Greeting to all,
Mr. Brit, you asked:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> So would you focus your Yi actually into that area - i.e. between his shoulder blades - or would you project through it and out the back, if that makes any sense? </font>
I guess my short answer is: "Yes." I direct my attention between my partner’s shoulder blades. I am certainly no expert in this stuff, but here are my best speculations.
To make the application work, I do not try to maximize the intensity or reach of my forward power (i.e., Jin). I do not want my partner to feel a striking energy he would feel a need to absorb or deflect. If he feels this, he will naturally be led into adjusting his “mind-body” communication (i.e., “Yi”) in a way that will defeat what I am attempting. I need a particular kind of muscular cooperation from him in order to have him push away from me. I also want most of the energy to come from him, not from me.
I would focus through my partner's shoulder blades toward infinity only if I were more indifferent to the state of his muscular activity, such as when I am considering only the impact site of a strike. For this application, I think I need to be more interested in how my partner feels about the state of his body than in the pure physics of the force vectors. Both are important, but the former seems to be a prerequisite to bringing the latter into play in the way I want.
In imagining an opponent holding my wrists, I assume that his purpose is to prevent me from escaping and pulling away. This implies that the “Yi” of my opponent is biased towards pulling my arms toward him and preventing me from withdrawing my hands. As you perform the initial rotation, I think that you are testing the waters to verify this and lock the opponent into this mindset. You are giving the feel of strengthening the grip. You then follow the opponent’s intent by giving him more than what he wants or can temporarily deal with. You follow his “withdrawing” intent by moving your arms forward and up. As the opponent is caught off guard and tries to reassert the same relative body positions, he will try to extend his arms back to the same place. The true situation (i.e., the “Shi”) will, however, have changed. The angles are now different and your “intent” is different. As the opponent extends, he will tend to push himself off and release his grip.
To verify all of this, or rather to “Listen” for it, I think that you must feel for the state of your opponent’s upper back, almost as if you are trying to complete a circuit of energy. If your opponent’s arms are “solid/full,” I think you feel for where the change to “emptiness” begins, as you focus in towards your opponent’s “center.” If your perception stops at the opponent’s elbows and they are “empty,” you cannot feel his center and must do something else, such as “reeling” in his emptiness by lowering your arms or simply challenging his gripping intent. (How can he hold you with an “empty” grip?).
If the opponent’s wrist and elbows are “solid” and your perceptions can reach to the center of his back, you can sound out whether this area is “empty” or “solid.” (I just realized the neat connection between the English term “sound out” and “Listening” energy.) If the area between the opponent’s shoulder blades is “empty,” you will feel his positioning become increasingly awkward as you raise your arms and “eat up” this emptiness. You can rely on the principle that this emptiness must soon change to solidity, but at a moment that will now be advantageous to you. You can await his response.
If his arms and upper back are both “solid,” I think his legs must then necessarily be empty, and you can attack his root through lowering your arms and pivoting. You will then be challenging this area of emptiness to adapt.
In all of this, I am presuming that you are using good body structure and principled movement; however, my understanding is that you are not just aligning with force vectors or physical principles, but also “dancing” with the opponent’s “mind intent.” Your opponent’s “mind intent” guides how you deploy your structure from moment to moment, rather than what might otherwise be optimal physics. You try to go along with your opponent’s “intent” to a point where he has difficulty circulating Jin and cannot adapt to your changes. At that point, your combined energy should produce a “catastrophic” failure in your opponent’s “deployment” and expose a vulnerability. The failure or the vulnerability may be slight, depending on what the opponent does; however, one failure can lead to another and yet another, until the opponent manages to bring his mind intent back in synch with reality. In the meantime, I think you can accomplish a lot.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Quoth Audi: </font>
Wow! Nice touch. I don’t think I have ever been “quothed” before
. Methinks it soundeth more harmonious to mine ear than "bleated," "blurted," or "droned on." My thanks for classing up my act. On a more serious note,
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Which gets me back to the lean forward in the modern Wu family's commencement posture. It is done to easily coordinate the entire body's weight behind the p'eng (or an, if it is to be a wrist strike) application which is implied in the motion </font>
I had always understood “An” to refer to pressing techniques, usually with the palms. What makes a “wrist strike” an instance of “An”? Are you referring to an upward wrist strike to the bottom of the opponent’s arms, such as what Michael describes?
Michael, you asked:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Does Yang Jun still teach in the "commencement form" that when you lower the arms that you first take out the remaing tension/uplift of the shoulders, folowed by a small bending of the elbows, followed by a sinking of the wrists, with the fingers following behind?</font>
The last hand form seminar I attended was in February, for the 49-Posture Form. I do not recall any mention of taking “tension out of the shoulders,” but this seems an accurate description of what seems to take place. As far as the elbows, wrists, and fingers go, I recall more or less what you describe.
My shortcut way of describing the motion and sensation is to talk about “banana arms” up and then “banana arms” down. In other words, what can look like a straightforward rise and fall of straight arms seems in fact to be a rising energy curve followed by a falling one, like whipping an almost taught rope up and then down. Within the apparent straight line movement is actually an alternating curve, although our anatomy makes the physical expression of this imperfect. For my application, I actually see the “energy” peak of the curve as being at the wrist on the way up and at the elbows on the way down, rather than staying in the middle of the arms. In any case, this is really just a matter of feel.
You also stated:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> On the arms lifting. If an opponent has you by the neck or shirt, the rising arms--or "end of the arms" makes perfect contact with a nerve running on the back of the opponets arm. Striking this numbs them. I leanred this in a Hopkido seminar years and years ago. Makes perfect sense for the opening movement. Lowering the arms if the one fails seeks to break that same hold. YZJs sinking make sense in this regard.</font>
This is the first application I learned when I originally learned Tai Chi. It is also the main reason I began to wonder about how the Yangs teach this posture.
The details of the arm movements I originally learned were distinctly different from what the Yangs’ teach. We were taught to have the hands hang down from the wrists on the way up in order to accentuate the striking point at the back of the wrists. We also had more bend in the elbows to account for the close distance between you and the opponent. There was also a forward-up-and-back movement of the hands that led the hands in front of your shoulders.
If breaking a front choke hold were the application the Yangs had in mind, I had difficulty understanding why one would take care to extend the fingers forward as the hands were raised. It seemed as if the fingers would bump into the opponent’s body and risk being jammed.
I also had difficulty understanding how lowering my arms could help relieve the choke hold after an unsuccessful strike. With my original form details, it seemed that one could have some leverage to press the opponent’s arms down if the hands were brought closer in and then folded over the opponent’s arms. Keeping the arms extended would seem to weaken the available leverage and leave the opponent’s forearms and hands free to cause damage.
I was delighted when shown my new application, because it seemed to follow much more closely the details of the Yangs form and how I might want to send energy through my arms and why I might want to extend my fingers. If one has managed to send the opponent away, but not to break the grip, it also seemed to justify why there was a reason to move the arms up and down and not circle the wrists up and in toward the body.
I have also come to wonder whether or not the Yangs form is more control-oriented and connected than the form and applications I originally learned. My original form seemed designed with lots of quick disabling strikes and discontinuous “in-and-out” scenarios; for instance, Lifting Hands was explained almost as a slap aimed at breaking the opponent’s arm. Sustained contact was not really contemplated.
Most of the applications I have since learned seem much more likely to incorporate some type of sticking along with the strikes or throws. They also seem much more tightly linked in their details to what comes before and after in the form. For instance, the Brush Knee and Twist Step that follows White Crane is what I think of as a classic means of breaking a forward choke. That application involves an immediate control move, rather than a straightforward strike. The exchange and circulation of energy between you and the opponent seems clearer to me than in a straightforward wrist strike to the back of the opponent’s arms.
Michael, Yuri, and Wushuer,
You all make very good points about pivoting. This issue seems to be both quite simple and quite complex. In any case, I think your comments show that puzzling over what method is universally best is probably not the right question to examine.
For the application I have described, I think it works best to shift weight to the left first, since it seems to improve the angle of attack. Also, if one is trying to spin the opponent out to the right, one should presumably want first to go left, according to the classics. “To go right, first go left.” On the other hand, if one is primarily interested in stepping forward with the left foot to meet an attack, one would presumably want first to shift weight to the right in order to accord best with the classics. “To go left, first go right.” As Wushuer mentions, different intent requires different execution.
I also think there can be significant long term training issues involved with how one performs pivots. One of the things that seem to mark Taijiquan off from most other martial arts is that long-term training principles play a significant role in how we practice forms. Slow, continuous movement is perhaps an obvious example. If one focuses on form only as a “rehearsal” of combat techniques, I think that other issues can be overlooked.
In the case of pivots, I think that some form designers have created or modified some of the performance details not simply to improve the efficiency of combat applications, but also with particular training goals in mind: for example, strengthening joints, easing the strain on joints, focusing on effortless movement, focusing on powerful movement, reinforcing the importance and possibilities of weight shifts, focusing on speed, focusing on joint expansion, focusing on joint contraction, minimizing tension in the ankle, emphasizing floor clearance, standardization to prioritize training focus, increasing variety to improve adaptability, training balance, etc. I think that one can legitimately focus on some goals at the expense of others and that it is not possible to optimize the form to achieve everything at once. Examining pivots only from the point of view of combat efficiency can overlook these other training goals.
Another consideration is training surface and footwear, as well as what possible surfaces and footwear one wants to train for. Training that is optimized for sneakers on wood will not be optimized for bare feet on concrete, and vice versa. At least to my mind, emphasizing different goals and different training surfaces will drive different choices about how to perform and teach the form.
[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 08-06-2004).]