Greetings Steve, et al.,
The expression "zuo gu you pan” is another of those four-character phrases that is so common in Chinese, and is not confined to its taiji meaning. Most commonly, it’s just a picturesque way of saying "look to the left and to the right.” The two different verbs, gu for "to look, to turn the head and look,” and pan for "to gaze” are just used, I think, to give the phrase color and variety. The verb "pan” sometimes has a more figurative connotation, as in "looking to the future,” or "looking with anticipation,” so the expression may connote looking that is both "vision” and "attitude.” I’ve found a number of different usages, a few of which have negative connotations, such as "inattentive,” "lack of concentration,” or "cheating on exams,” but more often the meaning of "zuo gu you pan” is positive, referring to an all-inclusive attentiveness, or careful and meticulous observation. This is most likely the meaning that informs the taiji expression.
I’ve done a quick translation below of the entry for ‘zuo gu you pan’ from the Dictionary of Essential Taijiquan Terminology (jingxuan taijiquan cidian, Beijing, 1998), followed by the entry for ‘gu pan.’ Please don’t consider either the translations or the content as definitive, as I think there are probably many interpretations of these concepts.
Zuo Gu You Pan: [Refers to] the changing aspects of motion when doing the movement training of taijiquan.
1. Leftward movement is "gu,” rightward movement is "pan.”
2. Form (xing, i.e., frame, physical shape, or body) movement is "gu,” intent (yi) movement is "pan.”
3. Movement (dong) is "gu,” stillness (jing) is "pan.” This refers to the correlative polarity (duili tongyi) of taijiquan movement. "Gu” and "Pan” each are one of the Thirteen Efficacious Dispositions.
Gu Pan: A term of art in taijiquan. Taijiquan is a type of holistic art (zhengti de yishu). During practice the expression and the intent should echo one another within and without, and must be conjoined and correlated within the movements. Gu Pan thus indicates this sort of condition where intention and form are mutually entailed.
This all sounds a bit vague and obscure to me, and it is difficult to reconcile these entries with the notion of "zuo gu” and "you pan” as elements of the "five phases,” as actual footwork, or in particular as "postures” within the Thirteen Postures -- another reason I prefer "dispositions.” Still, the reference to correlative polarity within the notion of zuo gu you pan is very interesting to me. In fact, this is what really grabbed my attention in Horacio’s observations about Yang Zhenduo’s eye movement in the Brush Knee Twist Step sequence. The kind of active scanning required involves a constant integration of focus and field, which I would consider an important but often overlooked kind of polarity in our practice. I think, also, that this is what Yang Zhenduo was addressing in his advice, as quoted by Horacio, to avoid a stiff or a "dead look” in the expression.
[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 02-23-2003).]