<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Audi, I love the interaction we are having on this forum, and I agree with Bob that you are making good points here; therefore, I hope you don’t mind a continuation of this topic.</font>
I have enjoyed the interaction as well, although sometimes have not had the time to respond as I would like. I just returned from a wonderful week-long Tai Chi seminar. The week before, I was also preparing for a ranking test and so was pressed for time. I apologize for the length of time it has taken me to respond.
Before I continue, I should repeat that I think the Association addresses these issues in a very practical and hands-on way, rather than primarily in a theoretical way. We practice various versions of various energies to get a feel for them. The goal is not to be able to distinguish them so much as to get a feel for a range of techniques that can lead us to move without mental deliberation. My purpose in describing some of my ideas is not to suggest how to train, but rather to give an example of how the Eight Gates could be the foundation for a complete system that goes from simple concepts to great depth.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I value sensitivity and awareness “in the moment” and thus try to be aware of even the minutest changes at every instant (a major objective of my current practice, and a goal that I am still working towards). I used to think more along the lines that you state – “the eight energies are mostly used in combinations, and so it is often hard to separate them out” – but that holds true more for complete postures from the form, for example, than for individual transitional movements.</font>
When considering the “minutest changes” I think that I look more to sticking-adhering-linking-connecting and to contrasts between full and empty than to differences between the Eight Gates, but I see how your approach could be helpful in focusing your training.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I feel that part of the difficulty in separating out the eight energies has to do with inadequate definitions of the energies themselves.</font>
Perhaps this is so. I also think, however, there are two other aspects.
First, I think that defining the energies should take into account the interaction of the intent of the two parties. It would probably be easier to look only at the physical, but I think this would not be sufficient.
Second, I think that the energies are something quite simple, but with many very deep layers. Sometimes the simplest things cannot be easily expressed in words that are unambiguous. Depending on the level of discussion, different aspects tend to be emphasized in a way that is indeed confusing.
I think you are right that we are approaching these issues quite differently. For me, “inches” do not matter in themselves, since neither length nor direction are at the heart of the distinctions as I understand them.
At perhaps the highest level of analysis, what I want from the Eight Energies is a partial “theory of combat.” If we understand that the Tai Chi response has to be soft and that no configuration can be fixed, I think the theory must focus on formless energy relationships. Formless things are hard to describe.
The first question is how to deal with the opponent’s extension of energy from his center. By extension, I am referring to both the intent and the physical movement. I am also talking not only about energy “in motion,” but also the potential energy “already in place.” Perhaps “full” and “empty” cover this ground, but I would have to think through that more to be sure.
I think the Yang style approach is to think of responding with the Peng that underlies all Yang Style techniques. (I am limiting myself to Yang Style, because I think some other styles may require a different “vocabulary.”) “Peng” is that resilient response that mediates receiving and issuing, like the beach ball you have described. This general “Peng” can then be divided into four main specific categories: Wardoff, Rollback, Press and Push.
Wardoff (i.e., “Peng” in the specific sense, rather than in the general sense) deals with the opponent’s extension (perhaps “fullness”) by trapping it from the “inside,” i.e., between the opponent’s center and the point of fullness. You increase the separation of full and empty to create dynamic imbalance in the opponent. You attack the extension from the inside and lift the energy out further and carry it to a place of advantage. The opponent has difficulty countering because your attack is aimed at the empty part of his attack. If he himself is trying to extend, it is difficult to oppose your technique when you try to aid this extension. If you are successful, the opponent cannot “contract” after his extension. He cannot empty. Consider the application Yang Zhenduo shows for Ward Off Right, where the opponent feels he cannot put weight back in his heels and is forced into the air on his tiptoes. Also compare Fair Lady Works the Shuttles or Parting Wild Horses Mane. The opponent wants to get “down,” but can’t.
Rollback, on the other hand, attacks the extension (perhaps the “fullness”) from the outside by shaping and “funneling” it into imbalance, like stroking a beard into the shape of a goatee. The opponent has difficulty countering because she herself is tending to create this shape by her extension. If you are successful, the extension/fullness becomes excessive, creating an imbalance you can take advantage of.
To me, it seems that the theory teaches us that if there is extension, then there must be contraction. If there is full, then there must be empty. If I want to attack the opponent’s extension of energy (or “fullness”), I should therefore be able also to attack his contraction into emptiness. This is how I view Press and Push. Again, by contraction, I am not limiting myself to energy in motion, but also the potential for energy. That is why “emptiness” might be an appropriate way to think of it.
With Press, I think that we are attacking the contraction or emptiness from the “inside.” We occupy the space that the opponent needs to contract or needs to empty and make him contract or empty even more. If we are successful, his emptiness becomes excessive. We “squeeze” him out. His “contraction” becomes excessive.
With Push, I think that we attack the contraction or the emptiness from the “outside.” We follow the opponent to the point where Yin should turn to Yang, but leave the opponent no way to accomplish this. Like flowing water, we flow down into all the cracks and crevices and block the exits the energy could take. She can no longer extend her energy or “fill.”
If my approach is correct and these techniques are fundamental to the system, then each should be able to address a simple attack. If I imagine standing in the Preparation Posture and someone stepping forward with his or her right foot and punching to my face or chest, I can imagine using any of the four energies to respond, individually or in overlapping combination. In reality, I would most likely use a combination.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> First, while you chose to follow one arrangement for the correspondence, I know of at least three additional ones given for Taijiquan (Yang Jwingming’s book “Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan” Vol.1 illustrates three versions). My understanding is insufficient to determine which version should be used, if the different versions are appropriate for different conditions (perhaps for different styles or lineages?), if some version is incorrect, etc, and why the given correspondences are significant for Taijiquan.</font>
I included reference to the Bagua, not because I have figured it all out, but more to give an idea of how the theory of the Eight Gates might be considered comprehensive. The Bagua (trigrams) themselves, as you rightly allude to, are part of a very complicated and deep theory. Let me just say that I use them to the extent I find them helpful and ignore the rest. I would be happy to discuss what I know or theorize in another thread, as you suggest.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Yet Kan is considered the ‘Middle Son’ and Li the ‘Middle Daughter’; wouldn’t one expect a daughter to be Yin and a son to be Yang? Using this criterion, Kun/Earth (Mother), Xun/Wind-Wood (Oldest Daughter), Li/Fire (Middle Daughter), and Dui/Lake-Valley (Youngest Daughter) would be Yin; Qian/Heaven (Father), Zhen/Thunder (Oldest Son), Kan/Water (Middle Son), and Gen/Mountain (Youngest Son) would be Yang. Here the Daughters are determined by the position of the single Yin line while the Sons are determined by the position of the single Yang line.</font>
Your last line is what I understand to be correct, both from the number theory and the Yi Jing commentary. Assign each Yin line an even number (e.g., 2) and each Yang line an odd number (e.g., 1 or 3) and then add them up. If the sum is odd, the trigram is Yang; if even, Yin.
Going by this theory, I should reverse the assignments I gave to Press and Push; however, I was not proceeding from the Bagua theory per se, but rather from feelings about the individual lines (“yao”) as a practitioner. I was more concerned about the feel of the lines spatially and chronologically. If I changed to the perspective of the opponent, this might be another reason to reverse the assignments. To the opponent, the main part of Press may feel like an advance or an attack; whereas the main part of push feels like a yield.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Now let’s have a young child jump on that beach ball (apply force to it). That ball will bounce (Peng) &/or roll (Lu) that child away.</font>
According to my understanding, I might be able to agree that the “bounce” relies on what I would call “general Peng”; however, I have rarely been taught to apply energy in this way. There should be some kind of curve or circle. Without the circle, I would usually be failing to “follow.” As for rolling the child away, this is most analogous to what I would call “adhering” (“nian”), rather than any of the Eight Energies. Done fiercely, it might turn into Split (Lie/Lieh).
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> An is ‘pushing’ by impacting the surface of the object, and your terminology of ‘restraining’ or ‘covering’ work well with my interpretation of this energy since these terms imply actions on the partner/opponent’s surface structure. Ji works inside the structure by penetrating weak spaces (in the not quite appropriate ball analogy this would be the deforming/crushing of the struck object).</font>
I think I understand your distinction better now. For me, I think of using all four energies to penetrate “weak spaces,” but focus more on the energy. You move to where the opponent is double weighted and cannot change. According to the theory, the identity and location of these “weak spaces” will be dynamic. In other words, a location like the inside of the opponent’s elbows may be a weak spot in one situation, but a strong spot in another.
Some of the masters talks about An as being like water that flows down through all the cracks and crevices Maybe someone could help me with the actual wording and citation. I view this analogy as important because it explains that it is not enough merely to push just anywhere; instead, you actually must push in a way that will tend to freeze the opponent as he “withdraws” in “contraction.” Even if you push on a surface such as the opponent’s chest, you often do this in a way to attack his lower back and lock it into a closed position. In other words, you are always trying to make your energy penetrate to weak spots.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Now stand in front of them, place your hands on their wrists, and push inwards towards their mass. You may feel that, if they have good structure, your push is transmitted through the structure of their arms, into their torso, and down into the ground (if they have a good ‘root’). I would call this push An [you are attacking their structure – from outside, if you prefer] and, rather than attacking their mass by collapsing their arm structure, you are transmitting your force into their mass through the structure provided by the shape of their arms. If you had better structural dynamics, root, etc, or were able to take advantage of some other deficiency of the other person (stiffness, lack of awareness, etc), then this An could be used to control them, pushing them away if desired (displacing them – moving your ‘energy sphere’ against theirs forcing them to move - or however else you wish to describe it).</font>
For me, this situation does not really exhibit an attempt at “control” and is more analogous to a strike, rather than the Eight Energies themselves. For me, pure displacement is not enough. In this scenario, I would much prefer to be the one being subjected to the attempted push, since I would reveal less of my full and empty and have less exposed to attack. For this to be An according to my understanding, there needs to be an attempt to “cover” the partner’s energy, not just an attempt to push on something or displace something.
As for sticking and “skin/Qi/intent/spirit levels,” we should probably continue this discussion on a new thread, if you would like. Let me just say that at my recent seminar, there was extensive focus on sticking without sliding or separating. My current belief is that advanced levels of this would not lead down the path of physical “smearing,” but non-physical sensations that might be described as “smearing” might be possible. I also think that as you advance, the focus on Qi, intent, and spirit does get stronger and stronger without, however, by-passing the physical basis of the technique.
[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 08-10-2008).]