Hi Michael and David,
Thanks for the responses. They are very helpful and just the sort of thing I was hoping for.
(Brush Knee and) Twist Step
David, thanks for your quoted definition that relates this to opposing hands and feet. This is something I never would have thought of. As I consider this, I cannot think of any other movement in the form that steps into an upper hand opposing a weighted forward foot. Perhaps this also explains somehow the difference between “stepping up” and “stepping forward.” A separate idea that occurs to me is that “step up” may refer to “stepping up into a “fixed” posture, where the foot is not expected to move, such as before Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. “Step forward” may refer to chasing the opponent in what is expected to be a transitional step, such as before Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch.
I forgot to mention one aspect of this stepping issue in my original post. In calling out the moves during at least one seminar, Yang Zhen Duo called out an explicit “Ward Off Left” (not listed anywhere I have seen) during the “Step Up” that precedes many of the Grasp Sparrow’s Tails. This was a wonderful clarification as to the usage of the arms during this transition into the Ward off Right. I believe he described that the unity of the five postures within Grasp Sparrows Tail were “clearer” in these sequences than in the beginning of the form.
Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch
Michael, you mentioned that “the deflect is striking the inside of the right arm bringing it down.” Assuming you are referring to the opponent’s arm, do you see the inside of your own right arm as accomplishing this? Do you then see the “Parry” as affecting the same arm of the opponent? What function, if any, do you see for the right arm and fist, as it circles from the left side of the body to the right? I know that some view this as a back fist and others see it as simply chambering the right arm for the punch. I personally am wary of the latter interpretation, because it conforms to what I understand of Karate movement theory, but not what I understand of T’ai Chi’s.
David, “hammer handles, buckets, and wells” are interesting terminology. You remind me that the original form I learned had a right hand “Chop with Fist” simultaneous with a left-hand Pull Down (cai) before beginning the Deflect Downward. By the way, when you refer to the “Step Up,” are you referring to the preliminary movement of the left foot? If so, is the distinction you are drawing that this movement in your form involves a heel pivot, whereas “Step Forward” might involve a (slightly) weighted pivot in the center of the foot?
Fist Under Elbow
Michael, I think my view of the emblematic application of this posture is the same as what you describe, except for the movement and purpose of the left arm and hand. First, I agree completely that all these postures have numerous, if not infinite possible applications. As a result, I am speaking only about what I understand to be the “emblematic” application of Yang Zhen Duo’s posture movements.
As I understand it, the left hand goes through the transitional single whip with the palm up to intercept the opponent’s left hand strike. The usage of your left hand and arm would follow the following sequence: an outstretched Ward Off with the left side of the wrist of the upturned hand leading, a Roll Back that circles outward with the waist and then twists horizontally counterclockwise into a Push/Press (“An” energy), a Pull Down/Grasp (cai or ts’ai) that circles downward, then inward to the right, and then continues into a forward twisting motion with a Ward Off feel to it. The purpose of the left hand movement would be to intercept the opponent’s hand, grasp his or her wrist, guide/pull the opponent out of his or her root, and then twist the entire arm so that the opponent’s left elbow is twisted toward his or her back and then vertically upward, exposing the ribs to attack. The right hand motion during all this is, as I understand it, simply a horizontally circular punch that ends up “looking” under your own left elbow, but striking the opponent’s ribs. Is this clear, and does it help?
Fan through the Back
David, interesting idea about feeling a fan in your own back. I suppose this is a good image for “plucking up the back” (ba bei) and keeping the back open and arms connected. I should have mentioned in my original post, that my understanding of the name is as follows. If one views the preceding Needle at Sea Bottom as primarily a qin na, or locking, move that attempts to lock the opponent’s right arm at the elbow, one can envision the opponent attempting escape by turning his or her back counterclockwise to you to relieve the pressure. To deal with this, you can lift the opponent’s arm up to continue restricting his or her movement with a Press/Squeeze (Ji) movement of your arms and then follow through with an open left-hand strike to the opponent’s exposed back. The name of the posture could also be translated as “Fan Penetrates the Back.”
(Turn the Body and) Chop with Fist
Michael, you asked about what I described as “closed-fist Roll Back.” My understanding of the final position of this posture in Yang Zhen Duo’s form is that the hand and body positions are exactly the same as in the end of Roll Back, except that the right hand is in a fist. (The end position of the similar White Snake Spits out Tongue (Bai she tu xin), however, does not even have this distinction.) I am less certain of the spirit of this move, but I believe it is the same as the striking Roll Back that follows Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain. By the way I like your comparison of this move with the following Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch.
David, I like your proposed application and your rather colorful language.
Just for clarity, the application I visualize for this move is as follows. I have dispatched an opponent with Fan through the Back and sense a different attack coming from my rear. Since I am blind to the attack, I turn with the right elbow leading in case the attack is close and with the other arm at the ready. I follow through with the right hand back fist to clear downward whatever is coming my way and/or to strike to the bridge of the opponent’s nose (Ditto for White Snake Spits out tongue, except that I follow through a with finger flick to the eyes if my fist is blocked). If my fist misses or if I succeed in opening up my opponent, I continue the motion with an open left-hand strike to my opponent’s body. If this is blocked by my opponent’s left “Ward Off” arm, I seize it, pull it down and back to the left with my waist turn, and initiate a striking Roll Back to attempt to break my opponent’s arm using my right forearm.
If a miss the arm lock, I continue the motion in the next posture (Deflect Downward, Parry, Punch) by using the waist to pull the opponent’s arm down further with my left hand and to press down with my right inner forearm to obstruct my opponent’s movement and to threaten to uproot him or her to my left and rear, thus exposing his or her side or back. To avoid being uprooted, the opponent is likely to resist by pulling and stepping backward to his or her rear, while reaching forward or striking with his or her right arm. I counter by stepping forward with my right leg, deflecting my opponent’s reaching right arm across to the right and down with my right elbow and forearm, and use a back fist to try for his or her nose in the bargain. I then reach forward with my left hand to press at my opponent’s right elbow to pin it across his or her body or perhaps to grab clothing to prevent escape. As my opponent retreats backward, I chase with a left-foot step and punch under the opponent’s right arm, which remains pinned by my left palm as allow that palm to close with my approaching chest.
By the way, throughout my description of applications, I am implying a subtle level of partial control or leading of the opponent through the so-called energies of listening, adhering, sticking, transforming, seizing, etc., and not a preplanned sequence that is forced onto the opponent or that beats him or her “to the punch.” More importantly, I am also not claiming to have answers, simply describing what is going through my mind from whatever source.
David, I find your allusions to the I Ching interesting and ought to add Da Liu’s book to my long list of things to read. I fear, however, that for me this would tip the delicate T’ai Chi balance over from enlightening to overwhelming. Out of curiosity, does his book talk about “random” correspondences between the hexagrams and T’ai Chi postures, or does he have a more evolved theory that attempts to “derive” all T’ai Chi theory from the hexagrams?
Michael, I believe that Yang Zhen Duo’s description of the arm position and movement used in the arm lock prior to the kick is “level (or horizontal) Roll Back” (ping2 lu:3). The direction of the torso and the stance are, of course, quite different from the Roll Back in Grasp Sparrows Tail. One of the discoveries I had in attending one of the Yangs’ seminars was that they apparently see explicit Roll Backs in many transitional postures of the form (e.g., prior to Strike the Tiger, after the last Fair Lady Works the Shuttle, at the end of Chop with Fist, etc.). On the other hand, I do not believe that the have a real “Holding the Ball” position anywhere in their form.
By the way, I have never been able to satisfactorily link up the applications implied by High Pat on Horse, the arm lock prior to the kick, and the wrist grab or release implied by the double ward off (or crossed) arms that start the kick. Do you have a view on this?
David, I find your proposed application of grabbing a foot interesting, given my wrestling background; however, not being familiar with your form, I am uncertain of the movement implied. Are you perhaps talking about windmilling the right arm upward, backward, downward, and forward to grab an opponent’s heel, prior to forming the double ward off (or crossed) arms that begin the kicks? Can you link up all the applications from High Pat on Horse through the first Separate Foot?
Thanks again both of you for the interesting dialog, whether “correct,” “informed,” or not. I find it very helpful in shaping my focus as I do form and appreciating all the options implied by the movements.