Toes, do you lift them?

Postby Wushuer » Fri Aug 20, 2004 1:29 pm

David J,
I have to disagree with some of what you say. I feel absolutely no less stable when I lift the toes of my front foot. I feel no wobbling and my partner cannot push me out from any angle like this.
Same for toe down.
My practical, real life, experiments do not bear out the in-stability factor for this.
Let me ask this:
Does anyone here feel any less stable when they enter the posture White Crane Spreads Wings?
Because that's a toe down on the floor of your unweighted foot stance, and if you're not stable in that stance you will get your butt knocked down. You use this stance for many things, one of which is to open up the arms of your opponent, opening his entire body to your potential kick.
If you're not stable here, you're not going to be able to open him up, and your kick is going to be useless. If you ever can make it.
And let's move beyond that, to Golden Cock On (insert leg designation here).
Are you unstable there?
I've got news for you, you'd better not be if you want this posture to be at all effective.
The Wu school has a wonderful expression that Polaris reminded me of not too long ago: "We train with all our weight on one leg so we can fight on one leg if we have to".
Maybe it's the long years of training to fight effectively with only one leg under me, but I feel no instability in single leg or empty stance forms.
I know too many others who can do this same thing to believe that stability alone is the driving reason for this. You've got that leg on the ground, you can use it for stability and Kal, a firm believe until recently in keeping that toe down, has seen how using the small circles and declutching your hip will make this a moot point.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, while there is the perception that having your foot flat will make you more stable, the reality does not bear this out.
I realize perception is reality, and maybe I'm attributing more wisdom the creators of the form that reality would bear out, but I simply cannot believe that if I can stay stable with my toes up, that Yang Cheng Fu and his relatives could not.
I'm not passing off the stability factor, at all, what I'm saying is that if there are other places in the forms where you do this same kind of thing and are expected to be stable there, then this could simply not have been the driving reason for keeping the toes down in this form.
What I'm trying to find out is: What is?
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Postby DavidJ » Fri Aug 20, 2004 10:10 pm


Generally, but truly, on two feet one is more stable than one one. This is a fact and needs to be understood.

I did not say that one cannot be rooted on one foot. About three years ago I argued here for that very thing.

There are different degrees of stability and different amounts of effort which come into play.


[This message has been edited by DavidJ (edited 08-20-2004).]
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Postby JerryKarin » Fri Aug 20, 2004 11:24 pm

I keep the toe down. I like having both bubbling well points in contact throughout grasp the birds tail. I'm not saying toe up couldn't work. I would also note that in Yang style you seldom have all the weight on one foot, even in empty stances.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
"We train with all our weight on one leg so we can fight on one leg if we have to".
I tend to disagree with this. See

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 08-26-2004).]
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Postby Audi » Sun Aug 22, 2004 4:08 pm

Hi all,

Wushuer, I haven’t really had a chance to address you directly on the Board since the Louisville seminar and just wanted to say that I greatly enjoyed meeting you and hanging out a little. With luck, we will get another chance in the near future and can further explore some of the things we have discussed on the Board.

You have asked an interesting topic on this thread. I do not have an answer to your query, but maybe had one strong reaction that I can share. I also might be able to set forth I quick sketch of what I guess to be some of the ideas behind the Yangs’ form design.

First, I think that it will be frustrating to look for the perfect postures or the perfect stepping techniques. I think that even the Yangs’ forms has a great deal more variation than is apparent on the surface and that they really give only minimum attention to “strong” configurations and “weak” ones outside of specific circumstances. As I am sure you noticed in the seminars, they often give qualified answers to questions aiming at absolutes. Everything depends on something else, and everything is the result of a compromise.

If you ask: “Is it better to lift the toe when shifting the weight rearward or is it better to leave the toes on the ground?,” I think you are asking an unanswerable question. If you ask: “Why would I leave my toes on the ground, or why would I lift them, I think you are asking a valid question.” The answer to this latter question, however, will involve a particular compromise of principles. In my view, valid training methods can arrive at different compromises and that is why forms differ.

Before giving my opinion as to the answer to your question, let me sketch what appears to me to be the theory behind the Yangs’ forms. This is, of course, only my own uninformed and possibly wildly incorrect speculation.

Two legs are better than one; therefore when all things are equal, stand on two legs. When you have something to do with one of your legs, stand on the other. When standing on two legs is dangerous or impractical, stand on one. When you stand on a leg, stand on the whole foot with the sole flat to maintain maximum traction and rooting possibilities. When you have something to do with part of your foot or when standing on the whole sole is impractical, stand on the ball, the heel, or the side of your foot. Lastly, unless there is a strong reason to do otherwise, standardize and simplify practice and leave variation for push hands and application practice.

Two-legged stances imply that both feet will remain flat on the ground, except in transitions into and out of them. The weight can be forward or backward. One-legged stances vary according to whether the empty foot is in the air, contacting the ground with the heel, or contacting the ground with the ball of the foot. Single-leg stances are generally less stable and less powerful than two-legged stances and so are only used if one leg will be busy in the air, if greater distance or mobility is necessary, or if the opponent is so close that one needs to keep one’s body at a distance.

In Roll Back, Repulse Monkey, Squatting Single Whip, and similar postures, I think that the Yangs treat the movement to the rear as simply a variation of a two-legged posture, where the compromise between stability and power is weighted towards power and against the need for increased distance or mobility. As a result, one keeps both feet flat on the ground. In Lifting Hands, Play the Pipa, Fist Under Elbow, etc., the emphasis is on swallowing the opponent’s power or closing distance suddenly; as a result, one-legged postures are called for. In the case of these postures, the empty leg does not show an explicit use, or else the implicit use implies contact with the floor. As a result, the toe (or heel) is lifted off the ground.

I do not know why other forms teach raising the toes. I can only speculate that they prefer training the feel of greater mobility or greater distance. I should stress that in the Yangs’ forms at least, one usually does not raise the toes so much as pull them up by moving the body backward and perhaps rotating the torso. Examples of this practice occur in the transitions between the 1st and 2nd and between the 2nd and 3rd Repulse Monkey repetitions, in the transition between Brush Left Knee and Needle at Sea Bottom, in the transition between the 1st and 2nd Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg, and in the transition between Step up to Seven Stars and Step Back to Ride the Tiger. It also occurs in the Sword Form (e.g., Phoenix opens both wings). Interestingly, the phenomenon does not occur before Play the Pipa or during the Low Posture/Snake Creeps Down/Squatting Single Whip (“Xia Shi”).

As one can see from the postures I have cited, “raising” the toes, implies a change in the position of the entire body and a different disposition of a whole series of joints. Whether and why one would want this different disposition is a separate question. I think the compromise reached in the Yangs’ forms implies a preference for “flat feet” whenever power is expressed with basically front-to-back or back-to-front movement. When power is moved vertically (upwardly or downwardly), one-legged stances are preferred, since horizontal stability is less of an issue. If you consider this, I think you can distinguish between postures like Snake Creeps Down, Roll Back, and Repulse Monkey and postures like Play the Pipa, Fist Under Elbow, and Needle at Sea Bottom. An apparently anomaly like Lifting Hands may also make sense, if one considers issue such as distance to the opponent or uses for the lifted foot either in front of or behind the opponents leg.

I hope this helps.

Take care,
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Postby JerryKarin » Sun Aug 22, 2004 10:55 pm

I basically agree with most of what Audi said. However, I think that it is misleading to characterize bow steps as two-legged and empty steps as one-legged. The rough formula given by the Yangs - 60/40 for bow and 70/30 for empty - indicates that both legs have a considerable measure of support in all but a few postures and of course in stepping transitions. People who are very expert can do a great deal on one leg with the other off the floor, but IMO it is a mistake for beginners and intermediate students to think about and practice moves as one-legged (with a very few exceptions).

Another consideration: often what you do in the forms for conditioning and stretching is different from the way you might apply these moves in push hands or sparring.
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Postby gene » Mon Aug 23, 2004 6:24 pm

How about looking at "toe up" from an applicational as opposed to only a structural standpoint? Work with Playing the Pipa as an example. Trap your partner's arm as you step on his foot. Using the bottom of your foot as you trap the arm, manipulate his foot bones to break his root. It's fun!

With respect to "toe up," I think it's important to imagine the foot resting on something underneath it. Pulling up on the toe, to me, creates undesirable tension on the front of the leg and closes the joints.

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Postby Gu Rou Chen » Tue Aug 24, 2004 7:30 am

The more I think about your question the more I realize how many issues it encompasses. It touches on the most basic issue of form and function.

Some teachers ingrain the concept of function above all else; once you grasp the internal energies, form naturally follows. They jump directly to the essence of the art. This is backwards from the usual way of teaching. How can anyone grasp internal energies without nurturing them with form? Still they teach this way and get results. Most teachers, however, start by integrally tying form and function together; correct form will result in the development of internal energies.

In either case, external form is, or should be, tied to internal energy and differing manifestations of it and vice-versa. At the same time, it is clear that at higher levels of expertise adepts exhibit remarkably less external movement when expressing the various energies. As the body move more and more as a unified whole, the less movement there is. The Taiji form as shown by Wu Jianquan exhibits an external manifestation that reflects certain internal energies, one of which is acompanied by a foot with heel on ground, toes raised. Yang style forms do not exhibit this external manifestation in the same sequence of GTBT. In terms of ‘style’, ‘should’ there be different energy expressions in these two ‘versions’ of GTBT? My experience suggests that there is not a difference. The diligent Wu stylist got it by raising his foot, the Yang stylist by leaving his foot on the ground. Is it possible to achieve this internal energy without the external manifestation of heel on ground, toes raised? I think it is possible, yet I honestly didn’t understand how poorly I undestood Yang Style well until I worked intensively on Northern Wu stye.

Gu Rou Chen
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Aug 24, 2004 11:08 am

Always a pleasure to hear from you.
Good post. You make a great deal of sense.
All things considered if one is good, two is better. I firmly believe that myself. When it comes to fighting I honestly prefer to have both of my feet firmly planted on the ground.
I have trained to be nearly as effective on one, so I guess I don't have it as an absolute "gotta have it" in my form or fighting practice. I feel more solid on two, how could I not?, but I feel extremely comfortable when the occassion arises to be on one.
I guess it's what you train for.
I have been doing my best to keep my toes on the ground during Yang style GTBT. I do feel some minor differences, mostly in the feeling of the ability to step quickly of necessary.
What I don't feel is any less rooted through my front foot, at all, when only my heel is on the ground.
Don't have a lot of time today, I am "study boy" through work, I'm going for certification and I need to get on the ball for that, but I will try to work out some of your excellent observations in real world testing.
I will let you know what I find.
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Aug 24, 2004 11:19 am

I know you disagree with that position. I have read, many times, the "empty and full" treatise that you gave us a link to. A very good article, it does make sense.
I don't 100% agree with it, but I can see it's point.
I won't rehash that argument, I think both sides are correct on this. I can do both, how can I choose? I'm sort of on the fence, because I don't think either side of this argument is more correct than the other.
Here's a unique perspective for you:
They're both wrong, they're both right.
I use whichever method is appropriate at the time, and have had a good deal of success with that now for some years.
When one leg is off the ground, one would do well to be extremely comfortable in this position if one wishes to be stable. To try to keep your body at 60/40 or 70/30 or 80/20... This is ludicrous. Who could do this? You only have one leg on the ground, you are at 100/0.
If anyone can tell me how you can be less weight divided than that when standing on one leg, I'd like to know? AND I'd like them to show me that, in person.
I'm still waiting, because no one has ever been able to.
So the entire argument becomes a moot point as soon as your foot comes off the ground. You're 100/0 weighted, period. At that point, I would consider it less than intelligent to not know how to fight effectively in that position.
That's all I'm trying to say on that point.
When both feet are on the ground, then it would be best to know how to fight effectively from that position, and that's when the carefully laid out charts the author of that article will come in handy.
More tools in my kit. I like them all.

As for "raising the toe", the Wu's are very clear that you induce no tension when doing this. As mentioned, this is done by bringing your body weight back. Your toes will follow if done correctly.

I have read an article or two that suggests that lifting your toe is for stealthily hooding behind your opponents foot.
I like that too. I've tried it, and it works.

All that said, my YCF instructor was lifting his toe during GTBT at our weekend practice.
I pointed this out to him by asking which position was correct. He seemed surprised that he was doing it.
I meant to talk to him about this, because it seems many people do it, including him, even when they know it's wrong, but we got off on a tangent about the sword form, and it went out of my head until I got home.
There must be some kind of energy being expressed by doing this, I will work on finding out what it is.
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Aug 24, 2004 11:24 am

I honestly didn't realise the can of worms I was opening up here. Not in a bad sense, but in the sense that this issue is apparently not clear.
You make some very good points about internal energies being the most important. As I have mentioned, I am going to make it a point to research this issue. I will put all my not incosiderable resources on it and will do my best to impartially explore the whys and why nots of both ways of doing this.
Whether that will lead me to a "best" or even "more correct" practice method is doubtfull. But it will keep me off the streets at night and give me something other than mischief to consider.

I know exactly what you mean. My Wu forms have never expressed as much energy as they do now, after I've learned the Yang forms.
I feel much more of the energy in the Yang forms right after I do the Wu forms.
I have no idea why, but it does work that way.
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Postby Audi » Fri Aug 27, 2004 12:39 am

Greetings all,

I have seen and read about applications for empty steps where the front foot is used to hook or stamp, etc.; however, I do not recall seeing descriptions of such applications in the writings of the traditional Taiji families. Is anyone aware of any actual occurrences of such descriptions?

Wushuer, I had a few additional thoughts.

As I understand it, in Wu Style Snake Creeps Down, the weight is shifted backward, but the left foot remains flat on the ground. If I am correct, does this not give you some hint as to possible uses for the flat foot?

As for the difference in “stability” between having the whole foot on the ground and lifting the ball of the foot of the ground, try the following experiment. Stand on one foot, bend your knee, and then hop backward like a shot putter. Now try the same action while lifting the ball of the supporting foot off the ground. At least for me, there is not so much a difference in strength, but a huge difference in balance and control. I would argue that this difference persists when both feet are on the ground, except that the difference is less obvious.

Let me again be clear that I am by no means saying that lifting the ball of the foot makes one unstable, only that there is a difference in stability, as David mentioned. The sacrifice in stability can mean a gain in other things, such as mobility. “Trying to reinforce you structure everywhere means that you will be lacking in structure everywhere,” as I have liberally interpreted Sunzi (Sun Tzu) in his Art of War. Arguably, there is no such thing as universally perfect footwork.

You might also benefit by comparing Yang Style Apparent Closure with Yang Style Step Back to Ride the Tiger. Both postures can be used to strip off an opponent’s arm that is grabbing your wrist. Despite the similarity in applications, the treatment of the left foot is different. Try doing Apparent Closure while lifting the ball of the left foot off the ground, do you not lose some of your waist power to torque? Try doing Step Back to Ride the Tiger with the footwork of the second Repulse Monkey. Do you feel like your “circle” becomes to small all of a sudden?

One difference between the Wu and Yang methods may stem from the preferred orientation of the feet and the difference in leans. The Wu lean and lifting the toes seem to go hand in hand with the position of the feet.

Take care,
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Postby tai1chi » Fri Aug 27, 2004 1:18 am

Hi Audi,

you asked:

"I have seen and read about applications for empty steps where the front foot is used to hook or stamp, etc.; however, I do not recall seeing descriptions of such applications in the writings of the traditional Taiji families. Is anyone aware of any actual occurrences of such descriptions?"

Sure, there are many in Wang Peishang's book, for ex. I'm not sure if that relates to the issue you guys seem to be covering.
I hope you don't mind if I comment on one of the points that you are addressing to Wushuer.

"Let me again be clear that I am by no means saying that lifting the ball of the foot makes one unstable, only that there is a difference in stability, as David mentioned."

Fwiw, I think much of this argument is based on the perception of how someone is lifting the "ball of the foot." It's possible, certainly, to do this to the point where instability arises. It's also possible to lift is without actually raising it enough to cause any instability. Or, at least, no more instability than is caused in any one-legged posture.

Anyway, I'm sure, on one hand, that there are those who do the movement with a deliberate intention; and for them it makes perfect sense. I'm also sure, though, that there are those who just do the movement because that's just the way they were taught. IINM, the Beijing "24" also contains the lifting the ball of the foot --or placing the foot on the heel, which is the way I recall it being described. It is, again iirc, a specific "bu" that is mentioned among the corps of steps. The "Orange booK' of the Ma Yuehliang tradition describes and illustrates it.

I think the question might also be applied to the steps in Fair Lady Works Shuttles. In many Yang styles, I've seen the initial step/pivot/hook inward done with the toes raised. In general, and perhaps in practice, depending on the terrain, the amount of lift might be less important than the ability it gives to pivot on the heel. For example, in long form, afaik, there are two "types" of spins. One done on the heel, and one done on the ball of the foot. To spin on the toe, one doesn't have to tiptoe; and the same applies for the heel.

well, that's my .02,
Steve James
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Postby Wushuer » Fri Aug 27, 2004 3:31 pm

I have learned a couple of applications for hooking my foot behind an opponent to offset him, and you use your raised toes in this position to do so. Mostly form GTBT, but also in Fair Lady.
I will try your suggestions when I can pry myself away from CBT training for Microsoft Certification. I'm stuck in certification hades right now and really should be paying attention to that, rather than sneaking onto the web and surfing TCC sites.
I'm being bad, but my brain has absorbed it's limit until I take a break and get some coffee. So I'm taking a break, I'll get some coffee in a minute and get back to where I should be.
Monkey mind is NOT just a problem in TCC! I seem to have a big dose of it on this Friday morning, staring out the window at a gorgeous sunshiny, summery day, while I sit here trying to keep my mind on NTFS permissions and how they interact with folder share permissions....
But, it's what I have to do to put beans and rice on the table, so....
I mostly popped in to say that my YCF instructor, the renowned Center Director Bill W. from the Lousiville Center, has been reading our postings here (Hi Bill!) and sent me an e-mail yesterday letting me know that he will show me some of the whys and wherefores of the toe up or toe down in TCC, tommorow morning at our weekly class in the park, if I can drag my butt up and get there early.
So I should have more to share after that on this subject.
We're starting the sword class tommorow morning as well, but I digress...
After the class, I'm going to the KY State Fair if the weather holds, and forgetting all about NTFS permissions, TCC and everything else so I can ride some coasters, look at some big farm produce and have some fun.
After THAT I'll see if I can't sneak on here and relay some of what I've learned for the education and edification of the wonderful folks here on the forum.
Must get back to the books and CBT's!!!!
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Postby Wushuer » Mon Aug 30, 2004 9:07 pm

That was interesting.
Bill and I worked on the toe up or toe down thing on Saturday.
The big answer? It's a personal choice.
We covered a lot of good reasons why to leave them down, the biggest that stuck in my mind is that by lifting your toes and taking the magic inch we have described here you run the risk of having your opponent overwhelm you with his body weight, especially if he's much larger than you, and literally landing on top of you.
I haven't had that happen to me, but Bill, who is much larger than I (nothing against Bill, I'm a little guy, well except for around the middle...) clearly demonstrated that to me.
What he told me in the end is that it's a personal choice and also this may be dictated by the situation you're in.
I have not had the time or a partner to try any of either of these things with, so will not attempt to try to elaborate on them now.
I'll wait and see what happens when my training partner and I have trained with these ideas in mind and see what happens more in a real world situation.
Wanted to get back on here, again screwing around on a break at work in between my studies, and at least let everyone know the basic outline of what I got on Saturday.
More as I can, certainly more after my next group practice.
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Postby Audi » Mon Sep 06, 2004 1:17 pm

Hi all,

I think this issue has wound to a close, but I wanted to clarify one thing.

Steve, you said:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Fwiw, I think much of this argument is based on the perception of how someone is lifting the "ball of the foot." It's possible, certainly, to do this to the point where instability arises. It's also possible to lift is without actually raising it enough to cause any instability. Or, at least, no more instability than is caused in any one-legged posture.</font>

I think I may have misled by focusing on "instability." I think what David and I were trying to say is that the mechanics of having the foot flat and of having the ball of the foot lifted are not the same and that this difference affects the entire body.

Even a slight change in your body mechanics will affect your stability in a particular configuration. It is not a question of good or bad, but rather of optimized for the situation or not. The real question is how you see the "situation."

The difference in the angle of the ankle can be analogized to similar differences in the angle of the wrist. As with the ankle, I think that it is hard to say that one position is better than the other independently of the function it is supposed to have.

Another issue is the training value of doing one or the other. For instance, in CMC's form, the wrist is never flexed backward, presumably to avoid a feeling of "tension." As far as I can tell, such considerations do not exist in the Yang Family form at all. I think that it is hard to maintain that one method or the other is indisputably correct, but I would not advise a beginner to switch between methods at their whim, flexing the wrist in one posture and leaving it flat in another. For me, these methods are not freely interchangeable.

Similarly, lifting the foot, leaving it flat on the floor, or gripping the floor with the toes produce different body mechanics. I think the Yang Family style has all three, but differentiates between the functions of these, partly according to the degree of stability required for the particular intent of the movement.

From what I understand, Yang Jun differentiates at least between "gripping" the floor with the toes and lifting the ball of the foot off the ground. I do see variations in how high the toes are lifted, but I think this is secondary to differentiating between contact and lack of contact.

Yet again, I want to insist that I am not asserting that one method is better than the other, but rather that they produce different body mechanics. In other words, your intent should not be the same for both variations.

Take care,
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