Empty and Full

Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jul 28, 2003 8:55 pm

Greetings,

There is something further I would like to highlight from the Sun Bin passage I cited above, and that is the appearance of the character “fen” in the phrase:

“That the combination of ‘surprise’ [qi] and ‘straightforward’ [zheng] operations produces inexhaustible possibilities is because the troops can be divided up [fen]. . . .”

The character “fen” is the same character used in the classic taiji aphorisms about “distinguishing empty and full.” This gets me to thinking about just how best to understand what “fen” means in the context of the taiji injunction. I think it’s clear that it does not denote a mere “separation.” While the translations “distinguish” or “differentiate” capture an important connotation—that of the practitioner’s perceptual awareness and sorting out of empty and full—these words are perhaps too passive to obtain the full intended meaning. It occurs to me, using Sun Bin’s reference to dividing up troops, that what is really being discussed is allocation of resources. So it may be more accurate to say, “clearly allocate empty and full,” “clearly apportion empty and full,” or “clearly distribute empty and full.” I think the sense “distribute” works particularly well in light of the proposed notion of distributing the muscle loadings throughout the torso and limbs.

I know this is a nit-picky word distinction, but this is the kind of stumbling block that can get in the way of translating sense from one language and culture into another. The word “fen” has a range of meanings, and in classical or literary Chinese, one is often faced with making a choice among meanings of single character words (and in fact writers of classical Chinese often purposely exploited the polysemy of characters in order to say more with less). In more modern Chinese, some of the ambiguity is resolved by combining words into two-character compounds. As it happens, the character “fen” is used in the modern compound for “distribute” (fen1bu4) and for “apportion” (fen1tan1), so a good case could be made that these senses were implied in the classic taiji aphorisms about what to “do” with empty and full.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Polaris » Tue Jul 29, 2003 12:07 am

Louis,

That fits with what I was speaking of with Steve J. (much) earlier.

FWIW, once we (my colleagues and I, I'm not speaking for all schools, naturally)understand how empty and full constitute our balance, our framework; we are taught to assign, to create, empty and full at the right time in the balance/framework of others. If we have a situation that we don't like, if we aren't as comfortable with the opponent's actions as we want to be, we use our sensitivity to determine just where they would be uncomfortable and we would stay comfortable (based on practical experience), then our creativity to change things where they need to be changed to ensure that we remain comfortable and they don't.

Discomfort/comfort, inbalance/balance, alignment/distortion can all be seen as values corresponding to empty/full. It may be as simple as moving ourselves out of the way of a strike in a direction the opponent can't follow easily, or as complex as establishing at will, assigning, an entirely new fulcrum in order to use a more advantageous leverage on the opponent.

Regards,
P.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Jul 30, 2003 1:22 pm

Greetings,

I have a question for those who are familiar with the different Taijiquan styles in existance.

I am wondering what the origins of the 'Pei Hou Liang Chih'/'White Crane Spreads Wings' posture are. Was this movement added at a later date , or is it an 'original' Chen family style stance? In other words, does anyone know when this movement was 'created'?

Regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Jul 30, 2003 2:00 pm

Hi Audi,

Thanks for the advice on hip/waist/navel movement. Now that I am more aware of the 'angles' and momentum issues, I can work on keeping the hips from being over-exerted as they have been. Respecting the non-momentum rule avoids over-extension, while the 'bungee' analogy has helped me to take notice of the angles my hips employ in all the different movements and therefore is helping me to correct the positioning of my whole upper body. That was great advice, just what I needed.

Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Polaris » Wed Jul 30, 2003 3:10 pm

Psalchemist,

There are at least some Ch'en family forms which have "White Crane Spreads Wings" in them. From what I've seen, it does look similar to the Yang family version.

Cheers,
P.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Jul 30, 2003 6:07 pm

Greetings Polaris,

Thanks for sharing your observation of the 'Pei Hou Liang Chih'/White Crane Spreads Wings posture within the Ch'en style. Actually, I am seeking the differences in between the two styles. In the forms you have witnessed in Ch'en style, have you noted any particularly dissimilar postures which carry the same title of stance in Yang style?

"Discomfort/comfort, imbalance/balance, alignment/distortion can all be seen as values corresponding to empty/full."-Polaris.

Yes, I agree they must. What I find difficult to relate to are the negative connotations which society(in general) seems to attach to expressions such as discomfort, imbalance and distortion.

Many people, confronted with these terms, often describe them as 'things to overcome' (which would be technically correct)or things to be avoided completely.

Terms such as balance, comfort and alignment are all , on the other hand, usually met with great approval, with the implication that the acheivement and maintenance of these are in some way more positive pursuits.


I believe that 'maintaining' one or the other would be considered double-weighting. If we attempted to remain comfortable we would then become stagnant. Conversely if we were constantly uncomfortable I suppose that would allude to a lack of ability to assimilate and 'put into practice', so to speak.
It requires time and effort to progress from uncomfortable to comfortable.


Dedication to change(avoidance of stagnancy) requires the abandonment of the comfortable in favor of the uncomfortable. Then we must work at acheiving that comfort level again, but once we do , really, we should seek out that discomfort again.

Am I rambling again? Well, that was just my two bits.

Best Regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Polaris » Wed Jul 30, 2003 6:39 pm

Psalchemist,

I've only seen a still photo of Chen Qingzhou doing a form that the caption said was "White Crane Spreads Wings." It was quite similar to what I am familiar with from Yang style: a vertical posture on one leg with the front leg up on the ball of the foot, one hand high (on the same side as the weighted leg), the other hand low, and slightly forward. I'm not well versed enough in the form names of either style to go much beyond that. Curiously, the White Crane in my style is quite different. It is a hip throw, martially, with some "White Crane" traps in the arms. I've never seen it in any other style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The bit of the form that we do which resembles the Chen and Yang White Crane is now part of the previous form, "Raise Hands Step Up." There are also examples of what we call White Crane traps implied in the Raise Hands form, however.

Dualistic word gaming inevitably gets us (just as with millenia of thinkers before us) into solipsism. Can you describe balance without inbalance? (Correct) alignment without distortion? No... They are transitory categories used for temporary decriptive purposes only, not independent realities. On top of that, there are degrees of balance and inbalance, degrees of alignment and distortion which aren't approached by the black and white terms. One visit to a senior citizens's class shows that! LOL...

Cheers,
P.
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Postby psalchemist » Thu Jul 31, 2003 3:01 pm

Greetings Polaris,

Good of you to clarify. I am gathering much information in all of these discussions.

"Curiously, the "White Crane" in my style is quite different. It is a hip throw, martially, with some "white Crane" traps in the arms"-Polaris

Out of curiosity...Could you please explain "hip throw" further? I am unfamiliar with this technique. It sounds interesting. Also, which style is this maneuvre a member of?

"Dualistic word gaming inevitably gets us( just as millenia of thinkers before us) into solipsism."-Polaris

SOLIPSISM...Hmmm? Even after research, I am unable to place it in meaningful context. I have never before heard that word used in application. Could you please define it's meaning in the context of your posting?

Thanks,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Polaris » Thu Jul 31, 2003 6:11 pm

Solipsism - The belief that the only thing that somebody can be sure of is that he or she exists, and that true knowledge of anything else is impossible.

That is pretty close, but not exactly, to the Taoist/Buddhist take. They would want to say: true CONVENTIONAL knowledge of anything else is impossible.

The hip throw White Crane in Wu style? Hmmm. The main application is to get in and hit the opponent's hip with your hip, then stand up slightly to cut their root from the floor. You are offsetting them with your hip, in other words. Once they are up, you turn through the hip to the side (for momentum) and then lean in the direction you want them to go, accelerating them downward with the motion of your torso and arms. The feet are together when this is being done (in hip throws from some other martial arts, say, Judo, the feet are apart, exposing the groin to a shot from the falling opponent). Indeed, if the opponent is sginificantly taller, you will do the throw with your weight on your toes! You will have a greater distance upward to go to offset them, sometimes. We train to be effective through the entire range of weight distribution on our feet.

It is a very safe throw, when done in training, as the usual way we set it up has the person landing flat on their back, which distributes the weight evenly. There is less likelihood of injury to a relative beginner that way. For this reason it is the first throw that we train, people can get used to flying through the air upside down and hitting the floor. The more times that they do this, the less intimidating that the floor becomes. People can relax into it, which further reduces the chance of injury in a fall. Relax enough and you can completely remove the chance of injury in such a fall after many hours of training.

The White Crane hip throw is very handy against taller people, not so useful with those shorter than you. There are many variations of this basic pattern. The first variation is called Reverse White Crane, where instead of using the person's torso for leverage and acceleration in the throw, you use their neck from behind or the side. Done in the right timing, their neck will snap as you throw them. They could conceivably be dead before they hit the floor. Gruesome, but effective.

So there you go. We have many other throws and combinations of throws, Repulse Monkey, Single Whip, Single and Double Lotus, etc. but for safety reasons White Crane Spreads Wings is the first one.

Cheers,
P.
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Postby psalchemist » Fri Aug 01, 2003 1:52 am

Greetings Polaris,

Smashing pitch you cast my way on the topic of 'hip throws'. Wu style throwing techniques sound very...uplifting. Image

I have heard of the concept of 'training to fall correctly' in casual conversation before, but have never been propelled to engage in such upheaval in a concrete manner.
The only person to ever launch me into the air, or slam me into the floor, has been me. I topple myself very efficiently, with no special training whatsoever. Call it a natural inclination!
What I would like to know, is...What would a successful landing be comprised of? What should one be attempting to acheive ,when one is falling, to prevent a mind boggling, body shattering collision with Mother nature from being the imminent outcome? Any advice?

Seeking soft landings,
Thank-you,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Audi » Sat Aug 02, 2003 2:18 am

Hi all,

Louis, I do not have time now to post at length, but I very much like your suggested refinement to how we should think of the meaning of the word "fen." I generally like the interpretation of "distinguish"; however, this interpretation does indeed leave unanswered the question of what we do with the distinctions we establish.

"Distribution" and "allocation" of loading seem very apt to me. "Sharing," "sharing out," and "doling out" might also be possibilities. When I get a chance, I will try to post further.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Polaris » Sat Aug 02, 2003 6:24 pm

Psalchemist & Co.,

Uplifting! You can say that again...

What one has to do to hit the ground safely has three primary elements, at least for T'ai Chi Ch'uan purposes.

The first element is proper positioning. Stabilizing the spine, tucking in the chin, tongue on the roof of the mouth; all designed to prevent whiplash style flexion-extension injuries as well as to begin training to initiate the circular vectors needed to neutralize the impact of the floor. One has to be able to turn the lines of force resulting from such an impact into a harmless direction, just as you would a punch or a kick. This is where rolling and tumbling training start: giving the student the correct starting and follow through internal positioning, and then teaching them how not to 'ground' the impact of their bodies into the floor, but to turn the vector of the fall so that the force is dissipated in a harmless direction. The "concrete" (love it!) example is tumbling. If the student falls a distance and just stays at the site of impact, there will only be a vector into the floor, which will rebound (depending on angle) usually directly back up into the falling student's body. It is as if they get hit twice with their entire body weight with one impact. If we add acceleration to a throw, they'll be hit even harder, and this is what we count on when WE throw someone else in a self-defense situation. Done well (a throw like that is nicknamed a "gun" in our Hong Kong school), they will never get back up. The students train to fall and in the split second of initial contact with the floor to initiate tumbling, rotating their bodies in a desired direction, turning in an appropriate circle so that they are now moving parallel to the floor instead of into it. Thereby the vector of force is 'turned' into a safe direction. The farther or faster they fall, the greater distance they will have to roll along the floor in order to safely dissipate the potential energy of the collision.

The second is relaxation. Paradoxically, the relaxation needed for hitting the ground safely is best achieved by hitting the ground! Repeatedly. So, naturally there is a 'breaking in' period so that the 'meat tenderizer' of repeated whole body floor impacts and the resulting shockwaves through the tissues can do their work. We try to be as gentle as possible, at least at the beginning, but there is still a good chance of injury or sore muscles until one gets the knack. Younger people tend to acclimate more quickly. The good news is that it reaches areas of tension deep in the body, the rhomboids and other spinal muscles that are very difficult to reach other ways and relaxes them. It also develops spinal and abdominal muscles in areas of the back and torso that are hard to work otherwise.

The third is intimately bound up with the first two, but needs to be mentioned as a separate subject. Breathing. One should breathe out on impact with the floor. If the student holds their breath, something is going to tear internally. If the breath is relaxed and the body 'gives' on impact (leading in turn to an out breath), the framework can, in time, learn to naturally acommodate this or almost any other blow with a minimum of fuss. Tumbling and throws as Ch'i Kung!

In the end, besides giving one a lot of strategic options as far as multiple or armed opponents go, the person who can effortlessly shrug off the impact of their entire body being slammed into the floor will have no problem dealing with simple punches or kicks, which generally (esp. from the hard styles) have much less relative force behind them. The only people who are likely to be able to generate that kind of incredible force with punches and kicks are very high level T'ai Chi practitioners anyway, and they tend to be good guys...

Cheers!
P.

[This message has been edited by Polaris (edited 08-02-2003).]
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Postby psalchemist » Sun Aug 03, 2003 3:16 pm

Greetings Polaris,

I wanted to thank you for the accomodating reply, nice and thorough. I can't really make a detailed commentary right now since I am in the midst of relocating, but I will get back to you as soon as I am re-connected at my new residence.

Thanks again,
Psalchemist. Image
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Postby Audi » Sun Aug 03, 2003 5:01 pm

Hi all,

Louis, I was quite intrigued by your further analysis of “fen,” because I think it has allowed me to form a more concrete image of the linkage between several theoretical concepts. I think it also makes more clear why even the translation of the relationship between “xu” and “shi” becomes more critical.

If one takes “divide” as a rough equivalent of “fen,” one could interpret “fen xu shi” as “divide empty from solid.” This phrase, is of course, more or less synonymous with “separate empty from solid.” If, however, one interprets “fen” as “divide up,” we must change or interpretation into something like “divide up empty and solid.” Although this sounds like it should mean the same as “divide empty from solid,” I think it means more something like “divide up both empty and solid into smaller portions.”

From “dividing up,” we can shift toward the meanings of “distribute” and “allocate” by using a phrase like “share out,” leaving us with an interpretation of the principle that would be something like: “Share out empty and solid.” Within such meanings are inherent requirements of “separation” and “discrimination,” but they go further.

One thing that verbs or verb phrases such as “divide,” “share out,” “distribute,” and “allocate” do not make clear is what criterion will be used in determining “portion size.” “Divide” implies equal portions, whereas “divide up,” “allocate,” and “share out” are more vague. A choice like “distribute” (fenbu) seems meant to capture the meaning of “spreading” the loading over a range of joints and hence implies smoothly determined portions. At this point, I like the smoothness implied by a word such as “distribute,” but don’t like the mechanistic implications that this word can also entail when talking about “distributing force or weight” over an area.

At this point, I do not think that the “fen” in “Fen xu shi” is meant to convey “equal division,” but something more vague. I think also that inherent in this principle is a requirement of “appropriate execution” as defined from moment to moment.

In my view, there are many points in the Yang Family form where the joints are not equally loaded or loading (or offloaded or offloading) and where the efficiency of a particular joint is subordinated to the efficiency achievable by the overall posture at a particular moment.

One thing I like about a word such as “allocate” is that it both indicates why the mind is so important, while also demystifying the mind-body connection. One cannot allocate without a mental framework of how the allocation should proceed. This word also hints at why “Yi” (mint intent, purpose) is necessary. Without a purpose in mind, how can one choose between competing mental frameworks?

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Gu Rou Chen » Sun Aug 03, 2003 6:26 pm

Louis,

I think you are really making a contribution in observing the parallels between Taijiquan theory and ideas in the Sunzi. Taijiquan really is applied philosophy in the strictest sense.


Here is another excerpt from Wang Yongquan that describes the primary function of kai1/he2 (closing and opening) (as the terms apply to 'concentrating jin4.)

Methodology and use of internal jin4

Taiji push hands skill is primarily manifest in the application of two types of jin4, concentrating jin4 and diffusing jin4. These two types of jin4 are entirely the application of internal qi4. This is the basic difference between Taijiquan and external martial arts. The essential point is that it is the unification of hardness and softness; it is soft outside and hard inside. . . . . . . . . . .

In the case of concentrating jin4 one uplifts the partner with changes occuring primarily in one's own body. Elastic or springy jin4 is a type of concentrating jin4 that is manifest between opening and closing (kai1 he2 zhi1 jian1). When closing you must close into your own body and lead the partner's incoming force towards you and then cause it to miss its target completely (yin3jin4luo4kong1). When opening you must open into the partner's body and focus one's shen1, yi4, qi4 (spirit, mind, qi4) on his body. You must cause him to not only not be able to get away, but also must cause his active force to become a passive force (i.e. force that I can now borrow). Only in this way, where you first close and then open causing inner qi4 to pulse and swing, can you cause your partner to be bounced away. It is important to remember that bouncing is not pushing. The partner should feel that he has run into a spring and has been bounced off. (page 230)

As mentioned by others earlier on this thread there is an upper/lower, left/right, frontal/dorsal distinction that must be discovered. Many books and articles describe this. My current understanding is that one finds an upper/lower distinction by first discovering a sinking feeling. The next step, discovering the opposite, is more difficult. My experience is that most people (in China and abroad) just sink and don't discover the rising feeling; so there is no distinction. Wu Tunan wrote about this. I don't have it in front of me, but he said something like, 'most cannot truly sink, because they are not able to rise.' Once you can sink you can try to rise very high, but remember to do so without losing the sinking feeling. There will be a limit to your sink and a limit to your rise. To me it feels like there is a clear line demarcating the limit. In the middle, between high and low there is another line demarcating high from low. The same applies to left/right and dorsal/ventral. In push hands you can try to place your partner's force on one of these lines and he will have trouble maintaining balance. If you are good enough to simultaneously create all three distinctions then you have a point (intersection of three lines). You can try to place your partner on this point and he will have even greater trouble maintaining balance. These intersecting points create fulcrums that change. There is yet another dimension created by the inside/outside.distinction which is what Wang Yongquan is referring to when talking about the kai1/he2 activity in the quote above; and the dimension that creates the elastic spring effect. Again, it feels like there is a line delimiting the range, yet this one is inside your bones-the limit of he2, 'closing', while the other line moves away from this one as a reference. The oscillation between these creates the bouncing, pulsating, springy feeling.


Jeff
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