Taijiquan Lun

Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jan 16, 2011 6:42 pm

Greetings Omar,

I in fact read the document as very down to earth as well, and I quoted Yang Chengfu’s use of 守 to amplify what I think is the intended meaning in this song. If there is a flavor of mystery in my translation, it is because of what I think is the operative phase in the Xu Shi Jue, that is: 虛虛實實. That is a formula that specifically addresses strategy, rather than tactics, which is what you are addressing. The phrase 虛虛實實is sometimes translated “feints and ambushes,” and has to do with perception—with what is seemingly false and seemingly real (或虛或實,真真假假).

While at the tactical level it’s important to know clearly what pertains to “me” and what pertains to “the other guy,” at the strategic level it may not be so pat. What keyed me to this understanding is the conspicuous occurrence of the 虛虛實實 formula that most likely accounts for its entry into ordinary language as “feints and ambushes.” It comes from a discussion in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms between Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu about the use of disinformation, deception, or dissimulation (man 瞒). Everyone in the account is familiar with the importance of understanding empty and full, and judiciously quote Sunzi about “using the full to attack the empty” and the like. But on the ground one is faced with appearances meant to lure one into a situation that may be different than one’s expectation. In another passage, Cao Cao asks, “Have you not heard it said in the book of war, ‘If it is hollow [xu] regard it as solid [shi]; if solid, then take it as hollow’?” (quoted in Lisa Raphals, Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece, p. 143)

Specifically, the generals are talking about the ruse of building fires on a pass or road to make the enemy think there are soldiers camped there, and thereby divert the enemy to a different route, ultimately to be surprised by the soldiers in their real location. But in a crucial instance, Zhuge Liang anticipates that his opponent will read his actions as a bluff, and turns the tables on him. He explains to Guan Yu: “Have you not heard of the method of warfare of ‘[attacking] the empty with the empty and the solid with the solid [xu xu shi xhi]’? Although Cao Cao is capable in using soldiery [yong bing, in both the human and material senses], this time it is possible to surpass him by the use of dissimulation [man]. When he sees the smoke rising, he will take it as an empty bluff of situational advantage [shi 勢], so he will consider that road trustworthy and proceed.” (again, quoted in Raphals, p. 143)

Here’s the passage from the San Guo Yan Yi where the discussion of 虛虛實實 occurs:
http://ctext.org/sanguo-yanyi?searchu=% ... E%E5%AE%9E

As Sunzi said, “Thus an army does not have fixed strategic advantages (勢) or an invariable position (形). To be able to take the victory by varying one’s position according to (因) the enemy’s is called being inscrutable (神). (trans. Roger Ames, Sun-Tzu: The Art of Warfare, p. 127) I suppose that sounds mysterious too, but it’s very down to earth.

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jan 16, 2011 8:09 pm

Omar,

By the way, all of that being said, I do not mean to contradict your observations, which I think are excellent. Looking at Douglas Wile's rending of the line 虚守实发, I think his rendering comports with your interpretation. He translates it as "finding empty, be on guard, but if full, attack." (Wile, T'ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions, p. 76) Although I take issue with his rendering of 竅 as the opponent's "vital point" (I take it as one's tactile "knack"), his translation of the other part of the line is probably better than what I came up with.

One further thought on 神 which occurs in both the Xu Shi Jue and in the Sunzi quotation at the end of my previous post. Yang Chengfu said in his Ten Essentials, "What one trains in taijiquan is the spirit (神)." That too, may sound mysterious or tenuous, but I understand it to be well grounded in material reality, or to use your phrase, "down to earth."

--Louis
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Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby bailewen » Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:46 pm

I'll try to keep it short because I meant to check up on this earlier but here I am, almost midnight and only just now remembering to comment. . .

I guess I don't think there's anything wrong with a flavour of mystery to a translation. I just see so damn much of it with this stuff that I have an almost knee jerk reaction to mystery when I don't think it's needed. Often it IS needed but that makes me just want to double down on the simplicity when I get a chance. One of my major pet peeves, for instance, is the mystification of certain Chinese words that I personally feel are 100% accurately represented by very basic English terms. 'song'/松 for instance. IMO, it just means, "loose" or "relaxed" depending on the context. Nothing more. Nothing less. All the essays I have seen on what "song" really means do much less, IMHO, to clarify 'song' than to simply dumb down or over simplify what "relax" means in English. . . especially to someone involved with a phsiyical activity like playing piano or professional sports. So I guess "abide" just sort of rubbed me the wrong way.

OTOH, I feel like the bee's knees to find that my interpretation matched up with Douglas Wile's. . . another author I relied on heavily before learning the language myself.

What really brought me back here to comment though was the chat I had with my teacher recently on this topic. I spent nearly half an hour warming up to the specific question and by that time I already had a premonition of where my teacher might criticise my interpretation. :oops: I was 100% right about my opinion being considered wrong. :shock: the "problem" with "finding empty, be on guard, but if full, attack." is that attacking "full" is essentially a variant on either double weighted or on opposing force. 不丢不顶 right?

Your Sunzi references were exactly what I was alluding to in my previous post but now I'm kind of doubling back on my own position. :lol: Where I was left at the end of the day, after talking it over with Shifu was that the line is not so specific about giving tactical or strategic advice. The real advice is simply to make sure you "get a handle"(巧在手中) on "the changes between empty and substantial" It's one of those cases where the songs tell you nothing really but remind you of things that you are supposed to have been told by your teacher.

Shifu once gave me a really cool explanation of the character 咒. 2 mouths and a "several" down below. It represents oral transmission. 口口传:没个人能传授。
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Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:36 pm

Greetings Omar,

Re: “It's one of those cases where the songs tell you nothing really but remind you of things that you are supposed to have been told by your teacher.”

Well that really gets to the heart of it. I have often referred to the taiji classics and other early taiji writings as experiential documents. They capture the subjective experience of masters in formulae that may be simple and clear cut, or may be somewhat ponderous. But they were likely intended, as you say, to prompt the student to aspire to and emulate the experience of the master as conveyed in more hands-on instruction. There are plenty of classical taiji statements that have an air of mystery, or that can’t be taken literally or as a instructions from an operator’s manual, say, “Be still like a mountain, move like a flowing river.” Or, “Four ounces deflect one thousand pounds.” Yet these words appeal to states of consciousness or dispositions that can provoke insight into practice. Some appeal to features of a cultural-specific ethos, or to well-known adages. I recently discovered the “four ounces” phrase, for example, appearing in a Qing dynasty wuxia novel, Suppression of Bandits (蕩寇誌), a sort of sequel to The Water Margin (水滸傳). I knew it was not proprietary to taijiquan, but it’s useful, I think, to demystify phrases like this by looking for provenance. Understanding the broader cultural context can often clarify what appeared on the surface to be imponderable.

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby Audi » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:00 am

Greetings Louis and Omar,

Thanks for an interesting discussion of different theories of full and empty. I have to say that the one I am more familiar with deals with full and empty in energy and does not have a preferential view of either full or empty.

As for mystery and the Tai Chi classics, I would think that both the mystery and the practicality are useful. Without the mystery, the thinking becomes limited and too narrow in its applicability. Without the practicality, the thinking has nothing concrete to work from. One of the things I have cherished is to have teachers capable of teaching physical things through the lens of the classics. Having firm examples of how they might apply in individual cases can give confidence in applying them more broadly.

Take care,
Audi
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Re:

Postby petr » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:40 am

Louis Swaim wrote:Greetings All,

Here’s a link to Chen Weiming’s commentary on the section we’re discussing.

He says of “suddenly hidden, suddenly appearing” that it means, “The empty and full are not fixed; their transformations are unfathomable.” (xu shi wu ding; bianhua buce)

Then he comments on the phrases about the left feeling pressure and emptying, etc. He says “These two phrases explain the meaning of ‘suddenly hidden, suddenly appearing.’ When I am sticking hands with the other—and sense (jue) pressure on the left side—then that point on my left side that adheres with my opponent changes to empty. The right side is the same. The meaning of ‘disappears’ (yao) is ‘unfathomable’ (bu ke zhuomo). There should not be the slightest resistance, thereby causing him to land on emptiness at any point, [and leaving him with the feeling] of getting no purchase whatsoever (wu ke ru he).” —my rough trans.

I like Chen’s explanation here. His use of jue “to sense, perceive, feel” supports my reading “When the left feels weight, then the left empties. When the right feels weight, then the right is gone.”

Take care,
Louis


Dear Mr. Swaim,
yours and others discussion on Taijiquan Lun is amazing. I would like to ask you (and others) about your opinion on the following.

In the Adler's "Shen in Neo-Confucian Discourse" there is translation of the conversation between Zhu and his students about Zhou's use of the term shen:

Question: Does "spirit" refer to the mysterious? Reply: Yes. There is also the line, "That which 'penetrates when stimulated' is spirit." Hengqu [Zhang Zai] explained spirit in another way, referring to that which is in two places [at once] and therefore cannot be fathomed, indicating [the processes of] creative transformation. He said, "Suddenly here, suddenly there: it is spirit." Question: How do you speak of it within human beings? Reply: Consciousness (zhijue) is certainly spirit. If you cut your hand then your hand perceives pain. If you cut your foot then your foot perceives pain. This is certainly spirit. "Spirit is responsive, and therefore mysterious."


Note the "suddenly here, suddenly there" and "referring to that which is in two places [at once] and therefore cannot be fathomed, indicating [the processes of] creative transformation". Could it be the source of the “suddenly hidden, suddenly appearing” in tha Taijiquan Lun is in the discussion about the qualities of the shen by Zhu Xi?

Thank you in advance for your reply,
Petr
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Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:35 pm

Greetings Petr,

I can't speak directly to the conversation between Zhu Xi and his students, as I haven't seen the Chinese for that exchange. However, I have found instances of Zhu Xi using the expression 忽隐忽现 (suddenly hidden, suddenly appearing) in other contexts, including describing fish swimming in a pond in his courtyard. I think it was likely a fairly common expression for describing something that comes and goes suddenly, or, as I mentioned further up in this thread, for the flickering of light in the distance. So, good catch! Given the evidence of Zhu Xi's influence on some of the taiji classics, it would not surprise me that 忽隐忽现 came to taijiquan texts by way of the writings of Zhu Xi.

Take care,
Louis
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Re: Taijiquan Lun

Postby petr » Sat Sep 28, 2013 11:41 am

Dear Louis,
thank you very much for your reply. I do not have the Chinese text neither. It was the choice of English words in Alder's article that resonated with the typical English translation of Taijiquan Lun. Also the commentary by Chen Weiming is very close in using the unfathomable as a quality of taiji practitioner to Adler's translation of a quality of Shen which reminded me Yang Chengfu's “What one trains in Taijiquan is the Shen.”
Best,
Petr :-)
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