Where is everyone?

Postby tai1chi » Sun Apr 28, 2002 7:35 pm

Hi Audi,
I too, like everyone, enjoy and benefit from your posts. You consistently raise intriguing questions. Well, I'm kind of ecclectic, so I don't expect anyone to agree. In this case, though, it might just be a matter of perspective.

Anyway,

>>I can't deny the importance of body alignment in tcc, but thinking that one form of human is extremely different from another might ultimately be a self-limitation.<<

I understand the confusion about my remark. I left out the important word "actvity" after "human." I meant that, imo, perceiving tcc and karate as being "extremely" different can be limiting. For example, many people believe that external and internal martial arts aim toward the same thing: i.e., putting the body and mind in harmony. Of course, every martial art has its own philosophy, strategy, and manner of training. So, if a tcc person walks into a karate school, or any other ma style school, he'll immediately note the difference. However, it's often the case that, if a tcc person and a karateka were put into a tournament, etc., they might look fairly similar. I'm not saying that is the "test" of tcc; I'm only making an observation. From what you said of Yang Jun's seminar, it seems that he also agrees that the form is training, not execution. That's what I supposed you meant by "formlessness." I believe that most martial arts seek formlessness through the form. As you know, there are a few that avoid any type of form training, JKD for ex. They too, see formlessness; they just train differently. OK, I am a traditionalist who believes in the benefit of form. But, at that point, I see little difference among the methods. I.e., they are all just that: methods of training. I mentioned bagua only because you questioned its stepping methods.


> . . . Single Whip and Fair Lady Works/Threads the Shuttle. As I understand Bagua theory, one is always stepping on the circumference of a circle and so will never have to step as much as 180 degrees. Still, such stepping methods as having the toes almost facing each other (in a pigeon-toed way") does not exactly seem "intuitive" to me, however effective in usage. In defense of the greater "normalcy" of Single Whip and Fair Lady, let me say that at least Taijiquan practitioners never have to look and execute techniques facing backwards.

Well, there are bagua styles that utilize linear stepping. Circle-walking, though, is a crucial aspect of training that is relatively characteristic of bagua. The pigeon-toed step, per se, is fundamental to Wing chun, which peple say is "linear." Anyway, you raise a key point. Why is this sort of "pigeon-toed" stepping in the tcc form at all? My own answer would be that tcc is set of principles, derived from Chinese philosophy, which have been applied to previously existing martial arts. On another list, this statement from Wang was recalled:

"Taiji Quan, the other name is Chang Quan (Long Fist), also named Shi San Shi (Thirteen Postures). It is Chang Quan because it likes a long river and an ocean flowing forever wave by wave."

Some people actually take the first sentence literally and argue that tcc derived primarily from Chang Quan, a style which is often considered the basis for many of the northern Chinese martial arts. It is not unreasonable to suggest that some parts of tcc came from some of those sources. Feng Zhi Qiang has argued:

"Taiji is a compound of eighteen other martial art styles. Using the theory of Taoism, I-Ching, and Chinese Traditional Medicine to form its theoretical foundation, especially yin-yang theory and the meridians in traditional medicine."
http://www.silkreeler.com/articles/wrkshp_trans.shtml

I could never demonstrate the 18 styles, but I suggest they're easy to interpret from the traditional "animal" names that suffuse our form; crane, snake, tiger, leopard, monkey/ape, dragon, phoenix, (horse), etc. All of which can be traced to techniques within traditional Chinese martial arts. Of course, the external forms are not what makes it "tcc." Anyway, again in regards to bagua, I'm reminded of YCF's words in Chen Weiming's Da Wen. YCF is asked *specifically* about the presence of bagua type stepping in tcc. Chen asks:

"Does Taichi have the Pa Kua boxing method of walking a circle and changing without limit?
YCF: Yang Shao-hou once taught me a method in which two men, their right hands touching, from low to high drawing a circle, simultaneously circled to the right with their right legs inside. . . . This was a two-man sticking practice embodying 't'ing chin', but since the feet changed it was no different from Pa Kua Boxing."

Well, I'm not going to try to interpret what he meant when he said "no different." I think, though, that it gets back to the idea I implied that thinking about tcc in a stationary sense and thinking about it in motion can be somewhat different. And, it can lead to thinking that something normal is abnormal, and vice versa.

You also wrote:

"Lastly, with respect to our discussion about the “stationary” quality of Taijiquan, let me clarify that my view of this is that phrases such as “stillness in motion” or “overcoming movement with stillness” do not refer to gross movement, but rather to a combination of the requirements to “follow the opponent,” “not to move, unless the opponent moves,” and to “launch later, but get there first.”
I know that some take these to be statements of high-level quantitative ability that could apply to martial arts generally. They see them as essentially meaning: “Be alert, nimble, and quick in your reactions.” I prefer to think of these as qualitative statements of strategy and tactics that should apply to all but the very beginning levels of Taijiquan. In my mind, they do not refer to the tactics, strategy, or spirit of the little I have seen of other martial arts."

Hmm, well I can only say that these theories do occur in the works of Sun Tzu and other martial strategists. I agree that the tcc masters chose the strategies, tactics, and principles that appeal to me the most.

I like the way you put this, but I'm not sure if I'm entirely in agreement.

>"Put differently, it seems to me that Karate and Taekwondo flash, Aikido flows, Wing Chun flicks, Bagua swirls, and Taijiquan pivots at the fulcrum of power. What is most noticeable about the pivoting is the great effect gained by minimal motion and the difficulty of pinning down precisely what movements are the source of the effect."


I think that all martial arts may utilize any or all these qualities. Certainly, tcc has "flow" and some "flicks" here and there, even as it is. I guess I consider it as an encyclopedia of the best possibilities to maximize potential. Different people concentrate on different chapters, so they're not always on the same page; but they're still reading the same book.

Regards,
Steve J
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Postby Michael » Wed May 01, 2002 5:12 pm

Steve,

Someone here agrees with you. Also I had forgot about your citation from the Chen Wei Ming book. It always surprises me on how much information is really in that slender book.

Audi, I also agree with Steve's comment on the quality of your posts. You always stir up my brain. Thanks, keep them coming.

One more thing, linear thinking and linear stepping may fit well in form practice but neither suffice in actual application since it is dependent on the movement of the opponent. One thing that has always struck me about TCC is incredible versatility/adaptability that it allows for in movement in particular. This, as I noted before, is something (among other things) that is shared with Bagua. It is not always the precise angles of the feet that are important, but the more general placement and root.

One could argue that the angles of the toes have an affect upon technique. Often they do as seen in single whip with waist rotation and turning on the left ball. Outside of form that left foot could be thought of a rear foot as opposed to a lead foot if one had stepped to the side and around an opponent. In this case the technique would most likely be done to the left.

This thread has got me looking at a number of "forms" or "positions" and their transitions done "inside out" or "backwards" in terms of where one steps. I still see the heel pivots mainly as rear foot adjustments (maybe for power at times) or for "defensive" techiques in the front foot. I also do not see them as necessary for simple forward movement in "real" application most of the time as I feel they slow you down considerably. They are valuable in form practice whether you do them weighted or not or both ways.
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Postby Audi » Wed May 15, 2002 5:51 am

Hi Steve and Michael,

Thank you for your posts. I think I agree with much or all of what you both have written. At the same time, I wonder if I may not be making myself clear about why I make such a big deal about clearly separating Taijiquan principles from those in other styles. I sense you both do not look favorably upon the common view that Taijiquan uniquely possesses certain “neat-sounding” qualities among martial arts, such as softness, use of the mind, concern with yin and yang, etc. If you believe that I share this view and that this is the source of my monomania, let me assure you that it is not.

My concern with separating Taijiquan from other martial arts is not about putting Taijiquan in a category by itself and all other martial arts in another category. My concern is that I think many of the concepts Taijiquan focuses on are subtly different from those of other arts and that these concepts combine in different ways that are important to the integrity of Taijiquan practice.

On a very practical level, I have seen myself and fellow students develop blocks to progress by mixing certain principles in Taijiquan with those of other arts or other activities. Before giving examples of this, let me touch on the concept of applications. If Taijiquan has a particular type of punch or strike and another art has a punch or strike that looks similar, is the difference between the two all that important? In my view, the answer is yes.

Clearly, the basic Taiji form consists of postures that contain many applications. My feeling is that the Taijiquan the Yangs teach does not focus on these applications as such, but rather on the principles they reveal. At the seminar I recently attended, Yang Jun gave his customary emphasis on exacting detail throughout instruction in the 49-movement form and the basic mechanics of the push hands drills. When he switched to showing push hands applications, as opposed to the mechanics of the drills, there was no more talk of “rotating this or that” or “shifting this or that.” He seemed to focus only on adapting to the opponent’s energy as manifested at a given moment and seemed to assign no value at all to calculated repetition of positions. I believe he mentioned that after one learns to make one’s movements according to standard, push hands is about learning “energy” and not about perfecting sets of movements.

I can contrast this approach to Taiji drills and exploration of applications to my brief exposure to Aikido and to throwing and locking techniques in the Karate system I learned. In these experiences, I had no form at all to practice with; however, each individual application was drilled to great mechanical precision. In other words: “Grab here; twist there, using this level of tension.” Although principles were discussed, the drilling was all geared toward precision in execution of specific techniques.

I find there are many principles in Taijiquan that look like those of other activities, but are not the same in my opinion. Although I believe one has nearly free choice of what set of principles to follow or develop, I do not believe there is free choice to shift individual principles between sets of principles. I believe even less that one has a choice as to how particular principles find specific expression in a given context.

Let me give some concrete examples that I believe apply to what the Yangs teach, though not necessarily to other styles of Taijiquan. In some versions of Yang Taijiquan, I see practitioners who execute Single Whip with a significant bend in the elbow of the right arm, yet envision the same wrist strike that I do. This is required by their view of what "song" ("relaxation") means. They feel that being “song” means to ease up on the muscles that extend the arm and that by extending the arm fully they are making the muscles too tense. Since my view of "song" is very different, I cannot justify bending my elbow on this basis. In fact, I would consider doing so to be a clear violation of the “relaxation” principles I think I understand. Again, this does not address whether bending my elbow might conform to some other set of principles espoused by other Taijiquan practitioners.

Failing to abide my understanding of “song” during the multiple times Single Whip comes up during form and doing this day after day would mean that I would be training my body and mind incorrectly and internalizing the wrong principles. By doing this, all of the other principles I would be attempting to internalize would also be critically weakened, since they are interrelated and mutually dependent.

In other postures, the Yangs require the elbow of a striking arm to have a slight bend, with different postures having different degrees of bend (e.g. Play the Guitar/Pipa, Brush Knee and Twist/Counter Step). In my mind, this has nothing whatsoever to do with an arbitrary choice on their part or a free choice among practitioners, but rather is the result of the movement principles underlying what they teach. All they are doing, in my opinion, is requiring the elbow to be as straight as possible in the context of the particular application they envision.

Does this mean that others who do form differently are not doing real Taijiquan? Is someone doing bad Taijiquan if he or she bends the right arm in Single Whip? In my opinion, such a view would be going too far on too few facts. First, the same principles require different physical manifestation depending on one's purpose or mind intent ("yi"). Without being able to deduce something about someone's mind intent, I do not think anthing can be said about his or her posture choices. Second, Taijiquan does have room for different principles, or rather different emphasis among the same principles. Once, however, a particular set of principles is adopted, one's freedom stops, in my opinion. If you follow the Yangs’ principles, I do not believe you can bend the right elbow in Single Whip with the same intent they have.

Let me give some examples where I believe I often go astray or see others who appear to be hindered by mixing different sets of principles. All my examples assume an attempt to follow the principles the Yangs and similar teachers espouse. If you follow different principles, my examples may very well not apply.

Failing to straighten the back leg in bow stances. Keeping a definite bend in the back leg is required by many martial arts and in some styles of Taijiquan. In my view of what the Yangs teach, however, keeping a pronounced bend in the back leg of a bow stance is a violation of "song" ("being loose/relaxed") and not a mere posture choice subject to individual taste. It would be like to trying to jump up high in the air, while deliberately trying to maintain a bend in the knees, rather than letting the legs naturally straighten as they leave the ground.

Mixing ward off and roll back energies with techniques that attempt to block or deflect an opponent's strike. Blocking and deflecting require knocking a technique off its trajectory. This implies a sequential use of energy, a disconnection, or punctual thinking that I think is foreign to what the Yangs teach. As I understand what the Yangs teach, Ward Off and Roll Back require a continuous conversion of the energy coming from the opponent, not a one-time deflection, however “soft” or “relaxed.” I do not believe even a pulling intention rightly applies to Roll Back, since that implies revealing something of oneself to the opponent and is in conflict with the principle of “following.”

Mixing the hip rotation used in styles like Karate or Tae Kwon Do with how Taijiquan uses the waist. Most Karate strikes I recall require hip rotation, whereas there are many strikes in the Yangs' form that rely on weight shifts with minimal or no waist or "hip” rotation. (E.g., the left hand in Single Whip, Fist under Elbow, the (right-hand) back fist in Chop with Fist, the left hand in High Pat on Horse and Thrusting Palm, and Fan through the Back).

Mixing the alternation between relaxing and tensing muscles with what the "fangsong" ("lossening/relaxing") of the Yangs’ Taijiquan requires. Karate and Tae Kwon Do require such alternations, but in my view, the Yangs’ Taijiquan is not concerned with this continuum at all. I also do not believe that “Fangsong” is simply Karate/Tae Kwon Do relaxation without the subsequent tension.

Mixing the purpose and feel of cat stances in Karate, Tai Kwon Do, etc. with the purpose of Empty stances (xu shi bu) of the Yangs’ Taijiquan. For example, Karate has frequent front leg kicks from this stance and thus requires this leg to be completely unweighted. I am unaware, however, of any kicks in any of the Yangs' forms from such a stance. The Yangs’ stance requires shared weight between the feet (30/70), rather than 100/0. How and when the strike is delivered is also completely integrated with the timing of the weight shift. In the Karate I learned, strikes had no necessary connection with shifting the weight or changes in stances. Other martial arts I have observed also seem to share this philosophy.

Mixing the principle of focus with the principle of mind intent. Karate focus requires timing the increase in tension of all relevant parts of the body to maximize the output of force at a single instant in a particular spot. The effect of the coordination is judged at only that one instant. Mind intent (“yi”), on the other hand, is used to organize all the joints in the body to interact in producing a result. This integrated use of the joints is continuous. For instance, in the forms the Yangs teach, the palms or fists always finish seating long before the peak moment of a strike. In my view, this is because the strikes are viewed as a process extending over time. This process contains an equilibrium of forces that individually change, but that do not change in aggregate. This requires the wrists to be seated throughout what otherwise would be thought of as a preparatory movement. The strikes are not merely points in time or the culmination of preparatory movements.

Mixing the principle of continuity of movement with continuity of energy and mind intent. Simply keeping the body moving does not mean integrated energy is moving. A similar issue is mixing simultaneity of movement with coordination of energy. For instance, just because the waist moves at the same time as the arms does not mean that they are threaded together or integrated. I especially continue to suffer from this. Unfortunately, I find it quite easy to do Taijiquan with “clear” weight shifts that are not really coordinated with upper body movements.

I would certainly defend the validity and sophistication of the Karate I learned, but I do not believe that “Coordinating upper and lower” as the Yangs teach it was part of the movement principles of what I learned. None of the blocks or strikes were dependent upon weight shifts or any lower body movements beyond hip rotations.

Let me close by saying that I believe that the essential difference in principles manifests itself in multiple ways. For instance, in the Karate I studied, I was taught the names in Japanese for each of the techniques in our system the very first time I was exposed to them. I still recall many of them now, twenty or so years later, because they were integral to the way I was taught and the movement principles I was trained in. From a single stance, we were often drilled in throwing an entire series of hand techniques being having each one called out individually by the instructor. I have studied Taijiquan for much longer than I did Karate and have read much more of the literature, but hardly know the names for any of the “equivalent” techniques or applications, either in Chinese or English.

How many people in the English speaking Taiji community know the Chinese terms for “back fist,” “knife-hand strike,” or “palm block,” despite years of practice? I, for one, am not even sure of the English name for the stance used in White Crane Spreads Wings. Is it “Empty Stance,” or does this term refer more properly to the transitional stance that occurs when one of the feet is completely unweighted? This web site describes palm methods, but has nothing on palm “strikes” or “blocks” that I recall. We do not “throw” Standing Palms or “counter” with Level Seated Palms, since these terms are descriptive only of incidental external phenomena. They are not Taiji applications or even Taiji energies in themselves.

Some might protest that the many Taiji posture names serve the purpose of naming applications. Let me address this by referring to the four or five moves that comprise Grasp Sparrow’s Tail (Ward Off (Left and Right), Roll Back, Press, and Push). These are signature moves in the Yang Style forms, yet none of them survive unaltered in the Push Hands set. I view this not as an oversight or defect, but more evidence that Taijiquan focuses heavily on mastery of energy principles, especially at lower levels of achievement, and does not bother much with applications in themselves. If one has not internalized Taiji movement principles and become deliberately conscious of these principles, what use is there to bother with perfecting or memorizing “techniques” or “applications”? How can one really use a Taiji application without mastery and use of the underlying principles?

Enough now of my ranting. I hope this makes where I am coming from clear. I invite anyone to affirm or pick apart anything I have said, since that is the only way I can learn.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Michael » Fri May 17, 2002 5:36 pm

Audi,

whoa!

THE difference between TCC and other martial art are the principles. Though I would state that Bagua shares most of them but has a different external or "strategic" viewpoint.

the shifting of weight in the pivots like Brush knee...if this is what you are talking about (in part) as a matter of principles generally, I would disagree as I see it as a matter of technique.

You said..

"...the system the Yangs teach seem to be one where the cirriculum is meant to train the body, mind, and spirit in certain ways. After this point is reached, all bets are off.....sparring would show the influence of the bare hand form as a foundation but would not necessarily resemble these in many specifics."

exactly.

We train a certain structure and it is structure of strenght. Not muscular but structural alignment. It is structure that that can contend with most variables that we may face. As an example: The arm structure in Lift hands...it is everywhere, the Bow stance, but when you come down to it, they are at times manifistations of technique more than principle....the ten essentials etc. The same about stepping.

We train form for all the reasons you state. However a "form" is more than that, it is technique, thousands of them. If technique (and the variations) was not important we would be doing nothing but standing meditation. Which is by the way, how many high level artists train for push hands. Technique is so well ingrained it is not necessary anymore.

It is true, the Yangs do not focus on them as you state, that the underlying principle is the focus...and it should be. They or most teachers can't focus on all these techniques. there isn't the time as there once was. A few illustrations are to help us understand the use of energy in that particular technique and in general. But that same energy can be used the same way to accomplish other things. It for the most part is up to us to explore on our own. And if one is very serious it is mandatory to do so. If the Yang's emphasize technique A it does not mean to think less of B. The form is designed to build upon itself and different energies, their direction and methods, weight shift alone, waist alone and with shift, sinking, rising, pivots, are emphasized at different times for ease of helping the students understandings.

You mention Bow stance and the "straight"(but not straight) back leg. It is a structure not a principle. In most cases of actual application you will not find yourself in the extended frame you are in in the form. You will tend to be much more upright for the simple reason of the closeness we prefer to be in. IF you adhere to that straight back leg you will rise up, breaking a principle and lose your root. But in an extend position and then only with SUCCESSFUL completion of the technique you are applying would you straighten that rear leg so much....or in the case where your movement comes more from the side.

Ward off or roll back becomes a "block" if you are trying to defend yourself and your timing is lacking. The structural shape provides it and still without any significant increase in muscle tension if your waist is still involved and with any weight shift that may be called for it. If your timing is flawless (and it has to be) the opponent takes care of himself so to speak. That is the ideal that we strive for. I have practiced this a lot. If my timing is good he will lose his root, if I am off he is deflected and can punch with the other hand. But in any case the principles are upheld as my waist performed the technique NOT muscular tension in my arm.

Now if your timing is somewhere in between the taiji "block" and breaking his root you have the option of "grasping", "controlling" his arm and helping him along to that point that he can't recover from. You are still following. Since this is still done with the waist and his motion is still forward the priniples are upheld. This IS one of technique in roll back as in many, many others. This is inherent in taiji not borrowed. You are correct that if you feel that he has recovered and has begun withdrawing and still try the grasp you would be "pulling" and break the priciples. There is a difference and a big one.

Technique. What good would "memorizing" techniques be without the principles being mastered. We could learn the principles of taiji by doing nothing but standing meditation and walking patterns, and standing, moving the waist and circling the arms and combinations of...that is form practice is it not? Except for the standing of course. The only thing that could be said to be lacking in the method just described would be intent. That is where "technique" or "application" comes in. What good are all the deep internalized principles if the intent and technique is lacking. How can one call upon it if it is empty?

I agree, the principles are the most important thing we study. But this is a martial art, and we really learn to understand the "USE" of "energy" from the exploraton of techniques. Some people could easily think that I am mainly technique oriented (I am not saying you do). In one sense I am--in understanding and developing the coordination necessary for proper expresson of the principles of taiji and esp. Yang family taiji. There is alot of tai chi out there that only trains the "principles", not application, not intent. It can be very beautiful, flowing,...but it is hollow, yin without yang.

I as of late have been spending a considerable amout of time studying transitions of one move a week. In it I have discovered technique after technique that no one ever alludes to, but which are there...and not from my imagination (some are however). I found that I had brushed by certain aspects in these transitions that sometimes only appeared to be just getting the arms/hands in position to do something else. I was very wrong. With an improved understanding and "intent" more immediate, my whole body coordination, internally and externally has greatly improved in the few transitions I have worked on so far---and there is alot to improve upon, believe me.

I think MORE emphasis should be placed on technique and the many options...BUT...with the right frame of mind and the right focus. Without the right direction however it (technique training) is a dead end street as far as "real taiji". This is not the realm of the Yang family nor do i think that they themselves should undertake it. I think that in this day and age it is our own individual responsiblity to undertake this kind of practice. For me it very useful...but maybe not for others.

Lastly i find that you can apply tiji principles to other arts but not the other way around.


Let me just thank you Audi.

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 05-17-2002).]
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Postby Audi » Sat May 18, 2002 9:35 pm

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your very thoughtful response. I think we are in at least 90 percent agreement, if not 100 percent. While I have been pressing a more yin view of Taijiquan than some, I think you have eloquently put forth the Yang side.

I also have difficulty with a view of Taijiquan that is completely divorced from applications. If we are to put so much effort into mind intent/purpose, how can we ignore the martial applications of postures? I say this regardless of whether one is really intending to use Taijiquan for self defense or fighting. How can you put meaning into the hook hand of Single Whip, if you do not even now what part of your body is supposed to be contacting the opponent?

An allied view of Taijiquan that I have difficulty with is giving much importance to the power of imagination, as opposed to visualization. It is easy to imagine a lot of things, but hard to really visualize them. If you imagine being upside down, it feels fine. If you truly visualize it, you feel how gravity is trying to pull blood into your head and pull your pants up your legs. You can anticipate the effort it will take to push your hands up next to your hips. If you anticipate looking up at your feet, you know that you will have to strain the neck muscles that connect with your jaw. For me, putting my mind into an energy point has nothing to do with imagining currents of energy, but everything to do with feeling how various parts of my body must link up to give that point prominence. Althought the feeling originates in my mind, the flavor of it is quite physical.

As you have alluded to, one of the important yin-yang oppositions in Taijiquan is that the physical and mental must go hand in hand, principle with function, mind and body. One of the Ten Essentials is, of course, coordinating inner and outer. Although other arts certainly involve these aspects, I do not believe the relationship is as tight as in Taijiquan. I hope to post something about this sometime soon.

One last concrete example I would like to give is from my eternal struggles with Cloud Hands (Waving Hands like Clouds). I seem to recall at one of the earliest seminars I attended that the instructor (Master Yang Jun?) said that this was the most difficult posture in the form. I wondered at this, since it seemed to me that there were many postures that were more difficult. I realized, however, that I should file this thought away and had been warned.

I first used to view Cloud Hands as a posture in which the arms essentially windmilled in front of the body, like the propellers on a two engine plane. I marvelled at the excellence of Taijiquan because on top of this arm action, one added weight shifts and waist turns for added power. The whole body was involved and in motion. I was not entirely happy with my performance of the posture, however, and so continued to look for understanding.

As I then tried to soften my form and do my movements in a more “relaxed” way, I made my arm circles more graceful and my fingers softer. Now I marveled at the excellence of Taijiquan because it allowed me to whip my arms from side to side and subtly change my angles of defense by moving the waist. I was still not quite happy with my performance of the posture, but waited for enlightenment.

Following the teachings of another instructor I saw at a seminar, I gave up softening my form so much and began to move my arms in lock step with my waist, trying to move my arms as little as possible. Now I marveled at the excellence of Taijiquan because it used "whole-body power". Not entirely happy about this new direction, I sought to reconnect my movements with what I understood to be the Taiji mainstream.

About this time, I tried to conform my Cloud Hands to what I thought I saw the Yangs doing at a seminar. I gave up a lock step connection between the waist and arms and tried to envision the connection in more resilient terms. “Relaxation” stopped being mere “softening” and “easing up” and began being “loosening up and extending joints.” In addition to the outward circling of the arms, I added clear rotation of my hands and encircling movements of my arms to end the movement with a pluck/grap ("cai"). I liked the emphasis on the rotation, because this was a fundamental aspect of each of the Karate strikes and blocks I had learned many years earlier. I interpreted the rotation as a subtle way to increase the power of the technique. In retrospect, I wonder at how I accepted the contradiction between a powerfully diverting technique and a technique that was supposed to end in a sticky grab.

Under the influence of another master from another style, I reinterpreted the twisting of the hands as a constant rotation of the entire forearms, in compliance with the principle of silk reeling energy. Whole arm rotation seemed to conform better with what I understood the Yangs to be teaching. However, I was uncomfortable with overt silk reeling energy in a Yang form and suspended judgment about this until my next Yang seminar.

At the recent seminar, Yang Jun gave me tremendous insight into the mechanics, purpose, and feel of the rotating arm in the Roll Back of the basic four-hand exercise in Push Hands. From what he described, the rotation seemed to have nothing to do with increasing the power of the Roll Back, but everything to do with following the opponent’s energy without revealing any of one’s own. One important aspect of this seemed to be rotating and sticking to only one point on the opponent and not allowing one’s arm to slide along the opponent’s.

Although I had been exposed to all of these principles before, the clarity of them and the relationship between them struck me only then. It also finally solved for me the puzzle of why the retreat in Roll Back was not the major component of how one yielded and “followed” the opponent’s actions. Previous metaphors I have heard or used in connection with this are the actions of a rolling pin or a spinning beach ball, both of which move naturally in a particular way without any training and neither of which has a mind that can do something clever to outwit the opponent.

Yang Jun then stunned me the next day during his review of the 49-movement form, when he went over Cloud Hands. He said this posture was an opportunity to link up what we did in Push Hands the previous day with our form practice. He declared that the arm motion in Cloud Hands was substantially the same as in the Roll Back of the Push Hands drill. As I saw him perform it, I was able to see only for the first time some of the subtleties of his movement that had always puzzled me. As I see Cloud Hands at the moment, the movement seems to mimic a windmilling motion only because of the waist turn. In reality, it looks as if the arms simply lift up energy in Ward Off, then rotate downward in Roll Back, and end up in position to pluck the opponent’s wrist.

I am still working out the implications of this new view, but I now suspect much of my previous experimentation with Cloud Hands was overly influenced by other martial arts and other styles of Taijiquan. This is not necessarily bad in itself, but it is very bad if it prevents one from learning or understanding something else, as I believe happened in my case.

If anyone has any insights about what I have said about Cloud Hands, please feel free to share them. I would be particularly interested in what anyone can say about what movement of the feet or waist triggers the end of the Ward Off portion of the arm motion and similarly, what triggers the change from Ward Off to Roll Back.

I go into such detail to explain further what I feel are the physical implications of inappropriate mental frameworks. The specifics of my interpretations may be completely wrong, but I believe my general point has some merit. My statements are not, of course, limited only to Roll Back and Cloud Hands. I now am wondering about how I have been envisioning every other rotation in the form.

Have I been practicing to stick and follow my opponent’s energy, or to do something else? What about the right arm in White Crane Spreads Wings? Have I only been blocking and flicking my arm upward and ignoring any possibility of following my opponent’s energy? What about the right arm in Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch? As it circles back downward to the right, have I been seduced only by the feeling of power and have I been deaf to the possibilities of following the opponent’s energy with the circling? Does my Parting Wild Horses Mane really have a ward off intent, or have I really been optimizing the movement to whack my opponent with my arm, with a whip-like intent?

As I close, let me give a little back by making a plug for readers of this board to attend the Yang seminars. Although some of the seminars do require some prerequisite knowledge, the level of ability, viewpoints, and interests of the participants varies greatly. Just about anyone should feel welcome if they are willing to learn what the Yangs have to offer. Although it is impossible to perfect one’s Taijiquan at a seminar, it is very easy to come away with masses of material for later study.

I may be an extreme, but as a result of the recent seminar, I feel I advanced my study by at least a year’s worth and will introduce substantial changes to every posture of my form, except for the Preparation Posture. I can literally go posture by posture and point out some specific movement I must change or some specific feeling I must now reach for. Very few of these seem to me to be mere refinements or only optional variations without other implications. By and large, I see them as aspects of principles I was unknowingly violating or ignoring.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Michael » Sun May 19, 2002 7:29 pm

Audi,

My Kuang Ping Yang teacher described the use of the feet in Cloud Hands like this.

At "some point" one places the left foot/leg to the inside of the opponents right foot--or to the outside of his left. After intercepting the opponents incoming hand/fist, we ward off. As his energy is still going to our left we step in with the other foot and "capture" his foot between ours and he is then unable step out to gain his balance and our waist movement carries him along.. Now this is my own idea...If however he maintains balance and steps rearward with his rear leg (left in this case) we step out exactly like we do in the transition into single whip and either use Cloud Hands back to the right or go into single whip.

In Part Wild Horses Mane because you are stepping forward the techneque is primarily one of striking or again "helping" someone over your front leg which you have placed to the outside of the opponents front leg either after his lead arm has been "captured" or once he begins to withdraw his energy. This is implied in the "non standard" bow stance. This could be used for a ward off but the timing of the step, to ME, implies a more offensive action. With that said, the following you speak about is clearly there in the transition between them. This is a transition I will get to now that you have mentioned it. I'll get back to you if I find anything interesting.....It may not be "right" but simply another perspective.

You mention Deflect downward.... the right hand you are speaking of...the one moving down to the hip after the deflect downward? I don't know, but if the Parry has done it's job, the opponents body will have twisted to your left enough that your right would "seem" to be setting up for the punch--if something goes forward (step with left leg) something must go back (right arm)---there are ALWAYS other options however. In a real situation it is very, very doubtful that we would ever bring our fist down to the hip before a strike...it is just too time consuming in MOST situations. So does this action have meaning outside of form and principle? I find that every movement does. Again this will take more study. Interesting point.

I agree with your assesment of value of the seminars. I can't even begin to express how much I learned and how much it improved my tai chi. And the more you "know", the more you learn....and the more you learn teaches you how little you "know".

Make it good!

Michael
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Postby Michael » Wed May 29, 2002 4:56 pm

Hey Charla, where are you?

My best,

Michael
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Postby DavidJ » Wed May 29, 2002 9:23 pm

Hi Audi,

This is in regard to the questions raised about the pivots from ‘Brush Knee’ to ‘Brush Knee’ in your 04-17-2002 post.

The major difference that I see between what I do and what you describe is that I do this as a static weighted pivot and not as a dynamic weighted pivot. In ‘Brush Knee’ if your forward motion transforms first into a rotation (rotation during the pivot), then into a weight shift about 45 degrees forward and toward the foot that’s pivoting, there should be no problem. However, it can be done as a dynamic pivot.

There’s a general rule: all things being equal, always stay under your weight; if you need to choose between holding yourself up and moving in some direction parallel to the ground, then hold yourself up.

If you keep steady pressure from the back leg through the pivot then the front leg must regulate how much of that push is translated into forward motion. (Sometimes I put the “extra” pressure into the hand that’s forward.) If you keep thrusting forward beyond what the front foot can support you may well feel like you’re falling into a hole.

In other words if you don’t rotate the forward thrust you are tripping yourself because the pivot turns the support to the side. If you keep moving forward you need to point your weight in the direction that the pivoting front foot is pointing. And remember to lead with the tantien.

On 3/12/2002 I wrote, “I was taught to lift the toes, but it was clear that it was OK to lift the ball of the foot as well, and I did it that way for years, and still do on surfaces that give too much traction.” So on a carpet with sneakers that provides too much friction I would lift the ball of the foot.

Part of what you are learning is control. You should be stable if you lift the toes, if you lift the ball of the foot (whether you pivot or not), if you lift the heel, and if you lift the whole foot. Stability first. The pivot that leaves the ball of the foot on the ground is for surfaces with moderate to light traction, like your frosty deck.

Regards,

David J
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Postby Charla Quinn » Thu May 30, 2002 6:15 am

Hi Micheal,
I'm here nearly every day--reading, reading, learning, learning--so much to ponder! Thanks for asking.
Charla
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Postby Michael » Thu May 30, 2002 5:25 pm

Charla,

Good to hear. As you probably know---I don't "know" anything but I sure like to learn. There are some valuable questions posed here. Let's hope a few others will ask some more.

Good Practice! and my best,

Michael
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Postby Brandon Buhler » Sat Jun 01, 2002 10:00 pm

Good day to all

I've enjoyed reading the discussions on this board and am a new member. I would like to ask a question and thank anyone for any information. Is there any exercise that may be used to build "peng" energy?

Thank you again,

Brandon
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Postby Erik » Sun Jun 02, 2002 5:26 am

Hi All,

Are we talking about pivoting in a one legged stance (after a kick) or in a two legged stance?

In a one legged stance I've always understood it like this:

Pivot on the heel of the foot if - you will continue to keep the weight on the supporting leg (ie. kick with the left leg - turn - kick with the left leg again)

Pivot on the ball of the foot if - you will change the supporting leg after the pivot (ie. kick with the left leg - spin - kick with the right leg)

If you're talking about pivoting with both legs supporting you you'll notice that your body almost always naturally wants to pivot on the heel as this give the center of your mass the straightest line to the ground and is quicker (less friction).

No matter how you pivot you should remember to pivot the whole leg as a unit from the hip - always.

Good training - Erik
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Postby Audi » Sat Jun 08, 2002 2:16 am

Hi Erik,

At least in my case, I was most interested in the situation when I am shifting weight forward into a bow stance and then decide to continue forward with another full step. I have been taught exactly what you describe in terms of form theory; however, I have never been sure whether this was really supposed to apply to free sparring.

As I have learned saber and sword forms, I have been increasingly doubtful, since the pivoting you describe and which I have been taught for the barehand form seems to be absent and incompatible with even that slight increase in form speed. My speculation is that the pivoting taught for the barehand form is one of those practices that is supposed to train the body in recognizing certain structures, but which is not supposed to be transferred litterally into fighting theory.

I confess that if I ever needed to maintain pressure forward out of a bow stance, it would feel awkward to pivot on my heel. This would involve shifting the point of pressure in my foot backward from the bubbling spring into the heel while I was moving my center of gravity forward.

In the Karate I was taught many, many years ago, it was unnecessary to maintain much feeling in the bottom of my foot and so shifting the point of pressure was not a concern. Nevertheless, pivoting my front foot outward seemed impossibly slow even then and seemed only to telegraph my intentions. In sparring with any realistic intention, I think I used simply to reposition my foot, leave it in place to pivot afterwards, or pivot on the ball in mid stride.

Wu/Hao Style seems to solve this issue by doing away with the bow stance and having only one foot flat on the ground at a time.

When you spar using Taiji methods, do you always pivot on your heel when you have weight in both feet and need to step forward suddenly?

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Erik » Thu Jun 13, 2002 4:20 am

Hi Audi,

Heck no! The Yang style is not really famous for keeping it's combat footwork. Sun style is really good for this. The footwork is exactly the same as you would use it for fighting.

My opinion is that forms training is body mechanics training. When I fight I try to do what comes natural - and that means footwork as well.

I think moving step push-hands teaches a much more accurate combat footwork style.

Good Training - Erik
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Postby Audi » Sat Jun 22, 2002 7:47 pm

Hi Erik,

Thanks again for your response. Were you taught to pivot the front foot in moving step push hands, or were you taught merely to place your foot where it will need to "end up"? Put differently, do any of your steps form standard bow stances?

Take care,
Audi
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