Hi Wushuer and Michael (and anyone else interested),
Wushuer, your description above was very elegantly put. It makes clearer some of the statements I dimly recall from reading some of the classics. However, even though I think I follow your description at a philosophical level, I am having difficulty linking it to my actual practice. Maybe I do not quite understand what you mean by “rooting.” Maybe Michael can provide a bridge, since he seems to have had long experience with both of the approaches we describe.
Where I think I can relate to your description is where I have had brief experiences doing things like pushing with the legs or engaging in exercises where I was trying to explore what should be done to protect a leg that is being attacked. Unfortunately, those were isolated experiences that I do not associate with basic form principles. I also recall that Steve started a brief thread on leg energies awhile back that went way over my head.
Here are some of my difficulties with the theories you have described. By listing them, I am not trying to imply that anything you have said is “wrong.” There are too many people who do what you say for a simple rejection to be meaningful, in my view. On the other hand, I tend to take a holistic view of things. My learning style needs a “theory of everything” to approach even a simple seemingly isolated thing. For me, that means that even a small inconsistency tends to be magnified into complete incompatibility at all levels, until I can readjust my theory and move forward, or not.
First, I have never understood which leg is supposed to be Yin and which Yang in any general sense. I believe I have read reputable writings stating opposite views on this, one saying that a full/solid leg is Yang and the other saying that a full/solid leg is Yin. When one steps into a bow stance, it would seem that the front leg should be the Yang leg, since it is the leg which is actively rooting (that is, if one is trying to root only through one leg). On the other hand, it would seem that the front leg should be the Yin leg, since it is the one accepting force from the back leg. On the third hand J, the front leg has moved most recently and therefore should be the Yang leg. On the fourth hand J, the front leg is the least active, flexes the least in the final instance, and thus should be the Yin leg. Which is the relevant opposition to figure out which is Yin and which is Yang?
Second, you talk about the “gate” or “Yin” leg moving out of the way of the opponents force, redirecting that force, sending that force into the ground, or returning it to the opponent. While I can imagine doing either of the first two actions with a relatively unweighted leg, I cannot imagine using that leg to transfer energy into the ground or returning it to the opponent without rooting through it first and turning it into a “post.” Don’t the first two responses imply the opposite of the latter two responses?
Third, I have never thought of my legs in connection with emptying one side of my body or the other. This is something I have always thought of as connected with the waist and the upper body. Emptying or filling legs is something I think of more in connection with moving energy toward the opponent or accepting energy from the opponent. In either case, I am passing “solidity” between the legs, rather than “rooting.”
I can think of three different instances of Roll Back in the form (the named Roll Back posture, the unnamed one following three of the five Brush Knee and Twist Steps at the beginning, and the unnamed ones that precede each Separate Foot). In none of these instances, can I envision a post and gate feeling. In each, one empties one side of the body, but ends up with the leg on that side as the substantial one.
I would even be tempted to call this a principle of Yang Style, if I did not recall that the Four Hands Push Hands exercise has combinations with Roll Back ending on the side with the front leg forward and where the front leg ends up relatively unweighted. I even recall one teacher advocating to do the Roll Back as an uprooting technique only in this combination, stating that the arrangement of the opponent’s legs made it more effective. In short, it seems that which side one empties is independent of which foot begins or ends up more weighted.
Fourth, I currently have no theory of when one should step to avoid an attack, since most of my Push Hands experience is with fixed stances. The closest thing I can relate to is the stepping in the version of the Da Lü I learned (which may not, by the way, be the same as what the Yangs teach). In that version, the “Big Roll Back” would seem to fit the bill as a posture where you move the “gate” leg out of the way of the opponent. However, the way I learned it, one actually begins and ends the Roll Back by rooting through the leg that will take the large step to the rear. One first shifts weight to it to kick out the heel of the other foot, then shifts weight away from it to allow the leg to step back, but then shifts weight back to it to complete the Roll Back.
Fifth, when I used to wrestle in High School and when I later studied Karate for a few years, I experimented a little with leg sweeps using the sole or instep of my foot. I found that it was quite difficult to sweep out a weighted leg and usually tried to sweep legs that were relatively unweighted.
As a potential “victim,” the feeling I have when I root through both legs is that my feet are nailed to the ground and that someone would be more likely to injure them directly than to sweep them off the floor. This seems to be the opposite experience of the form testing practice you describe, where you are deliberately trying to keep the leg light. A more extreme version of this is what one does after kicking with a leg. In the way the Yangs do form, it seems to be important to retract the lower leg quickly after kicking in order to prevent the opponent from seizing it. I have no sense that the leg is “safe,” because it is not being used for rooting.
Sixth, I recall reading at least two authorities that I respected (I do not recall the names or the styles they represented) talking about the importance of being able to instantly change the polarity of a leg from full/solid to empty and vice versa. I understand how this might be possible when both legs are rooted, since it is merely a matter of changing the direction of the energy flow. I do not understand how this might be done if one is rooting only through one leg. When I physically have one leg in the air or even have that feeling, I cannot switch the root to that leg without a palpably gradual process. As we have discussed on other threads, the Yangs do not teach placing the whole foot on the ground at one time. For me, this means that beginning to root and fully rooting are distinct.
Seven, occasionally, after I have stepped and begun to shift my weight onto a leg, I realize that I have made a mistake and need to reverse direction. An example of this is when I have done form early in the morning on my deck in bad lighting when it is covered in unseen frost. If the rooting of my stepping leg is imperfect, it can begin to slip. Because I have some root in it, I can attempt to reverse the flow of energy and withdraw my foot or, at a minimum adjust angles to improve the root and avoid falling on my behind. If I try single weighting, am I not committing to an all-or-nothing strategy that I cannot alter while the process of weighting the stepping foot is underway?
Since these are altogether too many questions to address, perhaps you could pick one or two. As I said, I tend to learn through holistic theories. If you can get me to figure out one detail, that could remove my mental blocks and allow me to begin figuring out the rest. Another thing that might help me is if you could simply clarify how the “gate” and “post” approach would apply to the Roll Back posture or to the following Press posture in the form. Again, as I approach these postures, rooting through both legs simultaneously seems essential to both the neutralizing aspects and the issuing aspects.