Since these form names came up, I thought I might post some informational trivia on the names, although I can’t say that I know with any certitude why these particular names were chosen to designate taiji forms.
Both of the phrases, “hai di lao yue,” (pull up the moon from the sea bottom) and “hai di lao zhen” (pull up a needle from the sea bottom) are specimens of what are called “chengyu” in Chinese. These are set phrases, almost always consisting of four characters, or pairs of four, and often encapsulating a story with some sort of lesson or bit of wisdom, much like a proverb. These two stand among a handful of apparently related phrases, including: “hai zhong lao yue,” and “shui zhong lao yue,” meaning respectively to pull up the moon from within the sea, or from the water. All of these share the meaning of a task that is difficult, nearly impossible, or utterly impossible. The refererences to the moon is of course to the reflection of the moon in a body of water, so it is obviously impossible to grasp the moon or its reflection from the water. The “hai di lao zhen” proverb is much like the English expression, “like finding a needle in a haystack.” However, chengyu that refer to matters of difficulty often carry an ironic twist—the endeavor that is presented as a fruitless waste of effort is actually something very worthwhile doing, at least for the rare person who makes the sincere effort to accomplish this “impossible task.” I also found one entry for “hai di lao yue” in a chengyu dictionary that actually makes reference to something resembling the taiji form: “It also describes a posture in which one stretches out with the arm and bends at the waist to seize and pull something.”
As I mentioned in the post above, the “hai di lao yue” does not survive in the received taijiquan form, but as Jerry points out, it is used for one of the taiji sword form names. The taijiquan posture, Needle at Sea Bottom (hai di zhen), while it may be in some way inspired by or named for the chengyu, “hai di lao zhen,” does not in fact contain the verb “lao” (to pull, to fish). Xu Yusheng, who was a student of Yang Jianhou, offers quite a bit of information on many of the taijiquan form names in his 1921 book, _Taijiquan Shi Tujie_ (Illustrated Explanations of Taijiquan Forms). For Needle at Sea Bottom, he writes, “Sea Bottom is the name of a cavity (xue) on the body, hence Needle at Sea Bottom means that the hand pierces (or stabs) at the Sea Bottom point [of the opponent’s body].”(p. 22) Huang Wenshan’s English book, _Fundamentals of Tai Chi Ch’uan_, which cribs heavily from Xu Yusheng’s book, has: “It means that the hand (needle) is used to pressure the vital point, which is known as ‘Sea Bottom’ (Hai Ti) in acupuncture, at the foot of the opponent.” (p. 240). Neither Xu nor Huang bother to point out where the haidi point is. The term “xue” can mean either an accupuncture point or a “strike point” in boxing. I’m not at all well-versed in Chinese medicine, but I’m not aware of an acupuncture point with this name, so “haidi” is more likely a colloquial term or a specialized boxing term. If there is an application of this movement involving a strike point, it would only be one of several possible applications. Yang Chengfu, in _Taijiquan tiyong quanshu_, says, “The movement’s intent is like that of a needle probing the sea bottom.” His application scenario does not mention the use of the hand in a strike, however.
[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 01-21-2003).]