Touch, Elbows, and Waist Movement

sabre, sword, spear, etc

Touch, Elbows, and Waist Movement

Postby Audi » Sun Sep 23, 2001 2:44 pm

Yang Zhen Duo and Yang Jun have stated that the essential principles of the empty hand form and the weapons forms are the same. I have been somewhat slow in feeling the truth of this in my practice, but had a recent experience of this that I would like to share for comment.

I was recently having a friendly sparring session with a fellow student. I say sparring, rather than moving push hands, because we were both using kicks, strikes, and locks, although usually in a controlled fashion. Even though we were sparring, I was trying to be very careful about using only T'ai Chi techniques and principles, to the extent I understand them.

Because of some very significant differences in our ages, martial experience, and skill sets, I was simultaneously somewhat confident of not being severely injured, but somewhat afraid of receiving painful body blows. In all, I was unusually focused on using good technique.

In my perception, my partner was favoring speed-based techniques from disconnected positions, and I found that in order to connect properly and maintain proper sticking, I was forced not only to keep my elbows downward, but to "droop" them (zhui). Any other strategy created openings that my partner could exploit with painful body blows or where speed and reaction time became the dominant elements.

Right after this session, I participated in the equivalent of fixed step push hand drills with wooden straight swords. This was my first experience with two person sword play. Much to my surprise, I found the same elbow feelings even more necessary. I could only stick to my opponents' blade if I allowed my elbows to droop and swing freely.

My first instinct to avoid being at the pointy end of my partners' sword was to use my eyes, reaction time, and arm strength to parry their thrusts. After only a little experimentation, it became quite clear that this was a losing, or at least highly risky strategy.

I could feel that using strength or speed with the sword seemed to allow the opponent to fold around my attack quite easily and use my strength and speed against me in a counter attack. This feeling felt much more obvious than in empty hand practice.

When I transferred my focus from my eyes and reaction abilities to the feel of the contact point with my opponent sword, I was much more satisfied with my parries. It was quite an eery, but neat feeling, to watch the point of my opponent's sword sweep slowly past my throat, but have to keep my mental focus on the feeling in my waist, elbows, wrist, and the contact point with my opponent's blade.

One interesting aspect of my observation was that although my eyes could tell me when I was in trouble or threatened, they did not suggest what to do about it, since the eyes were not directly linked to my muscle movement. On the other hand, using touch sensitivity to feel out the trouble or the threat immediately suggested countermeasures, since both the defensive and offensive aspects of this focus involved feelings of angles, pressure, and motion.

The importance of the waist was another revelation where theory became fact. In empty hand practice, I had always associated waist movement with power. In this session, it became very clear that even though that degree of power was usually not necessary for the sword, issuing power from the waist was necessary to allow my arms to have enough sensitivity to control the opponent's blade. Using the waist, sticking, and angle sensitivity felt much better than relying on wrist and arm strength or on speed and momentum.

Does anyone have similar experiences they would like to share or any comment on these thoughts?

Happy practicing,
Audi
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Postby tai1chi » Wed Oct 10, 2001 3:38 am

Hi Audi,

you always write great posts that take a great deal of thought to respond to. Anyway, a lot of your answers will depend on whether you're talking about a double-edged sword, a traditional saber (thick) or a thin calvary-style weapon. Your specific questions are too complex to venture a reply. But, imo, sword (particularly jian)usage and hand usage are closely related. One thing that might be helpful to you, or just an experiment, would be to do your sword form without the sword. Examine it just the way you'd do the hand form. Imagine that the hand is actually the sword. Pay attention to the footwork. It may have some differences. Anyway, also note that the footwork for the saber is also quite different --so try that one too. Well, I hope this may help.
Best,
Steve James
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Postby Audi » Sat Oct 13, 2001 3:24 am

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the reply and the encouragement. I am never sure whether lack of replies to some of my posts are because they are boring, overwhelming, underwhelming, or just plain from left field. I appreciate any response to the whole or even minor parts of it, and set forth so much just to make clear what precisely is on my mind and where I am coming from.

You mention two types of sabers in your reply. Out of curiosity, can you tell from the picture which type of saber is sold by the Association under the products section? From your discription and that of others, it sounds like a "horse saber," but I find that conclusion somewhat surprising.

You also encouraged me to examine my sword form the same way I do my hand form. Unfortunately, this seems to be precisely my problem. I feel I have enough experience from other martial arts and from wrestling to have some feel for how the hand form probably has to work. I have pretty firm mental images of specific applications for each of the postures and most of the transitions, so that the form feels alive to me.

The sword and saber forms are another matter.
I have only a hazy idea of any of the defensive moves and can almost never link one posture to another. The literature I have found thus far does not seem all that helpful in this regard. I started this thread because the incident I described was one of the few times where the sword form revealed something to me that I was not intentionally trying to put into it.

I am curious about your suggestion to compare the footwork of the three forms, but will give it a try. I have done a lot of work with other forms where substantially the same choreography is done with a straight sword, a saber, a fan, or barehanded. I have never attempted this, however, with the Yang Cheng Fu forms.

Is there something in particular that you have found? Are you just referring to a difference in the flavor of the choreography, the frequency of various patterns, or to something else?

If I can impose further, I also have another question for you or for anyone else who might care to comment. In doing the hand form, I find it quite natural to stop my hand and arm movement at the same time my body movement stops. With the sword and saber form, however, there seem to be many moves where the wrist and weapon continue moving in a whiplike fashion after the body has finished moving. Do you believe this to be correct? If so, is there any theoretical explanation for this discrepancy, given that the hand form and weapons forms are supposed to obey the same principles and the weapons are supposed to be mere extensions of the limbs?

Take care,
Audi
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Postby tai1chi » Sat Oct 13, 2001 1:25 pm

Hi Audi,

well, the lack of a reply --on my part-- to any of your posts is usually due to a reluctance to claim any ability to answer your excellent questions. Sometimes, it seems presumptuous to reply, especially given that this is a family-style board. Other times, the complexity of the question demands an answer that is really too complicated. Anyway, please don't feel discouraged by any lack of response.

Re: sabers, there are those who suggest that there is a "traditional" Yang-style saber (more like a cavalry saber shape) that is different from the standard saber. Without the weight, the techniques for usage of the slimmer weapon is very different. Well, you can imagine that it would have additional, subtle techniques. In general, it might be considered more of a duelling or form weapon, rather than a battlefield tool --like the larger, heavier weapon. I didn't mean, btw, either a "horse knife" or other type of "chopper". I haven't seen the saber sold by the Association yet.

The sword and saber forms are another matter.
"I have only a hazy idea of any of the defensive moves and can almost never link one posture to another. The literature I have found thus far does not seem all that helpful in this regard. I started this thread because the incident I described was one of the few times where the sword form revealed something to me that I was not intentionally trying to put into it."

Well, for the reasons I gave above, I'll suggest another experiment. Try doing your hand form using a jian. Of course, put the intention/attention into the blade --which will become an extension of your hand. Pay attention to the "cuts". This relates to your last questions, I think. They refer to the footwork and to the continuity. You write,

"there seem to be many moves where the wrist and the weapon continue moving in a whiplike fashion after the body has finished moving. Do you believe this to be correct? If so, is there any theoretical explanation for this discrepancy, given that the hand form and weapons forms are supposed to obey the same principles and the weapons are supposed to be mere extensions of the limbs?"

Your observation is absolutely correct, imho. The principle in the weapon demonstrates principles in the hand from which it extends. There isn't any discrepancy. The applications are in the "cuts", not in the stops. But, that's just my opinion, and doesn't really answer your question. I think my "answer" is that the jian teaches a great deal about "how" to apply many things in the hand form. The whiplike action you mention is something, imo, you can "feel" more when there's a weight in your hand, but it is there even without the weapon. Well, that's where I'm not qualified to give advice here. But, I guess that most would agree that the weapon merely extends the "jin" of the Body through the hand from the feet.

Best,
Steve James
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Postby tai1chi » Sun Oct 14, 2001 4:34 am

Hi Audi,

"You mention two types of sabers in your reply. Out of curiosity, can you tell from the picture which type of saber is sold by the Association under the products section?"

I've looked and yes that is the style.

Best,
Steve James
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Postby Michael » Sun Oct 14, 2001 11:41 pm

I guess the term for this type of saber is a "willow Leaf" saber.
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Postby Bob3 » Fri Oct 19, 2001 10:28 pm

Dear Audi,

I agree with Steve that you do ask very insightful questions! I do not have any experience with the type of saber that the Yang Association promotes. I am familiar with the heavier saber that is utilized more with the shoulder than the arms. The jian is another matter. From the forms that I have been taught, the sword is indeed an extension of the arms and body, but it also has some of its own actions. For example, in every sword form there is a small part that involves wrist flexibility to wave the sword to the left and right in circles. Also, in each form, there are some jumps that don't appear in the taiji form, and thrusts of the blade tip forward. The sword has a form of its own, and the applications are different. In almost every posture there is an element of blocking and attacking. There is usually movement of the blade in reaching a position. Most of these moves involve an initial block followed by a cut using the sharp edge near the tip. Since I don't know the sword form that you have been exposed to, it is difficult to judge the similarities or differences. I am just pointing out some techniques that are unique to the sword. Of course, good posture and extension of chi into the sword is a given. Without these, the sword just waves in the air without intent.

Recently, I have learned the first part of the Wudan sword form. This form is much more energetic than the Yang style, having been developed from actual battle experience. Most of the moves are designed to maim or critically injure opponents rather than engage them in an idealistic duel. While I am not motivated to employ this style, it is in the interest of keeping the forms alive through cultural research that is of interest.
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Postby tai1chi » Sat Oct 20, 2001 1:30 am

Hi,

Bob3 makes very good points. Allow me to point out something that may be useless to someone who doesn't study the sword. It's important to realize that the sword can (at the beginning) be thought of as "one-armed", and that will/does determine some of the movements. Later on, it should become apparent that there is actually a yin/yang relation between the sword hand and the "empty" hand. This is somewhat emphasized in the need to maintain "sword fingers." Fwiw, Audi I'm sure you can extrapolate from there.
BTW, Bob3, I think I learned your Wudan sword form, if it's Li Ji Ling's. In any case, it is "good exercise." I learned through a student of Master Fang of Taiwan, who also taught the Sanchaijian (? Three treasuressword) often associated with Xingyi. At any rate, the Yang form certainly has all the necessities. Personally, I see blades as blades. One with two straight edges and a sharp point can be used a certain way: one with one curved edge and a sharp point can be used in other ways. It depends on the "hand" ---more properly, "the body", or "dantien" if one prefers. All the good sword people I've known have --of necessity-- used their dantiens (more simply "bodies") to use the weapon. When it comes to really heavy weapons, this becomes clear. Familiarity with the weapon and the movements are, imho, the most important things. Until it becomes an extension of the hand, the sword is just a club --which is ok, especially when one doesn't want to hurt anyone. Anyway, sorry to go on so much.
Best,
Steve James
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Postby Audi » Sat Oct 20, 2001 8:20 pm

Hi Steve and Bob3,

Thanks for your responses.

In case I have not been clear and you both can recognize the postures, let me give "Dusting in the Wind," "Swallow Sweeps over the Water," and "White Ape Presents the Fruit" as examples from the straight sword form. In these postures, the power seems clearly to move through the body and find final expression in the sword through "flicking" the wrist.

In the saber form, I would nominate the one legged split to the right and the following upper cut in the opposite direction that end "Look left, Gaze Right, the Two parts extend" and begin "White Crane spreads wings."

If I recall correctly, Yang Jun gave a specific name to at least one of these techniques during review of "Swallow Swoops over the Water" and/or "White Ape Presents the Fruit" and the July/August Long Island Seminar. Perhaps, I need to find the specific name of the technique and then inquire about its special characteristics.

In any case, the way power (jin, if you like) moves through the body in these postures seems different from anything I do in the barehand form, although I have seen some who do other forms who have obvious whiplike motion in some of their postures.

As I consider this issue again, I think use of this technique may have something to do with using the tip to cut, since the technique is absent in thrusts, blocks, and sweeps. The hands have no corrollary to this, so perhaps this accounts for the difference.

Thanks again and take care,
Audi
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Postby Bob3 » Tue Oct 23, 2001 12:38 am

Dear Steve, Audi,

Some clarifications are in order. The sword form is an extension of the Tai Chi forms, but has it's own techniques. The jian is designed to be thicker and blunter near the hilt and tapers to a thin tip that is to be considered very sharp (not in practice swords!). Thus, many moves in the sword form utilize blocks that involve the blade near the hilt, but continue the sword movement so that the tip of the sword can cut at an opponent's vulnerable areas while his sword is blocked. The effectiveness of such techniques also depends on the ability of the wielder of the sword and the energy that can be put into the blade. Remember, that master swordsmen can win duels without getting their blades bloody, or so I've been told. The extension of chi is sufficient to cause cuts indicated by the edge of the blade. My former teacher could have the path of his sword tip felt by those observing his form when they were several feet away. Anyway, the abilities of the sword itself should be kept in mind when practicing the form, so that the appropriate intent can be placed on each move.

BTW Steve, I and my associates learned a Wudan sword form from Bao Ren Wang, a Wudan grandmaster who was in the Seattle area for a couple of months. His form is traceable to Zhang San-Feng, one of the legendary founders of Tai Chi, pre-dating even the Chen family. The sword form involves many low movements, thrusts upward, some jumps, etc. A significant number of the moves involve moving the body and the sword as an extension of the body, but imparting a great amount of energy into the sword. This enables the sword to be very difficult to block, or opponents have to back away to avoid injury. Master Wang also told us that he has a sword collection at home and he practices with a sword that weighs 4 - 6 times as much. This gives him more deliberate practice, and then when using the standard practice sword, it is so light that it is very easy to use. With a heavy sword also, it is easier to detect any flaws in technique so that they are not obscured with the movements.
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