Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Apr 22, 2013 5:09 pm

Greetings,

I’ve long been fascinated by the taijiquan form name, Wild Horse Parts Mane (yěmǎ fēnzōng 野馬分鬃). Determining the provenance, or source of influence on the names of forms is almost always a matter of speculation, but for me this kind of investigation can add additional layers of interest to the art.

One of the first things that aroused my curiosity about the name was discovering years ago that the term yěmǎ appears in the first chapter of the Zhuangzi in a description of the ascent of the giant Peng bird on its flight to the south. Ordinarily, yěmǎ means “wild horse,” or “mustang.” In the Zhuangzi, however, it evidently has some metaphorical import, and may have been used as an image for swirling currents of air and dust akin to the clouds of dust raised by wild horses galloping in the wild. The famous commentator Guo Xiang (d. 310 A.D.) glossed yěmǎ as: “野马者,游气也,” that is, as drifting or floating clouds of qi. (see definition and example glosses here: http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/11/ZdicE9Zdic ... 233998.htm)

Others glossed it as the appearance of hazes over marshes. Accordingly some Zhuangzi translators have translated yěmǎ as “heat hazes” (A.C. Graham, Kuang-ming Wu), “wavering heat” (Burton Watson), “jet streams of late summer” (Victor Mair), or “(. . . the movement of the breezes which we call) the horses of the fields” (James Legge). (see his trans., and the Chinese text here: http://ctext.org/pre-qin-and-han?search ... E%E9%A6%AC

Given that other taijiquan form names show evidence of inspiration from literature, theater, and mythology, it’s not beyond possibility that the imagery of yěmǎ in the Zhuangzi could have played a role in the form name. After all, the name of Zhuangzi’s giant Peng bird itself appears as one of the form names in the Yang taiji sword form, Great Peng Spreads its Wings 大鹏展翅, and one of the Yang family members, Yang Banhou’s son, had the name of the Peng bird in his given name, 揚兆鵬, Yang Zhaopeng.

Another source that grabbed my attention about the form name Wild Horse Parts Mane was an explanation of the name in T.Y. Pang’s book (now sadly out of print), On Tai Chi Chuan (1987, Azalea Press). Pang describes the idea behind the name as follows:

“As a wild horse runs about, swerving left and right, its mane parts in the middle of the neck. Energy-wise this movement is like the running of a wild horse, and just as the horse’s mane parts, becomes one, and re-parts as the horse swerves from side to side, tossing its head about, so the energy opens and parts.”
—T.Y. Pang, On Tai Chi Chuan, p. 106

Pang may have based this in part on the explanation of the name provided by Xu Yusheng in his 1921 book, Taijiquan Forms Illustrated 太極拳勢圖解. Here’s Paul Brennan’s translation of Xu’s explanation:

(釋名)此式運動狀態。如野馬奔馳。兩手分展、如馬之頭鬃左右分披。故名。
Explanation of the name:
In this posture, the manner of the movement is like a wild horse running swiftly, your hands spreading away like the horse’s mane draping side to side, hence the name.
—Paul Brennan, tran., http://brennantranslation.wordpress.com ... u-yusheng/

T.Y. Pang, however, seems to take the notion further in his “energetic” explanation of the form. He writes:

“In this move, when you open your arms it is as though you opened a ring, you feel the energy opening at the place opposite to the physical opening; and as you close your arms you also feel the energy closing on the place opposite to the physical closing.

The place where you feel this opening and closing in your body is at your hands, and at the place opposite them. That is, you feel it on the area of the spine slightly below the nape of your neck. There is an opening and closing movement in this area of the spine, but generally you do not feel it. This movement helps you become aware of the energy opening and closing in your back.”
—T.Y. Pang, p. 107

Pang, interestingly, names a form name in the taijiquan set that is not ordinarily named in the received form. It’s the transition between the two forms: Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, and Observe Fist Under Elbow. The name Pang applies to this transition is in fact the name from the sword form mentioned above, Great Peng Spreads its Wings. Pang writes:

“The name of the move means that as you twist and open your arms the energy is flowing and stretching out. Your spirit can be like the Roc [i.e., the Peng bird], stretching out to cover a boundless area.”
—T.Y. Pang, p. 93

I find T.Y Pang’s “energetic” interpretations of taiji form names compelling.

Still another bit of information I happened upon some years back—perhaps just a trivial coincidence—is evidence that the phrase “parting mane” (fēnzōng 分鬃), was a term of art in archery. It appears in the wonderful Ming dynasty Archery Manual 射經 written by Li Chengfen 李呈芬, which Stephen Selby translates in his book, Chinese Archery. Selby renders fēnzōng as “shooting across the mane,” or “shooting over the mane” as in the following passage from Li’s manual:

“When shooting over the mane, you use the horse’s neck as a divider, drawing back on the bow on one side, and then loosing off the arrow on the other. This is a show-off style [弄花巧之法, or ‘deft and attractive method’]: the border divisions don’t shoot like that. What you do is to lean off the alignment of the horse’s body, and in that same position both draw the bow and fire the arrow.”
—Stephen Selby, trans., in Chinese Archery, (2000, Hong Kong University Press), pp. 304-305

Li’s manual, incidentally, is sprinkled with references to Zhuangzi, Mengzi, the Zhong Yong, the Da Xue, and other Chinese classics, as well as terminology that is used in ways very familiar in taijiquan usage. Now, there is a good deal of convergence of terminology and imagery amongst early archery manuals and early taijiquan texts, so the possibility of cross-pollination is worth considering.

Again, there is nothing conclusive here; I’m just offering these reflections on the name of the form as food for thought and practice.

Let me know if any of this resonates in the way you practice Wild Horse Parts Mane.

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby extrajoseph » Wed May 08, 2013 7:46 pm

Hi Luis,
I am reading your tranlation "The Essence and Application of Taijiquan" right now and I am enjoying your work very much. To me, the mane of a horse is not separated from its body, when a horse gallops forward, its manes shoot back in the opposite direction. When I am doing the form, Wild Horse Parts its Mane resonates with me in the way the top right hand is the neck part of a wild horse galloping forward in one direction and the bottom left hand is the mane shooting back in the opposite direction, the rest of my body is the rest of the horse, joined to its neck and galloping towards its target. My experience is one cannot fajing effectively with this movement without rotating the body and screw the body weight into the ground on one leg to get the neccessary reaction, so I would imagine the wild horse is not galloping in the straight line but like a wild horse it gallops wildly from side to side. I hope my metaphor on the name is of interest to you.
XJ
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby extrajoseph » Fri May 10, 2013 7:29 pm

A bit of typo here, it should be bottom right hand and top left hand.
XJ
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Audi » Sun May 26, 2013 2:51 pm

Hi everyone,

Louis, thanks for digging up this background. I think the original English translation of this move that stuck in my head was Parting Wild Horses Mane. Because of that phrase banging around in my head, I was thinking of my own lead arm as doing the parting on an imaginary horse in front of me. As I know reconsider the Chinese, I think that translation is faulty. It is interesting to me how words and images can actually impact my mental concept of the form and its physical expression.

Louis wrote:“As a wild horse runs about, swerving left and right, its mane parts in the middle of the neck. Energy-wise this movement is like the running of a wild horse, and just as the horse’s mane parts, becomes one, and re-parts as the horse swerves from side to side, tossing its head about, so the energy opens and parts.”

This explanation seems to be the most interesting to me, by capturing the ideas of "swerving," "open and closing," and "tossing."

extrajoseph wrote:I am reading your tranlation "The Essence and Application of Taijiquan" right now and I am enjoying your work very much. To me, the mane of a horse is not separated from its body, when a horse gallops forward, its manes shoot back in the opposite direction. When I am doing the form, Wild Horse Parts its Mane resonates with me in the way the top right hand is the neck part of a wild horse galloping forward in one direction and the bottom left hand is the mane shooting back in the opposite direction, the rest of my body is the rest of the horse, joined to its neck and galloping towards its target. My experience is one cannot fajing effectively with this movement without rotating the body and screw the body weight into the ground on one leg to get the neccessary reaction, so I would imagine the wild horse is not galloping in the straight line but like a wild horse it gallops wildly from side to side. I hope my metaphor on the name is of interest to you.

EJ, your description seems to match best with the image I think I should I have in my mind. I do like the metaphor, which is backed up by the fact that it is one of the few places in our form with a non-standard Bow Stance.

Recently, I have been working with my students on various solo sticking techniques taught at recent seminars. I was having everyone do a coiling exercise and decided that external movement was okay, but the energy was not. To try to show what was missing, I demonstrated an application of Wild Horse Parts its Mane to show that the coiling could be used to control the opponent and sent him up for a strike or trip as you keep his punching arm full. Without this controlling aspect of the energy, the opponent's arm will become empty and you will leave yourself open to easy counterattack. If the opponent blocks your strike and withdraws his leg, you can follow up by stepping up and repeating the application on the other side. As you walk down the floor, you will indeed have a feeling of tossing from side as you try to drape your opponent over your leg.

Louis wrote:“In this move, when you open your arms it is as though you opened a ring, you feel the energy opening at the place opposite to the physical opening; and as you close your arms you also feel the energy closing on the place opposite to the physical closing.

The place where you feel this opening and closing in your body is at your hands, and at the place opposite them. That is, you feel it on the area of the spine slightly below the nape of your neck. There is an opening and closing movement in this area of the spine, but generally you do not feel it. This movement helps you become aware of the energy opening and closing in your back.”
—T.Y. Pang, p. 107

I find this information surprising. It matches some of what I have been taught for side kicks, but in this move, I have always felt that a closing in the front of my body was matched by an opening in the "hinge" at the back, and vice versa. Similar, one of the things I struggle with in Single Whip is that opening up the arms and the chest seems to tend to close the shoulder blades in the back and lose the feeling of "Plucking up the Back."

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue May 28, 2013 1:04 am

Greetings Audi,

Re:
Louis wrote:“In this move, when you open your arms it is as though you opened a ring, you feel the energy opening at the place opposite to the physical opening; and as you close your arms you also feel the energy closing on the place opposite to the physical closing.

The place where you feel this opening and closing in your body is at your hands, and at the place opposite them. That is, you feel it on the area of the spine slightly below the nape of your neck. There is an opening and closing movement in this area of the spine, but generally you do not feel it. This movement helps you become aware of the energy opening and closing in your back.”
—T.Y. Pang, p. 107


Audi replied:

I find this information surprising. It matches some of what I have been taught for side kicks, but in this move, I have always felt that a closing in the front of my body was matched by an opening in the "hinge" at the back, and vice versa. Similar, one of the things I struggle with in Single Whip is that opening up the arms and the chest seems to tend to close the shoulder blades in the back and lose the feeling of "Plucking up the Back."

Take care,
Audi[/quote]

I would be interested in your further thoughts on this, and in what way you find it surprising. I suppose it "hinges" (pardon the pun) on what is meant by opening and closing. I'm not clear to what degree T.Y Pang was implying a formal or formulaic notion of opening/closing, but I do like this notion of keying on the energetic connection between the two arms' spreading and the hinge of the back. I like to key in on this feeling in Parts Mane, in Fan Through Back, and in Single Whip, as you mention. To me, I wouldn't describe what I feel in the upper back as "closing" in the ending postures of these forms. Energetically, I think "opening" does in fact more closely describe what I feel. We are, of course, in an area of subjectivity, but Pang's description has always been evocative to me, and seems to ring true.

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Audi » Wed May 29, 2013 1:55 am

HI Louis,

When I close in the front, I feel my shoulder blades open in the back. When I open my arms in front, I feel my shoulder blades close in the back. Is this clearer?

I actually use this principle in teaching a Ward Off application with the arms hanging down and the opponent pushing on your elbows (or even on the back of your wrists). I also teach it as a way to use a push application when coiling from the same position in the Brush Knee direction and then pushing on the crook of the opponent's elbows. If you force the opponent's arms wider, her upper back will tend to close uncomfortably. As she tries to keep this place in her back open or moves to re-open it, she will tend to push herself away, allowing you to borrow energy.

If this is still not clear, imagine the torso as a cylinder with an imaginary horizontal section being like a clock face. The arms closing together in front are like the hands of a clock that can create 90 degrees of closure. At the same time, however, they would produce 270 degrees of openness to the rear in the remaining arcs of the circle.

In side kicks, I do not have this feeling, perhaps because my leg does not follow the horizontal arc of clock hands. I also do not feel it during the Fajin part of Single Whip, for similar reasons, but do feel it during the Ward Off in the left arm that immediately precedes it, again because of the arcing movement. I again do not feel it during the transition in Punch under Elbow. In this case, I think it is because I am using my left Ward Arm to reach outward and join with my opponent's arm.

Is this helpful in explaining my surprise?

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Louis Swaim » Wed May 29, 2013 3:44 am

Hi Audi,

Your explanation makes perfect sense, and explains to me your surprise.

The distinction may be one of mechanical vis-à-vis energetic. Note that Pang makes a distinction between the "physical opening" and the "place opposite to" that physical opening. He makes reference to the energy one feels in "the area of the spine slightly below the nape of your neck." I would say that what one feels there is different from what one feels in the shoulder blades, and that the opening he refers to is energetic rather than mechanical. It's the energetic impulse that generates the mechanical movement.

Does that make sense?

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby meghdad » Wed May 29, 2013 4:24 am

Hello Audi and Louis,
Thanks for your interesting discussion here.

Dear Louis,
When translating "野马分鬃" I also faced the same situation because of two reasons:

1- Mr. Brennan translates this as: "Wild Horse Parts Its Mane", so it is the horse itself that causes the parting of its mane.

2- Dr. Yang Jwing Ming also translates this as: "Wild Horse Parts its Mane". And he explains the reason for this translation like this:

Horse is a powerful animal, and a wild horse is particularly forceful and vigorous. The name of this form gives the image of a horse tossing its head vigorously and shaking its mane. The word "Shear 分" here is used because when you do this form you "tear" your hands apart as you turn your body. The motion is continuous, extended and powerful. It is a long Jin that can rend the opponent off his feet. (From his book "Tai Chi Chuan, Classical Yang Style)



Now that you are also referring to this issue I am more certain than before that "Wild Horse Parts its Mane" is more precise. Do you agree?


Dear Audi,
Regarding the issue here about single whip I think one thing is missing. When we do single whip, first we open the chest and arms (and thus closing our back and shoulder blades), and then before settling completely into the final posture and moving into Zhong Ding, we start closing the chest and rounding the back. Therefore in the final posture of single whip our back is completely rounded and the shoulder blades are wide open. This is true for other postures like "fan through the back 扇通背". First opening, then closing and settling down.

Take care Audi and Louis,
Meghdad
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Louis Swaim » Wed May 29, 2013 2:46 pm

Greetings Meghdad,

The common translation I've seen for 野马分鬃 is something like "Parting the Wild Horse's Mane." That never seemed right to me. While there is no clear marker of agency in 野马分鬃, it reads more clearly to me as "Wild Horse Parts Mane." Thanks for sharing the Yang Jwing-ming interpretation. I like that.

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby extrajoseph » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:23 am

The character "wild" (ye 野) could also mean an uncultivated open field, so may be 野马分鬃 could be translated as "A horse in the wild parts its mane".
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby extrajoseph » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:43 am

I like the idea of parting (fen 分), it means the two hands are going apart in the opposite direction, but I think it is done with the waist and footwaork through dantian rotation. What we feel in the upper back (opening and closing) is a consequence of what is being done lower down.
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jun 11, 2013 4:15 am

Greetings,

I was just reading a bit in Paul Brennan's online translation of Hao Weizhen's book on Wu Yuxiang style taijiquan, and happened upon this taijiquan "essential" written by Hao:

2.兩肩中間脊骨處,似有鼓起之意,兩肩要靈活,不可低頭,謂之拔背。
The area of your spine between your shoulders seems to have an intention of rousing. Your shoulders should be enlivened and there must not be a lowering of your head. This is what is meant by plucking up your back.
--trans. Paul Brennan, http://brennantranslation.wordpress.com ... yle-taiji/

That put me very much in mind of the T.Y. Pang material I quoted above regarding the energetic feeling of opening in the spine between the shoulders when doing Wild Horse Parts Mane:

"The place where you feel this opening and closing in your body is at your hands, and at the place opposite them. That is, you feel it on the area of the spine slightly below the nape of your neck. There is an opening and closing movement in this area of the spine, but generally you do not feel it. This movement helps you become aware of the energy opening and closing in your back.”
—T.Y. Pang, On T'ai-chi ch'uan, p. 107

Interesting?

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby extrajoseph » Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:23 am

Hi Luis,
Thank you for your interesting quote coming from Item 2 of Hao Yueru's 13 Taiji boxing requirements, which refers to one of the 13 fundamental body standards while doing the form, but it (Item 2 - plucking up your back 拔背) is not specific only to Wild Horse parts its Mane. In fact, every movement in the form should involve all the 13 “essentials” and I would imagine that the energetic feeling of opening in the spine between the shoulders would happen in other yin/yang movements as well, don’t you think so?
XJ
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue Jun 11, 2013 1:16 pm

Extrajoseph,
My take on the statements Louis posted was that the authors view PWHM as a good form to help students "become aware" of this opening and closing at the nape of the neck that is "generally" not felt by most people, not that it is the only place you would use it.
Some movements bring emphasis to specific feelings more readily than others do; PWHM seems to highlight the awareness of the connection of the opening and closing that occurs between the upper back (below the neck to the bottom of the shoulder blades) and the two hands.
Becoming aware of this connection is crucial to the correct performance of TCC, as are all of them, and this form seems to be being put forth as a good one to use to highlight this particular aspect of the art.
There are many forms that are used to emphasize specific feelings, usually they're a bit more direct in their naming scheme; Peng, Lu, Ji, An. These forms all come to mind in this respect and there are many others as well.
That PWHM would be named in such a way as to highlight the connection to the energy/feeling it produces should be no surprise. Many of the postures seem to have been named with their particular emphasis in mind.
Which is convenient, at the very least.

Now, as to whether this particular opening and closing is correctly named as being part of "pluck up the back"...
That's a whole 'nother thread.

Bob
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Re: Some reflections on Wild Horse Parts Mane

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jun 11, 2013 3:05 pm

Greetings Extrajoseph and Bob,

Exactly as Bob has stated it, I keyed in on Hao Shaoru's essential, not because it makes any reference to Wild Horse Parts Mane, but because of its clear description of the energetic phenomenon in the upper spine, and that it seems to resonate with T.Y. Pang's insights on this same area of focus in his remarks on Wild Horse Parts Mane. Hao's essential jumped out at me because I've run across few mentions in the classical taiji writings that key in on this detail. It does make me reconsider and refocus on Yang Chengfu's wording in his essential number two regarding containing the chest and raising (plucking up) the back:

"'Raise the back' means the qi adheres to the back. If one is able to contain the chest, then one will naturally be able to raise the back. If one can raise the back, the strength will be able to issue from the spine, and you will be undefeatable."

Extrajoseph, it is just as you say, this essential applies throughout the form, not just one section or movement. T.Y. Pang's description of Wild Horse Parts Mane, I think, is just his way of drawing attention to this important energetic focus.

References to the spine are few in the literature, but another I can think of is in Wu Yuxiang's "Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures," which states that "the strength issues from the spine," and "the qi adheres to the back, then collects into the spine."

Take care,
Louis
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