Hi Michael and Peter:
Michael, thanks for the additional information on grips. Do you view the Taiji swords as heavy or light, short or long in light of your descriptions?
Peter, you said:
<< In a fight you'll have to apply a certain power to your opponent to end the violation. The laws of physic says:
Power = mass x acceleration
(accelaration = way : time)
So if you are a leightweighted fighter and the mass of your armmuscles is low, but you need a given power to break the opponents bone, you can only do this by increasing the accelaration, i.e. speed up your punch. This is necessary, although you've neutralized the opponent's energy with lu prior to the punch. Just from this small example I would say, that speed is an important factor of Taijiquan when viewed from the fighting point.>>
Peter, I agree with the idea behind your formula, but have a different view in several respects of how it applies to Taijiquan. First, as I have posted before, I think Taijiquan is primarily concerned with relationships, rather than absolutes. Accordingly, I would say that one should not examine the power a practitioner of Taijiquan can generate by him or herself, but rather the relationship between the power the practitioner generates and the power generated by the opponent.
My opponent and I have a combined mass that is not the same as our individual mass. We also combine to produce a velocity that is different from our individual velocities. These combined variables are what really should be used in your formula. While I think the approach of most so-called external arts tends to treat the opponent more or less as an inanimate target and therefore irrelevant to the formula, I think Taijiquan routinely incorporates the energy of the opponent into its methods and ways of thinking.
Another difference I have with your statement is that you seem to see Lü as the equivalent of a block or a deflection that is then followed up by another technique. For me, Lü is a particular method of altering the energy manifested by the opponent, basically converting the opponent’s forward energy into rotational energy with the practitioner as its center. This alteration can be defensive, offensive, or a little bit of both, depending on what the opponent does. As a result, I do not attempt to break my opponent’s arm by applying Lü followed by another technique. I try to break his or her arm by making his or her energy go in such a way that it will be trapped in a position where it will almost break itself.
Normally, one can add a little Lie (“split”) energy to the Lü energy in order to break the arm. The time and motion needed, however, are very small. I do not have good words to describe it, but it’s almost like a whole-body cough. Time is not much of a factor because one begins the “finishing” technique only after a connection has already been made and the opponent’s energy is trapped (“na jin”). The shift from “transforming/dissolving/neutralizing energy” (“hua jin”) to “issuing energy” (“fa jin”) takes no more time than it takes to cough. One need not be so much concerned with putting one’s limbs in any particular position relative to one’s surroundings or relative to the floor as with getting them into a particular position dictated by the opponent’s movements. Again, it is the combined or relative speed that is of concern, not how fast you can cover distance.
Lift Hands and Step Up is another illustration of this principle, as least as performed by the Yangs. As I understand the posture, one does not so much try to catch the opponent’s arm in mid-punch, but rather to guide the punch in and than use sudden rotational energy in the waist (“Lie Jin”) to break the opponent’s elbow. This posture also illustrates quite clearly that the power comes from the legs rather than the arms. The arms are not slack, but transmit the force provided by the legs.
If the external arts you studied for so long were like the basic Karate I studied, you spent hours throwing punches to build up muscle and to lock particular movements into your muscle memory. In doing this, the scope of movement and use of your arm muscles probably dwarfed the scope of movement and use of the muscles in other parts of your body. The whole “disposition” of the body was probably arranged to maximize this particular movement of the arms. For instance, you chambered the opposite arm in the same way every single time, hundreds and thousands of times. At best, you were allowed to vary the motion of only one or two joints in only one arm to change the height and/or direction of the punch.
I am unwilling to say that Taijiquan is superior to Tae Kwon Do or Karate; however, my understanding of Taijiquan is entirely different from my understanding of these other arts. The “disposition” of the body in Taijiquan is arranged to optimize power in the legs, waist, and back. The position of the arms is almost an afterthought, in terms of power generation.
I can think of at least eight different ways (and counting) in which the opposite arm is “chambered” in the Taiji form to support a strike. With so much variation, none of them can be required by any of the shapes assumed by the striking arm. Instead, they appear to be required by the overall flow of the postures. No joint has a fixed trajectory associated with a technique. For instance, after many years of study, I am unaware of any particular fixed way of preparing to execute a “Taiji” punch. I am also unaware of any final position my opposite arm should assume. After my first hour of studying Karate, I knew the basics of how a punch was to be thrown and could answer both these questions.
Although many would disagree with me, I find that the raw mechanics of the Karate punch I learned and the Taiji punch I play around with are different. I use my muscles differently, and it is more than just a matter of being more “relaxed” or not “tensing” my muscles. I am not claiming any great ability in this, only a difference in technique. I find that my Taiji punch needs no momentum and no distance to generate satisfactory power. My legs need to extend slightly, but not my arms. Again, this is not “better” than my Karate punch, only different. With no need to generate momentum, I cannot view speed as central to the Taiji technique.
This is why I view talk of “releasing power like an arrow from a bow” or using “explosive energy” not as statements of ability applicable to all martial arts, but as particular descriptions of the quality of energy desired in Taijiquan, even from beginners.
Practitioners of the Taijiquan I am trying to describe are not overly concerned about generating local power in their arms, because power is derived from the legs and body mass. The average 75-year-old has sufficient “stomping” strength and body mass to break an opponent’s nose, break an elbow, etc. The trick is to bring this power up from the legs into the arms and hands. Doing form develops significant leg strength over time to support the techniques.
I have been taught that, although Taijiquan has eight basic hand and arm techniques, only the four primary ones are theoretically necessary. Since almost no one can consistently live up to theory, the other four techniques or “energies” are practiced to supplement the four primary ones.
As I understand it, techniques like punches, kicks, etc. are not even among these eight basic techniques and are never the core of Taiji techniques. They are ancillary movements that optionally combine with the eight basic techniques.
My understanding is that one never launches a punch or kick to try to slip through the opponent’s defenses. To do so would leave one vulnerable to any opponent who may have faster technique. One launches such techniques only after achieving some partial control over the opponent’s movement energy by using one of the eight basic techniques. One is therefore more concerned with the perception and control of energy then with speed.
As I understand yin-yang theory, the more my opponent manifests a particular strength, the more he or she will manifest a particular weakness. Our job is to focus our intention, our “yi,” on this. We do not focus on the speed of the punch coming at us, but on the disposition of the opponent’s body that makes such a punch possible and the weakness this will reveal. These aspects of the opponent change relatively slowly and certainly more slowly then the speed of the punching fist or the kicking leg.
We try to defend and attack against the root of the punch, not the punch itself. We can defend against a kick by applying Cai to our opponent’s arm and upsetting his or her balance and destroying his or her root. I have read once or twice that Wu Style is fairly explicit about this type of mental focus.
External arts do use leg power, but in my opinion they seem to use the legs and body mass only as an add-on to the power in the arms, not as the foundation of the power itself. A Karateka thinks nothing of standing in a bow stance and throwing a punch with one hand and then immediately following it with a punch with the opposite arm. He or she can do this indefinitely without making any change in the legs and without shifting weight. Only the hips provide some counter-rotation. Such motions are extremely rare in the Taiji forms I am familiar with and never involve the transmission of significant power.
Since Taijiquan does not look to the arm muscles for power, arm speed also takes on less importance. We do not need to generate arm speed, because we use “leg speed” (which includes waist speed). On a related note, this use of leg power is yet another reason I see for Taijiquan’s virtual neglect of the horse stance. This is the one stance in which it is hard to have power flow between the legs and thus hard to transmit power to the arms. In all the other stances, we always have a leg bent and capable of instantly transmitting power to the arms. How else can one generate power in such an unlikely stance as the one that occurs at the end of Step to Seven Stars?
This different approach to speed also has implications for fighting distances. For Taijiquan, we do not need to chamber or wind up our arms to generate “jin” or power in our arms, because one of our legs is always “wound up” or “winding up” as it stores power from the opponent and from our own movement. As long as some part of our upper body is in contact with the opponent, we can use our legs to issue power through that point without further gross movement of the upper body.
(“Xiang lian bu duan” or “Link everything up and do not be choppy” or “Be continuous and do not break.” If you have not done so recently, read Yang Chengfu’s explanation of this principle elsewhere on this site. He explicitly contrasts this method with what so-called external styles use.)
When we spar using Karate or similar techniques, we must put a premium on the speed with which we can move our limbs from a point close to or next to our bodies to a point where we can reach the opponent. How fast we can close distances is vital. When we use Taijiquan, we must put a premium on where we contact the opponent, how we join with his or her center of movement energy, and how we follow his or her energy. How long we can maintain the contact and how correctly we can do so is the issue. Once the initial connection is made, this is not so much a matter of raw speed, but of judgment and experience.
Peter, you also said:
<<My idea of Taiji fighting is, only to use just this amount of force, that is needed in the given situation. A Taiji master would be able to decide even in the hottest fight, if it's necessary to kill the opponent, or only to break his arm or to throw him to the ground - and he would be able to apply just this amount of power that fits his decision, while an external fighter would blow his punch in it's maximum version>>
This seems to be a common view of Taijiquan, and I cannot say it is wrong. Implicit in this view is the idea that masters of Taijiquan somehow know just the amount of force to use in a given situation and are supremely efficient in their use of energy. My view is different, even though it sounds similar.
I see the Taiji approach as being similar to learning to balance on a tightrope. The better one becomes, the less gross movement is necessary, but focusing on minimizing movement is in itself not a good focal point for the mind. Making small movements does not guarantee good balance. One simply attempts to balance and uses whatever level of movement is necessary. There is no shortcut or trick, only a method.
Whether your movements are large or small, quick or slow, is ultimately irrelevant to the task at hand. The process of balancing is essentially the same whether one is waving his or her arms, trying to stand still, or even running.
If one is good enough, how much one moves around while balancing is determined by other things than one’s need to balance. Perhaps you want to juggle or wave to the circus crowd. You incorporate these moves into your balancing, but they are not necessary components of it. In fact, the small body adjustments you use to balance are spread throughout your body and are not really localized in any one place.
I was more familiar with the type of body control you speak of in my study of Karate than in my study of Taijiquan. Explicit control over the speed and power of my punch was absolutely central to my Karate training, but I can hardly recall this being discussed in a Taiji context. I have never seen someone show Taiji “control” by launching a full-speed punch that stops within an inch of a wall or an opponent’s body. I find this approach to be alien to my view of Taiji. An expert kayaker has exquisite control over his or her strokes, but would never think of such control independently of the water.
You also said:
<<What would a highly skilled swordfighter do? He would remember, that lu is to let the opponent loose his root and to open him up.>>
Your ideas here seem almost identical to what I expressed for the empty hand. The only thing that I would add is that I believe it is difficult and sometimes misleading to speak of Taijiquan in mechanical terms rather than in terms of movement energy. This is not because Taijiquan does not obey physical laws, but because the training method of Taijiquan does not address body mechanics directly, but through the prism of “internal” principles such as the Ten Essentials. Such principles are not aspirational, in my opinion, but rather are at the heart of the basic method.
I realize that talk of “energy” makes many “practically minded” people uncomfortable. One reason is because some practitioners of Taijiquan talk of “energy” in ways that violate laws of physics. Another reason is that many people have trained in more “straightforward” martial arts that manage very well without vague talk of “energy.” I think chess can helpful as an analogy.
Calculation is certainly an important aspect of chess play; however, this is only a minor part of the chess method. Good chess players use words and phrases like “zones of control,” “pressure,” “cramping,” and “freeing up play.”
Pure calculation is an insufficient basis for good chess play, as has been shown by the difficulty even supercomputers have had in beating human opponents. The board game called go is even more extreme in this respect. Computers have barely begin to touch it. Talking about Taijiquan without talking about energy is like talking about chess or go as if these are games of simple logic rather than of developed intuition and conceptual frameworks.
Peter, you also said:
<<Yes I've described a duel. I'm afraid I must destroy your thoughts about the jian as a military battlefield weapon. To my knowledge, since Ming dynasty even generals haven't been armed with swords (normal troops have probably never been).>>
I did not mean to suggest that Taijiquan was developed for military use or in a military environment. My understanding is that it developed in a region and at a time characterized by higher levels of lawlessness than most of us now experience. Attacks on travelers were common. Periodically, masses of people would revolt and occasionally pillage the countryside. In such environments, when one cannot count on protection from police or other authorities, the ability to protect oneself becomes important in a way that is different from what most of us now experience. These same considerations were important in Europe in early modern times before police forces were created.
This type of background is one of the reasons why I believe Taijiquan neglects ground techniques. Wrestling on the ground with a single opponent is not really an option when you are under attack by multiple opponents willing to beat you to death or murder you with whatever weapons come to hand. On the other hand, the ability to throw an opponent to the ground or even push him or her temporarily clear of the action can allow help to reach your side and cover your back during a riot.
The logic of the sword form that I have assumed is that it had this sort of environment in mind. Imagine that you are traveling with twenty companions in 17th Century China and are attacked by twenty-five bandits. The outcome will be in doubt. Perhaps, you surrender and hope for the best, or perhaps you resist. If you resist, you cannot count on the possibility of facing only one opponent at a time and need to be prepared to face an assortment of weapons wielded by a number of opponents using different methods and skills.
What I have read about the saber versus the straight sword is that the former was easier to learn and therefore more suitable for ordinary soldiers. They could more easily bring their raw strength to bear and did not have time to train difficult weapons. Also, a soldier has little use for finesse, whereas a civilian might want more flexibility to discourage, disarm, injure, maim, or kill an opponent, depending on circumstance.
You also said:
<<In swordplay beginners cross the blades. But masters don't cross blades. The stand apart and listen to the opponent without touching. They will listen to the air between them.>>
I find this quite interesting, since I had understood the opposite. I have only a little experience in barehanded Taiji sparring, and almost none with the sword. In barehanded sparring, I have found it essential to maintain a much higher degree of contact with my opponent than I would have imagined advisable or possible when I studied Karate. My use of space feels completely different. I had assumed the same would be true of swordplay.