Circling the foot--how many and where?

Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Joan » Sun Dec 11, 2011 12:27 pm

Where are the movements in the 103 form that use "circling" of the foot before taking a bow step?

I know that all the 180, 360, and 405 turns need it before taking the bow step. Where else and how many are there in the entire form?
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Audi » Thu Dec 15, 2011 2:23 am

Hi Joan,

I do not know how many such circling or centering moves there are in the form, but here is the way I think I distinguish when to center the stepping foot and when not to. As far as I can recall, what I do is standard for the Association's form.

Whenever one foot passes the other, I center the stepping foot. Whenever I shift from an empty stance to the corresponding bow stance, or vice versa, I do not center the foot. The only doubtful cases are when I am in a temporary or transitional stance that is not standard. When it feels pretty close to a standard empty stance (e.g., the transitions between Parting Wild Horses Mane or Fair Lady Works the Shuttles and Grasp Sparrow's Tail), I do not center the foot. When the position feels different from a standard bow stance ( e.g., the transition from Single Whip into Lifting Hands or the transition from Ward Off Left into Ward Off Right), I center the stepping foot before stretching it forward.

I hope you find this helpful, if not let me know.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Joan » Fri Dec 16, 2011 8:32 pm

Thanks Audi,

That is helpful. I like your description of when one foot passes the other you use a centering step. And also when the position feels different from a standard bow stance.

I know before the Crosskick in Part 3, and Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain Parts 2 and 3, and it seems like all Single Whips have a centering Step.

I agree that Ward Off left and right transitions seem to have one as you say. May be others can comment on this topic.
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Audi » Wed Jan 04, 2012 1:17 am

Hi Joan,

I had forgotten to mention Embrace Tiger and Single Whip. Thanks for the reminder. However, I do not believe that there is a centering step before Cross Kick, unless you are referring to the lifting of the right foot as a step, since the right foot does not "step" at all. What I do after High Pat on Horse and Thrusting Palm is the following:

1. Begin to shift weight back onto the right foot.
2. Pivot the left foot 135 degrees using the heel as I turn the waist and finish shifting weight.
3. Pivot on the ball of the right foot as I shift weight back onto the left foot.
4. Pick up the right foot directly (without touching the ground again) and bend the right knee as I prepare to kick out.

If I exclude Cross Kick, I might be able to amend the principle in my previous post by saying that you should use a "centering step" whenever one foot passes by the other or when the stepping foot has to cross your new center line (which occurs in Single Whip and Thrusting Palm.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby taichijaco » Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:39 pm

Hello Audi,

Thank you for your replies to Joan. I also have questions regarding the "circling of the foot", or what I refer to as "center stepping". I have been practicing Yang style taijiquan for more than 20 years, having studied with several Chinese teachers. My last teacher was Grandmaster Jesse Tsao, who was (and continues to be) a student of Li Deyin. Jesse, like many teachers of the 108 traditional form, centers the foot in every transitional move. However, I am now studying the DVDs of Yang Zhen Duo and Yan Jung, and I notice that they often do not center step as a transition.

Two examples of this are in the first third of the form: from Ward Off Left to Ward Off Right; and from the Withdraw and Push to Single Whip. Both of these transitions involve lifting the forward foot, which is already in a bow stance, and moving it slightly to the side to form a new bow stance. I find these steps rather awkward and unstable.

Before I studied the 108 traditional form with Jesse, I learned the Cheng Man-ch'ing form from Master James Huang, and the CMC form also does not incorporate center stepping in many of the transitions. At that time, I did not think the transitions were awkward, because I didn't know any other way to perform them. However, having studied with Jesse and watched lots of taijiquan videos, it seems to me that center stepping through transitions is both more stable and also provides the opportunity to advance or retreat. Center stepping also allows one to pass through the central equilibrium position of the "five steps", which along with the eight gates comprise the original taijiquan 13 postures.

So, here's my question: If center stepping was not part of Yang Chen Fu's form, how did center stepping become incorporated into the 108 form taught by so many Chinese teachers? Further, why is center stepping not a part of all transitions in the traditional Yang family form? I'm hoping that you, Audi, or another individual familiar with the Yang family's teachings can shed some light on this subject for me. I really am striving to conform to the Yang family's form in every minor detail, but this one issue really has me conflicted.

I offer in advance my appreciation for any and all replies.
Last edited by taichijaco on Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby ruben » Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:12 pm

Hi Taichijaco.
I think Master Yang Jun spoke about this in one seminar. He said that there are many Masters who had study with Mastar Yang Chengfu. And between them and Yang Family, though the style is quite similar, still there is some different flavour. And he went on, saying that the origin of that fact was that students stayed with Master Yang Chengfu for several years but Yang Chengfu kept on modifying the Yang Style until his death. So, as they were away, what they took was slightly different from each other.
Regards,

Rubén
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby taichijaco » Wed Jan 18, 2012 12:24 am

Hello Ruben,

Thank you for your reply. Yes, I am aware of the explanation as to why there are differences in the way teachers perform and teach the form. That is why I have been striving to match my form to that of Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun. I guess my question has to do more with why many of the transitional steps in the Yang family version do not pass through the central equilibrium position. I will point out that the recent YouTube videos of Master Yang Jun in which he demonstrates and teaches the individual movements, he apparently does withdraw the front, bow stance foot in order to transition to a new bow stance. Again, any insight on the do's or don'ts of center stepping between postures would be most appreciated.

Regards to all,

Andrew
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Audi » Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:24 am

Hi Andrew:

Welcome to the board and thanks for the posts.

Two examples of this are in the first third of the form: from Ward Off Left to Ward Off Right; and from the Withdraw and Push to Single Whip. Both of these transitions involve lifting the forward foot, which is already in a bow stance, and moving it slightly to the side to form a new bow stance. I find these steps rather awkward and unstable.

Andrew, I am a little puzzled by your statement, because I would say that we do center the foot in these two transitions. Could it be that we have different definitions of "centering"? In these two transitions we are not supposed to move the centering foot straight into the bow stance, but rather must smoothly bring it close to the weighted foot before stretching it forward into the new stance.

One thing that I may have expressed badly in my previous post is that when I refer to a posture, I am referring also to the transition that leads into that posture, not to the subsequent movements.

So, here's my question: If center stepping was not part of Yang Chen Fu's form, how did center stepping become incorporated into the 108 form taught by so many Chinese teachers? Further, why is center stepping not a part of all transitions in the traditional Yang family form? I'm hoping that you, Audi, or another individual familiar with the Yang family's teachings can shed some light on this subject for me. I really am striving to conform to the Yang family's form in every minor detail, but this one issue really has me conflicted.

I am not sure I understand your question, since you seem to have different assumptions than I do. I would say that Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun teach a centering movement whenever it does not seem to involve a large "detour" or a mere repositioning of the feet. I though my other posts gave details of which postures and so I am not sure what is not clear ,

I think that Yang Chengfu left a strong and vibrant legacy, but that did not prevent his sons, disciples, and students from having different understandings of various details of the form. For me, this is not a problem, since I think most of them have reasonable solutions that work in their overall teaching.

I also think that Yang Jun stresses stability a lot, but seems to talk of the feeling of Zhong Ding ( "central equilibrium") more in discussing the culmination of a posture than the transitions.

I hope this is helpful.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby taichijaco » Thu Jan 19, 2012 5:58 am

Hello Audi,

Thank you for your response. I am now going to mirror your puzzlement over whether one foot is withdrawn or merely repositioned in the transitions I referred to in my initial post. In your response, you wrote:

Andrew, I am a little puzzled by your statement, because I would say that we do center the foot in these two transitions. Could it be that we have different definitions of "centering"? In these two transitions we are not supposed to move the centering foot straight into the bow stance, but rather must smoothly bring it close to the weighted foot before stretching it forward into the new stance.


Although I have not had the priveledge to observe any of the Yang family members in person, I have studied their videos assiduosly and have to disagree with your statement. On the authorized DVDs of Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun, in the transition from withdraw and push at the end of grasp sparrow's tail into single whip, the right foot is buckled toward the southeast and left foot is simply lifted up and "repositioned" , as you put it, with a slight extension of it's original position in preparation for the waist turn and weight shift. Sometimes Yang Jun will slightly circle the left foot in and back out, but Yang Zhenduo definitely does not do so. And even the slight circling of the foot performed by Yang Jun does not, to my mind, represent a true withdrawal of the left foot into a centered position that can be held for any period of time.

In contrast, many Yang stylists perform this transition with a definite withdrawing of the left foot close to the right foot in a temprorary "cat stance", just as you stated in your post. To me, this centering of the left foot provides the opportunity to move into any direction prior to implementing the single whip, in case a different posture or a different direction is indicated. It feels very comfortable to me and makes the transition to single whip more fluid and lively.

To make this distinction even clearer, as you claim that the Yang family does "center" the left foot in this transition, try finding a point during the transition from the fully-weighted right leg to extending the left foot in which you can comfortably lift the left foot off the ground and suspend it for a minute or more. If you can't do so without withdrawing the left foot further in, then I would have to say that there is not a true centering of the left foot in your transition.

I offer the same challenge, this time with the right foot, in the transition from "ward off left" to "ward off right". When I was training in Yang style long form many years ago, my teacher would have us do "holding rounds", in which we would hold the center position of each transition for a minute or so in order to fully distinguish between the empty and full legs.

From a martial arts perspective, this seems much more practical. In an actual sparring situation, I would never want to leave a leg extended as I changed from facing west to facing east in order to confront a different opponent. Rather, I would want to withdraw to a position of "central equilibrium" prior to stepping into a new attack.

I realize that there is probably no way to justify the way the Yang family makes this stepping transition other than to accept it as part of the family's tradition. I am working hard to match the traditional form in every detail, and will continue to perform the transition from withdraw and push to single whip as demonstrated by Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun out of respect for the continuity of the family's teachings.

I would like to respond as well to an additional comment you made in your reply to my original post, regarding "central equilibrium." With all due respect for Yang Jun, I do believe that central equilibrium is one of the five steps and can be performed in transitions and not just at the conclusion of each posture. Many Chinese Yang stylists emphasize this center position within the transitions. This is true in much the same way as stating that "shoulder stroke" is part of the transition from "lifting hands" to "white crane spreads its wings." So, again, I refer to the "center step" that I find so comfortable in my transitions to represent an actual passing through the point of central equilibrium, as a literal "step", before making any advance or retreat or before stepping out diagonally, as, for example, in the "part the wild horse's mane" postures.

It may well be that the difference between how I view the importance of center stepping in transitions and how the Yang family teaches the transitions lies with your statement that Yang Jun stresses central equilibrium more in the postures and not in the transitions, whereas I consider central equilibrium to be an integral compononent of each transition.

Respectfully,

Andrew
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Jan 20, 2012 11:00 pm

Taichijaco,
I'll take a lash at this.

I have studied two styles of taijiquan in some depth; Wu Chien Chuan style and Traditional Yang Cheng Fu style. But first I trained a Yang Cheng Fu style form handed down from the Tong family, though not in very much depth.
I used to have a lot of similar questions to the ones you are asking now. Learning a new style is often made more difficult by having learned another previously. There are a lot of things that you have to unlearn before you can be comfortable with a new style and that's the most difficult thing in the world to do.
You never want to forget any of your old style, keep it close, but don't hold on to it so tightly that you can't allow room for the new ideas as well.
I still struggle with this from time to time, as I still practice, and teach, both styles.

On the transition from GTBT to Single Whip, as taught by Yang Jun Laoshi, there is indeed a "centering". He discusses this at every seminar I have been to. However it is not a step. A step doesn't allow you to "center", or a better way to say it may be that a step shouldn't be necessary for you to control your center.
I do not understand your challenge. It doesn't present one to someone who has been training taijiquan of any style for long enough to have found their center.
I can very easily lift my left foot and hold it in one spot for a while, or move it anywhere if I'd like to during that transition. I can because I have learned how to use my body to control my center of gravity.
I am not in any way so committed to stepping only to a predetermined spot that I cannot go anywhere else if necessary, not during either transition you have challenged us with or at any other time.
I do this by holding my own center and not relying on any preconceived movement pattern to do that for me.
The trick is to use your waist to control the movement, it is the kingpin for the turning of your entire body.
If you allow your waist to lead and control the movement, you will be able to pivot in any direction at almost any time. You will be able to step out directly like in the Traditional Yang Family form, or decide not to and bring in the foot for a centering step, or extend it right on out to where your opponent is and kick him instead.
All forms are a guide, teaching methods to do a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. The stepping pattern isn't really all that important in the long run except as a means to teach you another correct way to do something, the real meat of Taijiquan is to teach you to control your body at all times and in all directions by controlling your own center. Once you have learned how to do that you will find that just about all Taijiquan forms will become pretty easy for you to learn. And you will begin to enjoy all of them for the fun new ways they will be able to teach you to do things using the exact same principles of controlling your own bodies center.
I quite enjoy playing both the Traditional Yang Family and the Wu Chien Chuan style forms that I know well, as well as the 16 posture forms from all of the major styles that I learned at the Symposium in Nashville that I don't know so well. There are a lot of "differences" in all of them, so many it's mind boggling.
But now that I've realized that they're all the same and all I ever needed to do to enjoy them was control my center by letting the waist and hips work as one unit to bring my upper body and lower body together, I found all the similarities and now I enjoy working in all the "differences" I can find.

I would like to see the form that you train. Is there a link to a video I can watch of it?
I really enjoy watching all the variations I can find.

Bob
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Audi » Sat Jan 21, 2012 6:54 pm

Greetings Andrew and Bob,

Bob. thanks for jumping in. I agree with almost all your thoughts.

Andrew, thanks for taking the time to clarify your views and your understanding further. Clearly you have some experience and have put thought into these issues.

I think I understand much better how you see and understand our practice. Your inquiry has also led me to pull out my DVD and verify that Master Yang Jun was doing what I thought he was doing. As for Yang Zhenduo, I do not recall any more how he did these transitions at the seminars I attended, although I thought he used more or less the same method. Since I no longer have much access to him to give clarification, explanations, and corrections, I now use Master Yang Jun as my model in almost all cases. The only thing I am still somewhat unsure about is how exactly you would prefer to do the transition and whether it is a matter of angles, distance, or touching the foot down. If there is a video clip you could link to and that would have someone performing the transitions as you would prefer, it would be helpful for me to see.

I do not recall that we actually use the term "circling step" in our teaching, but what I mean by it is that whenever you take a full step, you should usually choose a path for your foot that curves closer to the other foot when you pass by it. For me, it is important that I think of "closer," rather than "close," since circumstances will dictate the actual path of the foot.

I realize that there is probably no way to justify the way the Yang family makes this stepping transition other than to accept it as part of the family's tradition. I am working hard to match the traditional form in every detail, and will continue to perform the transition from withdraw and push to single whip as demonstrated by Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun out of respect for the continuity of the family's teachings.

I think you may profit from opening your mind even more, rather than settling on tradition as the sole justification for this practice. I train in precisely this way, and this is the method I use quite comfortably and effectively even in spontaneous moving step. I am not sure I could have gotten the same skill using another method.

In contrast, many Yang stylists perform this transition with a definite withdrawing of the left foot close to the right foot in a temprorary "cat stance", just as you stated in your post. To me, this centering of the left foot provides the opportunity to move into any direction prior to implementing the single whip, in case a different posture or a different direction is indicated. It feels very comfortable to me and makes the transition to single whip more fluid and lively.


What we tend to say about such views is that there are always advantages and disadvantages to any approach. For instance, if you are talking about using angular movement to form a temporary cat stance at the angle, this has the advantage of flexibility, but the disadvantage of being slow. Stepping directly with no centering movement at all has the advantage of being quick and helping to strengthen the legs, but the disadvantage of decreasing stability and creating awkward Jin flow. Where some practitioners have one direct stepping technique, you are positing two.

I would say that we take a middle position in this case. We use one indirect stepping technique, rather than one or two direct ones. If there is a lot of time or the angles are favorable, our moving foot will come quite close to the standing foot, approximating the movement of those that simply bring the moving foot in first. If there is little time or the angles are unfavorable, our curving movement can become straighter and straighter, approximating the movement of those that have one direct movement.

To make this distinction even clearer, as you claim that the Yang family does "center" the left foot in this transition, try finding a point during the transition from the fully-weighted right leg to extending the left foot in which you can comfortably lift the left foot off the ground and suspend it for a minute or more. If you can't do so without withdrawing the left foot further in, then I would have to say that there is not a true centering of the left foot in your transition.

I agree that having the leg in is more stable than having it extended, but this is only one principle.

Consider "Seek stillness in motion." One way that I try to respect this principle is to try to feel that every moment in a transition is like any other and that I have nowhere that I must go. If I must bring the leg in, this means that I am uncomfortable leaving it out and am no longer treating all positions with neutrality. What if I need to leave the leg out in order to stick to my opponent's leg? Or hook it? Or step on it? Depending on circumstances, the best path for my leg may not be straight in and straight out in an angular way.

I offer the same challenge, this time with the right foot, in the transition from "ward off left" to "ward off right". When I was training in Yang style long form many years ago, my teacher would have us do "holding rounds", in which we would hold the center position of each transition for a minute or so in order to fully distinguish between the empty and full legs.

I can see how this might be good training, but I do not think it would train me in how we distinguish full and empty.

Speaking in plain English, I would say that distinguishing full and empty in terms of weight involves having full control of momentum. To train this, we perform the empty-hand form so that it is clear that momentum plays no role in most of the stepping techniques. I test this, not be asking students to hold a position for long periods of time, but by spontaneously asking them to freeze for a moment. If they cannot freeze at a touch, then I would say that the are not in control of their momentum. A good time to test this is just before a foot is about to touch the ground or just after it leaves the ground. It is not necessary to freeze for long, since freezing for a long period tests other abilities than control of momentum.

Consider also "Continuously and without interruption." While Tai Chi movement is made of different components, stressing their differences tends to weaken their sense of unity. If you look closely at Master Yang Jun's final left step into Single Whip (from Grasp Sparrow's Tail), you can see one curving motion with two elements. For me, this shows in microcosm, Yin and Yang united in Taiji.

There are times in our weapons forms where we do bring a leg in and step immediately back out in the same direction, but here we discourage a complete transfer of weight to avoid a break in the Jin flow. In other words, after developing control of momentum in the hand form, we want to begin using momentum in the weapons forms. Thus, the same principle has a slightly different expression in the two classes of form. You can see the same compromise in action in observing most people perform the form using low stances. In order to stretch the legs as far as possible and get as low as possible, they tend to carry slight momentum in their steps.

I should also say that we do not distinguish full and empty only in terms of weight. When it comes to push hands or more advanced practice of the hand form, we talk much more about full and empty in terms of energy. I have talked with practitioners who have been trained to think in terms of 100% and 0%, or 99% and 1%; and they often have difficulty understanding our view of Tai Chi theory. For us, these percentages have little theoretical importance, whether we talk of weight or energy. In other words, regardless of your weight separation, you can have insufficient control of momentum and be double weighted. Regardless of your weight separation, you can and should still distinguish full and empty in terms of both weight and energy. The question is how to understand and how to train this.

I would like to respond as well to an additional comment you made in your reply to my original post, regarding "central equilibrium." With all due respect for Yang Jun, I do believe that central equilibrium is one of the five steps and can be performed in transitions and not just at the conclusion of each posture. Many Chinese Yang stylists emphasize this center position within the transitions.

I may not have expressed myself well. For me, "centering" and Central Equilibrium are not the same thing. Nor would I say that we have no interest in a "center position." We move toward the center, but do not require that you reach it or that you pause there. In other words, if we are moving between points A and C, we do not want to insert a new point B, even if that is a nice point to be at. We do, however, want to choose a path to point C that best balances speed, stability, and flow. As for Central Equilibrium, let me explain more fully.

In English, we talk about "steps," but the Chinese does not do so in the same way. The Chinese word "bu" (步) can be translated "step," but also as "stance" or even "footwork." Some also talk, especially in English, more about left, right, center, etc., but we talk more about the word in the Chinese doublet that indicates the quality, rather than the direction of movement: e.g., gu ("beware" or "take care of" 顾), pan (" anticipate" 盼), or ding ("settle" 定). We would say that you want to be "settled" everywhere in the form and have stability; however, if this is all you say, you violate the theory. Sunzi tells us that if you always do something, you actually never do it. Taiji requires change. We must try to have full and empty even in this.

You seem to want to respect Central Equilibrium (or Settling on the Middle 中定) by inserting a new stable point between every pair of stable stances. Consider that such a point does not occur in every transition, and therefore there would be no way to practice this principle in every posture. We see the need to stress this principle just after you send your energy out at the peak of every posture and your Qi is necessarily up. We want practitioners to actively resettle the Qi, feel the Qi sink, and recapture the feeling of neutrality in movement that is lost in the feeling of Fajin. In my view, we focus for one instant on neither attacking nor defending, but rather on "settling on what is neutral." Although this idea connects with the energy flow generated by the legs, it is not dependent on moving the legs in any particular direction. It is not just an issue of balance, which is what the English word "equilibrium" might incorrectly overstress.

Lastly, let us consider the case of Ward Off Left. Here we move the left foot straight forward into the left bow stance. It would be more stable to move the left foot in and then out, but this would also have two disadvantages. By turning one motion into two, it takes more time and prevents you from learning how to do the move as one. Also, by losing shoulder-width spacing as you bring the foot in, you must now search to find it again at a difficult angle. By moving as we do, we tend either to move along the natural lines that frame the stance (which angular movement cannot do) or else move along the curves that approach these lines as natural mathematical limits (which straight movement cannot do).

If I had to summarize our method, I would say.

1. Step simply. If you need only to reposition your foot, just do that (e.g., right leg in White Crane Spreads Wings or the right leg moving into the third part of Fair Lady Works the Shuttles). Make sure that you lift the foot off the ground and that you do not just pivot, because you want to show that you could have stepped if necessary. However, don' t actually take a full step.

2. Don't turn a minor step into a major step. If the distance to cover is small, don't make it overly long by choosing a circuitous path, especially if the overall flow of energy is already in line (e.g., the left foot moving into or out of Play the Pipa or the left foot moving from Part the Wild Horse's Mane into Ward Off Left).

3. If you must step, try to step in harmony with the lines of force you need. If you begin far from the line you need, "seek the straight in the curved" and curve into the line you need (e.g., the right leg in Lifting Hands Stand Forward or the left leg in Single Whip after Grasp Sparrow's Tail). If one foot must pass the other, from front to back or from side to side, try to choose a curve toward your weighted leg that will increase your stability as the moving foot crosses its line, rather than holding to a purely straight line (e.g., the left leg in Defect Downward, Parry and Punch). If neither of these situation applies, just step straight (e.g., the left leg in Ward Off Left).

I hope this is helpful in explaining our view of things. Hopefully others will step in if I have anything wrong.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby taichijaco » Mon Jan 23, 2012 1:18 am

Hello to Bob and Audi,

First of all, I wish to thank you both for your kind contributions in an attempt to answer my questions. I wish to assure you both that I am sincerely trying to understand how the Yang style taijiquan I learned differs from the traditional Yang family form, especially with regard to the "additional" center step that I learned in all the transitions. I would like to address several points you both brought up, but first let me say that I have been seriously practicing taijiquan for more than 20 years, and that I was certified as an instructor seven years ago by my last teacher, Grandmaster Jesse Tsao, who is a lineage holder in both the Li family and Chen family in China.

I have studied the following styles: Cheng man-Ch'ing style (first with Chris Luth of Solana Beach, California and later with Master James Huang of Honolulu - an indoor student of Cheng Man-Ch'ing);and traditional Yang style long form with weapons, as well as Chen and Wu styles from Master Tsao.

I remember that when I studied the CMC form, we took the same steps as in the Yang family form, and I thought nothing was untoward with these transitions (for, example, in the transitions from one "fair lady" to another, just as Audi wrote.) Also, Chris Luth would have us freeze at any moment, as Audi states, to ensure that we could maintain our "center" without falling over.

It was when I began training with Master Tsao that I learned to center step in every transition, even in such transitions as Audi referst to in which a center step represents a longer path than simply lifting up and replacing the foot. A perfect example of this is the movement from "lifting hands" to "play the pipa", in which Master Tsao includes a centering step between lifing hands and prior to stepping out again to play the pipa. When I learned this approach, it made perfect sense to me for the reasons I have already articulated. I have been practicing Yang style taijiquan in this way for almost ten years, so obviously I have become accustomed to this type of transition.

Since discovering the Yang family DVDs and making my New Year's resolution to correct my form to match that of the Yang family, I have been wrestling with this one issue. I have also viewed many Youtube videos of other Yang stylists and have reached the conclusion that the CMC lineage and the Yang Chenfu family lineage definitely perform the steps as shown in the DVDs. I have also been watching carefully the detailed videos of Yang Jun teaching individual moves (in excellent English, I might add) on the Yang family channel. What I have noticed is that he and his students do withdraw the foot much more in those transitions where a "centering" or "circling" is indicated than does Yang Zhenduo.

I also reviewed videos of Master Tsao performing the Yang style long form, and I noticed that he sometimes completely withdraws the foot to a cat stance and in other videos simply lifts and repositions the foot as in the Yang family DVDs. I contacted Master Tsao after my initial post in this forum and asked him about the difference, and he said that either way is correct. How can I fault such an answer?!

So, Audi, I am going to follow your suggestions in bringing my Yang style long form into conformance with the Yang family form, specifically with regard to those steps which don't involve a long distance of movement from one stance to another. I understand the reasoning behind not centering the foot in such transitions (that being that it is quicker.) I think the one transition where I still like the centering step is in the transition from "withdraw and push" into "single whip". I have noticed that Yang Jun does include a withdrawal of the left foot here (although not to a cat stance), and this withdrawal is also indicated in Fu Zhongwen's book (both textually and in drawings.)

Bob, with regard to your comment that making such transitions without centering to a cat stance, I agree that it is done with the waist (but also by creasing the qua.) I am perfectly capable of performing these transitions as demonstrated in the DVDs, and, like you, can hold the foot aloft at any point in the transition. For me, the issue was not one of "can" or "can't", but rather of style and application of the principles outlined in the classics.

What I can conclude is the following: what both of you have stated in your commentaries appear completely valid, and I have no disagreement with your positions.

Finally, with regard to when the practice of centering the foot in every transition entered the Yang style of certain Chinese teachers, I would still be interested in knowing where and when this began. I suspect that it may have taken place when Li Tianji created the Simplified 24 posture Yang form. Center stepping is clearly part of just about every transition in this popular form. This may due to the fact that Li Jingling studied under Yang Jianhou rather than Yang Chenfu, so the Li family's Yang style may have inherited this center step from Yang Jianhou.

Respectfully,

Andrew
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby taichijaco » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:16 am

Hi to Bob and Audi,

Just a postscript here. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video clip is worth ten thousand. Here is a video clip of Lu Guo Ming performing the traditional long form which clearly demonstrates the "center stepping" that I have been trying to describe in my posts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FbASDzC ... re=related

As you can see, he withdraws the foot in many of the transitions between postures where both Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun do not. An example to which I have previously referred is the transition from "lifting hands" to "play the pipa."

Sincerely,

Andrew
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby Audi » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:49 am

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the link. That was very helpful.

To me, the transitions in the link look almost the same as what we do, except that there is slightly more emphasis on the withdrawal of the stepping foot than we might have. Outside of this discussion, I would not have noticed or commented on the difference. The only place that was slightly more noticeable is when Lu Guo Ming (Liu Gaoming?) transfers from an empty stance to a bow stance. In those instances, he does withdraw the foot even closer to the standing leg before stretching it out again, whereas we simply stretch the foot forward.

Even though externally, the moves are very close, I think there is a slight difference in the Yi. Notice that the rhythm of the stepping is different, since the stepping foot must speed up temporarily to accomplish two different purposes ("Yi") that correspond to our single purpose. I would agree that either method could fit Tai Chi principles, but they emphasize different things.

A similar situation is where some people on this Board have criticized our weight distribution in empty stances, because we seem unable to show the possibility of a kick. To me this is not a defect, but simply a difference in emphasis. The more you show the possibility of a kick, the less you show the ideal performance of the posture without a kick. Either method can work, but the emphasis is different.

I also have no problem with other teachers showing multiple "purposes" when we show only one. We actually have many postures that show dual "conflicting" purposes (e.g., Strike the Tiger, Step Back and Ride the Tiger, Step up to Seven Stars). To me, this is neither right, nor wrong, it is simply a choice.

One situation where we seem to de-emphasize smooth, even movement of the legs is after kicks. I think we are simply supposed to withdraw the kicking leg without linking that movement to the next step. I do not recall a specific justification for this, but I think it is to avoid getting in the habit of leaving a kicking leg out for the opponent to grab and also to make a habit of protecting the groin.

Here is some ideas you might want to play with that might help your imagination and make you more comfortable with our method. After the first Single Whip, imagine that you vaguely perceive an opponent coming at you from the south. You shift some weight off the left leg in order to facilitate a pivot to the right led by your waist. As the opponent comes in sight, you realize that he is rushing and lunging at you. To respond, you are not only going to attack his lunging arm with Split, but are going to stop his onrush, by using your right foot to cover his lead ankle. To do this, you need to borrow your own Jin as you lift your right foot and then thrust it forward. If you step directly without a curve, your angle will be wrong. If you withdraw your foot straight in to preserve "flexibility," you will be too slow and cannot borrow Jin. In a real situation, you will vary the curve your right foot uses depending on how much time you have and how much power you need.

In Lu's Single Whip, he steps out with the left foot slightly in advance of circling his ward off to the left. My expression of energy is slightly different, both in the arms and the legs. Lu steps as his ward off reaches a horizontal expression. I use the more curved part of the step for the change in orientation of the left arm and the more straight part of the step for the apex of the ward off. Since the feel of the left arm is unified (even with two components), the movement of the left leg needs to feel unified (even though it too has two components). If you focus only on moving the left foot in and out, it won't have the same coordination with the left arm.

I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Circling the foot--how many and where?

Postby taichijaco » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:05 pm

Hello Audi,

Thank you again for your comments. I think we are basically in agreement that different applications can be inferred and applied from the same posture, and that different teachers may emphasize different applications. With regards to the footwork differences between our two forms, I decided to look to the best example I could find of Yang Chengfu's form: Fu Zhongwen. I reviewed both the descriptions and the illustrations in "Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan", translated by Louis Swain, who appears in various posts on this board.

On pages 46 through 50, and in illustrations 20 through 26, you can see that he definitely indicates that the foot be withdrawn and then extended in the transition from "withdraw and push" to "single whip" and also in the transition from "lifting hands" to "white crane spreads its wings".

To further verify these written and drawn instructions, I found a Youtube video of Fu Zhongwen performing these movements, and you can see that the footwork is as I have described previously:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIpKW6AnKYw

While I appreciate your approach to the footwork, and especially with regard to DVDs of Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun, I am going to continue to perform the footwork as I learned it from Master Tsao and as I see confirmed in both Fu Zhongwen's book and in the videos of him performing the form.

What I have observed from Fu Zhongwen's movements and from my own training is that when the hands return close to the body, the empty foot is also withdrawn. "In this manner, one can coordinate all the movements of the 'hands, eyes, torso, methods, and steps,' attaining the goal of 'one part moves, no part does not move; one part is still, no part is not still.'" (page 44).

On this point, I think we are in agreement, in that the movements of the leg (foot) and the arm (hand) need to be coordinated when withdrawing. On the other hand, the foot needs to be placed into the new position prior to completing the movement of the arms in order to create a stable base for turning the waist and expressing the jing.

I believe that the following video of Master Tsao shows the correct way to center and then step out, for example when performing "parting the wild horse's mane" and "fair lady works the shuttle".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTOZqJ49 ... re=related

From a martial application, if an opponent is attacking, I not only withdraw the hands to intercept and match the opponent's incoming force, but I also withdraw the foot to match the incoming momentum of the opponent. Here I want to coordinate the movement of the arms and the withdrawing leg. However, once the incoming force is neutralized, then I can step out into the opponent's center and once I have established a stance, connect with the hands to ward off, split, or press. When I trained in moving step push hands, as well as in da lu and san shou, we always withdrew the foot prior to stepping out and then applying fajing or some other form of attack. Master Tsao's movements in the above-mentioned video clip use the same footwork that we performed in the da lu exercises.

In conclusion, I believe this has been a fruitful exchange of ideas. It has forced me to review various sources and to confirm, at least in my mind, the validity of "center stepping" in the transitions between various postures in Yang style taijiquan. I will continue to study the DVDs and also the Youtube videos of Yang Jun in an effort to correct minor defects in my form. However, on the issue of footwork, I am going to stay with the footwork that I learned and which is in accordance with Fu Zhongwen's text and the videos of his form. I look forward to reading your posts on other topics, and hope that we can have similarly fruitful exchanges in the future.

Sincerely,

Andrew
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