Greetings, Jerry, Michael, Bob, David, and everyone else,
Jerry, is the “shou” of “shou1 jiao3” the same character as what appears in the word for “income” (shouru)?
I play around with a “Yang” Style fan form created by Doc Fai Wong that I know only from a video. As I understand it, his standard forms derive form Yang Chengfu. However, in his fan form, he has multiple occurrences of a stepping method that I have only seen in videos of Wu/Hao form. In this method, after a foot has stepped out forward in the “opening” phase of a movement, one shifts 100 percent of the weight onto it, while bringing up the ball of the rear foot beside and slightly behind the forward foot. In Wu/Hao Style, the final posture is termed, as I understand it from Jou Tsung Hwa’s book, the “closing phase” of the posture, where the attack or defense is completed.
Bob, are you describing a kind of extended ”stutter step” movement? If so, Wong’s fan form has an occurrence of this during a variation of the standard sequence of Yang Chengfu’s Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. During this sequence, one steps into a standard Ward Off Right with the fan closed in the right hand. I believe Wong envisions this as a lifting “block” with the right arm under the opponent’s left punching arm. As one begins the rightward movement and arm rotations that begin Roll Back, one shifts 100 percent of the weight forward onto the right leg and brings up the toes of the left foot, placing them without weight at a 45 degree angle slightly to the left and slightly behind the right foot. I believe Wong envisions this as a clockwise snaking movement of one’s right arm around the opponent’s left arm and a grab by one’s left hand around the opponent’s left wrist. The leftward portion of Roll Back is performed by shifting 100 percent of the weight back onto the left leg, ending up in a standard Empty Stance, except with 100 percent of the weight in the rear foot. As the opponent disengages and attempts to retreat, one has now stored energy in the left leg that allows one to “chase” by stepping forward with the right leg into a standard Bow Stance to execute the standard Press/Squeeze posture (“ji”).
Bob, if you can follow my description and the principles correspond to what you describe, let me say that it does not solve my riddle, since it involves clear alternations of backward and forward movement of the energy. Although Wong’s sequence seems outside the “design logic” I perceive in Yang Zhenduo’s form, it does not violate any movement principles I am aware of. As Jerry points out, Yang Zhenduo’s form does have brief occurrences of these kinds of weight shifts and foot positions.
As far as my issue being a “weakness” in the form, let me say a few things. First, in my opinion, the “design logic” of Yang Zhenduo’s from seems to maximize ease and consistency in the context of slow movement. In my mind, this simply makes his form a “special case” of Taijiquan principles without omitting any of them. While some might cringe at any statement implying any limitations to the form, to me it seems clear that all long forms omit many techniques. For instance, there is a “lightning strike” (finger tips to the eyes) that is a basic movement of the Da Lü that seems to exist in none of the bare hand forms. This is one of the reasons I have difficulty with approaches to the design of the form that gloss over principles and focus exclusively on techniques and applications.
The same weight shifts and pivots I describe in the bare hand form are largely absent in the Sword and Saber Forms, where different design logic seems to apply. There, the increased speed seems to exclude them and replace them with different stepping methods. In the weapons forms, chasing movements are done either by forming non-standard bow steps that allow unlimited movement in one direction or by stepping with the feet at 45 degrees on opposite sides of a center line until a final standard Bow Stance is assumed for a coup de grace.
David, you said the following:
“In the transition between 'Brush Left Knee' and 'Brush Right Knee', when I pivot on the heel and leave the ball of the foot down there is no rearward weight shift. When I occasionally lift the ball of the foot, there can be a little weight shifted rearward because of the geometry of the situation, but I've never detected any strain on the ankle (this might be because I tend to not bend the ankle - that's what moves a little bit of the weight back geometrically). One of the benefits of weighted pivots with the ball of the foot left on the ground is that the knee remains over the toe.”
David, the fact that you describe the possibility of a rearward weight shift due to geometry makes me wonder if you are feeling the same thing I am. Even so, you may not be bothered by it for whatever reason. I fear we could only get at this by comparing movements in person, but let me describe my riddle in a different way.
To the extent that the pivot of the left leg makes “anything” go leftward and rearward, even more must go rightward and forward to chase the opponent, unless of course a transitory defensive technique is envisioned. If I execute the pivot in the way you describe, I am presented with one of three options as I thrust forward with the right leg. (1) I feel as if I am pushing into a hole, so that if I were subjected to a strong pull that sought to take advantage of my thrusting movement, I could not easily resist. The left heel feels an insufficient surface to push against. Perhaps, this is not a defect in this situation, because you have already committed to chasing the opponent. (2) I must slightly straighten and retreat my left knee (although keeping it aligned with my foot), which causes all sorts of sympathetic changes in my alignment that impede forward motion (e.g., my upper body wants to fold forward). (3) I abandon any idea of thrusting with the rear leg and use 100 percent waist power to give the forward moving energy to the right side of my body. For me, this feels somewhat weak and leaves my lower body feeling somewhat static.
David, I am also puzzled by how you can find optional lifting the ball of the left foot off the ground? As I try to copy what you describe on my carpet with sneakers on, I find the friction caused by this to be a tremendous strain on the knee and impossible to execute. My ankle is, however, fine. If you do the three-step moving push hands drill, is this the method you use to pivot the forward foot?
Thank you for your suggestion of focus on the upper body. I think I have indeed been neglecting my shoulder blades and focusing on the feelings in my upper body as an afterthought, if at all. However, when you mention “imbalance,” let me clarify for anyone who might be confused by my statements that my issue is not with “balance” per se. When it comes to Taijiquan, I understand balance to be an indicator of something else, rather than a proper focus of attention itself. Put another way, I can think of many ways to improve balance that I believe violate or ignore principles. My issue is what to do with the “mind intent” and how to lead or focus the energy (“jin”) during the 180 degree spin, whatever its application may be.
Michael, I am glad you mentioned both free-form stepping and Ba Gua.
When I first was exposed to sparring in Karate, I was surprised that stances and form we used in katas and in drills seemed largely to go out the window. When I asked about this, I was told that the arm movements and stances should be seen as ideals that were usually abbreviated in sparring or actual application out of necessity. While I am sure some of this applies to Taijiquan, I wonder how much. On the one hand, Taijiquan seems more formless to me than the Karate I learned. On the other hand, Taijiquan seems much more rigid about body alignment.
I find Ba Gua an interesting reference because, from my limited exposure to it, it seems to forego pivoting altogether. Instead, Ba Gua seems to require quick continuous stepping, preferring “bizarre” foot angles to anything that smacks of being stationary or adjusting a foot once the root has been transferred to it. Does everyone believe that this is the logic that applies to “combat” stepping in Taijiquan? I think I recall from dim memory that this is in effect the stepping method that is used in the three-step moving push hands drill, where one cross-steps outside the opponent’s feet. If I recall correctly, the geometry of the stepping does not allow for pivoting.
Recalling this last drill brings to mind the other three-step moving push hands drill, where one’s foot positions are complimentary to the opponent’s. Has anyone been taught a specific stepping method for this? Do you pivot the front foot as you move forward, or do you simply place it wherever will ultimately be appropriate?
Take care all,