Saber Posture Names

sabre, sword, spear, etc

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Oct 16, 2001 5:59 am

Hi Jerry,

I have another source that says that "Mr. He" (He Shi) became an expression for referring to "a knowledgeable and able scholar" (shicai zhi shi), or "a person who has talent, but no opportunity to use it" (huaicai bu yu).

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Audi » Sat Oct 20, 2001 9:56 pm

Hi Louis, Charla, Jerry, and all,

Louis, thank you so much for the story. I had feared that the reference of the last line would remain obscure. But gosh, the Spring and Autumn period sounds like a rough time with some rough characters. Ideas of morality across the interviewing millenia seem to have morphed somewhat.

As for the interpretation of this line, I think I favor a combination of what Louis and Jerry have put forward. Perhaps as one replaces the saber in the crook of the left arm, one is carry away/retrieving Mr. He's stone and showing that true beauty and power come from integrity and diligent internal refinement according to T'ai Chi principles rather than from flashy movements intended to draw applause. After that, the phoenix returning to the nest would mean bringing one cycle of practice to a close as one achieves internal renewal and approaches perfection.

Being an "able and knowledgeable scholar" also sound like a nice sentiment that might again point to a goal of "T'ai Chi practice." Being someone with great saber ability with little opportunity to use it could also be understood as emphasizing the moral qualities of saber practice over utilitarian ones. In plainer language, use the saber for self cultivation, and don't seek opportunities to chop people up.

Louis and Jerry, I see that neither of you uses "bian" as part of Mr. He's name. Do you think I was incorrect in assuming that "bian" was part of his surname? Some dictionaries I have list meanings like "impetuous" for "bian." Perhaps, "Bian He" means "Impetuous [Mr.] He," with the implication that he was too brash or forward in presenting his treasure to the emperors. If this is correct, perhaps I should amend the translation to something like "Brashy He retrieves his stone...." What do you think?

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Oct 22, 2001 6:03 am

Hi Audi,

Regarding the name of Bian He, in some texts he is referred to as Mr. He (He Shi), and others as Bian He. References to his story appear in several spots in the Huainanzi (where he is also called Mr. Bian (Bian Shi); in the Mozi; and the Han Feizi version I quoted. He also appears as Bian He in the second century A.D. anthology Chu Ci (Translated as Songs of the South by David Hawkes). Bian He, recall, was a “man of Chu.” I think there’s even a popular Beijing opera based on his story. I like your reflections on the message of the allusion, and I think “Old Bian He" is an effective rendering.

I remain intrigued by the “tengnuo shanzhan” phrases in the second line. The “tengnuo” in particular is evocative. I found yet another definition in the Ci Hai dictionary (“Sea of Phrases”—a very useful dictionary for Classical usages). Here’s my inelegant rendering of the entry: “In all cases where there are degrees of urgency in according with the contingencies of a situation, to change previously fixed plans by means of accomodating is called tengnuo.” What strikes me about this definition is something I’ve learned from long exposure to various kinds of Chinese texts: in Chinese there are seemingly hundreds of ways of expressing the notion of “adapting to circumstances.” This should give some indication as to how highly the ability to “adapt to circumstances” is valued in traditional Chinese culture. My sources don’t give very good leads about the context in which the term tengnuo may have established itself. It seems very likely to me it was a term of military theory and strategy, but I can’t seem to find it in either the Sunzi or Sun Bin. The Hanyu Da Cidian entry I cited above links it specifically to martial arts. I also happened upon a website on Chinese chess (Xiang Qi) that specified a game stratagem named tengnuo. If we take into consideration the idiomatic taiji definition I cited above from Hao Yueru, tengnuo would appear to refer to the neuro-psychological aspect—a split-second, nearly spontaneous adaptive response to a rapidly changing situation. Shanzhan would refer to the resulting muscular-skeletal action, swift and coherent.

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 10-22-2001).]
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Postby DavidJ » Wed Oct 24, 2001 9:59 pm

Hi Louis,

You wrote, > I remain intrigued by the “tengnuo shanzhan” phrases in the second line. The “tengnuo” in particular is evocative. [snip] Here’s my inelegant rendering of the entry: “In all cases where there are degrees of urgency in according with the contingencies of a situation, to change previously fixed plans by means of accomodating is called tengnuo.” What strikes me about this definition is something I’ve learned from long exposure to various kinds of Chinese texts: in Chinese there are seemingly hundreds of ways of expressing the notion of “adapting to circumstances.” This should give some indication as to how highly the ability to “adapt to circumstances” is valued in traditional Chinese culture.

[snip] If we take into consideration the idiomatic taiji definition I cited above from Hao Yueru, tengnuo would appear to refer to the neuro-psychological aspect—a split-second, nearly spontaneous adaptive response to a rapidly changing situation. Shanzhan would refer to the resulting muscular-skeletal action, swift and coherent. <

The last two sentences are, to me, a very good description.

Thanks,

David J
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Oct 25, 2001 1:48 am

Louis' analysis is interesting and well thought out. However, the Yangs teach teng, nuo, shan and zhan as separate, distinct moves. I don't see how the analysis fits in with that.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Oct 25, 2001 9:25 pm

Greetings Jerry,

Not having yet studied the saber form, I don’t consider myself qualified to translate the saber formula, or to understand how it works in conjunction with the form. My analysis is more in the way of thinking out loud about the unusual terms and allusions that appear in this text—about their provenance, and the possible rationale for their presence.

Are you suggesting that the terms teng, nuo, shan, and zhan operate as functional vocabulary? From what I can gather in Audi’s presentation of the way the formula is taught in conjunction with the form, and from reading the form instructions in Yang Zhenduo’s book, there doesn’t seem to be a fixed correspondence between the specific words in the poem and the specific postural sequences. In fact, the majority of lines in the formula do not advertise themselves as being descriptive terms of body mechanics or as names of particular movements.

Is it possible that—although the spoken formulae correspond to separate, distinct moves—the correspondence is one of rhythm and movement, rather than a denotative correlation of meaning? In other words, do the spoken words teng, nuo, shan, zhan correspond to movements in the saber form identifiable as something like “leaping/soaring”; “shifting”; “dodging/flashing”; and “unfolding/spreading”? Again, I don’t know enough about the way the formula is used in the teaching of the form to know, so I would be interested in your thoughts.

What I’m thinking is that these formulae (which do appear in other taijiquan texts in different contexts) may be somewhat analogous to the recurrent formula “xu ling ding jin”—that is, xu ling ding jin does not denote an isolated postural configuration. Rather, one can (and must) apply the psycho-physiological requirements of xu ling ding jin in every postural configuration at all times.

Just thinking out loud. . . .

Let me know what you think.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Oct 25, 2001 10:41 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
<B>In other words, do the spoken words teng, nuo, shan, zhan correspond to movements in the saber form identifiable as something like “leaping/soaring”; “shifting”; “dodging/flashing”; and “unfolding/spreading?
...
</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Yes, this is certainly how they are teaching it. There is a movement associated with teng, another with nuo and so on. Obviously some of the sayings are figurative rather than descriptive...
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Oct 27, 2001 3:14 am

Greetings Jerry,

Thanks for clarifying this. You know me; I love words, and I love to make connections. Occasionally I may get carried away, but I usually enjoy the trip.

Another connection for the teng character is that it appears in the "Song of the Thirteen Postures" in the line, “With the lower abdomen completely loosened, the qi will ascend on its own.” (fu nei song jing qi teng ran). Then there’s that great line of Gu Liuxin’s about Yang Chengfu’s ability to “launch” opponents: “before you could even feel him move, you were sent soaring and tumbing into the air” (teng kong die chu).

There I go again.

By the way, here’s an interesting link to an essay by Zhang Yun, northern Wu stylist and author of _The Art of Chinese Swordsmanship_. He mentions the terms teng and tengnuo, as well as shanzhan. Interesting stuff.

http://www.geocities.com/ycgf/arti_TJ13.htm

Take care my friend,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Sat Oct 27, 2001 9:38 pm

I have a nice audio tape of Yang Zhenduo reading out the saber poem. I will see if I can put it into compressed MPEG format and post a link to it here.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Oct 29, 2001 12:58 am

Greetings All,

Above, I quoted the “Song of the Thirteen Postures” line, “With the lower abdomen completely loosened, the qi will ascend on its own.” (fu nei song jing qi teng ran). I’ve found some interesting commentary on the “Song of the Thirteen Postures” appearance of the term “teng” in Meng Naichang’s Taijiquan pu yu mipu jiaozhu (Taijiquan manuals and secret manuals, annotated). Hong Kong: Hai Feng Chubanshe, 1993. Meng associates this instance of teng with the term “gudang.” Gudang is found in the “The Taijiquan Classic” in the line, “The qi should be roused and made vibrant” (qi yi gudang). Meng’s commentary on teng is, in part:

“Teng carries the meaning of ‘lively transformation’ (huopo bianhua). When the lower abdomen and heart/mind* are loosened compeletely, then one’s qi disposition will spring into momentum (qishi tengran). ‘Tengran’ means ‘gudang’—when you are able to ‘tengran gudang,’ the qi will be able to move throughout the entire body.”
—Meng Naichang, p. 33

So, while I had originally settled upon “ascend on its own” to render “tengran,” Meng’s commentary suggests that “ascend” may be too limiting—too ‘unidirectional’ if you will. Perhaps it’s more like “set aloft.” Zee Wen’s rendering of this line in Ma Yueliang’s Push Hands book (English version) is: “Relax the abdomen, but put the chi [qi] in full swing.” (Wu Style Taichichuan Push-Hands, Shanghai/Hong Kong, 1990, p. 86. This in itself is interesting, since “gudang” also carries entailments of “swing” and “momentum.” The rendering in T.T. Liang’s _T’ai Chi Ch’uan For Health and Self-Defense: Philosophy and Practice_ is: “When the abdomen is completely relaxed, the ch’i will soar up (and circulate through the entire body).” (p. 48) Liang’s added parenthetical wording gets clarification in his own commentary: “When the abdomen is relaxed, the mind will be at ease and the ch’i will sink to the tan t’ien [dantian] and circulate throughout the entire body without impediment. The body will feel light and nimble. In times of practical application, you will act as effectively as you desire.” (ibid.)

I think it’s important to note that this notion does not imply some sort of direct “qi manipulation,” but rather a setting up of conditions that allow the qi to “ascend on its own” (tengran), i.e., spontaneously. It would seem, then, that at least in some contexts of taiji theory, teng (like “gudang”) is a special term used to describe very subtle qi concepts. From what I’ve been able to gather, some of the earliest occurances of the character teng in texts such as the Huainanzi are metaphorical usages depicting the movements of fantastic entities, such as in the phrase “fengfei longteng”—flying phoenix, ascending dragon—reminiscent of a recent movie title, which itself is but one of many such formulations.

*Note: The version of the “Song of the Thirteen Postures” line quoted in Meng Naichang’s commentary has a variant character, “xin” where other versions have “nei,” yielding “lower abdomen and heart/mind (fu xin), rather than “within the lower abdomen” (fu nei). He notes that the “fu nei” version is found in recensions of Li Yiyu, Wu Tunan, and Hao Shaoru.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Audi » Thu Nov 01, 2001 4:09 am

Hi all,

Louis, thanks for the very interesting link. It seems that Zhang Yun always has a way of clearly and comprehensively describing some difficult material.

Jerry, I look forward to hearing the MPEG file, if you can set up the link.

From my one seminar experience, I agree fully with Jerry that “teng,” “nuo,” “shan,” and “zhan” are declaimed or orated as separate words and that they correspond to separate movements. However, I also got the impression that this might be more a performance consideration rather than an attempt to separately “name” the postures.

Although some meaning must be attributed to the separate articulation of these words/characters, it might not necessarily prevent one from simultaneously considering them to be elements of compounds. In fact, I think it would be unlikely that their meaning in combination could be completely suppressed as long as these words remained sequential, even if separated by pauses.

As a somewhat strained analogy, if one considers the English word “bound,” one finds a word that is quite vague. If interpreted as an isolated command (i.e., “bound!”), I think the most natural interpretation in the context of a weight shift is to understand it as meaning to “leap/surge forward.” Followed by the word “up,” “bound” would lose the “forward” element and mean simply “jump.” Followed by the word “around,” it would morph into something closer to “bounce” or “ricochet.” Followed by “forth,” it might approach “spring forward repeatedly” in meaning.

I think it would be reasonable to interpret “teng” and “nuo” in this way. As one hears “teng” intoned and shifts forward from an empty stance into a bow stance, I think one understands a meaning like “soar” or “spring.” When one then hears “nuo,” I think one then amends the meaning of “teng” to something like “spring or pop clear” and interprets the two words together as a compound meaning something like “clear out or shift around in order to move from one sphere to another," with the implication that one is making room for something or applying something to another use. Simultaneously, I think one would retain a separate mental emphasis on each element of the compound, so that “nuo” could also be interpreted as meaning only to “shift,” referring to one’s own body or saber or the opponent’s body or weapon.

The evolved meanings Louis has unearthed seem only a small stretch from these physical meanings, since “bounding around or shifting around something from one sphere to another” easily extends to “shifting to accommodate a new situation.” Zhang Yun’s view that “tengnuo” means something like “shift up and down” also seems interesting, given that “nuo” is articulated as one stands up on one leg. It also makes some sense of why Jou Tsung Hua translated “tengnuo” as “skipping.” Again, “teng” seems to have some of these meanings by itself, but “nuo” seems to clarify that “shifting or being ‘shifty’” is the important connotation to perceive.


"Shan" seems to mean "to flash like lightning for offensive or defensive purposes." By itself, one probably interprets it to mean either "dodge" or something like "jab."

In the form, "shan" corresponds to a posture where there is no movement or displacement of the torso and where one simply brings the arms together in front of the torso, joining the left palm to the right wrist and leaving the saber blade horizontal on the left side of the body pointing to the left rear. Given this movement, the interpretation of "zhan" as "flash [the blade]" comes to mind.

After this movement, one takes a step forward with the right leg, sweeps the saber to the right side in a horizontal clockwise circle in order to take another step with the left leg and stab forward with the saber tip, while pushing the left palm straight out to the left side. These two movements correspond to "zhan" ("unfold"), if I recall correctly.

Given the movement, "unfold" seems a reasonable interpretation of "zhan." Taken together with "shan," I think the meaning of the two could be thought to be modified into something like "[razzle] dazzle and uncork" at the opponent. Moreover, the sideward component of the "zhan" movement does not seem inconsistent with Zhang Yun's view of "shanzhan" as referring to side-to-side evasive movements.

Taken together, it would not seem unreasonable to think of the four characters together as referring to "bobbing and weaving." Again, these terms are meaningful in isolation, but together their meaning is even richer. In sum, I think one might be meant to examine each of the four words/characters in isolation (e.g., bound, shift, flash, and uncork), then as two compounds (e.g., bound-about and razzle-dazzle), and then as a single compound (e.g., bob-and-weave).

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Nov 01, 2001 6:44 am

I like your thinking on this, Audi. You wrote:

“Although some meaning must be attributed to the separate articulation of these words/characters, it might not necessarily prevent one from simultaneously considering them to be elements of compounds. In fact, I think it would be unlikely that their meaning in combination could be completely suppressed as long as these words remained sequential, even if separated by pauses.”

I think there’s good reason to think you’re right. For example, in some style of Chinese oratory, compounds are not spoken the same as in ordinary speech—one does not “fait liaison”—but the individual syllables receive fairly equal emphasis. A politician referring to Sun Yatsen’s Three Principles of the People will say “San—Min—Zhu—Yi” —the “zhuyi” is not pronounced together. If you’ve attended Chinese opera, you’ll find that compounds are often treated similarly. I think that there are forms of formal oral presentation that much more closely resemble “text” than “speech,” and koujue formula may fit into that category.

The more I read the koujue, and your translation of it, the more it strikes me as a sort of meditation for training the mind/intent in accompaniment with the form movements. Didn’t Yang Chengfu say, “What one trains in Taijiquan is the spirit.”?

Thank you again,
Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Jan 14, 2002 12:04 am

Greetings,

I recently came upon what I think may be the root metaphor for one of the lines in the Taiji Saber Formula translated above in this thread by Audi Peal. This is the line that Audi translates:

“Leftward, rightward cleaving streams, the Dragon gate to crest.”

It was something Barbara Davis brought to my attention in an email that rekindled my interest in this line. She pointed out the name of a sequence in the sword form with very similar wording—“Carp Jumps the Dragon Gate” (liyu tiao longmen)—and notes that the phrase was traditionally used to refer to successfully passing civil service examinations in Imperial China. See her translation (North Atlantic Books: _Chen Weiming: Taiji Sword and Other Writings_, p. 65). I think the “passing exams” is an entailment of a more general metaphor that originated in observance of natural phenomena. Dragon Gate (Longmen) is a famous site of giant fifth century Buddhist cave carvings in Loyang, Henan, along a tributary of the Huang He (Yellow River). There, evidently, the carp swim upstream over a natural dam.

The CD-ROM Chinese dictionary, Hanyu Da Cidian, cites an ancient tradition that if a carp is able to jump over the Dragon Gate, it will transform into a dragon. Later, the phrase “liyu tiao longmen” became a metaphor for zhongju (hitting the mark in civil service exams), or advancing rapidly in office. But the core metaphor is one of advancing against the current, only then to make a rapid ascent.

I think, though, that the Saber Formula line refers to some related mythological imagery. Anne Birrell's _Chinese Mythology_ (1993, John Hopkins Univ. Press, p. 242) has the following, under the heading, “Carp Leap Over the Dragon Gate”:

“The myth of carp turning into dragons at Dragon Gate Mountain, which another narrative relates had been forged open by Yu, has enduring appeal because it illustrates the concepts of equal opportunity for all and success through individual effort. The myth acquired the cachet of social acceptance in the elite establishment of traditional society when the success of candidates in the awesomely difficult civil service examinations became known as the divine feat of carp that had lept the river heights and turned into dragons.”

Birrell then translates the following passage from a Song Dynasty encyclopedia, the Taiping guang ji:

“Dragon Gate Mountain is in the east region of the river. When Yu melted the mountain and hewed a gateway a league or more wide, the Yellow River flowed down the middle and a horse and carriage could not pass between the two sides of the river. Every year at the end of spring, yellow carp fight their way upstream. Those which reach it [Dragon Gate] turn into dragons. Also, Lin Teng says, 'Every year below Dragon Gate in late spring, yellow carp fishes leave the sea and come to the rivers and fight to leap over Dragon Gate. In one year the carp that scale Dragon Gate number no more than seventy-two. As soon as they scale Dragon Gate, cloudy rain follows in their wake and heavenly fire ignites their tails and they turn into dragons.”

Here’s a link to a Chinese travel website about Longmen, which begins with some interesting narrative on some of the attendant legends:
http://china.9c9c.com/Geography/travel_china/topic_1177.html

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Audi » Fri Jan 18, 2002 1:50 am

Hi Louis (and everyone else),

Thanks for you lates contribution. It would seem then that the last two lines of the formula could be interpreted as: “Persevere against the contrary streams of adversity to leap over all obstacles and obtain the glory of a dragon that is possible for all, despite one’s station in life. Then recognize the worth of your attainment as you ‘sheath’ your saber, despite the fact others may not adequately value your practice, and close the cycle of performance that leads to perfection.” By the way, the ideas of “cleaving the waters as one goes upstream,” “leaping the dragons gate,” “Bian He retrieving his jade stone,” and the “Phoenix of perfection returning to its nest” are captured fairly well in the actual saber movements, in my opinion.

On a different note, I wanted to relate something from Zhang Yun’s book the Art of Chinese Swordsmanship that may have a bearing on some of the saber formula (pp. 17 and 266). He relates the legend of Yue Nu:, a female sword (“jian”/”gim”) master invited by King Yue to train his army during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-475 B.C.). (Should Disney prepare a sequel to Mulan, who is seeming less and less unusual as a female martial hero?). King Yue then went on to win a war against the Kingdom of Wu.

When asked about the central principle of using the sword, Yue Nu: replied with words that included the following: “When fighting, you must concentrate the combined mind and spirit (‘jingshen’) inside and make qi ready (Echoed by ‘raising will and spirit’ in the saber formula?)…. You must behave outwardly like a fair lady (‘Fair lady/treasured maidens work the shuttles’?), but be ferocious as a tiger inside (‘Ride the tiger’?)…. Let the body and the shadow chase each other and let your sword by bright and dazzling like lightning (‘daze and strike’/’blitzkrieg’?). Adjust your breath and set aside the rules so that you can move about freely and quickly in all directions (‘in eightfold ways’/’to the eight directions’?) and so that nothing can interfere with you.”

I am sure that these general ideas are common in Chinese martial literature, but I nonetheless find it interesting to contemplate the possibility that some of the specific images in the saber formula could be over 2500 years old and may first have been enunciated by a woman.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby JerryKarin » Fri Jan 18, 2002 3:15 am

Actually the Yue Nu story is from Wu Yue Chun Qiu, which is probably a relatively late compilation posing as an early work (it's still interesting, of course, and most of these compilations include heavy doses of plagiarism from earlier works). This is probably a rather late legend, by no means 2500 years old. I'd be surprised if it dates back more than a few hundred years.

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 01-17-2002).]
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