I would appreciate hearing views about what the concept of Double-Weightedness means, why it is described as a defect in T'ai Chi, and how this knowledge should affect one’s practice. A lot is written in the T'ai Chi literature about this, but I have found much of what is written confusing, contradictory, or too vague to be a reliable guide to practice.
I have wondered whether it might be better to ignore all this theoretical stuff and concentrate on reproducing my instructors’ postures; however, I find this difficult without understanding some of the why of things. Also, if T’ai Chi is about using one’s mind or spirit to move the energy and the body, how can the mind and spirit be trained beyond an elementary level without some understanding of what one is training?
By the way, in questioning below some of what I have read or heard, my intent is not to disparage any of the views described and still less anyone expressing those views. What people hear is often not what people say, and still less often what people mean. We all tend to speak in shorthand to ease the burden of communicating thoughts not easily reduced to a few words. Unfortunately, understanding suffers if all concerned do not share the same assumptions or experiences.
My first confusion with double-weightedness is the term itself. Although it is usually discussed in terms of the amount of weight carried on each foot, I have read some authors who say that the character translated as "weightedness" or "weight" has a secondary meaning of “repeat” that is really the correct meaning in this context. My Modern Chinese dictionaries show this meaning in association with the pronunciation "chong," but do not give examples that would seem to fit this context. The implication of this different interpretation appears to be that the phrase "double-weightedness" should instead be translated something like "doubling up" or “double repeating” with the meaning that one should avoid trying to make both sides of the body yang or both sides yin. Any thoughts about this from either the practical or the grammatical standpoint?
Another confusion on which I would appreciate comment is whether avoiding "Double-Weightedness" is distinct from the principle of "Distinguishing Full and Empty." On Yang Zhen Duo's videotape, Distinguishing Full and Empty seems to be discussed only as an injunction to faithfully focus on correct weight shifts. Within a standard form routine, this is very clear, but how is one to generalize and understand what makes a particular weight shift correct? Is there more in Yang Zhen Duo’s writings or what he has transmitted to his students?
In preparing this post, I reviewed Wang Zong Yue's Taijiquan Treatise as translated by Louis Swaim, as well as Mr. Swaim’s excellent commentaries. What I understand from the discussion of "double-weightedness" is two things: (1) it leads to stagnation of power (jin) and (2) to avoid it one needs to understand how yin and yang “mutually cooperate.” This is fairly clear from a theoretical viewpoint, but not so clear from a practical standpoint. Also, there seems to be no discussion of weight at all beyond the term itself. If nothing else, this lends credence to the alternate translation I mention above and implies that understanding the relationship between yin and yang is not a matter of weight distribution.
Is avoiding double-weightedness a doctrine unique to T'ai Chi? Unique to internal martial arts? Is there some related principle from Confucian or Taoist literature that might provide insight?
One of the commonest practical statements of what avoiding double-weightedness means seems to be that you should spend the minimum amount of time with 50%/50% weight distribution in the legs. If this is correct and all that can be said, why is 50/50 distribution acceptable in the Opening Posture (Qi Shi) and in Crossing Hands (Shi Zi Shou)? Some say that the concept of double-weightedness only applies to movement, so perhaps it is acceptable in these postures because the applications do not seem to involve moving one's center in any of the eight directions. Any thoughts?
Another hesitation I have about the simple 50/50 explanation is that I believe in Wu Jian-Quan Style, Single Whips are performed with 50/50 weight distribution with the justification that energy needs to be sent in two opposing directions and that Double Weightedness is somehow avoided "internally." As I understand it, Yang Zhen Duo uses the same justification for the lack of any lean in this posture, but does not alter the weight distribution of the Bow Stance. How could such major differences have developed in two such closely related styles without some fuller explanation being possible?
In addition to avoiding 50%/50% weight distribution, some people add avoiding 100/0 and 0/100 weight distribution as another aspect of the defect of double-weightedness. I can see how habitual weight distribution at such extremes might violate the principle of keeping some yang in the yin leg and some yin in the yang leg, but am not sure what this means in practice. I was originally taught that simply touching the ground was enough to put some yang in an "empty" foot. Others on the previous discussion board, myself included, have discussed “yang” aspects even of legs that are in midair. On a practical level, it seems to me that 0/100 and 100/0 distributions are very weak focus points during push hands and that a 30%/70% back-weighted bow stance and a 70%/30% front-weighted bow stance frame the maximum extremes of easy power absorption and issuance. Any opinions on this?
Some authorities imply that avoiding double-weightedness is in effect simply a matter of specialization, using one foot to maximize sinking and rooting, while using the other foot for nimbleness, speed, and neutralizing energy. Particularly, the effect on nimbleness and speed is emphasized. I believe Yang Cheng Fu more or less describes this as the reasoning behind "Distinguishing Solid and Empty." The logic of this would seem to be that one should always unweight a moving foot to give it nimbleness; however, this seems to run counter to the apparent tolerance or perhaps even fondness of some of Yang Cheng Fu’s successors for weighted foot pivots. If memory serves me right, Wu Yu Xiang Style also has many weighted pivots in changing angles in cat stances (xu shi bu). Can anyone reconcile these practices with these statements about nimbleness?
A related viewpoint seems to be that avoiding double-weightedness has to do with maintaining the maximum ability to rotate about one's center. If one has the weight concentrated in one leg, that leg can be used as an axis of rotation, whereas having weight in both legs means that body rotation is restricted. The basic idea seems to be that one cannot simultaneously rotate around two parallel axes. Is this the reason why some followers of Cheng Man-Ch’ing seem to delay waist rotations until the last moment in moves like Ward Off Left, Ward Off Right, and Cloud Hands? This seems like an interesting viewpoint, but what about Yang Stylists who relish weighted pivots? Also, such an elementary posture as Roll Back seems to violate this principal, since I think even Cheng Man-Ch’ing stylists do not delay the waist rotation in this posture. Do I have this wrong?
Within a posture, should one attempt to separate the waist rotations from the weight shifts? This is how I currently perform Press, Apparent Closure (ru feng si bi), the end of Single Whip where the left ward off arm transforms into a striking palm, the end of the Brush Knees, and the Heel Kick after Double Wind/Peaks to the Ears (shuang feng guan er). Specifically in these moves, I have been taught to rotate my waist to face the new direction, perhaps with an accompanying heel pivot, and then shift weight into the strike. Mentally, I view this as a neutralization (hua), followed by control (na) of my opponent when the rotation is complete, and then a weight shift to power a strike (fa jin). What about Roll Back? This should be the quintessential rotating neutralization, yet everyone seems to combine the rotation with the backward weight shift.
In addition to the issue of weight in the legs, some authorities talk about avoiding "double-weightedness" in the arms and hands. Presumably this means that in the Push Posture, for example, one should not push with equal power in both hands or that in Brush Knee and Twist Step, the lower, deflecting hand should be relatively "empty," while all the power is in the upper, striking palm. This sounds like an elegant explanation, but do any mere mortals push with only one hand or pluck ("cai") with an empty hand? Is this what some refer to as “casting and reeling”?
Along with discussions of keeping one limb relatively full and the other relatively empty is the concept of keeping fullness and emptiness the same in the opposite foot and hand. I think that Yang Cheng Fu characterized this as being necessary to avoid weakness in one side of the body. This concept seems to make sense for many postures, but what about Ward Off Left, Ward Off Right, Fist under Elbow, Needle at Sea Bottom, Fan through Back, Cloud Hands, High Pat on Horse (and Go with Palm), Flying Diagonal, and Parting Wild Horse's Mane? To my humble way of thinking, the foot with the majority of the weight and the hand issuing the majority of the power in these postures are on the same side of the body. Can there be so many exceptions to the rule?
Another viewpoint on double-weightedness is that there is really nothing wrong with it per se. It simply represents one point on the T'ai Chi Diagram that should not be emphasized over any other. This viewpoint does not explain why there is a caution against this particular point in the diagram. Perhaps a logical explanation, however, would be that one needs to avoid the habit of solving complex problems by simply splitting the "baby" in half and leaving every posture “balanced,” but stagnant, at 50/50.
In addition to "Double-Weightedness," some authorities talk about "Double Floating," "Double Sinking," and "Double Lightness," sometimes with approval and sometimes with disapproval, according to context. If I recall correctly, double floating is always bad; but double lightness and double sinking are good. I have found such discussions even more confusing, and certainly impractical at my level of knowledge for training purposes.
The most general and, in my opinion, truest sounding statement of what avoiding double-weightedness means is that one should appropriately distinguish what is yin and what is yang in every part of the body. Unfortunately, the authorities do not seem to agree on such a basic element of this view as whether a weighted leg is to be viewed as yin or yang. Also, it is not clear whether yin and yang are supposed to be distinguished by weight, speed, degree of openness, amount of jin, etc. or by all of these simultaneously or alternatively.
Having asked these questions, let me describe my attempts to deal with these issues. Basically, I concentrate on feeling three bows in the body (arms, legs, and spine) and trying to feel that one end of each bow is yin and the other is yang, according to the direction in which the energy flows (deng? and cheng?). When I can maintain this visualization, it seems to force me to give due emphasis to Yang Cheng Fu’s Ten Principles, while feeling other contrasts within my body.
Any thoughts, corrections, agreements, or empathy for these ideas or any part? Does anyone share my confusion? I would be particularly interested in why you do what you do or why you advocate a particular view. All my quotes and misquotes above amount to so much wind without sufficient insight to give them meaning, and so please feel free to comment with no more authority than yourself to “back up” what you say.