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:
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.