I do not think I can comment directly on your teacher’s practices without knowing what he or she has in mind by them and how they fit into your overall curriculum. I think, however, that I may be familiar with what you refer to as “marking” the end of postures.
“Marking” is something I have never heard directly addressed by my teachers, but from what I have seen and what I have observed, I think there can be good aspects to it or bad aspects, depending on why and how it is done. One good reason to do it, I think, would be to feel the “jin” or “jing” (power) moving through the tendons, which is easer to feel in the last few inches of a posture sequence, when extension is at its maximum. Your description of your slow practice sounds like this. Another good reason for “marking” would be to reinforce what the end point of a posture feels like, in order subtly to test one’s structure and integration of joint movement. Both of these could also be described as “settling in” to the fixed point (ding shi) of each posture sequence that gives meaning to the transitions. The fact that you associate power with either of these types of feelings sounds like you are far ahead of people who can’t figure out what soft slow movements in Taijiquan could have in common with the power generated in other martial arts.
A third reason I can think of “marking” is to clearly separate posture sequences for teaching or learning purposes. I noticed Yang Jun doing something that looked like this at a saber seminar, when he was trying to stress the importance of shifting some weight forward in the Empty Stances (xu shi bu). Seeing this was the first time I was clearly able to see how the weight shift gave power to the hands and separated insubstantial (xu) from substantial (shi) more than by keeping 100% of my weight in my back leg. As a result of this, I completely changed the feeling I mentally reach for in Step up to Seven Stars (and in the other empty hand postures). For a while, I also “marked” the end of these postures to feel how the weight shift shaped the movement of power (jin) through my body.
Bad reasons to “mark” the end of postures might include using local joint movement to give more power to the “business” end of a move, similar to how power is generated in hard styles. Another bad reason would be to give a little “umph” of speed to a movement so that one can generate more force (“li”). A third reason would be to end a posture with local joint movement to show how power is whipping through the body. While I believe momentum and “whipping” power is a legitimate and necessary part of some Taijiquan movements (e.g., Flying Diagonal, Turn the Body and Chop with Fist (Zhuan Shen Pie Shen Chui), and the plucking (cai) version of Cloud Hands), I do not believe the body should ever limply whip, but should do so more the way a springy branch or bow whips out, than the way a wet towel whips.
I am curious about your reference to “Yang Form,” by this do you mean that your slow-paced long form is not a Yang Style Form?
As for doing faster versions of slow forms, I cannot say much with any confidence, because I have little experience doing this. I will go ahead and comment because something may be better than nothing and because I recall much frustration as I have studied Taiji that people have often failed to discuss matters in a straightforward way other than with enigmatic quotes or paraphrases from the classics. Why else participate on a board like this?
I would think that doing form faster than normal would be beneficial now and again, as a way of challenging and deepening understanding. However, I think this only happens if one has good control and understanding of the form at a slow speed. Unfortunately, I think such control and understanding describes only a minority of Taiji practitioners, including some who have practiced for years (I would include myself in this category). I think it would also be important to practice under the supervision of someone with good personal knowledge of and confidence in the feel of the form, as opposed to good knowledge of someone else’s instruction.
I can also see several potential drawbacks of doing fast versions of slow forms. All the postures have several subsections whose expression can be blurred at a sustained fast pace. I think this is fine in hard styles, where there is little real interaction with the opponent’s use and quality of energy, but I think this is bad for Taiji, where the quality of movement of each subsection of a posture sequence is theoretically contingent on the quality of response of the opponent.
For instance, according to my understanding, the length of Roll Back will be determined by the strength and length of my opponent’s push and/or the strength and length of his/her resistance to my pressure on his/her arm. Rather than always shifting my weight as far as possible to the rear, I will be on the lookout for an opportunity to put my opponent in a difficult situation, or “seize” (na) his/her energy. If I am successful, I will immediately use short explosive energy to try to break the arm or perhaps use longer energy to push my opponent out or force him or her to the ground. If my opponent successfully changes or dissolves (hua) my power (jin) by sinking his/her elbow and turning to face me, I will immediately change the power relationship to Press/Squeeze, regardless of how far my weight has shifted to the back. Again, trying to practice this at high speed brings unnecessary emphasis to gross positions that, in my view, is more applicable to hard styles.
One caution I would give to someone exploring fajin in the form is that many postures have “nicer” versions and “nastier” versions. I find some of the greatest depths in Taijiquan in the “nicer” versions, or in the fact that there is a choice. Another aspect of this is that many posture sequences can be viewed as progressive responses to threat escalations, where one’s response will depend on how committed your opponent is to aggression and what the level of aggression is. I believe Louis once mentioned Needle at Sea Bottom and Fan through the Back in this context.
The sequence I like to analyze for progressive responses is the Beginning Posture (Qi Shi) paired with Ward Off Left. In Karate, my response to having someone grab my wrists from in front could include attempts to twist my wrists free or to directly injure my opponent (e.g., with a stamping kick to the instep). Either way, I believe the opponent would perceive the way the techniques are performed as an escalation, and I would run the risk of turning an unpleasant encounter into a nasty one and would have revealed more of my physical abilities than I would have liked.
In Yang Cheng Fu’s form, I believe the beginning sequence of moves can be used in a way that the opponent will perceive that I am only giving back the level of aggression I have received and thus will discourage escalation. If the opponent persists, he or she will be responsible for the escalation and perceive this. Early on in the sequence, I am merely trying to make my opponent release my wrists, while temporarily preventing further attack. I then try to force the opponent to back up and give me space, again while exerting enough control over the situation to prevent a sudden escalation. I then try to spin the opponent off balance. I conclude by threatening to hyperextend joints and/or send the opponent flying onto his or her back if my wrists are not released. Of course, the opponent can respond to all my techniques, but then true combat (or at least, a true shoving match) is joined, and I can rely on the rest of the repertoire of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.
Another thing I can say about “marking” is that I think it is really distinct from “fajin.” “Fajin” involves “emitting,” “issuing,” or “launching” (all possible translations of “fa”) power (“jin”) onto, into, or through the opponent. To my mind, “marking” involves increasing the perception of how “jin” passes through one’s own body, which is slightly different, but of course also important. Again, “marking” is something one can also do with non-Taiji local strength.
Hopefully someone with more experience, courage, and/or knowledge will chime in on this thread, but here are some personal thoughts about how I think Taijiquan and an art like Karate expresses power. Taijiquan fajin is explosive, uses joint power in an integrated way, needs no time to build up, generally must follow a “seizing” (“na”) technique, stays smooth and springy, is not constrained by any particular set of gross movements, relies for its effectiveness on cooperation between spirit, mind focus, and bodily integration, involves simultaneous action of joints from the point of contact with the opponent all the way to the floor, focuses mostly on how the movement is initiated, may end a little vaguely, and is like a bow springing open to launch an arrow or a paper bag that is suddenly inflated. Karate power accelerates, uses joint power in an additive way, needs time to build up, is expressed through particular techniques, relies for its effectiveness on the precision of the techniques, changes from relaxed to rigid, focuses on the end of the movement, may begin somewhat vaguely, and is like an arm swinging a mallet to break a rock or javelin piercing into the ground.
Do you do any weapons forms? I have found that the greater speed, the weight of the weapon, and the challenge of moving power to the tip or edge of the weapon have given me a much better feel for “fajin” than I otherwise would have had.
Let me end this post by saying that I would be wary of those who, despite their words, view Yang Style Taijiquan essentially as a slower, smoother, more graceful, and softer form of Karate, Tae Kwon Do, etc. I believe this to be very mistaken. It is like saying that ping pong is essentially the same as playing tennis on a table with a shorter racket. In my opinion, people who have this view of Yang Style do not understand what the “Taiji” principle means and cannot figure out where the power comes from. To supplement their views, they often give extreme emphasis to sensitivity, knowledge of pressure points, relaxed speed, or esoteric qi manipulation. All of these may have value for health or self-defense, but I do not think they describe Yang Cheng Fu’s art and make principles like “fajin” into something else.
I hope this is helpful. Any comments are welcome.
Happy and fruitful practice,