Greetings Louis, Jamie, Psalchemist, Yuri, Polaris, Jerry and everyong else,
Louis, you stated the following, which I find to be a very important point:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Perhaps more important than visual differences is what the palm feels like. In fact, in Yang Zhenduo’s explanation of the palm methods, he stresses that the student must monitor the “jin gan” (sensation of energy) in order to assess whether he or she has found the optimal position and shape of the palm. Since human bodies are not all the same, the appearance will vary from one person to another.</font>
On the surface, it seems to me that the Yangs are very concerned about external details, such as hand positions. As I have studied longer, it seems to me that their form is really built around particular sensations that one should experience and understand. This is basically how I now understand the Ten Essentials.
Once one clearly understands the correct sensations and their purposes, the externals seem to fall away. All of the external descriptions of the Ten Essentials and similar principles seem to have exceptions, but the sensations that underlie them do not seem to have any. For example, “Empty, lively, pushing up the top of the head, and energetic” (“xu ling ding jin”) is often interpreted as requiring an erect head position without any appreciable lean; however, in Needle at Sea Bottom, Punch Downward (Zai1 chui2), and Nezha Explores the Sea Bottom (from the Sword Form), we have three different types of lean, all seemingly calibrated to make sure that the torso energy remains somewhat behind the striking energy going through the arm.
Jamie, you posted the following:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I have observed that the concavity of the palm may change based on what the movement is.</font>
I think this is also a very good point and is an example of externals varying, but internals not. I do not think the Yangs have much use for fixed hand shapes, but simply want the practitioner to experience a particular feeling of Jin. This Jin seems to be refined and used in one way to do High Pat on Horse with Thrusting Palm, in another way for White Snake Spits out Tongue, and yet another way in Fist Under Elbow or Cloud Hands. In Push, one may need to use the palms to cup the opponent’s ribs. In Fan through the Back, one may need to use the left palm to fit into the opponent’s armpit. In the Single Whip transition and in Needle at Sea Bottom, the right hand takes on yet another configuration, with two different applications, that is not separately described or named, as far as I am aware. Because of all this variation, I think it can be misleading to focus too much on the hand shape per se, without linking it to the desired sensation.
I think that hand usage can also vary according to the response one wants from the opponent. In some cases, one wants to slip one’s hand free and so will try to minimize its three-dimensional profile. In other cases, one may want to hook the opponent’s grip on one’s wrist and so try to tense in a way that will lead the opponent to strengthen and stiffen her grip.
In Apparent Closure and in Fair Lady Works the Shuttle, it is unclear to me whether I should prefer to have the opponent release my wrist or have her try to maintain a death grip. The applications seem to work either way, although with different details. My current guess is that one wants to maintain a neutral stance that neither makes it easy for her to release nor easy for her to hold on. In that way, she must fully commit and reveal her intent.
Yuri and Psalchemist, you all were talking about the following:
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B> Greetings Yuri,
That's an interesting expression that you introduce... ...Needle and Cotton...
Is this similar to seeking the linear and circular trajectories in Taiji practice?
Or is this more about distinguishing softness and hardness in Taiji practice?</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I think that much of the question of hardness and softness originates from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) http://www.edepot.com/tao4.html.
In it, there are passages like the following:
“Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.”
I think the idea is that if you can be soft enough, you can over come what is hard. This is because extreme softness gives rise to extreme hardness. “Softness” in this case does not mean “mushiness,” but something that is infinitely flexible, resilient, and capable of concentration. Water under pressure becomes extremely hard. Soft steel can be sharpened to a much “harder” point than more rigid and brittle iron.
“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Pla[n]ts are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
“Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
“The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.”
Another reason to be soft is that it allows the hardness to come from the opponent. You are soft on the outside “to invite the thief into the house” and hard on the inside to crush him once he is “trapped inside.” If you are hard on the outside, then the thief will await a better opportunity and not declare himself. Once he finds a chink in the hard outside, he will have access to the soft inside where you are weak.
Using hard styles, you might perform a move like Roll Back with speed and power to use bone-on-bone force to break the opponent’s arm at the elbow. Using soft styles, you use “soft,” “rounded” techniques like Sticking, Adhering, and Holding (“Na”) to bring the opponent into a position where he is forced to concentrate your softness into hardness. You break the arm with the soft fleshy part of your forearm that allows you to concentrate your body energy (Jin) behind it. You want the Jin to flow freely through your body and not use localized force or Qi that will prevent you from concentrating your whole-body power at one point.
Polaris, you mentioned the following in your post:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In our "square" form the wrists bend, then lift. There is a slight bend in the elbows as the wrists raise, as well as a slight bend in the ankles as the body inclines one or two degrees forward due to the weight of the arms. Once the wrists are in front of the shoulders (wrists still bent, elbows down and back open between the shoulder blades naturally), the elbows begin to sink to bring the wrists back and slightly down. The body goes back to vertical from their weight being withdrawn.</font>
I find this body usage quite interesting. I have heard varying things about what to do in Yang Style, but have never taken the opportunity to ask the Yangs if one should focus on any particular weight shifts during the Commencement Posture. Most consistently, I have heard fellow practitioners assert that the body should move backward as the arms rise in order to counterbalance them and maintain central equilibrium. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what you have described.
As I have considered this issue, I recall many, many instances in the Hand Form, where one or both arms are used partly to counterbalance the weight of the legs; however, I cannot recall anywhere where the weight of the torso is clearly moved away from a hand technique. The closest instance of this is in Bend the Bow and Shoot the Tiger, where the body energy seems to move at right angles to the strike. Because of this logic, I have been reluctant to credit this idea of moving the body away from the arms in the Commencement Posture. I am quite interested in seeing that the Wu Square Form also seems to come to an opposite conclusion.
You also mentioned the following:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In our "round" forms, the knee bend is initiated as the hands begin to descend.</font>
This is an interesting detail in contrast to what I had speculated about Yang Zhenji’s form. In this case, it appears that the energy of the sinking body is used to lead the sinking energy in the arms. If this is so, why would the square form save this body energy for the end of the posture? What is the segmentation meant to emphasize in this instance, preparation for a following technique?
Jerry, thanks for the quote from Yang Zhenduo’s book. I had always wondered about how best to manifest “Stillness in Movement” during the Preparation Posture. You also mentioned the following:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In my opinion, none of the moves is symbolic in the sense of reflecting philosophy but not having practical application.</font>
Are talking only about the Hand Form, or also about the weapons forms? Do you have any ideas about the beginning of the Sword Form? As I have just been given to understand it, this posture was altered by Yang Chengfu to be more like the hand form; however, it seems impractical to me to have a double-edged weapon held in the crook of one’s elbow for a martial purpose. It also seems that the initial change of position of the sword does not have a directly useful martial purpose.
As I consider this issue, it does seem to me that beginning with the sword in front of the arm is a safer starting position with respect to fellow students in the room. One seems less likely to lose focus on where the tip of the weapon is pointing and where it can reach. Fatigue is also not an issue until the form is actually begun and the spirit is sufficiently raised and engaged to help guard against casual clumsiness. This position also calls attention to the different left-hand usage of the saber, which always seems to be cradled in front of the elbow.
Louis, thanks for your latest post on the inconsistent treatment of raising hands in the early literature on Yang Chengfu’s practice. This makes me again wonder about possible “symbolic” origins for the Commencement Posture. If this posture was meant to set the martial tone of the form, why leave it out? If it is a later “adornment,” such omission seems understandable.
Even the name Commencement Posture is beginning to sound suspicious to me. Again, why call the second posture of the form the Commencement Posture? With such an emphasis in the art on differentiating full and empty, why begin the techniques with a horse stance?
Does traditional Chen Style begin its form with raising the hands? This is how I briefly learned it, but I wonder if the form I was being taught was not influenced by Yang Style practices.
It just sounds more and more to me that a more interesting beginning to the form was devised or reincorporated into the form and that this posture was then used to emphasize subtle principles and further refine the form. I must admit that I do prefer the beginnings of the Hand and Sword Forms to the no-nonsense beginning of the Saber Form. Raising my arms allows me to further deepen my body connectedness and begun “strumming the Qi” a little before having to step out.
[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 08-01-2004).]