appreciation for the physical subtlety of T’ai Chi. My theory of the week about the essence of T’ai Chi as a combat or relationship art is that it puts a premium on the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang energy between you and the opponent. I do not mean by this merely that Yin/Yang theory can be applied to analyze T’ai Chi, since that is true of all activities, but rather that T’ai Chi focuses on sensing, manipulating, and controlling the Yin/Yang energy flow itself.

While there is always a Yin/Yang relationship between you and the opponent in any endeavor, this relationship is not necessarily very strong or dynamic. As you read these words, even separated in space and time, you may be able to follow the thread of energy back to me and get into my head somewhat. But the dog barks, the baby cries, the cupcakes in the fridge call, and the connection is easily broken. You read the words, but can no longer hear them with my mind. The Yin/Yang relationship is tenuous.

To strengthen the thread of energy between you and the opponent, I think T’ai Chi stresses maintaining physical contact and using the whole body as a sensor. Not only do you want the various joints of your body to operate like “one qi” (energy unit), but I think we are also urged to bring the opponent within the ambit of this one qi. Since we train to sense, manipulate, and control this type of “qi,” such a strategy gives us an advantage. If you and your opponent have only one root and flow of energy between you and you control that root and flow, you come out ahead.

By “one qi” I do not mean merely coordination--for instance, like the various parts of a windup toy. Nor do I mean the various sections of a whip, where energy often moves too slowly and only in response to a specific stimulus. Instead, I mean a unit of movement energy like a spider web or a tennis net under light tension. David, I like the sentiment that may have led you to use the phrase kinesthetic energy in this context. This is what I think of as one of the qualities of being “song,” or “relaxed” in the Yangs’ methods. Disturb one part, and the impulse of the disturbance is almost instantly transmitted to the other parts. The opponent pushes your ward-off arm, and the energy is instantly and liquidly transmitted into and through each of the major joints (the nine bends of the pearl?), which bend at different angles and with different levels of tension to sense, absorb, and redirect the energy. Since the path of the energy is so circuitous, the opponent cannot easily follow it with his or her awareness and “know you.” Stiffen up at any joint, and you hand your opponent a potential point of leverage that he or she can feel if sufficiently skilled.

The opponent who is ignorant of these methods will tend to move as a stiff block or by actively using or being aware of only a few joints at a time. If we appropriately use the various joints of our body as one liquid “qi”/energy antenna, we can readily sense the source, length, and strength of any energy the opponent uses against us. We thus listen (“ting”) to the opponent’s flow of energy (“jin”) as the interplay of movement unfolds.

David, you ask whether I think touch is required for listening energy (“ting jin”). I must confess that I cannot recall ever reading an unambiguous and unimpeachable reference to working T’ai Chi skills without simultaneous contact with the opponent. On the other hand, there are countless references to maintaining contact with the opponent and preventing the opponent from disengaging. However, since I am reluctant to abide completely by this conclusion and accept seeming limitations to T’ai Chi theories, I happily extrapolate.

When contact is not yet possible, I think about using my eyes and ears to assess the energy flow in my opponent’s body (tense?, loose?), where their intent is directing that energy (to beat me to the punch?, to trick me?, to bowl me over?), and the quality of character they display at the moment (bent on conquest?, trying to teach me a lesson?, open to anything?). Even here however, I think that there must be a continuous back and forth, rather than a momentary assessment of strengths and vulnerabilities and that you want to be able to physically engage the opponent’s energy as quickly as possible.

I think that this method differs from other martial approaches that stress long- or medium-distance techniques. From some Karate practitioners, I have heard stress on looking into the opponent’s eyes. (See, e.g., Karate Kid, Part 1: “Always look eye.”) My understanding is that such a strategy can have two objectives. One is to engage in combat with the opponent at the level of the spirit (which is alleged to be expressed in the eyes). For instance, can you intimidate or unnerve the opponent? Another objective is to look for telltales in the opponent’s eye movements that will betray his or her intentions. Here the objective is to gauge how quickly the opponent can initiate an effective technique or react to one. How the opponent is rooting and how his or her energy is flowing is, in my opinion, only of minor concern with that sort of focus.

Although I believe these methods can be blended with T’ai Chi approaches (for instance, as the opponent approaches), I do not think they work well for close-in techniques, where the eye is frankly too slow. No Karate practitioner I encountered was willing to stay in close and engage in prolonged exchanges. You close, engage in a flurry, and then back out to regroup and assess.

More importantly, I do not believe such methods reliably contribute to making a physical connection with the opponent’s movement energy. For instance, the method I trained for Karate sparring was to look only at the center of my opponent’s body, to deny him or her an easy opportunity to manipulate me with his or her eye movements. By contrast, an opponent cannot reliably deny you the opportunity to make contact with his or her body if his or her intent is to strike or grapple with you. T’ai Chi as a health art also makes more sense, in my inexpert opinion, if one focuses on this interchange of energy primarily through physical contact and interaction.

Changing focus specifically to Zhang Yun’s article, what I understood about “zhan” was that this seemed to be a method of manipulating the opponent into “pasting” or “sticking” him or herself to you, and thus strengthening the “qi” connection that we train to manipulate and gaining more control of it. Elsewhere in the Yang Forty (or perhaps elsewhere in the Classics) is a reference to “zhan” as being the same as “yielding”. I understand this as meaning that strategic use of physical yielding makes the opponent stick to your movements and thus cede a measure of control.

An example from the form might be the transition between Roll Back and Press (“Ji”). If we execute the Roll Back using the friction of the back of our left arm and hand and our right forearm to “drag” the opponent’s left punching arm to our side and rear, we can encourage the opponent to react by attempting to withdraw his or her arm and to generate counter pressure into our arms that can make him or her more vulnerable to a following Press. Blocking or sharply deflecting the opponent’s punch, on the other hand, breaks the energy connection and spurs the opponent to avoid contact with our arms. This is what I guess would be an instance of what Zhang Yun called the defect of “butting” (“ding”) or going counter to the opponent’s energy in a way that discourages the opponent from “pasting” him or herself to your movements.

David, I like what you say about “provoking” the opponent, but am not as comfortable with language that focuses on “tricking” or “deceiving” the opponent. While deception is certainly part of the T’ai Chi repertoire, I think one of the beauties of T’ai Chi tactics and strategy is that they can work despite the opponent’s knowledge of what is going on and on occasion even because of that knowledge. I think what is important about a skill like “zhan” is that it exploits the natural physical reactions of the opponent in a way that his or her conscious mind can override only with difficulty or with specific training. The opponent pastes him or herself to you because his or her body is screaming that this is the only safe thing to do at the moment, even if it is a losing strategy in the long term. Some authorities talk about putting the opponent into a funnel. He or she sees the walls of the funnel, but feels compelled to proceed to the small end because that is the only direction in which salvation appears to lie.

At a break during one of the T’ai Chi Farm Festivals, one of the seminar teachers (John Painter?) showed an escape from a wrist grab that involved exploiting the grabber’s natural tendencies. He contrasted an opponent’s normal reactions to relaxation, tension, pressure against the fingers, and pressure against the palm. One surprising aspect of the technique was that it often had success even when the grabber knew the exact details of the skill being attempted. If there is interest, I can attempt to describe it in detail for people to experiment with.

Zhang Yun’s description of “nian” (sticking/being sticky) seems to portray a way of constantly adding or subtracting an element to the opponent’s movements that will give him or her trouble (gum up his or her movements) without severing the energy connection. (“Just stay relaxed and touch [the opponent] with a little bit of change.”) Using Roll Back as an example, friction between your rolling left arm and hand and the opponent’s left punching arm not only deflects the punch, but subtly adds more energy to it than the opponent intends and can either uproot him or her or allow you to “seize” (“na”) his or her “energy” (“jin”). Here, if one does not make maximum use of the curving contact between one’s arm and the opponent’s, one has only “tangential” contact that may change the direction of the opponent’s energy, but does not interfere with its length or strength. From what you, Louis and David, have said earlier, perhaps this is what is meant by being “deflated,” “flat,” or “insufficiently rounded” (“bian”). Rather than merely collapsing to avoid “resisting,” you actually have to act like “water bubbling up to fill the crevices.” (Not like flat champagne?) An element of this may be to experience sticking as a fully three-dimensional activity rather than as a flat two-dimensional one that involves only moving toward or away from the opponent’s skin or clothing.

David, you ask about my reference to emotional bonds. I defer to Louis’s interpretation that these words have physical references. Perhaps, they cover territory similar to the English phrase “being attached to someone,” which can be taken to mean either physically or emotionally attached. Perhaps, the author was making a subtle punning allusion, implying something like: “You must remain (lovingly) attached to your opponent and not let him part from you.” By the way, I also like what you say about dealing with what you are presented with and not falling for the opponent’s deceptions, although perhaps this is more the flavor of “lian.”

Zhang Yun describes “lian” (connecting, being continuous, linking up) as referring to two different activities. One is maintaining contact with the opponent. He says that T’ai Chi depends on sensitivity and being able to feel the opponent not only physically, but also with the mind and spirit. This again sounds like making sure to maintain awareness of the writhing snake of energy that threads from the root in your feet, through the major joints, through the point of contact, and toward the opponent’s center. The major defect he describes is losing (“diu”) the contact point, which seems pretty self-explanatory. I would propose adding to this, the defects of being too limp, so that there is not enough solidity for the energy sensations to travel across all the joints, or being too stiff, so that the energy cannot register its presence through changing the dynamic tension and angles of the joints.

Zhang Yun also describes “lian” as referring to the injunction to “[l]ink all changes, one by one continually, smoothly, and never stop.” This is one of the characteristics that I think clearly differentiates T’ai Chi from boxing or Karate. While one might remain in continuous motion during these other activities, the actual techniques are, in my opinion, not thought of as continuous. David, you mentioned “combinations” with disfavor, as lacking “strategy.” The very idea of boxing or Karate “combinations” implies a bunching up of certain techniques and separation of others that I do not think is compatible with the idea of truly “linking” everything up. Is this a similar idea to what you mean by “lacking strategy”?

Zhang Yun links the concept of “sui” (comply) to two sayings: “Forget yourself and obey (follow, yield) your opponent” and “To follow your opponent is intended to finally let him to follow you.” I cannot help but link these ideas to some formulations of the philosophy of non-violent protest movements, which say that one should not directly “resist” evil, since that spurs evil to “resist” good. Violence tends to beget violence, but non-violence ultimately is supposed to beget non-violence.

T’ai Chi seems to have a similar view, where “resisting” the opponent is thought only to encourage stronger and more effective attack. One critical difference is that T’ai Chi does have the concept of “issuing energy” (“fa jin”); however, if my memory of “The Intrinsic Energies of T’ai Chi (?) is correct, “issuing energy” is said to be generally appropriate only when you have “seized”/”held” (“na”) the opponent’s energy and he or she is temporary helpless and under control. In such circumstances, provoking a stronger more effective attack by the opponent is no longer an issue.

David, you mentioned some difficulty with “comply” as an equivalent for “sui,” raising similar points to Zhang Yun about not carrying too far one’s obedience to the opponent’s wishes. Perhaps, the idea of “obliging” the opponent is closer to this sense of letting the opponent have 90% of what he or she wants, while reserving the most critical 10%. An even more accurate translation might be to “go along” with the opponent, which adds an idea of adaptation, while often suggesting some measure of reservation. This also fits better with Louis’s interpretation of “bi zou ci ying,” which I now might translate as: “As one moves, the other responds in accord.”

The idea of going along with the opponent might also fit better with viewing “resisting” (“kang”) as the major defect to avoid in this skill. Rather than resisting the opponent’s movements, you go along with them first, in order to work T’ai Chi magic on them later. You give the opponent nothing to work with, but simply use the energy offered. Such an idea also matches what many masters say about not assuming a specific fighting stance.

When I get time, I may start a post to set the framework for a discussion of listening (“ting”), understanding (“dong”), transforming/neutralizing (“hua”), taking/seizing (“na”), and issuing (“fa”) energies. By the way, I apologize for all the Chinese for those who are not so inclined. I slip it in where I am referring to what I understand to be accepted concepts, but where there may be confusion at my translations. Besides, the less understanding I have, the more I must show off what little knowledge I do have. J On what is hopefully a more serious note, it also more easily allows knowledgeable folk like Louis to see and point out any translation errors I make.

Take care,

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 07-24-2001).]
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Postby DavidJ » Mon Dec 02, 2002 8:17 pm

Hi Audi,

You wrote, > At a break during one of the T?ai Chi Farm Festivals, one of the seminar teachers (John Painter?) showed an escape from a wrist grab that involved exploiting the grabber?s natural tendencies. He contrasted an opponent?s normal reactions to relaxation, tension, pressure against the fingers, and pressure against the palm. One surprising aspect of the technique was that it often had success even when the grabber knew the exact details of the skill being attempted. If there is interest, I can attempt to describe it in detail for people to experiment with. <

Please describe it.


David J
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Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am

Postby Audi » Tue Dec 10, 2002 1:45 am

Hi David:

You are really dredging up some old stuff here, aren’t you?:-) I have to confess that, although I retain I very clear memory of my reactions to John Painter’s little exercise, I no longer remember how he taught the specifics. Face to face, this would be fairly easy to work out, but it is going to be a little tough in writing. I will do my best to reconstruct what I retained; however, let me first make a few disclaimers for others who might read this post.

I am not asserting that this particular exercise directly represents great self-defense technique. I doubt that John Painter was approaching the exercise from this point of view. I am also not asserting that these tactics are exactly consistent with what I understand of the tactics revealed in Yang Chengfu’s form. I do think, however, this exercise hints at the extent to which Taijiquan has multiple layers of subtle physical and psychological engagement. These layers transcend a simple analysis of the angles and vectors assumed by the joints.

Here is the exercise. The goal of your partner is to retain control of your wrist. Your goal is to free it. I think exercises like this work best if your partner neither consciously gives in, to allow you to succeed, nor puts forth 100% die-hard resistance. This middle attitude is safer, helps prevent exercises from developing into something else, and focuses on teaching and testing the particular skill being explored, rather than other things. When I have acted as a partner in this exercise, I try to use 50-80% of my resources, with the mental intent that my grip will not be broken unless some proficiency in the skill is used, but without seeking to marshal secondary mental or physical resources to make sure I “win.”

Tell your partner to grab your wrist and to try to hold on. Then try to yank your hand suddenly away. This action should not succeed, if your partner is being honest. Now tell your partner to grab your wrist again. This time “listen” closely with your eyes and with the muscles in your forearm, wrist, and hand. Try to keep the muscles in your forearm, wrist, and hand absolutely “dead” so that your partner feels no muscular reaction at all to the grab. It should be as if he or she were squeezing a towel. You cannot, however, leave your arm (as opposed to your wrist, hand, and fingers) totally limp, because you must also make sure to neutralize the effect of gravity pulling down on your arm. Allowing your opponent to feel this pulling sensation would probably defeat the technique.

Try to determine when your opponent’s attention or Yi begins to flag. This almost always occurs within one to five seconds, but no longer than ten seconds. By flag, I mean that his or her intent to squeeze your wrist begins to change into something else. He or she changes from trying to further a process (i.e., squeezing) to trying to maintain a false status quo (i.e., maintaining the position of a grip).

Suddenly, use the muscles controlling your elbow, shoulder, and upper back (really also your “waist” and legs) to jerk your hand through the hole formed by your partner’s thumb and index finger. If you use the muscles controlling your wrist, hands, or fingers to any degree, you will physically and subconsciously telegraph your intent and defeat the technique. If you jerk in the wrong line or vector, you will also defeat the technique, since this applies sudden pressure on you partner’s fingers, which subconsciously encourages them to react by squeezing.

What I get out of this exercise is the following. Direct resistance begets direct resistance. By not tensing your muscles, you consciously and subconsciously make it difficult for your opponent to maintain his or her squeezing intent. He or she either begins to treat you as a non-threatening inanimate object that cannot react or begins mentally to be sucked into your apparent passivity. If you can jerk your arm while maintaining these parameters, your opponent does not have enough reaction time to reassert his or her original intent.

Let me just return to one note of caution for some who might read my post with certain attitudes. My description can sound as if I am asserting an entirely Yin or passive aspect of Taiji engagement principles. I do not believe this is at all true, and please call me on it if you think I am deluding myself or if I am being too obscure. My view of Taiji engagement principles is that they are much more aggressive, and more continuously so, than what I was accustomed to in other sports or martial arts I have been exposed to. This aggressiveness is, however, subtly masked. Even in the very artificial circumstances of this exercise, the mental attitude of the would-be escape artist is one of a runner in the starting blocks or a cat waiting to pounce, not that of a sheep being herded to slaughter. In this exercise, you are allowing your partner to get 100% of what he or she thinks is desirable and 95% of what he or she really needs, in order to control the 5% that really matters to the outcome.

David, let me know if you have any success with this or have any comments to share.

Take care and good luck,
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