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falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2015 3:00 pm
by Louis Swaim
Greetings,

It's gotten very quiet in this forum! Here's something that I worked on yesterday.

Years back when I translated some of the core taijiquan classics, I was pondering the statement in one of the texts, “One’s form is like a falcon seizing a rabbit” [形如搏兔之鶻]. In my investigation, I happened upon another phrase in Chinese literature that almost certainly inspired the taijiquan saying: “The rabbit rises as the falcon lowers” [兔起鶻落]. This phrase has become an idiom connoting action that is bold and agile –things coming together in a perfect captured moment of simultaneity. The image originates from an essay on painting bamboo, by the eleventh-century poet-painter Su Dongpo (1037-1101). I’ve translated part of the essay here, benefiting somewhat from translations and/or commentary by Osvald Siren, The Chinese on the Art of Painting; Susan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih, Early Chinese Texts on Painting; and Francois Jullien, The Great Image Has No Form, or On the Nonobject through Painting. As one reads the essay, it becomes clear that it is about more than painting bamboo, and applies to one’s interface with nature, or to what the Daoist thinker Zhuangzi referred to as “nurturing life.”
~~~
When bamboo starts to grow, its joints and leaves are already complete in a sprout of merely one inch. Emerging cicada-belly like, snake-scale like, then ascending like swords to as high as eighty feet, it is born with these qualities in it.
Now when a painter paints it joint by joint, and simply adds on leaf by leaf, how could this be bamboo? Hence, in painting bamboo, one must first get the complete bamboo in your mind [literally, in your breast 於胸中], grasp the brush, and look carefully. Then when you see what you want to paint, rise up and pursue it. Arouse the brush to directly follow in order to chase down what you see, just as the rabbit rises when the falcon swoops down [兔起鶻落]. If you let up even slightly, it will be lost. What Wen Tong taught me was like this. I am unable to attain it, but my mind knows how it comes to be so.

When the mind knows how it comes to be so, but one is unable to make it so, this is because the inner and outer are not one; the mind and the hand are not in accord [心手不相應*]. It is the flaw of insufficient study.

So, whenever there’s a case where you can see something within, but you cannot bring it to fruition, it is because what you may apprehend in your ordinary daily life can suddenly be lost in a crucial moment of application. How can this only be about bamboo?

When [my brother] Su Che wrote The Ink Bamboo Poem for Wen Tong, he said, “Cook Ding sliced up an ox, but those who nourish life [養生者] received something from it. Wheelwright Pian crafted cartwheels, but erudites dug him.”

*心手不相應 is an allusion to Zhuangzi’s Wheelwright Pian story, where Pian says, “Not too gentle, not too hard—you can get it in your hand and feel it in your mind [得之於手而應於心]. You can’t put it into words, and yet there’s a knack to it somehow.”

Take care,
Louis

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2015 7:12 am
by fchai
Hi Louis,

Your transcripts, as usual, are profound as one would expect from one so well versed and deep in the understanding of the subtleties of the Chinese classics. Your words have given me some food for thought and to try to grasp their relationships and meanings.
The rabbit and the falcon seems to allude to serendipity, but does it then follow that when we practice Taiji we should aspire to always be serendipitous in our actions? That yin and yang should always serendipitously complement each other as our qi flows?
The lesson of the bamboo seems more to be alluding that Taiji is an entirety and if one sees only the parts that make it so, one does not see its entirety. To see Taiji as (to use an analogy and probably a bad one at that,) a machine made of of different and separate components, then one does not know or understand Taiji. Just as you and I are not defined by the discrete bits that make us who and what we are.
Then again, I might be whistling in the wind.

Many thanks, Louis.

Yours in our lifelong journey,
Frank

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 4:31 pm
by Louis Swaim
Greetings Frank,

The interesting thing is that a particularly skillful moment can feel like serendipity, but that doesn't mean that it is a case of serendipity. It doesn't "just happen." Su makes that point explicitly when he says that when things don't come together well, "it is the flaw of insufficient study."

Your second point is right on target. Mastering an art like taijiquan is not a matter of acquiring an inventory of skills, but of embodying the art as a whole.

Take care,
Louis

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2015 8:05 pm
by Bob Ashmore
It's all well and good to say that TCC should be considered/practiced/done as a "whole" and not as individual parts but to achieve the whole you must first learn all of the separate components, only then can you can meld them together into a whole.
Part of the experience of TCC is the learning of the art. As we all should be aware this takes a very, very long time.
Some of us take longer than others.
I may never get there.
Still, while learning and practicing are we not at least performing parts of this whole?
If not then what, exactly, are we doing during this time?

Strange thoughts for a Tuesday afternoon, but that is where my mind went when reading these posts.

The concept of "Ones form is like a falcon seizing a rabbit", is one I feel I have achieved a small amount of understanding with. It is very much like the saying, "One should move like a cat catching a mouse".
In the Yang family sword form there is a posture that embodies this, "Agile Cat Seizes the Mouse". Performing this posture I can very clearly focus on this concept and it has allowed me to bring it into the rest of my art in a rather clear fashion.
I have spent a little over a decade experimenting with the feelings I find during this posture, and now many others. It has allowed me to explore many things; patience, agility, extension, quickness, just to name a few.
As for "the rabbit rises when the falcon lowers"...
I have no response to that.
It seems to be saying that a rabbit would rise up to assist a falcon to grasp it. This concept doesn't make any kind sense to me, so rather than attempt to discuss it I will leave it to better minds to grasp its meaning and hopefully I will benefit from their thoughts.

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2015 9:05 pm
by Louis Swaim
Here's a nice video of an eagle snatching salmon from just below the surface of the water. It's a different bird/prey scenario, but it's evocative of the timing required. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq8NRDDssMw

--Louis

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2015 10:57 pm
by Louis Swaim
Greetings Bob,

I think Su Dongpo was contrasting rudimentary learning with mastery. Learning the rudiments of an art is of course prerequisite to mastery of the whole. So the painter learns how to hold the brush, how to position the body, the shoulder, the wrist. The martial artist learns footwork, weight shifts, posture, breathing. Even so, long ago I noticed a qualitative difference in the way taijiquan skills are packaged and learned. Prior to finding a taiji sifu, I studied karate and jujitsu. In jujitsu in particular, I learned countless discrete wrist release techniques, locks, strikes, and the like. When I first began studying taijiquan, I wondered why we weren’t leaning a similar inventory of techniques. Then one day my sifu demonstrated the sequence including Needle at Sea Bottom and Fan through Back with an opponent. There before my eyes was an array of beautiful skills, from simple wrist releases to joint locks, to disabling strikes. We had learned Needle at Sea Bottom as a continuous flow—from the preceding form and on into Fan through Back. The techniques were already complete in the forms (like the joints and leaves in a sprout of bamboo), but we first had to learn the flow and sequence of the forms as a whole in order for the techniques to work as well as they do.

Now regarding “the rabbit rises as the falcon lowers,” it’s about capturing the right moment. I’m sure you’ve encountered this in push hands, where the timing of your push is determined by a hint of resistance or imbalance in your opponent. It is not a matter of you initiating the push, but your opponent presents the opportunity, and your body responds accordingly. That moment of vulnerability of the opponent is the rabbit rising, if you will. It feels almost simultaneous, nearly coincidental, but that is because “the inner and the outer are one” and “the mind and hand are in accord.” It’s interesting that Su Dongpo was talking about painting, but the insights certainly sound like classical taijiquan teachings.

Take care,
Louis

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2015 10:18 pm
by fchai
Hello Louis,
I recall reading awhile ago of how a Taiji master was so adept that he was impossible to surprise in an attack. One would innocuously pass by and suddenly launch an attack. The master responded without seeming thought and the attack was easily despatched and with interest. This also reminded me of the 'falcon and rabbit'. To an ignorant onlooker it would seem that the master had magical skills and was prescient. It would also seem serendipitous, but as you rightly pointed out, it isn't. As I continue to practice and to teach others the little that I know, I find more profound depths to Taiji that I didn't appreciate 30 years ago when I began this journey.
Please continue imparting your thoughts as I find that they make me think more about the essence of Taiji.
Many thanks.
Yours in this very rewarding journey,
Frank

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 10:47 pm
by Audi
Greeting all,

Louis, thanks for the follow up.

I would say that for me, 兔起鶻落 gives the image of things coming together as if by magic, even though it is not really so.
"The rabbit rises, and the the hawk descends." The relationship between the two clauses is left unsaid, just as both events can be witnessed without understanding how exactly they are brought together to make one moment in time.

Take care,
Audi

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Mon Jan 11, 2016 11:26 pm
by fchai
Greetings,

While perusing some old notes I have on the essence of Taijiquan, I came across this statement, "The form is like that of a falcon about to seize a rabbit, and the spirit, shen, is like that of a cat about to catch a mouse. ". Where and who originated this statement I do not know. Perhaps the learned Louis might be able to shed some light on this?

Yours in this ever evolving journey,
Frank

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Tue Jan 12, 2016 1:35 am
by ChiDragon
兔起鶻落是什麽意思?
What is 兔起鶻落 mean?

【解釋】兔子剛跳起來,鶻就飛撲下去。比喻動作敏捷
Interpretation: The rabbit just jumps up, the falcon dives in to catch it. This is a metaphor for a swift action.

This is a Chinese idiom which was written in classics. There is a particular way in interpreting the classics. The interpretation should not be translated directly word for word. It may not make any sense if we do. Especially, it was translated into another language. It should be interpreted indirectly to reach its actual meaning.

Let's translated the phrase as the "the rabbit raises and the falcon descends." The phrase seems like it is describing the action of the animals. Unfortunately, the interpretation requires a little imagination or inductive reasoning. It was well known that a rabbit runs fast and the falcon dives very fast to catch its prey. The phrase was describing the swiftness of both animals rather than the animals themselves. Actually, the phrase was used to describe the swift action of a Tai Ji form just like both animals

Re: falcon/rabbit

PostPosted: Tue Jan 12, 2016 3:38 pm
by Louis Swaim
fchai wrote:Greetings,

While perusing some old notes I have on the essence of Taijiquan, I came across this statement, "The form is like that of a falcon about to seize a rabbit, and the spirit, shen, is like that of a cat about to catch a mouse. ". Where and who originated this statement I do not know.

Yours in this ever evolving journey,
Frank


Hi Frank,

That quote comes from one of the important core taijiquan classics, "The Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures." It's attributed to Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880).

Take care,
Louis