Mind Intention in Taijiquan

Postby Audi » Sat Jan 24, 2004 5:28 pm

Greetings all,

Psalchemist, you made a comment awhile back about understanding the Eight Gates (Bamen). Again, I do not want to pretend that I have any great expertise in them, but I fear that my tendency to longwinded posts and lack of writing skill might have contributed to an aura of abstractness and complexity that may be unwarranted. I may be about to commit the same sin again, but let me try a different tack.

Before attacking the Eight Gates directly, let me give some background to my understanding. First, as I understand it, a characteristic of traditional Chinese expression is that indirectness is sometimes thought to be more useful and ultimately more accurate than directness. The sense is that in some ways, the more precisely you state something, the further you are from capturing its real essence. Contrary to this, I am trying to state certain things as plainly and as simply as I can, but I am still trying to imply much more. If you want the real version, read the Classics to contrast and compare. Assume the authors are trying to tell things which are very precise and very important, but which they do not have the words to express directly. They are not necessarily trying to be mysterious and secretive, but merely trying to say as much as possible. If you encounter something mysterious and secretive, assume something is lost in translation and try to look for a more plain meaning behind what you read.

“Pat,” “slap,” “touch,” “caress,” “rub,” and “massage” all refer to actions that one could do with one’s palm and that might look identical in a still photograph. They would be fiendishly difficult to differentiate using only external physical descriptions; nevertheless, they refer to different things that we would not consider mysterious, abstract, or complex. To distinguish them, we could probably explain the different purposes implied by these words and could physically demonstrate variations of motion that would be characteristic to each. To an alien with eight tentacles and an exoskeleton, the difference between these verbs might seem hard to understand or ridiculously vague. To an eight-year-old human, the differences would be easy to understand, since he or she, unlike the Martian, will have experienced the daily situations in which these differences are relevant. Even so, none of the verbs describe a particular fixed configuration of hand and body.

To my understanding, the nature of the Eight Gates is, at its essence, like the differences between these verbs. Purely physical description is too coarse to capture what they are about, but that does not mean that they must be viewed only in abstract or abstruse ways. I realize that some approaches to Taijiquan do this, but I do not think the Yangs approach them primarily in this way. You do simple things, add some principles, and then build from there through practice and experimentation. From what I understand, the descriptions in the Classics presume that the reader has the familiarity of the “eight-year-old” mentioned above and simply needs guidance on the journey rather than a how-to manual or a book of recipes. This is, I believe, one of the reasons that so much of the classic literature stresses the need for oral transmission of teaching, to establish the correct context and framework for what the classics discuss.

The classics were also probably written for an audience that generally shared a specific literary heritage that is not easily accessible to those who have not been educated in the traditional Chinese fashion. Even if the various references are explained, I do not believe it is always easy to understand how the authors meant them. I think that Louis has discussed this sort of thing on numerous occasions.

To give an example of the importance of understanding references, imagine the following. You are watching a movie that shows a mob boss who barely survives an attack by a rival gang lord. As the mob boss pulls himself up from the floor, perhaps flanked by his lieutenant and his mother, he says: “Man, I am not going to take this lying down. I am going to ‘do unto others before they do unto me.’” Two thousand years from now, there is much about this statement that might be misunderstood, but which a contemporary American would have no problem interpreting correctly.

For instance, despite the use of the singular term “Man,” it is likely that the boss is speaking to his entire audience. He might even be directing his words to impress his mother, who is certainly not a “man,” about his determination. The reference to “lying down” is almost certainly not literal, despite the physical circumstances, but might be a “joke” by the screenwriters (as in James Bond movies) that no one would ever attribute to a real-life gang lord. Lastly, “do unto others before they do unto me” is not a misquote of a theologically confused criminal, nor necessarily the cry of an anti-Christian atheist, but merely the statement of someone wanting to show that he intended to react in a way that was anything but meek.

An equivalent reference in Taijiquan might be the phrase: “She3 ji3 sui2 ren2” (“Abandon self and follow the other”). From what Louis has mentioned, this is likely a reference to a Neo-Confucian doctrine. (In a nutshell, many centuries ago (12 century A.D.?), Neo-Confucians changed some of the classic understandings of Confucius (I think he was 6th century B.C.) and incorporated many Daoist ideas in a way more acceptable to Confucian thought.) As I understand this particular saying, it means that the “person of princely virtue” (“Jun1 ren2”), should not act unilaterally, but cede to the wishes of his or her fellow humans. In the Taiji context, however, this saying means anything but showing the opponent “deference” and submitting to his or her wishes. I am not sure you could call it a pun, but the other connotations of the phrase could not have been lost on Chinese readers of the 19th century and before.

The Eight Gates are eight of the thirteen primary “Shi” used in Taijiquan. The word “Shi” (pronounced somewhat like the English word “sure”) is usually translated somewhat misleadingly as “postures.” As has been discussed before on this board, this word can also be translated as: “configuration,” “disposition,” “aspect,” “power,” “influence,” “features,” “gestures,” “circumstance,” “trend,” etc. It can refer to the “imposing ‘aspect’ of a mountain,” “the ‘power’ someone has to abuse underlings,” or “the ‘features’ of a geographical area that determine Feng Shui characteristics.” As I understand it, the core meaning of this word is the “effect that the ‘disposition’ or ‘bearing’ of something has on something else.” For objects incapable of action, the meaning seems to center on the “aspect” or “circumstance” of the thing as seen by observers. For things in motion or for people generally, the meaning centers on the “power,” “impetus,” or “momentum” the particular “disposition” of the thing or person imparts. “Trend” is the power of events in motion. “Momentum” is the power of things in motion.

I have read only a little of the Chinese classics, but presume that anyone encountering the word “Shi” would recall the use of this term in Sunzi’s Art of War and that the authors of the Taiji classics and creators of its terminology did their work with this in mind. I think that Louis posted a bunch about this awhile back, but I cannot locate his post and so will plunge ahead and take the risk that I am duplicating what he has already said.

Chapter 5 of the Art of War is entitled: “Shi.” Here are hyperlinks to English and Chinese versions. I think the entirety is well worth reading, but I would like to call attention to specific parts I discuss below:

http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/taoism/suntext2.htm#ENERGY

http://www.zhongwen.com/x/bingfa5.htm

In this Chapter, the word “Shi” appears in numerous places, but it is translated in various ways. First, it appears as “Energy” in the title and many other places in the text. Look at section 10 of the English, where the word rendered “battle” appears in Chinese as the “‘Shi’ of war/battle/warring/battling,” i.e., the “circumstances/dispositions/configurations of war.” In section 12, “Shi” is rendered as “onset.” In sections 13 and 14, it is contrasted with the word “jie2” that I know of as “measuring off.” I am not at all expert in Chinese, let alone classical Chinese, but the sense I get is of saying that “those skilled in war” exhibit the “Shi” (“the force and momentum”) of a “rushing torrent” and the fine-tuned “jie” (“precision”) of a swooping falcon. There is a clear contrast between the impact (“shi”) exerted by a large-scale configuration of lesser components and the “calibration” (“jie”) of taking care of small-scale relationships.

“Shi” is rendered in section 15 as the “energy” of a bending crossbow. Here the reference would be to the “configurational” energy stored up in the weapon, not to its inherent native strength.

In section 18, “Shi” is rendered as “fund of latent energy.” In sections 21 and 22, it is rendered as “combined energy.” In section 23, it is rendered as “energy” and perhaps again as “momentum.”

In Taijiquan, there are many relationships that are important: your joints; your tendons; pressures between you and the opponent; angles; rhythms; distances; flows of Jin, Qi, Yi, and Shen. In my opinion, a term like “Shi” hints at all of this and more. A shorthand way of thinking of all of this is to talk about “mode of action,” “energy,” or “configuration energy,” but the sense is different from the meanings of Qi or of Jin, which are also often translated as “energy.”

Another way of looking at “Shi” is to think of the body as a suspension bridge. Such a bridge does not draw strength merely from its shape, but also from how its materials interact with each other and with gravity. With materials of different characteristics, but the same shape and “strength,” the bridge might not be stable at all. The same bridge that might be stable under the pull of gravity can fail under the sideways stresses or bouncing motions caused by some earthquakes. It is not really the overwhelming strength of the ground motion that destroys the bridge, but the fact that the bridge may not be designed to “harmonize” with such stresses.

Looking at the suspension bridge in this way incorporates the idea that structural stability is created not only by shape and the strength of materials, but also by the energy created by their interaction. A suspension bridge can even flex and sway a fair amount, while retaining structural strength. This interaction is created by the design coming from the mind of an architect that can correctly harness the forces of geometry and nature.

I believe that the Shi of Taijiquan are the same. Their power comes from the mind and design of the practitioner. We cannot control the strength of our “materials,” but we can control our shape and the interaction of our “parts.” The shape is external, but the basis of the interaction is internal.

Imagine that the shoulders during the Push posture form parts of an arch. The strength of an arch is created by the force of gravity and the particular shape of the segments forming the arch. Without the action of gravity acting along a particular vector, the arch is not stable. Next, imagine that the mind changes the characteristics of the shoulders to make them interact as parts of a pulley. (Think of putting a fireplace log in the middle of a towel. As you pull up the ends of the towel, you can make the log spin and roll as you alternately lift and lower the two ends of the towel.) As your upper torso turns, this makes the shoulders reel the left arm inward and push the right arm outward.

Throughout the form, I believe that you are recruiting the power of geometry, gravity, and the opponent’s force to give strength and power to your configuration (“Shi”). Your mind does not create this strength or power directly. The mind merely leads it and controls it. Some of the shape comes from you, but most is determined by the impersonal forces of nature.

It is like the difference between drawing a circle freehand and tying a pencil with a string to a tack and then using the tension on the string to draw a perfect circle. You do not arbitrarily move Jin through the body at will, but call out different inherent characteristics of your body, by concentrating on fairly simple physical things. Your main job is not to attempt to micromanage or over-control the parts of your body and thus thwart the organizing power of nature. You have to feel how your intent can harmonize with these powers. Without the organizing power of your mind, organic integration of your body does not happen.

If your opponent comes at you with the piercing power (“Shi”) of a triangular wedge (perhaps splitting your hands apart and trying to punch along the midline), broad resistance that operates equally on the sides of the triangle will make the “wedge” more piercing and reinforce the strength of the triangle. If you can figure out how to meet the opponent’s “triangle” of force with the power (“Shi”) of a rotating sphere, you can “rotate” the opponent’s “triangle” so that one side is coming toward you, rather than the point. The combined operation of the forces will tend to “explode” the triangle, especially if you can add a “barb” (e.g., a punching arm) that can “reel off” on a tangent from your sphere. For instance, your body impacts the opponent at the outside crook of his or elbow and his structure collapses as you press in to his or her center.

If you can follow my convoluted analogies, you may notice that I am not talking anywhere about unilateral speed or strength, but the interaction of natural forces and geometry. To make this work as a strategy, you have to do many things. First, you cannot operate a Shi that is independent of your opponent’s. If there are two Shi, you are subject to the rules of speed and power. Also, no Shi is appropriate in all circumstances. If, on the other hand, you can join with your opponent to establish one Shi, speed and power become irrelevant, or rather become an inherent component of the combined Shi.

As I see it, one’s job in Push Hands is to establish something like a joint Shi with the opponent and then to change it through something in your own body so that there will be a “structural fault” within the part of the Shi that lies with the opponent. Any energy circulating in the Shi will tend to trigger a collapse at the location of the fault (i.e., in the opponent’s body), and all the energy of the “Shi” will concentrate there. This is a somewhat literal interpretation of the phrase “de2 shi4,” which mains to “obtain the Shi,” or rather “get control of the situation” or “get the upper hand.”

You cannot act first or contrary to the intent of the opponent, because his or her natural tendency, with or without training, will be to change to adapt to your manipulations. If, instead, you go somewhat along with the opponent’s inclinations, you can guide your combined energies (“Shi”) into a new “Shi” with a tendency (also “Shi”) to create a contradiction in the opponent’s portion of the “Shi.” This contradiction is “being double weighted.” The opponent is out of synch with his or her own configuration and thus momentarily stuck. He or she is fighting his or her own geometry and cannot fight any further without first changing his or her intent. Even though you act after the opponent, you understand your combined Shi so thoroughly that you can foresee this outcome. It is embedded in the geometry of forces. “You launch later, but get there first.” When the opponent is stuck, he or she can no longer change. You can now add force to the configuration (Fajin) with impunity.

The Five Steps can be understood as Shi in this sense, since they are “configurations of body energy” or “modes of activating the Jing in your body.” They are not really of the same nature as the Eight Gates, however, since they are governed more by how the legs interact with the opponent and with the ground than with how the arms and hands interact with the opponent and his limbs.

When an opponent comes at you, what must you do? If you study most martial arts, you focus on matching technique with technique. If you are faster and/or harder, you win. If you study Taijiquan, I think you want to avoid this dialectic entirely. You pay attention to the “Shi” (“configuration,” “distribution,” and “layout”) of the opponent’s speed and strength, not to its intensity at a single point in space or time. You pay attention to the distribution of speed and stillness and of strength and weakness. The principle of Taiji means that wherever there is speed, there is stillness; wherever there is strength, there is weakness. Our job is merely to understand its distribution and deployment, because no distribution is invulnerable or indefensible if the interaction of Yin and Yang is correctly understood.

Metaphorically speaking, the most important thing to protect is your center. If your center is intact, all your resources are available to you. You can integrate your power on the largest scale possible.

You protect your center by establishing a Shi that simultaneously absorbs and repels attack. The softness absorbs, and the hardness repels; but the two are not separate and do not have to be thought of only as alternating with each other. The hardness should actually be produced by the softness. This is what I understand by the phrase “steel wrapped in cotton.” This Shi is “rou2” and resilient, neither stiff nor limp. Being resilient also means dynamically exchanging and balancing “Closing”/“Coming together” (“He”) with “Opening”/“Coming Apart” (“Kai”). Something that has a tendency to exchange contraction with expansion is “rou2” (“soft and resilient.” Everything tends to expand out from your center. This is the general sense of the Shi called Peng (Ward Off). Most say it underlies all eight primary Shi in this sense.

In the Yangs’ system as I understand it, you create the Peng by being consciously loose. Unlike what some other authorities apparently teach, the kind of “relaxation” you can achieve by sleeping, daydreaming, or being disengaged from your surroundings is not at all appropriate. To build on a previous exchange between Louis and Lao Pei, I could say that when you leave a chain on the ground there is no Peng. When you swing it over your head, you have Peng. Being unconscious and applying no Yi is like leaving the chain on the ground. Applying your awareness actively and using your Yi is the only way to “swing the chain.” This is what you do with your tendons and joints.

As I understand it, Taijiquan has eight primary variations of this Shi that cover different types of interactions with the opponent. These can be differentiated by typical shape, direction, purpose, contact points, etc.

The attacks that are most dangerous are those from an opponent that is rooted and can draw Qi or strength from the ground. Because of this, a major part of Taijiquan’s tactics involves breaking the opponent’s root. As you bounce or reflect the opponent’s energy away from your center, you do so in ways that will sever the opponent’s root, which often means reflecting his or her energy upward. You want to “lift” the opponent’s technique away from its root. This is Peng in the specific sense. Usually it involves using the inside of your forearm to lift the opponent’s arms up.

When an opponent attempts to punch you, the first technique you will generally use to meet the attack is Peng. You simultaneously absorb some energy to control it, but also bounce some back out to protect your center. Physically, what you do varies over time, but I believe that your intent does not vary. This technique or procedure has many, many applications and is almost always combined with other techniques for offensive and defensive purposes. Although it can look like a simple block or deflection, I do not believe this reflects its actual nature at all.

Either completely “blocking” or completely “deflecting” the opponent’s force away would completely defeat your strategy of combining with the opponent’s energy. Instances of this type of Peng are throughout the form. Obvious examples include: Ward off Left and Right, Roll Back, Single Whip, White Crane Spreads Wings, Apparent Closure, Cross Hands, Fist Under Elbow, Cloud Hands, Separate Foot, Kick with Heel, etc. I am fairly sure there are more subtle instances in the postures I skipped (e.g., Brush Knee transitions?), but they mostly exceed the bounds of my limited knowledge.

The other seven gates proceed in this fashion. Since they cover so much, many people describe them somewhat differently. My own belief is that different teachers also define them slightly differently. As I mentioned near the beginning of my post, sometimes the more specifically you describe something, the less accurate you become.

I have written too much and gone on too long. Let me know if any of this makes any sense.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby psalchemist » Sat Jan 24, 2004 10:37 pm

Greetings Audi,

Nice to have your invaluable influence back on the board. Image

I have not yet finished completely with your last posting...I was waiting for your cue before pressing forward with more questions and/or comments.

Before returning on that path, though, I would like to deliver my gratitude for clarifying(Storing the jin in the curve of the spine) for me.

A Metaphor!

Excellent method of presenting the details, Audi. Very efficient lesson. Image

If my perception has been altered correctly then...

The comparison in structure to the bow implies that in the statement mentioned, the spine is the 'curve'(the taut bow string, ready to deliver energy, 'storing the jin') in the relation of straight and curved (itself metaphoricaly derived from the comparison 'like a bow').

This clarifies tremendously!

Can I then deduce that...

1)The SPINE curves when it will be instrumental in delivering energy/when it is storing energy ready to be delivered...(similar to a taut bowstring held in anticipation of releasing the arrow)
AND
2)The slight maintenace of 'curve' in the spine throughout the form is for structural purposes...I would be grateful if you could elaborate on that point for me a little bit...what do you think of that statement?
AND
3)ANY BODY PART in which the curve is seen(in each movement) is the part which will then deliver energy...(it is storing the energy in wait for release)...So if one can identify the straight and the curved in each posture, as suggested, then one also becomes aware of the preparation and release...the empty and full...the yin and yang...And vice versa...Could be a very useful tool.

Please let ME know if I'VE made any good sense of the first portion of your post...As far as I can tell, it was a brilliant conveyance and highly instrumental to my advancement.

Thank you,
Best regards,
Psalchemist




[This message has been edited by psalchemist (edited 01-24-2004).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jan 25, 2004 7:27 pm

Greetings Audi,

Saturday morning, I printed out your 1/24 post, poured a cup of coffee, put a recording of Debussy piano “Images” on the CD player, and delved into your writings. I find your thoughts, especially your reflections on “shi,” extremely cogent, and a pleasure to read.

I’d like to seek some clarity on the remarks you made on the taiji phrase, “she ji cong ren” (abandon self and follow the other). Actually, you quoted a version with a different verb for “follow” (sui), but there are several variants of this phrase in modern dictionaries. The one I’m familiar with in the “Taijiquan Treatise” has the “cong” verb, and that precise four character phase can be found in sources much earlier than Neo-Confucian doctrines. Specifically, it apears in the Mengzi (Mencius), who lived in the fourth century B.C., and in the Shang Shu (Book of Documents), traditionally an even earlier source. In both sources, the phrase carries a sort of political-ethical sense of “abandoning one’s own viewpoint in order to comply with that of the other.” In Mengzi’s view, virtue was common to all humans; virtue was virtue. Once you recognize it, you comply with it. This requires being flexible and prepared to adapt one’s position rather than stubbornly holding to your own view. My preferred rendering of this in the taiji context is, “yield to the initiative of the other.” I have my own pun with regard to this notion; that is, this kind of yielding is like an investment—a sort of “high interest yield” account. When this yielding is performed correctly, one will, as you put it, “get control of the situation” (de shi). So, the notion of “she ji cong ren” applies brilliantly to the physical context of taijiquan. Here, what you are complying with is “shi.” As you wrote, “You cannot operate a Shi that is independent of your opponent’s.” You also wrote that one must “join with your opponent to establish one Shi. . .” This is exactly in accord with the notion expressed in the Song of Pushing Hands, “Attract him into emptiness, join (he), then issue.”

Thanks for the great post!

Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 01-26-2004).]
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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Jan 26, 2004 7:21 pm

Yes indeed. Excellent post Audi!
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Postby psalchemist » Tue Jan 27, 2004 5:31 pm

Greetings Audi,

Fascinating post with much to consider...
Lots of good theory!
Thank you for the enlightening and inspiring post. Image


I appreciate all the explanations and examples you've provided to clarify the expression "Shi".
I say expression, due to it's complex, elaborate, scope of meaning...It certainly encompasses much expression.
Thanks for expanding my knowledge and understanding of this term.
========

You wrote:
<In Taijiquan, there are many relationships that are important: your joints; your tendons; pressure between you and the opponent; angles; rhythms; distances; flows of Qi, Jin and Shen. In my opinion, a term like "Shi" hints at all of this and more. A shorthand way of thinking of all of this is to talk about "mode of action", "energy", or "configuration energy", but the sense is different from the meanings of Qi or Jin, which are also often translated as "energy"> Audi

If I understood your conveyance correctly,then..."Shi", in essence, is the most complex "energy"...encompassing all energy dynamics including and dependant upon those of the opponent. The "complete" energy structure...SHI.
Much better term than "posture", as you also stated.
========


Delving into "Shi" interaction, you wrote:
<Looking at the suspension bridge this way incorporates the idea that structural stability is created not only by shape and the strength of materials, but also by the energy created by their interaction> Audi

<A suspension bridge can even flex and sway a fair amount, while retaining structural strength. This interaction is created by the design coming from the mind of an architect that can correctly harness the force of geometry and nature> Audi

<I believe that the Shi of Taijiquan are the same. The power comes from the mind and design of the practitioner. We cannot control the strength of our "materials", but we can control our shape and the interaction of our "parts". The shape is external, but the basis of the interaction is internal> Audi

<Throughout the form, I believe that you are recruiting the power of geometry, gravity and the opponent's force to give strength and power to your configuration (Shi). Your mind does not create this strength or power directly. The mind merely leads it and controls it. Some of the shape comes from you, but most is determined by the impersonal forces of nature> Audi

"Impersonal forces of nature"...? Do you mean gravity (exclusively).

<You do not arbitrarily move Jin through the body at will, but call out different inherent characteristics of your body, by concentrating on fairly simple things. Your main job is not to attempt to micro-manage or over-control the parts of your body and thus thwart the organizing power of nature. You have to feel how your intent can harmonize with these powers. Without the organizing power of your mind, organic integration of your body does not happen.> Audi

So, if I in turn would compare this to music, for analogy sake...The completed achievement of a polished symphony would be comparible to "complete organic integration" of body and mind...The key would be in harmonizing all components to create a whole...The mind is the Band Leader, directing the harmonization...???...
========


You also mentioned stability and flexibility in structure...as well as stability and flexibility in interaction...Is this comparible in nature to "movement in stillness, stillness in movement"...Is there any correlation therein?
========


You explained:
<If your opponent comes at you with the piercing power ("Shi") of a triangular wedge(perhaps splitting your hands apart and trying to punch along the midline), broad resistance that operates equally on the sides of the triangle will make the "wedge" more piercing and reinforce the strength of the triangle. If you can figure out how to meet the opponents "triangle" of force with the power ("Shi") of a rotating sphere, you can "rotate" the opponent's "triangle" so that one side is coming toward you rather than the point. The combined operation of the forces will tend to "explode" the triangle especially if you can add a "barb" (eg., a punching arm) that can "reel off" on a tangent from your sphere. For instance, your body impacts the opponent at the outside crook of his or her elbow and his structure collapses as you press into his or her center.> Audi

Very intriguing... I won't pretend to understand most of the implications there...But great material to ponder.

Is that what David described as (roughly) walking through a turning tunnel...?

Are you aware of any specific symbols for this dynamic, containing a triangle and a circle?

Is the triangle a similar representation of the "Bow" metaphor?

I recall we were speaking a while ago about circles...locus?, little circles, big circles...any correlation, do you think?

Any thoughts on these matters would be very welcome indeed.
========


Continuing, you wrote:
<I am not talking anywhere about unilateral speed or strength, but the interaction of natural forces and geometry. To make this work as a strategy you have to do many things. First you cannot operate a "Shi" that is independant of your opponent's. If there are two Shi's you are subject to the rule of speed and power...If on the other hand you can join with your oppoonent to establish one Shi, speed and power become irrelevant, or rather become an inherent component of the combined "Shi".> Audi

That was a wonderful way of distinguishing the differences between soft and hard martial arts! Nice'efficient. (Once one understands something of Shi)

Can I assume that the Shi san shi is exclusive to internal martial arts?

Is this the vital distinction between the two...The Bagua?
========


I can appreciate your descriptions of the "de2shi4", or gaining the advantage before execution of fajin.

Strategy...Tactics...Reminds me of chess.

Very interesting read.


You wrote:
<The attacks that are most dangerous are those from an opponent that is rooted and can draw Qi or strength from the ground. Because of this, a major part of Taijiquan tactics involves breaking the opponents root. As you bounce or reflect the opponents energy away from your center, you do so in ways that will sever the opponents root, which often means reflecting his or her energy upward. You want to "lift" the opponent's technique away from its root. This is peng in the specific sense. Usually it involves using the inside of your forearm to lift the opponent's arms up.>Audi

Thanks for the insights into "peng" energy ideology.

Just one question on this point if I may...
What of "Ti Fang" ?

I recall we were discussing the uprooting, lifting and launching process of "Ti Fang", and "peng" is so seemingly similar...that I am left questioning if these are both the same concept. Peng being the more common term, or if these are two different theories completely? Any thoughts?
========

Lastly,
You wrote:
<Either completely "blocking" or completely "deflecting" the opponent's force away would completely defeat your strategy of combining with the opponent's energy> Audi

Would you agree that this is the essence of "Yielding" in Taijiquan?

Would this be the correct order?

"Yield- to draw the opponent in...

"combine Shi"...

"break the opponents root"..."lift" (Ti Fang), Peng...

"Launch-Fajin.
========


Are "Blocking" and "Deflecting" considered "Huajin", diffusing?

Thank you for all your help.
Please correct me if I've misinterpreted any of your messages.
Brilliant post, much appreciated.

Best regards,
Psalchemist. Image





[This message has been edited by psalchemist (edited 01-27-2004).]
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Postby psalchemist » Fri Jan 30, 2004 3:32 am

Greetings Audi,

Thanks very much for the links.

The first site you provided works very well...I will be reading, studying that material for quite some time...much to ponder.

The second link also works, but only in Chinese. The English extension doesn't work for me.

I really appreciate the great translations of the SunTzu texts.
Thanks again.

Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Audi » Sat Mar 06, 2004 4:43 pm

Hi all,

Louis and Jerry, thanks for your comments.

Louis, I hope I did not make you choke on any of your coffee. To the extent I got anything right, I hope you both recognize your own contributions among my words, as well as those of other long-term denizens of this board. At Louis’ suggestion, I have bought a copy of Francois Julien’s the Propensity of Things and hope to find time to read it and check up on his views of what “Shi” entails.

Louis, as far as “abandoning self and following others” is concerned, you may have caught me in a misquotation of the original Chinese. I quoted the original from memory and apparently got it wrong. I did a quick check of my usual sources to see if I happened to pick up on some variation, but did not find any. I am a little baffled, however, that I could have pick this phrasing out of thin air and will let you know if I come across a source.

As for my reference to Neo-Confucian doctrine, I was too sparing with my words. I did not mean to suggest that “abandoning self and following others” was a new doctrine, but only that the Taiji classics may probably best be read with an eye to New-Confucian views of Chinese philosophy, rather than by examining the writings of Confucius, Lao-tze, etc. as if no one of note followed them, reinterpreted them, or elaborated on their views.

Psalchemist, let me address some of your points. If I missed something important, let me know. You first asked about spinal curves. I fear I may have made a hash of this.

As I understand it, almost all the Taiji commentators agree that the spine should remain straight. I have been told that a noted practitioner in the U.S., Zhang Lu-Ping, advised overt bowing and unbowing of the spine to store and issue power, respectively; however, he is the only one I have heard of who advocated this and I only understand a little about his purported reasoning and training method.

In the T’ai Chi Boxing Chronicle, Kuo Lien-Ying differentiates between the “back” of the bow and the “handle” of the bow, but I do not fully understand the significance of his terms. I think he means that the “back” is the part that “bends” and stores energy, where as the handle is the anchor point that makes this possible. The spine is described as the “handle” of the arm and body bows and thus does not itself bend. According to Kuo, it stores energy and “pulls the bow” primarily by “revolving” (rotating?). In order for “Qi to stick to it,” it must be straight.

As for other body parts, my own view is that curves and straight lines are seen not only in their shape, but also in how they move through space. Consider, for instance, a rod and reel.

I also would hesitate to look for a simple relationship between bends in the body and power. Certainly, the classics talk about storing energy in curves and releasing it in straight lines, but I do not think this translates directly into body shapes. For instance, in the manner in which the Push posture is performed, as taught by the Yangs, I would not think that the arms are ideally positioned to contribute Jin until one has an opportunity to unbend the elbows somewhat towards the end of the posture. On the other hand, they begin the “push” in a position where they are still very stable and able to support the Jin generated by the legs. This position prevents your elbows from constituting a weak point in the posture. As you use you lower body and spine to get the opponent in motion, the arms can then add their Jin on top of this. For me, the feeling is that the Jin is integrated throughout the form and I do not consciously isolate any muscle groups; however, logically I think the body mechanics probably work out this way.

I think that the Jin generated by the various parts of the body varies from moment to moment and that this is one of the reasons we practice slowly. By moving slowly, we begin to appreciate that the limbs work as a whole and that the mind cannot focus on one particular set of muscles to the exclusion of other ones. In other words, there is no one right way to position or hold a particular joint or limb that works for all circumstances. For instance, even the shoulders and elbows must rise on occasion. Your overall feeling of circulating Jin will remain constant overall, but will vary within each joint.

The whole notion of curves storing energy and straight lines emitting energy is a rather deep topic that probably requires its own thread. If you are interested in this, you may want to start one.

You asked whether I was referring exclusively to “gravity” when I mentioned the “impersonal forces of nature.” Actually, as I believe I have posted before, I think that the direct importance of gravity can easily be overstressed. Our limbs generally exert more force on the local interchange of energy than gravity. I was referring to the fact that energy has a tendency (a meaning included in “Shi”) to travel in particular patterns. This is one of the meanings I understand to be inherent in the philosophical term “Li3” (which means something like “cosmic order.”) This is independent of one’s will or wishes.

Water flows downward. Fire burns upward. Joints open and close within certain parameters. Tendons have great flexibility, while bones have almost none. Revolving circles spin off or gather in energy in straight-line “tangents.” If you move the revolving circles along their axes at right angles to the plane of revolution, you can reel energy off in spirals. All these relationships exist independently of one’s mind; however, one’s mind can design relationships that harness these realities. If you move in accord with these principles, you move according to the Dao and according to the doctrine of wu2wei2. The universe helps accomplish your movement. If you do not move in accord with these principles, your movement can never be perfect or “effortless.”

In my earlier post, I used the example of drawing a perfect circle with pencil, a string, and an anchoring tack or pin. If one calls out the inherent ways in which these three things can interact—i.e., an anchoring point, a straight line vector away from this point, and a straight line vector along a tangent—a perfect circle can be produced where no circle is evident at the beginning. This relationship is embedded in nature, but it takes your mind to take advantage of it. They are impersonal, because your mind cannot arbitrarily use them to create squares, spirals, or triangles. It is not an issue of mind over matter, but understanding mind’s relationship to matter. As I understand it, traditional Chinese philosophy did not admit of a dichotomy between mind and matter, since both were considered aspects of the same reality and ultimately made of the same “substance.” Your mind does not impose order on chaos, but rather can make decisions to act in accordance with the order immanent in any situation.

You also mentioned the harmonization of a polished symphony. In many ways, this is an excellent analogy that is exhibited in such things as the Ten Essentials, for example, upper and lower being coordinated. In another sense, however, I think it is also a very tricky analogy.

We talk about harmonizing the various parts of an orchestra to create a unified symphony; however, the reality is that the parts are not really integrated. If a violinist suddenly chooses to stop playing, the other musicians will probably continue. Their music may be integrated by the mind of the listener, but it is not automatically integrated by the mechanics of playing or the mere thoughts of the musicians. Their coordination can be loose or tight. I think that Taijiquan is supposed to be different. Whole-body integration implies something different than mere harmonization of separate bodily movements.

A different analogy would be clapping. The actions of the arms are not merely harmonized or coordinated, but they are integral parts of a single whole. One can, of course, move the arms at different speeds and over varying distances. One can also control the arms separately and move them independently of each other. However, when one claps, regardless of how the arms physically travel, we visualize the procedure as one integrated whole whose individual components are inconsequential. We know the Shi and need not pay any attention to the individual aspects of it. If we move the location of the impact of the clap, change the angle of movement, or make one arm travel a greater distance than the other, all these variations are immaterial and easy to perform, because we relate to the totality of the action, not to its individual components. If our Yi (“mind intent”) is on performing a clap, everything integrates naturally. If you literally try to “coordinate” your muscles and calibrate which should tense where and when, everything becomes awkward.

A musical analogy could be made with how one sounds most notes on a guitar, violin, or cello. One could talk about “coordinating” the movement of the left and right hands, but I would argue that the subjective feeling is more one of integration. It takes both hands to play notes on these instruments, unless the notes involve open strings. Talk of “coordination” implies it is possible to sound such notes without coordination between the hands, which is not the case.

I would argue that Taijiquan is like these two analogies. A lack of coordination is not just a minor defect, but something that is a serious problem. Of course, no one achieves perfect integration of every component; however, I believe the approach is not one of trying to perfect the harmonization of disparate things, but of trying to understand how the several parts can integrate to produce something different. You dig down deep for a feeling. You do not use endless repetitions to polish out imperfections.

Psalchemist, you also asked about Ti Fang and Peng. As I understand it “Ti Fang” is merely a technique for making the opponent generate power that you can use to uproot and push him or her. Peng is something much more general and fundamental. I personally would hesitate to call it a “technique.”

You also asked about “yielding” and whether it should precede “combining shi,” “breaking root,” and “launching.” I think it is hard to talk about ordering these things out of context. I think they also address different levels of reality. For instance, I would argue that “combining shi” is something you should attempt to do throughout an altercation and something you attempt even before contact. For instance, what do your eyes tell your opponent as he or she confronts you? Do they say that you are determined, eager, timid, prepared, uncaring, contemptuous, oblivious, etc.? Depending on your bearing (again, your Shi), you can provoke, send warning, intimidate, threaten, or baffle. What is the tendency in your opponent (again, Shi) that you want to combine with and strengthen?

As you “launch,” you can also send a variety of similar messages, depending on what you do and how you do it. If you jab at somebody’s eyes you may send a message that your view of the confrontation knows no bounds and that no quarter may be given or expected. A minor fight might now turn into something very serious. If you simply push away the opponent using his or her own force, you may send a message that you are capable of a wide range of retaliation and that it may be unwise for the opponent to continue the confrontation. Of course, either technique might communicate the opposite. The eye flick might succeed in intimidating the opponent and abort the confrontation, and the push might signal irresolution, embarrass the opponent, and provoke a more harsh attack. Again, what is the tendency (the “Shi”) in the situation that you want to go along with?

Yielding and Sticking are also described as the Yin and Yang aspects of the same thing. Adhering, which is an equally important Push Hands skill, is described as a means of uprooting the opponent. All these things are hard to disentangle perfectly in words or even often in practice.

You asked about the two links to Sun-Tzu. They really are the same thing. One is English, and one is Chinese. The Chinese link is a link back to an English translation, but that one does not work for me either. You can simply use the first one for any of the English you want to read. The chapters on Full and Empty and on Energy have particular relevance for Taiji philosophy.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby psalchemist » Fri Mar 12, 2004 1:44 am

Greetings Audi,

Thank you very much for your explanations and views on these matters, your time and efforts are greatly appreciated.

I will examine all aspects and concepts presented fastidiously in detail, and all points will be taken into serious contemplative consideration.

Thanks once again.

Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby lalsup » Fri Mar 12, 2004 8:47 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Michael:
<B>Audi,

I guess I would be one of those who says that at times one should have no "intent". Just to be clear, even without a "definition" of "intent", I link it with movement, action, or reponse. I view the lack of "intent" in this context, as "Wuji"--the place where all possibilities exist. That is one of my favorite definitions. There are so many ways of looking at it, and you bring up several.

What is my "intent" without input? Should I have any? In push hands to be without any intent would be that no one starts first. I want to determine the opponents "intent" before I pull any triggers. Don't want to fire the wrong weapon.

Hi, I have been following this thread for some time, and have enjoyed all input. I have to agree that Intent is required in push hands, what I have experineced is a tendency of some people to mix the concepts of intent (relative to push hands) with anticipation (indending to to this when you do that). I personally do not know how to remove intent from any of my practice. Intent, and I am going to paraphrase with the word "awareness" of activity is the only way that I know of to come to some sort of understanding of what your doing, and through that, how and if your improving. Thoughts, comments?

LeRoy

Dorshugla,

On points 1,2,and 3. You'll get no argument from me.

Point 1. Standing. It is overlooked all too often. I confess to not doing as much as I used to.

Point 2, Time put in. You are indeed correct when talking about martial practice. One cannot expect to reach certain levels without "the bitter". Some want more, some need less. It all depends on what one wants out of practice. I don't want anyone getting me wrong here but, it has been said that there are fewer and fewer "high" level martial artists. I think that might be true. Today people are not maybe so "single minded". For good or ill, we have a great many distractions and different demands on each one of us--work, family, and "wasting" time. But as Bertrand Russell said--"The time one enjoys wasting is not wasted time." I digress. The point is that what you gain from practice is directly correlated with time you put in. I think that is maybe the one "truth" you will ever hear from me. I definitely know this about martial arts training, but it is true about nearly any endeavor. We each need to figure out what we want and then do what is necessary to get that result. That way one will have no regrets.

Point 3. Single movement/posture training that is what it is about. A very important practice.

As far as "intent" goes I think you are correct in that everyone "has to answer on his own". I also think that these "answers" or "definitions", at least for me, come not from forming words but from hard practice. These things for me usually do not result in thoughts that can be communicated with words but are felt by both the body and mind---they are inseparable, and that is a "goal" I think.

Now each of us learns differently. Some need the mind to arrive at "answers" first to make the body respond. For me it works the other way.

Look forward to hearing more of your take on things.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
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Postby Michael » Fri Mar 12, 2004 10:28 pm

lalsup,

I think you make a very good point in distinguishing "intent", "anticipation", and "awareness"--and I would add the phrase "appropriate response", which comes from "open awareness".

anticipation as well as expectations --small difference--can "defeat" one in any activity in life.
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Postby Kalamondin » Tue Mar 16, 2004 9:06 am

Hello, I'm new to posting here (not even sure I'm doing this right) but I've been lurking for a couple years now, on and off, and have greatly enjoyed the various discussions.

I'm getting to the point in my forms and push hands practice where I would like to consult more with others about the nature of tai chi. While I am interested in specific applications, I am more fascinated by the internal elements--how chi gets where it goes, how to develop internal strength, and whether others use particular visualization or sensing techniques to advance their forms practice.

With regard to push hands, I am interested in things like: is there anyone out there who feels their opponent's yi as something palpable (like a tightness in the chest, jitteriness, a wave of hostility, or more rarely--calm)? What is the difference between resistance and standing like a mountain? Does anyone have advice on practicing small circles?

For my part, my practice has been more experiential than theoretical. By this I mean that I have a very visual and physical sense of the energy--and that I have neglected my reading for awhile. Oh, I absorb all the theory I can, but I'm afraid I don't have quite the knack for scholarship I've seen exhibited on these boards and I have yet to tackle Mandarin. I'd like to catch up on the reading now and any advice on good texts, especially regarding push hands practice, would be greatly appreciated.

I don't think I can shed light on the various etymological discussions, but I hope I can contribute something to discussions about the internal aspects of this art (which I understand in some small measure a little better each day, but of which I can claim no mastery) and perhaps raise some questions about the nature of martial virtue.

I look forward to learning from and debating with all of you!
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Postby Michael » Tue Mar 16, 2004 2:06 pm

Kalamondin,

Welcome out of the realm of "lukers". I look forward to learn from you as well.

Though I greatly enjoy "theory" and reading, I have long believed that in "doing" you will learn more than in reading. Now saying that, asking questions is another very valuable taiji activity.

Welcome again!

Michael
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Postby psalchemist » Tue Mar 16, 2004 9:45 pm

Greetings Kalamondin,

I ,as Michael, would simply like to welcome you to the board.

Greetings fellow Taiji Player. Image

Best,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Kalamondin » Thu Mar 18, 2004 10:01 pm

Thanks Michael and Psalchemist for welcoming me.

I'm wondering if anyone can shed light on the relationship of strong emotion, particularly anger, to tai chi theory and practice.

I have been told that it is a bad idea to practice when angry, in much the same way that it's bad too practice during a lightning storm (the energy is too wild, the body cannot process it--for lightning, anyway). (Sorry, can't remember my source.) And yet I find that practicing when angry, irritable, or out of sorts always improves my mood.

This is my understanding of what can happen when I practice while angry, and I'm hoping to hear what others' experiences are/what their teachers have said about it/what they've read.

Anger can cause physical tension and speed up the chi flow. This is a particularly bad combination for someone doing the form "fast and furiously." Anger's quick movements, combined with tension, send the chi barrelling through the body without regard for chi blockages (which are more likely if you are tense anyway). I tried that a few times, having tried and failed to calm my mind first, and always felt crappy afterwards. Nothing like feeling bad to make you try and change what's not working.

So, then I tried quieting my turbulent mind. This was in opposition to the feeling of the moment, so failed as well. Trying to impose relaxation and calmness was a kind of resistance. Also a failure.

Then I tried listening to my anger (with listening energy) and following it. This felt less constricted and oppositional, but it was sloppy. My form was in ruins--too fast, unbalanced, the anger undirected.

Then I remembered my teacher saying not to follow the chi sensations around. This is like the cart leading the horse, and the mind, of course, must orchestrate.

So I think I've finally figured out something that seems to work: allow the chi of anger to circulate, but set the intention of letting it go, of being completely relaxed. Let anger inform your motions, but make the yi relaxed--this feels like a separation (so I'm sure I haven't got it quite right yet)--there's a part that's succumbed to rage and another that's just not worried about it. I imagine the anger radiating off me and dispersing out into the universe. When I start the form this way, the anger is still there, filling me, and the chi feels particularly inflated, filling the extremities as though I were a balloon animal. Gradually it leaves, and with it goes my anger. My body isn't tense anymore, and I feel more balanced.

What are your experiences with this? I am rarely angry, but when I am....

Thanks.

Kalamondin
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Postby Wushuer » Thu Mar 18, 2004 11:19 pm

I will leave the answer about practicing while angry to others. I have my points of view, but as they frequently conflict with those around me...
Discretion, valor, something like that.

What I wish to bring into the topic may lie as much in the realm of cross substantiality, but as "mind intent" is the greater part of my exercise, I thought it might be good to start here and if anyone thinks it's not appropriate I will glady begin a new thread on it.
To point then.
I have frequently made mention on this board of my experiences with what I call TCC stair walking. As I have stated my medical reasons for this particular exercise (stair walking) in the past, in depth, I will not do so again. For anyone who doesn't know, I had an injury, stair walking is one of my physical therapies for it and I have worked hard to make this part of my TCC by incorporating those principals into that.
It has been extremely effective.
Well, earlier this week I had one of those "Aha!" moments of epiphany while I was doing this.
My "mind intent" as I did the TCC walk up and down these stairs (my YCF instructor taught us a Yang version of this, so I know they have it, I usually use Wu style stepping though as there is no "give back" of weight in thier style and that makes this smoother on the stairs) has always been that my arm as it's moving forward was making a punch and the one going back was a parry.
However, I have had a problem with "cross substantiality" in that, as inevitably when you walk the foot that goes forward is opposite of the hand that does so (take a walk and see for yourself, you swing the arms and legs on opposite sides), and so when you use the strength of your leg to step up, your yang side is the same. So my "forward" arm was yang (making my mind intent punch), my "forward" leg was yang (the one moving up a step). Now, there are moves in Wu style where this is true (the beginning of Single Whip comes to mind) so I really had no problem with this. It is a very small jing, but I've never thought I needed a big one.
BUT...
The other day as I was walking up those steps, my mind in my tantien, my arms making their arcs as I "intented" punching and parrying with both of them, I slipped on a small piece of paper I hadn't noticed.
I was "punching" forward with my right arm, my right leg was "stepping" me up and my left leg was empty and going up to the next step. I had to reach out with my left arm and grab the hand rail, and I just naturally "pulled" my left arm back towards me with my allready smoothly moving tantien in an effort to correct my slipping.
Well.....
Wow!
I nearly threw myself face first into the staircase!
I was in NO way prepared for the amount of sheer, unadulterated POWER of that "pull" back towards me with all of my tantien and most of the power from my right leg together.
It felt like someone launched me into orbit.
After I got myself righted, I thought this through and began to pull myself along on the hand rail like that, "pulling" backwards with my arm as I stepped up rather than "punching" forward with it.
That's not EXACTLY easy, as you've only got an anchor point on one side you throw yourself off balance. A tremendous amount of power, but no easy way to "use" it correctly.

Now comes the mind intent.
If I imagine myself pulling myself along on a rope directly in front of me with that backwards pull, it works to shoot me up those stairs like I have rockets on my feet. I don't even have to actually grab anything, just the "intent" in my mind that there is a rope there to pull myself along propels me like nothing I've ever experienced before.

Anyone else try antying like this?
Let me know.
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