What's most important in teaching a beginner?

Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jun 03, 2005 9:04 pm

Hi Audi,

Interesting thoughts on the yongquan point. Here’s a link to the acuxo site’s page for the yongquan (the page does not appear to be loading properly). Here it’s termed, “gushing spring.” http://www.acuxo.com/meridianPictures.asp?point=KI1&meridian=Kidney

I certainly prefer spring or wellspring to well. The iconic notion of a spring in Chinese tradition is that it is a self-renewing source. I guess if I were to chose a translation, I would call it the surging wellspring.

I also like your reflections on the “active” notion of rooting in the feet. That is one reason I’ve always liked incorporating weighted pivots into my form practice. Doing so necessitates differentiating and utilizing empty and full within the foot itself.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Fri Jun 03, 2005 11:01 pm

Try this. Get into a bow stance and have someone face you and grab your arm and pull you forward. Try it again but this time gently point the toes down toward the floor.
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Postby JerryKarin » Fri Jun 03, 2005 11:46 pm

I have to admit I'm a little puzzled by Audi's attempts to make the translation of yongquan fit the use of it in taiji. It's a point on a meridian; the name existed before taiji did. I don't think the translation should have anything to do with taiji.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jun 06, 2005 5:59 pm

Greetings Jerry,

That’s a fair remark, I suppose. In my recollection, Zheng Manqing may be the only one who even mentions the yongquan points as having any significance with regard to taijiquan. He was trained in Chinese medicine, and tended to view things in light of medical vocabulary. I tend to agree with you that it is merely a locus, with no particular technical significance for taijiquan.

We all have different approaches to describing, explaining, and understanding these sorts of things. For some, perhaps, too much information just gets in the way. For others, knowing as much information about a term and its contexts may in fact help to de-mystify or de-obfuscate the matter. For example, does it help one understand the movement of the forearm and hand if one knows the Latin-based terms for the two bones, ulna and radius? For me it does, if only to help me remember which is which.

To my knowledge, we have no equivalent English terminology that captures the locus at the ball of the foot as precisely as does the yongquan point. If that sort of specificity helps one to visualize and monitor weight and pressure distribution through the feet, fine. If not, it’s superfluous information.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Jun 06, 2005 6:14 pm

I'm not suggesting we shouldn't pay attention to the yongquan point; Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun mention it too. The difficulty I have is when a Chinese who plays tennis starts talking about the significance of the 'bow' in elbow and how that relates to tennis!
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jun 06, 2005 6:55 pm

Hi Jerry,

Isn’t the “bow” in elbow significant? That’s where the arm bends.

As I said, different people have different requirements for how much and what type of information they want or need. I sort of gravitate in the direction of the Clifford Geertz “thick description” model. Sometimes a wink is just an involuntary muscle contraction; sometimes it carries a message.

Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Say no more.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Jun 06, 2005 7:20 pm

There may well be some meaning in the 'bow' of elbow but it has absolutely nothing to do with tennis. Likewise we should not get hung up on the names of meridian points when discussing how to do taiji. I believe there is also a number assigned to the points. Do we on this basis take up numerology to further our taiji? Nope.
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Postby Audi » Mon Jun 06, 2005 11:26 pm

Hi Jerry, Louis, and fellow enthusiasts,

Jerry, I think I understand your point. For you, yongquan can be merely a meridian point, whose name is arbitrary. A number could do just as well. I would argue, however, that the name conveys something to people who speak Chinese that is not conveyed to people who do not. My default is to try to put people who speak no Chinese on the same footing as those who do.

A similar argument could be made with reference to the name of the art itself, "Taijiquan." In my view, for those who speak Chinese, both the "Taiji" and the "quan" convey important information about the nature of the art that is lost without explanation. (This does not, of course, touch on why this name was actually chosen for the art.) Early on in my studies, I read much literature that I now believe mistranslated or ignored both these terms either to argue that Taijiquan was recognized as the "ultimate" art or that it was not a martial art at all. These positions sound very different with a knowledge of the Chinese than they do in unexplained English.

As for yongquan predating Taijiquan, is that not true of the concept of something like "qi," as well? I personally think that how one explains something like "qi" can have a profound impact on practice. Is it "breath," "energy," "subtance," "matter," "a mystical force," or "merely a cultural conception unique to traditional China"? I could defend each of these "translations," and each would nudge practice in a different direction. I can also defend leaving it untranslated, but then that just dodges the question of what it means and leaves non-Chinese speakers with less knowledge than Chinese speakers, for whom "qi" is at minimum part of elementary daily vocabulary.

I also must say that my Taiji journey has been quite affected by situations where I originally believed one thing, based on what I heard or read in English, but later revised my views quite substantially based on what I read or heard in Chinese. I think I have mentioned previously on this board that some of these occasions were even hearing people like you translating at seminars and confirming for me that some of the English tags we use for Chinese terms can be quite misleading.

I have often heard people express views about such terms as fangsong, yao, li, jin, xin, yi, and qi that I consider unsupportable from a linguistic basis. This does not mean that their Taijiquan is wrong, but it does color my confidence in their practice methods if their primarly reasoning is based on incorrect information or if they exclude views that I know fit equally well with other possible Chinese meanings of these words.

From your words, I think you see my translation speculations in this illegimate light and see them as creating a history of meaning that simply does not exist. If yongquan is a technical term that predates Taijiquan, any meaning based on its use within Taijiquan would be academically invalid. And yet, Taijiquan has reworked many Neo-Confucian and Daoist concepts for its own purposes, why should TCM be immune from this?

I should also say that my basic approach is to go with what works. If the translations distract from your practice, I say do not bother about them. If they help, use them. I myself find the concepts inspired by the meaning of yongquan helpful to understanding what use I can put to it. I think that I stated that I was not concerning myself with translation choices per se, but rather with mental imaging, mental hooks, and mental tags. An academic approach to the meaning of yongquan would be quite a different exercise. Even something like translating it in the Taiji Info section of this board would be a different exercise, because such an undertaking would have to take into account historical usages, the greater Taiji community, the lack of opportunity to clarify, standardization, etc.

As for yongquan being specifically a meridian point, what should I do if I value Taijiquan, but am doubtful of meridian theory and TCM? Reducing yongquan to a meridian point would leave me wondering what kind of a theory I was being asked to buy into if I were told to center my balance on this point.

On the other hand, suppose I am completely taken by meridian theory and TCM. Defining yongquan as primarily a meridian point might lead me to interpret all Taijiquan in this way. There is, after all, much more material about TCM than about Taijiquan. I might switch from focus on the Ten Essentials to mapping out all Jin points in terms of meridan points and dedicate a substantial amount of time to practicing the microcosmic orbit and consciously manipulating jing, pre- and post-birth qi, etc. I am not saying that either approach is right or wrong, but rather that it should be a conscious decision and not hampered by lack of knowledge about what the name of the point might be intended to convey in the context of Taijiquan. Taijiquan has reworked many Neo-Confucian and Daoist concepts for its own purposes, why should TCM be immune from this?

Let me explain my position further with reference to the term "dantian." I think I know the basics about the probable origin or reference of this term, but do not bother with coming up with good English equivalents in the context of the Yangs' approach to form. I have never heard them teach based on these origins and so do not particularly highlight TCM or Daoist aspects of it. When appropriate, I do explain what I know, but I do not use that information to guide mental imagery and draw attention from less esoteric matters. Some people teach in terms of cultivating a glow in the dantian, but I do not think this fits in well with a practical focus on the Ten Essentials. I can sink Qi to the Dantian without worrying about kindling or cooking up an elixir there. Those sorts of Qi sensations seem less reliable to "sinking" than focusing on dropping elbows, containing the chest, etc.

How about mingmen? Is it not useful to know that this is termed a "door/gate," rather than just a numbered point that carries no such inherent connotation? It is easy to imagine that doors can be open or closed, but not so easy to see numbered "points" in this light. I often think that to guard my "life" I must keep this door open and drop my tailbone. It does not matter to me that TCM may be referring to a completely different aspect of "life" or may have adopted the term for some other reason.

The last comparison I can make is talking about keeping the spine straight. According to what I understand of modern medicine, a truly straight spine would be disasterous for health. But when we talk about keeping the spine straight in Taijiquan, we are not talking in terms of medical science, but in terms of daily concepts. For me, the academic truth of the imagery as worded is not really relevant for my practice, although I do sometimes explain the discrepancy to friends who I believe might benefit from such detail. I see most of meridian theory in this light.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby JerryKarin » Tue Jun 07, 2005 12:16 am

Audi, I think it is fine if you want to use things like mingmen (really gate of fate rather than life) as pneumonics or images to help you in your practice. However, in some of the speculation above you seem to be going off the rails into imagining that you can 'divine' some special guidance about how to perform moves from the name of a point like yongquan. That if yong means 'gushing' you would do the move differently than if it meant 'bubbling' etc. This is really grotesque. It refers to a physical location, which could just as well be a number. Calling something an elbow or a zhou does not change what it is: a part of your body. Louis, I suspect, tends to treat everything in taiji and perhaps Chinese in general as you would poetry - whatever you can get out of it is valid. I don't.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jun 07, 2005 12:23 am

Greetings,

Getting back to the yongquan point, is there one correct way of translating it? I don’t think so. Is there some special significance to the term, or reason that it is called what it is? I don’t know. For the intellectually curious type, however, there may be something about the term, or a particular translation of the term, that he or she finds compelling. It won’t necessarily be compelling for the next fellow. In some small way, it may add a dimension, or a mnemonic tag, or a way of visualizing whatever it is that is “rooted in the feet, issued by the legs, governed by the waist, and expressed in the fingers.” Or it may not.

When I first started learning French in college, it began to dawn on me what a task it was going to be to memorize which nouns were masculine and which were feminine. I asked my professor if there was some consistent logic that could be applied to these designations to help me in memorizing them. Feeling sympathy for my plight, Monsieur Wood looked at me and smiled broadly. Then he said, “Use your imagination.”

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Tue Jun 07, 2005 12:33 am

To continue the point, I find myself resisting this sort of approach because it has a tendency to turn taiji into something flaky and airy-fairy, which it isn't and shouldn't be. When the Yangs talk about mingmen or yongquan, I assure you, they are referring to the points on meridians. The names are historical and fanciful. It's ok to play around with them but I would hate to see the art turn into something really flaky.
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Postby psalchemist » Tue Jun 07, 2005 1:14 am

Hello all,

Reading all this and trying to follow is a bit of a strain for me...well beyond my TaiChi acumen...

I was just compelled somehow into asking...halted by Jerrys final line above...the word ART just somehow grabbed me, poignant for some reason in this discussion...

WHY IS TaiChi referred to as an ART and not a SCIENCE?

Any opinions on this, anyone?

Thank you,
Psalchemist.
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Postby tai1chi » Tue Jun 07, 2005 1:43 am

Hi,

gee, if it's a problem of knowing what the terms "mean", then shouldn't we be looking at what the terms "meant" to the person writing them, including the context? I agree with Jerry, if he's saying, that translating yongquan as "bubbling well" or "surging spring" is irrelevant if its meant to refer to a specific (though perhaps nonexistent) location. It's not what it is called that makes it what it is.

Otoh, it's clear that the writers took a fairly "poetic" perspective on language usage, in that, for ex., we don't handle any real birds, and probably haven't seen any dragons or phoenixes.

Yet, this seems to be an argument among non-native speakers of Chinese. So, it's a given that all feel that understanding the words, themselves, is a worthwhile study. I think that's different from turning TCC into something airy. Anyway, I also think that the search for meaning and a search for meaningfulness are almost opposites.

regards,
Steve James
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jun 07, 2005 4:13 am

Greetings Jerry,

Re: “. . . it has a tendency to turn taiji into something flaky and airy-fairy, which it isn't and shouldn't be.”

I doubt that you think that is my approach to taijiquan (read my prosaic response to your initial question beginning this discussion thread), and I resist nebulous new age approaches to taijiquan as well. I’ve often been amazed and annoyed by some of the things people have written about taijiquan, when it’s obvious that they have simply made a bunch of stuff up, without having done any sort of work at all. That is rather different, I think, than investigating the contexts and meanings of theories, texts, and terminology while drawing upon a consultable record and available imagery.

I mentioned anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ notion of thick description (which actually derived from another of my favorite thinkers, Gilbert Ryle). If you don’t have a copy of his book, The Interpretation of Cultures, you should be able to find his theory via Google. I think there’s a pdf available on the web of the first chapter, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Thory of Culture.” It’s about ethnography, but I think it applies to ordinary experience, and to translation.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Kalamondin » Wed Jun 08, 2005 12:50 am

Hi all,

Thought this bit was relevant to the discussion at foot Image

"Culture is public because “meaning is,” and systems of meanings are what produce culture, they are the collective property of a particular people. When “we,” either as researchers or simply as human beings, do not understand the beliefs or actions of persons from a foreign culture, we are acknowledging our “lack of familiarity with the imaginative universe within which their acts are signs.” (12-13) We cannot discover the culture’s import or understand its systems of meaning when, as Wittgenstein noted, “We cannot find our feet with them.” (13)"

from http://academic.csuohio.edu/as227/spring2003/geertz.htm

Best,
Kal
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