Thanks for your thoughts. I think there have some excellent ideas; however, I think I have badly expressed myself.
My questions may sound like they are about details, but they are not. I absolutely do not belief that one should do Tai Chi by stitching together a bunch of details to try to make a perfect form. I do, however, think that you cannot do a perfect form without a deep, deep understanding of the details of the form. You don't get a deep understanding by learning all the details, but by learning principles that will be reflected in many, many details.
I also believe that many of the principles are very subtle, hard to understand, and hard to describe; as a result, one way of discovering them is to see them reflected in some concrete details.
I think we are also dancing around the relationship between Qi, Yi, and Shen, and so let me express more directly what I have been assuming about these.
For this purpose, I like what I understand to be Zhu Xi's formulation of Qi. In this context, Qi does not mean breath or internal energy, but means anything that Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein would escribe as matter or energy. Zhu Xi divided up all of existence into Qi (matter/energy), which is the stuff of the Cosmos, and Li (principle/natural law) which determines how that stuff is organized.
When the Classics say not to concentrate on Qi, this is what I understand the reference to be. We should not concentrate either on physical things or even on energy.
When the Classics speak of Yi (intent), I find it most helpful to think of Zhu Xi's Li (Principle). In other words, Yi has no physical or energetic form whatsoever. It is not something that the mind creates or can "breathe" into the motions of the limbs.
According to Zhu Xi, Qi and Li cannot exist without each other, and so it makes no sense to talk about one without the other being present, at least in the background. Similarly, for Newton or Einstein, a principle like gravity cannot exist without matter/energy to act upon, and there is no matter/energy that gravity cannot act upon.
In Taijiquan, some people talk about Yi as if it can exist outside of Qi. I do not believe this. To me, Yi is merely a subcategory of Li and a way of explaining the organization of Qi and the rules that governs its interrelationships.
Now, according to Zhu Xi and his followers, Shen (Spirit/focus/expression) is merely the most refined form of Qi. It is not Li (Principle). We are not using mind over matter. We cannot alter gravity with our minds. We are not even using Shen to organize our own bodies. We are using Shen to accord with some part of Li (Principle) that will dictate how our bodes move.
In my view, when the Classics talk about: "Use Yi (Intent), do not use Li (strength)," this has nothing to do with using the mind to directly control the body (which is Qi), but rather to focus the mind (Shen) on understanding how Li (Principle) is directly relevant to the situation or the purpose at hand.
[Note to those who understand little or no Chinese. There are two different words (actually, many more than two) that can be spelled Li. One means "strength," and one means "principle/reason." They are pronounced with different tones and written with different characters.]
The Association has a standard or semi-standard way of beginning to teach Pluck. If you understand the principles, you can make your partner stumble away behind your back. If you know more principles, you can make your partner leap up behind you. If you know even more, you can make your partner crash head first into the ground or even injure him or herself directly. Although these may require different amounts of energy, they are really distinguished by using different principles. Once you are clear on all the relevant principles, you will naturally put forth the right energy.
My original post was directed toward getting a greater understanding of principles. Someone might answer that the Ten Essentials should be enough. Let me explain why I do not think this is the case.
There can be many reasons why we do not do the form perfectly, but I think it is useful to distinguish between at least four of them:
Ignorance--We do not have the right information.
Bad habits--Without specific attention the wrong habits produce incorrect results.
Lack of skill--Insufficient familiarity, practice, and/or ability do not allow us to perform to standard.
Lack of understanding--We cannot accurately identify the standard to conform to.
In my view, this last issue is a major issue with many practitioners.
We may know that the elbows should be "down," but we do not fully understand what this means and so put them in the wrong place. We know that the waist should lead, but we end up twisting the waist too far, or at the wrong time.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Perhaps it is my own failing or my inability to adopt concepts that are alien to me but I have never truly incorporated feeling/or intention to martial taijiquan practice. I do not recall any of my teachers (whether "old school" or "new school") making an issue of feeling or intention unless they were pointing out references to acupuncture meridians and their location or routes.</font>
Below is an example from elsewhere on this site about the usefulness of feelings, translation courtesy of Louis Swaim.
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>The special characteristics of "seated wrist upright palm" are that when the palm extends forth it must always have the wrist seated and the palm upright. As for its technique, above all, the wrist of the hand must sit solidly. Then, allow the palm of the hand to stand up; that is, lift it upwards, and gradually let the fingers point up and the heart of the palm face forward. When the standing up of the palm reaches a certain degree, it will then produce a kind of internal sensation (nei zai de ziwo ganjue). This type of sensation is called "energy sensation" (jin gan). If the practitioner's physical training has a firm foundation, this type of "energy sensation" can immediately thread throughout the entire body. Beginning students, however, may manifest a local sensation of stiffness (the hands and arms ache or become numb).
The above two categories of sensation are entirely different. In light of this, beginning students should above all avoid raising the palm insufficiently, with the production of weak, hollow, and nebulous sensations. However, a stiffness or dullness produced by an excessive lifting upward is also not the goal of our pursuit. If you can only feel the sensation of energy, then if it is not right, you can correct it. But if you can't sense it then it will be empty, and cannot be self-adjusted. This palm method controls, in a clearly established order, the containing of energy (jin), the expression of vital spirit (jingshen de biaoda), and the achievement of hardness [within] softness, with the result that it will penetrate [or 'thread'] from joint to joint (jie jie guan chuan), and the entire body will be coordinated. In order to train well in Yang Style Taijiquan, you must seek this "energy sensation" in the upright palm.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
Here is another passage, courtesy of Jerry:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Relaxation and training should both be conscious (or purposive). That is just what our predecessors meant by "consciously (purposely) relax and unconsciously (unintentionally) create hardness". If one can really achieve relaxation (fang song), it will be transmitted into the combining of the body activity with the ten essentials, naturally creating the material conditions so that 'energy' (jing) will arise according to the requirements of the moves. If you try to create 'energy' (jing) directly, paradoxically you become limited by 'energy' (jing). When we say "use intent rather than strength", the main idea is that you should not use 'coarse strength' but rather 'energy' (jing).</font>
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>Consciousness is like this:
Everything outside of a narrow circle is excluded. To focus is to exclude.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I think I understand you point, but is this not the exact opposite of refining Shen through 格物?
Whenever I have asked somewhat to really concentrate the Yi and show me the punch of Deflect Downard, Parry, and Punch, I have seen more rather than fewer departures from what I understand to be the standard. They break the energy. They over-rotate the waist. They shift too much weight from one leg to the other and so bring the hips out of alignement and move the energy diagonally, rather that straight.
To me, using more Shen, does not mean focusing on less, but letting it penetrate further and into more. I might agree to representing Shen with a cone rather than a small circle, but even that sounds too limited.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I think probably some additional explanations of the inner work in YCF style particularly and in neijia generally from your teacher would be helpful - in neijia before one " really uses internal energy" as you mentioned above one needs to get something inside - that's one of the reasons it's called neijia. The spine may play certain role but if one has nothing inside then it would be more like a boat without wind IMHO</font>
I think you are right about this, but I do not think this was what my teacher was pointing out to me. I think he was saying that I was missing out completely on an important principle and so did not know how to make small, but important alignments to my body. According to my understanding, when we talk about "internal" things, we are talking more about something in lign with something I quoted above and which I repeat here:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">If one can really achieve relaxation (fang song), it will be transmitted into the combining of the body activity with the ten essentials, naturally creating the material conditions so that 'energy' (jing) will arise according to the requirements of the moves. If you try to create 'energy' (jing) directly, paradoxically you become limited by 'energy' (jing). When we say "use intent rather than strength", the main idea is that you should not use 'coarse strength' but rather 'energy' (jing)</font>
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Isolate this piece of the form and practice it over and over.</font>
I think this can be excellent advice, but not in this particular case. I believe that I have done the posture correctly for years, since I had already checked on the possibility of this mistake before. When I discovered that I now was doing this alignment incorrectly, I realized that something was wrong with my intent. In other words, I was deliberately and consciously doing something that resulted in an incorrect posture.
I have occasionally been able to correct mental mistakes by merely making physical adjustments, but I find this rarely works. This is different from examining a physical difference that leads you to make a mental change.
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>For reference he sent me a link to a Youtube clip of Yang Jun doing a form somewhere in China (go to youtube, type "Yang Jun" in the search bar, it shows up on the first page). If you watch the form, it is amazingly detailed and accurate.
It is NOT any of the traditional Yang family forms.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
Bob, thanks for this reference. It was interesting watching. I can see how doing this would be helpful to some folks, but I will wait until one of my teachers recommends this to me. What I am concentrating most in my practice and teaching is in making connections and fine distinctions so that it is easier to see the form in push hands and push hands in the form.
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>Now when I do the long form I find I am always thinking more in terms of what I want the form to do, not in terms of how to do the form.
Excellent point. The different forms offer the practitioner a set of exercises to practice the various taiji principles. The bigger objective is to master the principles, not just the forms.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I agree wholeheartedly with these points and have used this as an assumption in all of my posts. My question is not really about where to put a hand or foot, but how to be sure that the hand or foot actually is placed according to the correct intent.
In my view, most practitioners who have been doing the form for many years do not make mistakes because they are using insufficient intent, but because they are using the wrong intent. Their purpose is unknowingly wrong.
You can often do the elementary single-hand horizontal push hands circle with people with substantial experience, and yet somehow the energy does not feel quite right. Sometimes, I feel a hook, regardless of whether they actually form a hook with the wrist. I feel them trying to lever my arm from the left side of their body to the right. I feel them trying to protect space in front of their body. What I do not feel is someone using Nian (sticking) to neutralize my push.
I struggled with these very things for years until I was able to understand what I was doing wrong.
The issue is not even that what they are doing is wrong, but rather that what they are trying to do is wrong. For me, this is why Taijiquan is hard. The movements are mostly quite easy. Understanding what you should try to do is very hard.
Early in my Tai Chi studies, I encountered the principle "Don't let the knee pass the toes." I almost dismissed this, because I had already learned to do this in a style I studied prior to Tai Chi. As I practiced more and tried to relax more, I began to realize that it felt wrong and that I was flirting with injury to my knee. The postures felt anything but strong. What I then realized was that what I had in mind was an external description, not a "principle" or internal "method." I then completely changed what I focused my mind on and now feel very confident and happy with the result. Now, when I teach, I try to distinguish clearly between the result and the method.
Sorry for the long and confused post, but I wanted to make sure I got some ideas out and clarify the intent of my post.