Hi Wushuer and Michael,
Wushuer, first let me say that from what you state and how you state it, I think your experience and abilities clearly surpass mine. As I result, what I am going to try to put forward below could not possibly be “instructions,” but rather simply my take on things. If I could show you face to face what I mean, I think it would take all of five-to-ten minutes. In writing, it takes me a lot longer to do a lot less.
I would also like to say that a lot of my ideas come from things I have read by Zhang Yun, who, if I recall correctly, states that his style of Taijiquan is Northern Wu, coming through Quan Yu. Judging by the pictures in his sword book, his external postures have little in common with what I have been taught; nevertheless, most of the principles he states in that book and those he has described in various articles on line and in Tai Chi Magazine speak very eloquently to me. I feel he could be in my body describing what I feel is important to me about my Yang Style forms.
I can certainly understand how you might have confusion between your Wu Style form and your Yang Style form. In light of my earlier posts, I want to make clear that I am not asserting that such confusion means any necessary conflict between core principles. I, for one, get confused between the Yangs’ 103-posture form and their 49-posture form, but would not, of course, assert any conflict in principles.
Similarly, I know that some Yang Stylists use a rear foot angle of 60 degrees, rather than the 45 degrees taught by Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun. I think that most people would not advocate simultaneously training both ways for any sustained period of time, but would not imagine that choosing one practice or the other, or even mixing the two would represent any significant conflict in Taiji principles.
Gene also briefly mentioned the Wu Ji Jing Gong of William Ting. I agree with him that the form of that style has a very different look from Yang Style. Even so, my little exposure to that style has illuminated my Yang Style practice, and I find very little different about the internal principles I can discern, except for an emphasis on Silk Reeling. I certainly have felt much more kinship with their theories than I have with the Taijiquan practiced by some others who describe themselves as Yang Stylists.
Single Weighting Versus Double Weighting
Here are my current working hypotheses:
· Weighting is connected with the concepts of solidity (or being substantial/full/etc. (“Shi”)) and emptiness (being “insubstantial” (“Xu”)).
· Solidity and emptiness are relative terms for Taijiquan theory, not absolute ones. (I have philosophical reasons for this view, as well as reasons based purely on my limited understanding of modern Chinese grammar and educated guesses I can make about Classical Chinese grammar. It is not an issue of dictionary meaning.)
· Solidity and emptiness both exist simultaneously in any context as a philosophical law of nature that needs no “help” from our minds or bodies.
· Having solidity in emptiness and vice versa is not a choice to be made, but a reality to be understood and incorporated into one’s thinking.
· Although we cannot affect the existence of solidity or emptiness in any context, we can come to understand their relationship to each other and control this relationship to the extent it is relevant for martial or health purposes.
· All traditional Taijiquan requires that we “Fen xu shi.” Some practitioners interpret this to mean: “Separate those things that are solid from those things that are empty.” I personally do not have this view of the Yangs’ teaching, since it implies that some things or activities can be entirely solid or entirely empty and that physical separation is the goal. I prefer a meaning like: “Discriminate the solid from the empty” or “Discriminate what is solid from what is empty.” (By the way, although I am quibbling about meaning, I am not arguing here about the merits of one particular translation over another, for that involves other matters.)
· The concept of “Double weighting” or “Doubling up” comes from two Chinese characters. The second of these two characters has two slightly different meanings that have different pronunciations depending on which meaning is meant (“shuang zhong” vs. “shuang chong”). The context in which the Taiji classics use the characters is not clear enough to determine which pronunciation or meaning is meant, and so oral teaching and reasoning must be relied upon. Regardless of which interpretation is used, more than pure percentages of body weight must be involved, if the theory is to include upper body movements and to changes in the legs over time.
· Traditional Taijiquan teaches to avoid “double weighting” or “doubling up.” To learn how to do this, some teachers favor specializing the function of corresponding body parts in both the upper and lower body. Some teachers ignore the upper body. Some teachers favor trying always to root through one leg at a time or primarily through one leg at a time.
· The Yangs favor rooting through both legs whenever possible and have arranged the movements in the postures to minimize the necessity of generating significant power while only one foot is in contact with the ground.
· All styles of traditional Taijiquan contain postures that culminate with body weight on both legs and postures that culminate with the body weight on a single leg. Based on this, I believe that neither type of posture exemplifies a necessary core principle of Taijiquan.
If any of these hypotheses give you or anyone else major heartburn, please let me know.
I think the Yangs’ basic idea is that two legs are better than one and that power should be generated at all times by both legs if at all possible. In some movements, arm movements are “delayed” until both feet have time to root (e.g., Diagonal Flying and Repulse Monkey.) In reality, the arm movements are not actually delayed, but rather segmented: i.e., one thing is done while the stepping foot is in the air, and another is done after the stepping foot has had an opportunity to root.
I more or less agree with what Michael stated in his post. I think one of the reasons that what he stated sounded inconsistent with your experience is that the two of you are describing different types of posture testing. What the Yangs seem to favor is testing a posture in a static way that does not allow the student the opportunity to neutralize the force through movement.
One of the scenes that occasionally pops up on the homepage, as Jerry has recently designed it, shows Yang Zhenduo pushing on the hands of a student who appears to have reached the culmination of the Push posture. If I read the scene correctly, the purpose of the testing was probably to see if the student’s arms or legs would collapse against sustained pressure along the path the “jin” is supposed to take. In such a situation, standing on one leg is simply insufficient to hold a posture against someone pushing (or pulling) with both legs firmly on the ground. Two legs are simple more powerful and more stable than one leg.
On a different note, one thing that it took me several years to realize was that the Yangs seem to segment the possibilities of shifting body mass to a much finer degree than I had realized. As you know, quite often, postures are articulated by changes in the type of energy manifested. In the form the Yangs teach, these changes seem to correspond to multiple leg positions. Something that may help you keep your styles separate is to make sure that you have a separate purpose or even a separate upper body movement for each of the movement segments I am going to lay out below.
Below is what I understand the practices to be. These are my words based on what I have seen the Yangs teach and obviously have no authority. I have never heard the Yangs or any of the Yang center directors articulate a generally theory of “segmented” stepping, but am simply playing out what I believe to be the implications of how form is actually taught:
For forward steps into bow stances, there seem generally to be six positions. The end points of these positions are defined by: (1) moving the body mass slightly rearward, (2) returning the body mass forward as the front foot pivots, (3) allowing the body mass to rotate as your rear toes and heel successively leave the ground and the foot is brought inward to central equilibrium, (4) stretching the steeping foot forward to have the heel touch (generally without rotation of the body mass), (5) rotating the body mass and shifting it slightly forward to fully flatten the foot, but without straightening the forward knee, and (6) shifting the body mass (with or without further rotation) further forward in order to bend the forward knee and to end up with 60% of the weight on the forward foot.
For forward steps into empty stances (“xu shi bu”), the last three movements are replaced by extending the heel or ball of the stepping foot forward and touching the ground and then using the back leg to thrust about 30% of the weight forward, while keeping the forward knee relatively straight and extended.
For the backward steps of Repulse Monkey, I believe there are four positions. The respective end points are as follows: when (1) 100% of the body weight is shifted rearward while the front toes raise up slightly, but the front heel remains in contact with the ground, (2) the front foot is withdrawn to central equilibrium and then stretched rearward to have the toes touch in back of the body, (3) the heel of the rear foot touches to flatten the foot and to root the entire leg, and (4) 60 % (I am unsure of the percentage) of the weight is shifted to the rear as the front foot realigns its angle.
For backward steps into empty stances, there seem to be four different phases. The ending points of these phases successively occur when (1) the toe of the stepping foot touches, (2) the heel touches, (3) a large portion (60%?), but not all, of the weight is thrusted rearward, (4) the toes of the front foot are lifted off the ground and the remainder of the weight (100%) is shifted rearward, and (5) the toes or heel of the front foot are placed on the ground (with the knee extended) and receive 30% of the body weight as the rear leg thrusts.
The number of the “leg position” I have described is often modified to suit the sequence of particular postures. I am just trying to show the extent of the general possibilities and have probably been inaccurate in doing even this. I do want to assert, however, that this type of segmentation seems to be present in all movements, but is not often very obvious to the eye.
Usually the energy imparted to the arms by the various segments “overlaps” somewhat. The Yangs do not do form in a jerky or robotic way. I only began to notice the segmentation I am describing after Yang Jun called explicit attention to this sort of phenomenon at a saber seminar I attended. You could probably make use of this type of segmentation without fellow students in your class even noticing you were doing anything different.
Sometimes there is no change in the energy used, as one segment blends into the next; in fact, most of the postures do not really have different arm positions for each of the segments. Even so, there is always a subtle difference that a close observer can see.
Postures where I think it pays to look for “hidden” matches between arm motions and the different leg positions include: Brush Knee and Twist Step, Single Whip, two of the four repetitions of Fair Lady Works the Shuttles, Lifting Hands, White Crane Spreads Wings, Needle at Sea Bottom, Step up to Seven Stars, Flying Diagonal, Repulse Monkey, Fist Under Elbow, Play the Guitar, and Step Back to Ride the Tiger. Usually the hidden match corresponds to either when the foot is flattened or when weight is shifted to the front leg of an empty stance. Sometimes what is hidden is that significant power is not generated until both feet clearly and firmly root.
On one occasion, Yang Jun described failing to move weight forward at the culmination of an empty stance as failing to “finish the posture.” As he demonstrated this, it looked to me that he felt he could not complete his arm motion unless he shifted weight forward. At least a portion of his arm motion (or even a different motion) seemed to be always reserved for the slight forward shift of the weight.
Although I have talked mainly about shifting the weight backward and forward, let me mention that the Yangs also seem to care about vertical shifts. Where postures culminate on one leg, the Yangs always have a vertical shift of weight that is accomplished by straightening the standing leg. This usually corresponds to a dedicated arm movement or energy. The subsequent lowering of the body mass also usually has a purpose, or rather an association with a specific arm movement or energy.
Lastly, in the Sword Form, let me add that there is one posture where there is no change in posture, but there are nonetheless two shifts of weight that are “hidden.” In Waiting for the Fish, the weight is shifted slightly backward and then returned forward to correspond to a circular swinging of the sword along the left side of the body.
In one of his posts, Jerry related a little about Yang Jun seeing certain joint movements as if they were parts of interlocking gears. If you add this idea to my descriptions, you can get an idea of how all the subtle forward and backward weight shifts can link up with upper body movements. If someone does Yang Chengfu’s form without these, it will appear to many students of the Yangs as if their joint “gears” are slipping or as if “upper” and “lower” are not in sync. This is particularly obvious if you employ empty stances that end in 100/0 percentages of weight. You will appear either to move your arms prematurely to the correct point or to fail to move them enough. The following movement will also appear “off,” since you will have no weight to shift backward to “power” the next arm movement.
In closing, let me say that I view Taiji form practice as a compromise between various goals. I do not believe there are any universal solutions, only different training strategies. I cannot and would not say that the way the Yangs do form is the only correct one. At the same time, I am wary of assuming that all compromises necessarily arrive at the same results. For several years, I did a YCF form where all the bow stances ended with weight in both legs and equal rooting, but where the empty stances ended with all the weight in one leg, and unequal rooting. I value what I learned by this practice, but believe it do be a different way of relating to my body mass than what I have learned through the Yangs form.
Let me know if any of this helps.