<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Yuri said: Louis, thank you for the clarification. You reminded me that correct translation plays crucial role in the understanding of masters' words. The task of translating taiji quan language/terms was always quite difficult but it was especially hard in the beginning of the Tai Chi history in the West.</font>
I recall that we have discussed the translation of “song” before. (By the way, “sung” represents a type of transliteration that is no longer very popular. I have generally used Pinyin in my posts, which requires that this same word be written as “song.” If you pronounce this word as if the “o” or “u” has the same sound as the “u” of the English word “put,” you will not be far off.) I hope that I will not repeat myself, but wanted to follow up on this comment.
According to my understanding, “song” or “fangsong” can indeed be translated as “relax”; but like many other words, these words are not the direct equivalents of any particular English words. Here is a Chinese sentence from one of my dictionaries that might surprise those who understand “fangsong” as meaning only “to relax”:
“Wo3 bi4xu1 yun4dong4 yi2xia4 fang4song4 fang4song4 ji1rou4. ‘I must take some exercise and loosen up my muscles.’”
In this sentence, one cannot use “to relax” as an equivalent of “fangsong.”
Here is another even more pertinent entry from the same dictionary: fang4song4 huo2dong4 (“‘relaxation exercise’; ‘limbering-up exercise’”). The Chinese expression covers what in English can only be expressed as two very distinct meanings. In English, a “relaxation” exercise has a completely different range of use from a “limbering up” exercise. Apparently, this distinction is not clearly made in this Chinese expression.
I have experienced at least three different versions of what it means to “relax” for the purposes of Taijiquan. In my view, each of the three leads to different ways of doing form. At least at a beginner and intermediate level, I also believe these versions involve different training methods. I think there is extensive overlap in terminology between the three. I also think that there is some physical and theoretical overlap. However, I think it is important for beginning and intermediate students to understand what perspective their teacher or teachers have, because this has important consequences for how one must understand the theory, interpret the classic admonitions, and understand the practice of others.
In one version, “relaxation” is given the meaning it has in most forms of exercise and in other martial arts. It is mostly an attitude one adopts toward moving one’s limbs. The emphasis is on having ease of movement and eliminating the tension that constricts motion. Under this view, Taijiquan differs from other arts and other forms of exercise only to the degree it emphasizes relaxation and subtlety. The idea of Mind Intent (“Yi”) often seems interpreted under this view as “focus” or “concentration.” Sometimes, Mind Intent is interpreted as modeling or rehearsing movement in the mind before executing it physically. I think that this is the easiest view of relaxation to relate to and that draws the least on any unique traditional Chinese view of reality. Practitioners who espouse this view also seem to have the least interest in “esoteric” discussions of theory, perhaps because “relaxation” plays no special role. I also think this is the view of relaxation that is least represented in the Taiji community.
In a second version, there is emphasis on surrender to gravity and minimal physical exertion. “Relaxation” is a state one strives to cultivate and be able to reproduce at will. The idea is to do as little as possible. I have read that certain practitioners who are notable in the U.S. advocate doing form in almost a sleepy state in order thoroughly to relax and eliminate any tension in the mind and body. I think that some advocates of this view also see this vision of relaxation as unique to Taijiquan and different from all other martial arts. This principle of relaxation tends to be used as the basis for explaining all other principles, for instance “relaxation” is sometimes said to be what makes one “sunken.” Since relaxation seems to emphasize “absence,” this is the version that seems to emphasize “emptiness” the most. In my view, practitioners of this method seem to focus most on the seeming contradiction between Taiji “relaxation” and Taiji “power” and seem most interested in theories that relate “jing” (This is the character that means “essence,” not the character that means “power” or “strength.”), “qi,” and “power.” In this method, structure is sometimes seen as a limitation on “relaxation.” In other words, one should not relax so much that one becomes a mere structure-less puddle of flesh lying on the floor.
In the third version, the Chinese word “song” (which is one of the components of “fangsong”) has a definite component of “looseness” that may or may not retain the meaning of “relaxation.” “Loose” in this context has an idea of “unknotting,” “pulling out,” “lengthening,” or “extension.” It is an activity one must consciously pursue rather than an attitude to adopt or a state to achieve. The activity of loosening up is what creates structure, rather than being constrained by it or independent of it. Under this view, “sinking” is more often a separate concept from “loosening up/relaxing,” since it tends to apply more to certain parts of the body than to others. For instance, the chest must sink, but the back must not. “Loosening up” is the means by which the body becomes unified, as the tendons are able to form one flexible unit of “tension.” The level of exertion and the level of “looseness” are not directly correlated. One can be just as loose thrusting a heavy 12-foot staff as in thrusting the palm forward in Brush Knee and Twist Step. The idea of Mind Intent is what defines which of an infinite numbers of equilibriums will be brought into existence. The Mind Intent allows for this equilibrium to appear, but it does not design, sustain, magnify, or modify the equilibrium in any way.
Another way to see the difference between the three versions is to see different ways to do the Preparation Posture.
In version 1, the Preparation Posture is truly a preparation for something to come. One prepares the body for all possibilities from a baseline of relaxation.
In version 2, the Preparation Posture requires intense cultivation of muscular relaxation, letting gravity have access to all the muscles and trying to minimize any other muscular exertion. Beyond standing upright with a straight spine, there is little emphasis on body structure. For instance, the structure of tendons controlling the wrist and elbows is not very important. After achieving this state as best as possible, one tries to maintain this throughout the more demanding postures to come.
In version 3, the Preparation Posture requires extending and loosening up the joints along particular paths dictated by how the tendons interconnect and the relative strength of the muscles. The body is not neutral and undifferentiated. The arms do not hang limply, and the fingers are not allowed to curl up. The limbs are as structured in this posture as they are in any other.
In my view, version 3 is more characteristic of Yang Zhenduo’s and Yang Jun’s Taijiquan than the other versions. There are, of course, many other practitioners that I believe show the same or similar characteristics. There are also others who seem much closer to version 2, but still seem close enough in feel to version 3 that the same principles seem to apply.
Recently, I was at a Push Hands seminar of someone who is not a student of Yang Zhenduo or Yang Jun. He was trying to explain how the Eight Gates physically relate to each other by having the attendees simply seat the wrist in different ways to produce six of the eight gates and to begin to suggest Elbow and Shoulder Stroke. (By “seat,” I mean physically flexing the palm backward, not how this is sometimes explained in connection with “Beautiful Ladies Wrist”.) By doing this as described, most attendees were able to generate spontaneous movement from the waist upward that was a very graphic illustration of how “one palm can represent the entire body.” In my view, such spontaneous movement is not possible under version 1 or an extreme view of version 2, because the body is not subconsciously unified in the same way.
As was previously posted, some authorities talk about having the body “song,” but not “song.” In my view, this seeming contradiction is resolved differently among the three versions.
In version 1, “‘song’, but not ‘song’” seems to mean that although the body is generally relaxed, one retains an ability to exert strong muscular force when appropriate. In version 2, this admonition seems to be that one must relax, but not to the point of limply losing all structure. In both versions 2 and 3, one often hears the comment that one must retain a mental “presence” in a joint so that it is not completely limp.
In version 3, one must “loosen” the boundaries between muscles and between tendons in the sense that they must become automatically unified and connected, like the interlocking strands of a tennis net. One must not “loosen” the connection between them in the sense that are completely separated and can flop around or act independently. The issue is not really the “degree” of “looseness,” but the quality and purpose of it.