Mind and Spirit

Mind and Spirit

Postby BBTrip » Sun Jun 01, 2014 1:52 am

Audi wrote:
The true essence of TJQ is ''use Yi, not Li''.

This is one of Yang Chengfu's "Ten Essentials" and is one of the things I often discuss in practice; however, I wouldn't find this something that distinguishes us from other styles of Tai Chi. I know that many people emphasize not using muscles, but I find this confusing and so do not talk much about this, even while using this quote. I feel that concentrating on using muscles or concentrating on not using muscles causes equal problems, and so I focus more on what I understand about how the mind and spirit should be used.


Hey Audi,

Would you mind expanding on your understanding of how the mind and spirit should be used?
I’m particularly interested in your understanding on spirit. If there is a physical aspect to your training in this area, I’d like to hear your perspective on that as well.

And, any others, who focus on the spirit aspect in their training, are welcome to share their thoughts.
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jun 03, 2014 7:01 pm

BB,
I do my best to integrate all of YCF's Ten Essentials as I find each of them to be... well...
Essential.
I don't focus on just aspect all the time, though I do sometimes isolate one aspect for training purposes.
Also I will do so from time to time when I teach my classes.
When I do that I make certain sure that my students understand that "For today only we're going to pay extra special attention to {insert the Essential of the day here}".
All that said, I do not agree with the statement, "The true essence of TJQ is ''use Yi, not Li''.
As with any pithy formula this one is too vague to be the true essence of anything.
For that to be true every single person playing TCC, at least on this planet, would have to agree on a single definition of Yi and Li that we will all use every time.
Obviously we do not and will not do that.
So this particular theory is shot in the foot before it could even enter the race.
At least in my PHO.
Before anyone can chime in with, "Oh, so you don't think this is important?"
Re-read my first statement and then please don't bother saying it.
It is an integral part of TCC.
In fact, and as previously stated, it is Essential!
However, it is not the "true essence" of the art, not all by itself.
Part of it, certainly, but nowhere near the only part.
Not even the "most important".
Because if you leave any of the rest of it out...
None of it works.

Bob
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby BBTrip » Sun Jun 08, 2014 2:48 am

Bob Ashmore wrote:BB,
I do my best to integrate all of YCF's Ten Essentials as I find each of them to be... well...
Essential.
I don't focus on just aspect all the time, though I do sometimes isolate one aspect for training purposes.


Greetings Bob,

I also attempt to "integrate" the 10 essentials. I like to make sure they are met in each and every shift. I use an orderly shifting focus of attention. But, I also work to make my shifting of focus a never ending progressive refinement: subtler and subtler, finer and finer.

From time to time, I too, also think it's okay to "isolate" and focus on just a part of the essentials. In fact I'd say a thorough understanding of one part is an essential requirement in study of any whole. Sometimes I've done it for weeks. That's why it baffles me that I still suck at Taiji. Sorry, that's another conversation. Never mind, just never mind!

Anyway, this Thread is example of a focus on 1 part of what is essential. I happened to be focusing on the Spirit when I saw Audi's post:

I focus more on what I understand about how the mind and spirit should be used.


Thought, hmmm, "I wonder what exactly does Audi focus on in his focus? What is his understanding of "mind and spirit"? What does he teach about it? How does that teaching effect the bodies movement? Or, whatever he was willing to expand on. Then, I thought I wonder are others focusing on "mind and spirit" this week too? I wonder in what way?

And, here the 2 of us are. :)

...All that said, I do not agree with the statement, "The true essence of TJQ is ''use Yi, not Li''.


I didn’t post that so I’m not as caught up in that statement. I thought if I leave it out, Audi's quote would be less understood.

However, if you look from the prospective of the essential of "Mind leads the body". Clearly the Mind is first. So without an understanding of Mind why toil with Taiji? Me, I like to advance the whole canvas, but as you also said, there’s nothing wrong with isolated focus. That is, as long as you remember that the part you are focused only is a part of the whole.
Where trouble starts for me is, when others insist that I think of the part we are focused on for today is the whole. So, again as you have said, it is an essential part of the whole.

Not even the "most important".
Because if you leave any of the rest of it out...
None of it works.


I hear you, brother. Amen!

But, I must point out that people have been able to hobble around on parts for years.

Taiji contains much: The Form, push hands, sword, knife, sparring, self-defense, etc., etc. But some only do The Form and that’s okay.
Some only do the short form. And, that’s okay.
It's okay because they are getting something out of a part.

The same then, can be said for those that focus on the mind. They get something out of it.
And, if they have spent a good portion of their lives focusing on only a part of the whole, and they’ve succeeded with it,
got something out of it that has help them,
something that they have modeled an untold number of beliefs on: Who am I to tell them different?

I don’t even have the nerve.

☮☮☮
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby Audi » Wed Jun 11, 2014 10:15 pm

Hi BB and greeting to all,

I wrote the words you quoted because I believe that an important aspect of the type of Tai Chi I study is to differentiate between what should come from inside you and what should come from outside--i.e., from the opponent, from the environment, or from the principles governing energy and structure. Some of the principles cover aspects of energy that are "self organizing" and that you should not therefore try to directly manipulate yourself. You waste effort trying to do the work of the universe yourself and will almost always do a worse job in the attempt.

The Shen, or spirit, is the general. The Yi, or intent/meaning/purpose, is the signal flag. The Qi is the troops. If the Shen is right, the Yi and Qi take care of themselves. The General should not form up the troops himself, nor should he lead them at the point of attack. The signal corps knows how to communicate to the troops better than general, and the troops can fight better.

We consider being relaxed to be an activity governed by the Taiji. In general, you don't want to be all yin and too limp or all yang and too stiff. Where you need to be between these two poles will vary and will be "self organizing" if you give the right commands to your muscles.

We consider that Peng energy comes from this relaxation. We can analogize it to the property of water pushing on a boat or a basket ball as you try to push it under water. If you push a little, the water will push back lightly. If you push a lot, the water will push back heavily. The amount of energy involved is determined by the outside push from the boat or ball, not by the water. What we want is not so much a state, but rather a dynamic of limp and stiff. You could also call it a Taiji of limp and stiff. To achieve this you must give the right commands to your muscles. This is an aspect of Shen and why we stress that "relaxation" must be a conscious activity that takes time to develop.

To get a feel for this, we have an exercise I have described before. You hold an arm in the typical Ward Off shape and have your partner rapidly and rhythmically push on it, like a boat bobby in the water, but with a faster cadence. You want to respond like water, yielding only to as much force as is felt and returning to the original position as the force is withdrawn.

You do not want to use your Xin, or thinking/feeling mind, to respond, since this would be too slow. Water does not think when it responds, and so you do not want just to simulate or mimic the reaction of water. You want actually to adopt the properties of water. You can test this by having your partner occasionally vary the rhythm unpredictably and see whether you are truly reacting to their push or just memorizing a motion.

You can also test whether you are too limp or too stiff using another similar exercise. If your partner can give a sudden moderate push to your arm and simultaneously affect your torso and balance, you are too stiff. If your partner, on the other hand, can immediately collapse your arm and reach your torso, you are too limp. This exercise is not about "grounding" force as some teachers talk about, but rather about the quality of your muscles and tendons. Water does not ground itself or actively neutralize incoming force. You want all your joints to have this quality as you do the form.

I use the above test during push hands practice, but also ask my students to have another consideration. If their muscles are too limp, they will not feel the interchange of energy and the alternation of yin and yang; however, if they are too stiff, they will give their partner too much information about their empty and full and allow themselves to be controlled too easily. If you keep the general in your mind on these things, your body will automatically react accordingly and choose the proper place on the continuum between limp and stiff. Again, it is a dynamic, not a state.

Another exercise I use is to adopt the basic position of standing mediation, with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width, knees slightly bent, and the arms held in a double Ward Off circle in front of the body. What I tell my students is that the Shen designs the circle and chooses the principles that will allow the circle to form. In doing this, you must not directly command your arms to form a circle. You must feel as if your arms are the skin of a balloon and you use "air" to inflate it. If you do it right, some of the circle comes from inside you and your own effort, and some comes from outside and the physical principles that govern the formation and properties of circles.

Another image I teach for this exercise is to imagine that the arms are the rims of a wheel. Then imagine the four diameters, like joined spokes, that connect the two elbows, the space between the fingers and the spine, one shoulder and the opposite wrist, and the other shoulder and the opposite wrist. Then lightly lengthen each of these diameters or spokes equally so that a circle is formed. In other words, think of straight motions or vectors to form the curve. Don't forget to let the elbows droop slightly so that they are a little lower than the wrists. Also turn the palms slightly inward and upward to complete helping the Qi to sink.

If you do this exercise correctly, you will have an arm circle that is dynamic. Outside or inside pressure will result in having your arms form an oscillating circle/oval. You can even use this to practice Fajin by letting the wrists go limp and using the waist to ripple energy through the torso and letting the energy shake and flick the hands and fingers either outward or inward. This is one way I explain and demonstrate what it means to "control" energy with the waist and have it "show up" or "manifest in the fingers." You do not give any mental command at all to your wrist or hands and yet they will move with the energy. The Shen makes the Qi move through the medium of the Yi.

I use the dynamic arm circle feeling to explain arm positions throughout the form, asking my students to try to see if they can find the same arm circle in every posture. Form the circle, and then rotate only the right forearm with the fingers of each hand continuing to face each other. You will form the same circle, except with the palm facing outward and the wrist flexed in a seated position. Then rotate the right shoulder with no change in any other joint so that the fingers of the right hand tilt slightly to the right and the right elbow points ever so slightly down and to the left. Using this procedure, you can form Rollback and test whether your positioning is correct. Through a similar technique you can also form Press, Push, and Ward Off Right and also feel the underlying energy relationship that comes from the oscillating circle I mentioned before.

This post is already too long, but let me touch briefly on other aspects of Shen I work on in order to make it clear to anyone persevering this far that Shen is a large topic that goes beyond Peng.

The Ten Essentials deal with Shen, some primarily and other secondarily. Focusing on these helps develop Shen.

I also focus on having the gaze correct, because it both reflects and influences how your Shen is commanding your body to organize energy.

I also focus on keeping the Shen/spirit "collected." This means your focus must be right, and you must not let your spirit be scattered or drawn outward too much into where you are directing the energy.

You must also keep the Shen calm and centered so that the Qi can sink in line with your body shape. If your Shen is weak, it will draw on and weaken your external as your body and mind strive for balance and equilibrium.

You must keep the head as if suspended from above so that the feeling of vitality and your sprit can rise up though your body all the way to the crown of the head. This makes the general inside you alert and able to take in everything. You also want to keep the Shen/spirit uncluttered and pure so that it can easily penetrate all around you, resonate with the situation, and understand the Taiji that governs you and your opponent/partner. This way you don't just use your mind to visualize your movements, but you actually model and feel them with live feedback to harmonize into position appropriately.

BB, I hope this makes sense and responds to your question.

Anyway, this Thread is example of a focus on 1 part of what is essential. I happened to be focusing on the Spirit when I saw Audi's post:


What are you particularly focusing on?

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby BBTrip » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:54 am

"Then There Was Three"

Greetings Audi,

Audi wrote:BB, I hope this makes sense and responds to your question.


Are you crazy? What you say in this post makes tremendous sense to me.
There's too much to like, but there are some things I found particularly interesting.

Audi wrote:Some of the principles cover aspects of energy that are "self organizing" and that you should not therefore try to directly manipulate yourself.

The signal corps knows how to communicate to the troops better than general, and the troops can fight better.

...Peng energy comes from this relaxation. We can analogize it to the property of water pushing on a boat or a basket ball as you try to push it under water. If you push a little, the water will push back lightly. If you push a lot, the water will push back heavily. The amount of energy involved is determined by the outside push from the boat or ball, not by the water.


The analogy in the last quote, I find quite useful. So, if should you see it in one of my post, there is no need to brag about where I got it. And, I won't plagiarize. No, no! I will just...internalize my new idea. You know, make it my own. At first, I may paraphrase, slightly, but eventually it will truly be mine. It will. You'll see.

What are you particularly focusing on?


When I posted the thread, I was focusing on refinement of raising my spirit to the crown of my head and integrating it into all of my physical movements.

Whenever I think about it, I visualize effortlessly extending the crown of my head upward.

Throughout the day, everywhere I would go, when I practiced Taiji, or whatever, just a little extra focus to the crown of my head effortlessly rising.
The light focus slowly refines the signal from my thoughts to my body.
Mind thinks crown of head rising, signals sent, body complies.

Then, hopefully, when I eventually chose to focus on another Taiji fundamental, and not on that one, there would be a strange or uncomfortable feeling if my crown happens to bow.


Thanks for sharing. It's appreciated. :)

☮☮☮
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby DPasek » Mon Jun 16, 2014 8:25 pm

Audi wrote:[Snip]
I use the above test during push hands practice, but also ask my students to have another consideration. If their muscles are too limp, they will not feel the interchange of energy and the alternation of yin and yang; however, if they are too stiff, they will give their partner too much information about their empty and full and allow themselves to be controlled too easily. If you keep the general in your mind on these things, your body will automatically react accordingly and choose the proper place on the continuum between limp and stiff. Again, it is a dynamic, not a state.
[Snip]
I use the dynamic arm circle feeling to explain arm positions throughout the form, asking my students to try to see if they can find the same arm circle in every posture.
[Snip]

Audi,

Great post! I sometimes explain that the natural reaction to conflict is the fight (yang) or flight (yin) response (or stiff/limp; aggressive/passive; etc.). But we want to have a combination of both such that we have neither excess nor deficiency, neither resist nor let go, neither stiff nor limp. To do this we need a combination of yin and yang that is appropriate to the specific (and changing) situation. Keeping the spirit ‘collected,’ ‘calm’ and ‘centered’ help to control the fight or flight response and allow us to train our awareness and, through that, how we respond.

Your exercises are similar to ones that I use, and they test this dynamic between yin and yang. In similar exercises that I use, I also add in pulling (or suddenly releasing the pressure of the push; or suddenly releasing the pull when pulling). I do this because it is not uncommon to resist a push (or pull) in such a way that someone could be more vulnerable to a change to a pull or to a sudden release of the pressure (and vice versa). We don’t want to be limp and thus vulnerable to the push, but we also don’t want to resist (be stiff) and become vulnerable to a pull. As you point out, the proper non-resisting response is like the water in your analogy.

One of the difficulties we have is to get stability with mobility. Too much emphasis on stability can lead to stiffness and a reduction of mobility whereas an overemphasis on mobility can lead to collapsing and a reduction of stability. I think that training the solo form slowly facilitates this by exercising the small muscles needed to actively stabilize the postures, but still moving the body through the required motions.

There is a fine balance between yin and yang that is difficult to achieve. I like your ‘dynamic arm circle’ to address this issue. While I use the properly inflated ball floating on water analogy frequently, the ball itself has the in/out dynamic (air pressure pushing out while the ball material contains inward), and has the potential for rotation; it does not in itself have the rotational dynamic (left/right or up/down) inherent in the analogy. I borrow an analogy from ILiqChuan to illustrate this. It is like when you hug someone – you are reaching around them to embrace them (yang - expanding – pushing your arms out away from the shoulders - extending) while simultaneously drawing them into you (yin - compressing – drawing your arms in towards your body – contracting). There is an active (even when not visibly moving) dynamic cycle of yin and yang that we want to have in every dimension.

DP
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby BBTrip » Tue Jun 17, 2014 4:02 am

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

Casey Kasem


I don't know if he did Taiji, but I thought some might find his signature catchphrase relevant.
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby twc » Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:08 am

"One of the difficulties we have is to get stability with mobility. Too much emphasis on stability can lead to stiffness and a reduction of mobility whereas an overemphasis on mobility can lead to collapsing and a reduction of stability. I think that training the solo form slowly facilitates this by exercising the small muscles needed to actively stabilize the postures, but still moving the body through the required motions."

Hey DP,

This is an unsolicited information on my part regarding mobility versus stability.

A few years back I was attending a life coaching course where we were tasked to walk over a swinging log. At first I thought it would be a breeze, considering how hard I had worked on “stability”, or “rooting”, in my Taiji routine. To my surprise, I actually found myself unable to uproot my feet to walk across the swinging log. And then, my life coach said something that set me thinking for the next few weeks. He said,

“You are too focused on stability. You need to stand up and walk!”

While I mulled over his comments after the course, I looked into the Taiji literature to see if I could find some guidance to my troubles. And there it was, the number one essential

“…….Empty, lively, pushing up and energetic *
'Pushing up and energetic' means the posture of the head is upright and straight and the spirit is infused into its apex. You may not use strength. To do so makes the back of the neck stiff, whereupon the chi and blood cannot circulate freely. You must have an intention which is empty, lively (or free) and natural. Without an intention which is empty, lively, pushing up and energetic, you won't be able to raise your spirit…….”

When we lift up our heads, we actually provide a counter action against rooting our centre of gravity. This enables us to move freely while still maintaining our stability.

Just my $0.02

Cheers,
twc
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby DPasek » Fri Jun 20, 2014 3:18 pm

BBTrip wrote:When I posted the thread, I was focusing on refinement of raising my spirit to the crown of my head and integrating it into all of my physical movements.

Whenever I think about it, I visualize effortlessly extending the crown of my head upward.

Hi BBTrip, twc...,

I find this principle (energy to the crown of the head) to be the one that I most frequently refer to when I find myself becoming unstable in push-hands. The stable center that it helps achieve is very important in any interaction, but you can (if you don’t already do so) also play with extending this idea of a stable center to numerous other aspects of how the body is used. While gravity pulls us down, the energy to the crown of the head balances it with upward energy and gives us a vertical rotational axis. If we are then centered like a spinning top, we can be stable when we contact something else. If, however, our central axis wobbles, then, like the top, we can be destabilized and lose our balance and root (the top spinning out of control and toppling).

But we have additional centers of possible rotation. Any major joint (the ‘nine pearl bends’) can be regarded as a sphere with a center, and any non-linear movement can also have a center (i.e. circular movements). If we maintain stable centers in our joints, and centers to our movements, then we can also achieve greater stability in our actions (stability with mobility). The stable centers in turn allow us to maintain our changeability (our rotation around the centers), preventing being ‘stuck’ and becoming either too yang or too yin (excess or deficiency...).

DP
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Jun 20, 2014 8:03 pm

If you want to feel how important "Empty, Lively, Pushing Up and Energetic" is then simply start doing moving step pushing hands.
This Principle is what allows you to stay centered and rooted while stepping, at least in my opinion (which is worth just about what you paid for it).
Without it any of the very fast (when compared to form training) weights shifts you have to make in order to step nimbly while under pressure will simply throw you off balance.
Also, any of the leaps that we make in the sword or saber form (and which some of us still practice in hand form from time to time) are tied in intimately with this Principle.
When you land if you're not using this Principle then you will not be able to "hold your center" under that pressure.
Further, any stomping that you do to release energy from the ground will be clumsy and ineffective without using this Principle.
I often say to my students, "There's a reason that this is universally listed as the First Principle. Just try to do any of the rest of them without doing it as well and you'll learn what that reason is very quickly."

Bob
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby Audi » Mon Jun 30, 2014 4:17 am

Greetings all,

Interesting posts! After reading them, re-reading my previous one, and teaching a few classes, I had some additional thoughts I wanted to share about (1) helpful exercises, (2) holding the head up, and (3) how I have recently used the Shen/spirit in push hands and in the form.

To get a feel for this, we have an exercise I have described before. You hold an arm in the typical Ward Off shape and have your partner rapidly and rhythmically push on it, like a boat bobby in the water, but with a faster cadence. You want to respond like water, yielding only to as much force as is felt and returning to the original position as the force is withdrawn.

I think this exercise accurately translates the quality of muscle and tendon action we want; however, it does not really describe tactically how to use these qualities. In our way of thinking, if you try only to absorb the energy of a push or pull, you will always reach a limit to what you can absorb and so must do more than just this to succeed. The exercise above gives an idea of the principle you use in responding, but does not tell you what tactics to use to supplement it. To learn the tactics, you need to study applications and counters.

In doing applications and counters, you will generally go through those extremes of light and heavy, but not really during normal circling drills or while doing form, where the Yin/Yang extremes are much narrower or even hardly visible from outside. I find that, as a result of this difference, some people do not quite know how to translate these feelings into their normal practice.

You can also test whether you are too limp or too stiff using another similar exercise. If your partner can give a sudden moderate push to your arm and simultaneously affect your torso and balance, you are too stiff. If your partner, on the other hand, can immediately collapse your arm and reach your torso, you are too limp. This exercise is not about "grounding" force as some teachers talk about, but rather about the quality of your muscles and tendons. Water does not ground itself or actively neutralize incoming force. You want all your joints to have this quality as you do the form.

When I begin to teach moving push hands, I often teach a variation of the above exercise, and some of my students and friends seem to react more clearly to the competitive aspect it offers. This exercise works even with partners who know little or no Tai Chi.

Stand with your partner so that you both have your right arms bent in about a ¾ circle, like you normally use for the Cross Hands Posture or at the beginning of our vertical circling. Touch the back of your right wrists to each other along your joint center line with your forearms angled at about 45 degrees from vertical. Adjust the distances of your stances if necessary to maintain the right arm shape. Then, each of you should touch your left palm to your partner’s right elbow. Adjust your pressure at the three contact points so that your partner cannot easily disengage at any of the three and move to strike you without having the path of the strike altered. These means that you must not merely touch, but must give light pressure. Now repeat the same process, but end up by lifting your right leg off the ground and standing only on your left leg, keeping it straight, but not locked. Adjust your distance, if necessary, so that both of you are standing upright and feel comfortable.

If you feel your partner’s structure is too stiff, or merely to test it, give it a sudden pulse of energy (i.e., Fajin) without changing any of the contact points. If the partner loses balance and has to put the other foot down, they were too stiff. Even if you can shake your partner’s torso or affect its position, he or she is still too stiff and is giving you too much control of his or her empty and full. As another option, you can simply withdraw your pressure suddenly and see if your partner falls forward toward you.

If you feel your partner’s structure is too limp, see if you can push all the way to their torso and make them lose balance. These means you have to be standing close enough to make this possible. In this scenario the person receiving the push should be able to simply redirect it to the side without losing balance or setting the other foot down and without the pushing energy reaching the torso. If you just try to receive the push in your torso and elbow, you cannot avoid being pushed over or having to gyrate so much that you will lose your balance and have to put your right foot on the ground.

What this exercise shows is that if you are too stiff and too limp, you give your opponent some control over your torsom your stepping, and you yourself.

I do not want to give the impression that you should never allow the opponent’s hands to reach your torso or to collapse your arms. This is indeed part of the exercises I just described, but is not true for our Tai Chi in general. In fact, our standard elbow application requires that you figure out how to guide the opponent into a push against your torso and even pin your opponent’s hand against your torso. Other applications require similar motions. Even though you do this, you do it in a way that allows your opponent to touch your torso or squeeze your wrist against your torso, but not to send energy there. You have to begin to understand full and empty to do it right. Although applications and counters are a major area of our study, they are in a way not fundamentally what we study. What we really study is energy and the diversity of its full and empty.

I also seem to be discussing only “pushing” energy and not “pulling” energy; however, as I understand it, Peng energy has only to do with different amounts of expansion, not really with contracting. In this sense, Peng can only push out from the center and cannot pull in toward it. This is similar to how water only floats objects and does not sink them. Boats sink because gravity pulls them down and the water fails to float them enough to counteract the force. This lack of “pulling” does not mean, however, that Peng and its derived energies are limited in direction, just as water can bob you up and down or from side to side, or a wave at the beach can knock you downward, or the current of a riptide can carry you underwater, even though water has no hands to pull you anywhere. Of our eight “standard” applications, at least half (the Ward Off one included) involve the opponent ending up behind you as if "pulled," even though in all cases you end up sending energy away from your center and not inward towards it.

I do use one or two overt pulling exercises to teach about how to manage full and empty between the legs and arms and how the outward aspect of the energy needs to come from down to up, but they have a different purpose from what I describe above.

As for keeping the head up as prescribed by the first of the Ten Essentials, I can add a few thoughts to what has already been said.

First, there is an external and internal part to this requirement. The external deals with the placement of the head and its effect on the body shape. The internal part deals with the use of the Shen/spirit and its effect on the Qi. These two also affect each other.

What is required is often described as pulling the head up as if suspended from above. This is a process that results in a dynamic that is fundamentally different from just "keeping the head or neck straight," regardless of the level of force used.

From an external point of view, the head is a very heavy part of the body, and you need to keep it aligned so that its weight does not put undue strain on the alignment of your muscles and skew the energy dynamic they manifest.

Pulling your head up allows you to let your shoulders sink properly, which in turn allows your elbows to droop. If you let your head bend forward, your shoulders will tend to come up. This contrasting feeling is a major thing I look for in trying to pull the head up.

You pull your head up, but do not bend it backward. Pulling it up allows you to feel your chest sink in and your upper back be pulled up. Bending your head backward does the opposite: puffing up the chest and depressing the upper back. Again, I try to feel this contrast.

Bending your head forward will also begin to limit the ability of your spine to store energy like a bow. The Peng in your spine comes from your tendency to pull your head up. The movement characteristics of our flavor of Tai Chi do not show much external bending of the spine, but internally, our spine does indeed change.

From an internal perspective, bending your head forward begins to compress your lungs and obstruct your breathing, affecting your Qi. In fact, “Sinking the shoulders and letting the elbows droop” and “Enfolding the chest and plucking out the upper back” both have an aspect of encouraging the Qi to sink down the front of the body and collect in the Dantian. For similar reasons, we do not want to pull the tail bone too far forward or resort to intentionally clenching the abdominal muscles. Both of these actions tend to squeeze out the Qi or limit what can be stored.

Raising your Shen/spirit and keeping it calm also helps you sink your Qi to the Dantian. Up must compensate for down; therefore as your Qi sinks down the front of the body into the Dantian, the Shen/spirit needs to rise up the back to the crown of the head. Qi tends to rise, especially with activity; and therefore keeping calm allows it to stay down better.

Your spirit and/or mood also have a relationship with how you tend to hold your body. Depression inside tends to manifest as depression outside, and vice versa. Energy inside tends to manifest as energy outside, and vice versa. Therefore, you also want to try to use your mood to raise your spirit directly in order to raise the level of the energy you can manifest externally.

As for recent experiences, I can describe two incidents with my students.

In one case, a student was having difficulty doing our standard Rollback application, which comes out of a vertical circle. As I experienced the student’s energy, I judged that I felt more of a pull than a push and tried to convey this correction. It didn’t help. I then decided to try an “internal” correction, since I noticed that the student’s eyes were leading the application in a way that screamed “pull” to me. After accepting the correction, the student again failed to execute the technique properly, but I noticed that even though the gaze was now correct, the head angle was still wrong and still seemed to scream “pull.” In other words, “Internal and external were not united,” as required. After a few more tries, the student finally managed to make eyes, head angle, and spirit agree, and I felt the energy spring out as I was sent flying out of control like a rag doll.

A place in the form to look for similar problems is at the end of Single Whip. Because of our body position, which is open about 60-70 degrees to the right, it can be somewhat uncomfortable to turn the head fully to the left. Our requirement is that the gaze end up looking through the Tiger’s Mouth in the left hand and that the face itself be pointing directly in that same direction. Without this, it is hard to generate the correct energy with the final technique in the left hand.

Another student was also having trouble with the Rollback application. My requirement is often that the student be able to generate enough force to be able to slam me around, even if they don’t actually do it. This student seemed to have the externals fairly correct, but still I could feel that the Shen/spirit was off and that the application did not have enough power. What I related the problem to was the requirement “to use stillness to control movement” or “to find stillness in movement.” This is a matter of Shen/spirit, according to my understanding. In the simplified dialog I often use in class, I usually describe this matter of theory as the requirement not to feel that you are moving somewhere to do something that will affect the opponent, but rather to feel that you stay comfortable where you are and make the opponent move instead. As the student made a repeat attempt to do Rollback, I began to make my usual explanation of this principle. The student, who is used to my blathering on, understood immediately what I was talking about, made the correction in mid speech, and sent me flying away with a big grin as I had to shut up and make sure that I could safely come to a stop before encountering a wall, stray furniture, or the not-too-welcoming floor. What I felt this time was that the student stayed in place and that all the energy moved into me to set me flying.

Places to look in the form for this problem include whenever the hands are executing a push or an open-hand strike. The head and the spirit need to feel anchored or even almost as if they are moving away from the striking hand, just as the hand and fingers releasing a bowstring stay in place or even move away from an arrow that is shot. The general that is the spirit closely observes and assesses the effect of the attack and the flow of battle, but does not rush forward to take part.

Again a long post. Trying to describe physical things accurately and unambiguously takes a lot of words. Describing theory effectively seems to take even more. In any case, I hope what I wrote was correct, clear, and helpful.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Mind and Spirit

Postby DPasek » Thu Jul 03, 2014 7:45 pm

Audi wrote:Again a long post. Trying to describe physical things accurately and unambiguously takes a lot of words. Describing theory effectively seems to take even more. In any case, I hope what I wrote was correct, clear, and helpful.

Take care,
Audi

Hi Audi,

Thanks for your detailed post. I have the tendency of sometimes trying to explain Taijiquan theory from an ILiqChuan background because the instruction that I have received in ILC makes the concepts clearer and better defined for me than the instruction that I have received during my TJQ studies. I think the principles in the classic written material in TJQ are similar to (and compatible with) what I have learned in ILC, but they are stated more obscurely (perhaps the difference being due to the age when TJQ was being written about and the difficulty inherent in translating the material into a different language vs. the modern teaching curriculum of ILC as developed by Sam Chin). In any case, I greatly appreciate your ability to explain these complex concepts from a purely TJQ perspective. Excellent!

TJQ seems to primarily talk about concepts from ‘not too much’ or ‘not too little’ perspectives and not as much about the integrated whole that is achieved by the proper balance of both yin and yang (no excess AND no deficiency). I also use this approach since different aspects of the integrated whole need to be separated and focused on in order to work on and understand them. But at my current level of practice, I am also focusing more on trying to integrate the concepts such that I search for the points of unity where both yin and yang are present in the proper ratio for whatever the current situation is.

For example, in talking about sinking the elbows, one must also be aware of not collapsing the armpits. But this is somewhat difficult to define. If we look at the Brush Knee posture, one will see that the right and left elbows and armpits have differing relationships with the torso, yet both should have the quality of both sinking elbows and not collapsing armpits! The dilemma then is to understand why they can both be correct while being different! We are searching for the proper balance between yang expansion outward and the yin containment inwards. Yin PLUS yang (no excess AND no deficiency).

While peng energy in TJQ is the expansion, and not really contracting, I tend to view it more as the expansion that fills some containment (providing that ‘container’ with a ‘filled structure’). Thus, peng expanding the elbows must be contained by the admonition to sink the elbows. Thus, to me, the ball analogy for peng of the air filling the ball includes the ball containing the air. It is the air plus the ball that enables the bounce of peng (peng expansion properly filling/inflating the posture/structure).

I like the ‘hugging’ example that I gave in the earlier post because it relates both yin and yang simultaneously. It also allows for the same yin and yang dynamics (yang reaching/extending around plus yin drawing/condensing/pulling towards you) in differing situations, such as when hugging people of different builds (different heights, girths, etc.) where the positions of the arms may change while still being correct for each individual hug.

The often used water analogy can also be viewed as having this integrated duality. Water floating a boat is both yielding (the yin letting the boat sink part way into the water) and resisting (the yang producing buoyancy that floats the boat rather than letting it sink or completely penetrate the water). It is the balance between the water ‘yielding’ and ‘resisting’ that produces the dynamic of the boat’s position in the water. This is the up/down directions, but flowing water can also have this integrated duality in the upstream/downstream direction. From upstream one could say that the water is ‘pushing’ the boat, whereas the water flowing downstream past the boat could be viewed as ‘pulling’ the boat. In both cases, the point of interaction with the hull of the boat has both yin and yang. This is what I am looking for in my Taijiquan practice. The yin/yang quality of water is the same regardless of the size of the boat, but the specifics of the interaction differ (the differing surface areas and shapes of the boats that are in contact with the water, etc.).

Often, the cycle or rotation of the energy or structure (posture) that we use produces the unified yin/yang that I am looking for. For interactions with external forces, the water analogy (water interacting with a boat) works well, but I think that this yin/yang intersection should also be manifested in our own bodies, and for this I prefer using the ball analogy. When a ball rotates when something contacts it, one side will be rotating towards the point of contact while the opposite side will be rotating away from the point of contact [i.e. yin + yang intersecting at the point of contact and affecting the interaction].

So, while I really like the way that you address the energy to the crown of the head, I also personally tend to emphasize the cycle that it helps produce. All the components of the cycle are important (crown of the head, pelvic floor, dantian, mingmen, chest/back, chin and gaze, etc.), but the resulting cycle is, to me, what produces the harmonious interaction of yin and yang. It is the cycle that allows any interaction to have both yin and yang. It is the cycle of yin and yang that allows for correct energy at the point of contact through the infinite variations possible with the interactions. It is the cycle that would allow both arms in the Brush Knee posture to be correct even though they are held differently from each other.

To illustrate this cycling and rotation in push-hands I use the stationary one hand pushing exercise. The person in Ward-Off has the in/out balance of peng like a properly inflated ball; neither resisting nor collapsing. To the in/out can be added the rotation of the ball when it is touched off-center by even the slightest. So, if the incoming energy is slightly above the center of the arm (or angled upwards) the forearm/wrist can rotate such that the palm of the hand is turning down; and vice versa (the palm rotating up if the incoming energy is below the center of the arm or is angled downwards). Similarly the rotation (like for a ball) can be on the plane of the forearm (if the right arm is in Ward-Off, then rotating to the right in response to incoming energy to the right of the receiver’s center of the body; but also can be the reverse direction if the person pushing incorrectly, for this drill, pushes towards the other side of the body). Not illustrated in the standard one-hand push drill but also possible is the rotation produced by the wrist/hand rising and the elbow sinking (and vice versa with the wrist/hand sinking and the elbow rising).

As long as the energy of rotation is present, then the actual movement can be either large or almost imperceptibly small. Since all of the actions described above for Ward-Off in the one-hand push drill can be described with the analogy of the ball (or spherical energy at the point of contact), I tend to use the ball/sphere in preference to the water analogy that is often used. Any time that a ball rotates in response to contact it is by its nature automatically having one side advance towards the point of contact while the opposite side moves away, thus producing both yin and yang at the point of contact. One side yin and the other side yang avoids the tendency of having yang on both sides (resisting), or yin on both sides (collapsing), of the point of contact and thus producing double-weighting, or double pressure (resisting or collapsing).

Of course, there is much more involved in even this rather basic drill, and I do not really disagree with anything that you have posted, but I did want to present my approach( because of its differences) for anyone who may be interested.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss these concepts with you, and I apologize if something is not clear or helpful (or wrong), or if this post is too long.

DP
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