There have been some terrific posts that make terrific points. Before trying to carry the discussion any further, let me first make a comment flowing from my previous exchange with Wushuer.
Wushuer, in following up on my earlier post, I would like to repeat that I was not really trying to describe your Wu Style, but really trying to set forth a coherent view of Yang Style that dealt with such things as gravity. In my opinion, you have no need to defend the validity of your other style. If “single weighting” is a necessary aspect of “Distinguishing full and empty,” then we are all enriched by a discussion of it. If it is not, that just means that it may be a peculiarity of Wu Style that is not relevant to traditional Yang Style, like leaning from side to side. I also want to repeat that many self-styled Yang Stylists seem to express an adherence to “single weighting” or to a preference for 100/0 and 0/100 weight distributions.
Wushuer, you also posed some questions about discoveries you have made about doing forms in different frames. You mention doing something with your knees that, unfortunately, I do not quite understand. For me, once I set the length of my step, everything else is absolutely fixed if I am to remain “Song.” I do not have a choice about what to do with my knee. I consider this an extremely important aspect of my practice and would be very resistant to the idea that one could freely adjust the angle of the knee (at the culmination of a posture) independently of the length of the stride.
Since I do not understand your description, let me explain how I view things to see if that can help establish some common ground.
I can make an analogy to a parachute. Once deployed, the shape of the shroud and strings of a parachute are just about absolutely fixed in shape. The shape, however, is not determined by any rigidity in the shroud or string, but by how the energy imparted by the air molecules interacts with them. The shape is fixed by the action of energy and the connectedness of the material, not by rigidity in the materials. If the materials were rigid in any way, the energy could not do its thing. Once deployed, one cannot alter the length of one string or the width between a pair of strengths without interrupting the flow of energy in the system or changing its nature.
Humans are not parachutes, of course; but in my view, the mind’s intent to continually extend and loosen the joints combined with focus on particular “Jin” points provides the same energy as the air molecules. The body assumes a “fixed” shape without actively fixing any of the joints at any particular angle. The posture merely emerges from the sum of the extension of each of the joints.
Another analogy is a pendulum. When you set a pendulum in motion, only two sources of energy need come into play: the action of your hand in pulling the ball to the side and the action of gravity in pulling the ball downward. Both of these energy vectors are straight lines, but their interaction, along with the string or chain holding the ball, makes the ball travel in an arc. The interplay of potential and kinetic energy is absolutely smooth and absolutely dictates the path of the ball. These two energies are in a Taiji relationship that is always present, even when the ball is motionless at the peak of its arc or moving at full speed at the bottom. As I understand it, these energies are as real as physical matter and not mental constructs. I never had physics in school, however, and so may have the specifics wrong.
Humans are not pendulums, but I believe the same principles apply. If you directly try to move any part of your body in a curve, you will probably be using local muscle. My belief is that the curves necessary in the form are achieved by judicially mixing straight-line extensions and by allowing our tendons and joints to impose their own natural limitations on the movement of the limbs. In other words, one allows a mix of different vectors of energy to create curves, rather than trying directly to form curves by controlling individual muscles. Similarly, the shroud of a parachute is not curved because it has a rigid, curved structure or because the action of gravity is curved.
This is why I do not understand what you mean by “sitting into your knees.” In my language, it sounds like you are talking about adjusting one angle in a triangle without changing any of the others. This is, of course, a geometric impossibility. Let me stress, however, that everyone has a different private language for how they view form and I am trying not to nitpick with your use of language. There is no automatic reason why my language needs to make sense to you, or vice versa. As a result, I am not trying to deny or affirm the usefulness or validity of what you describe. Maybe if you or someone else could provide a “translation” into my language or analogies, I could comment more specifically.
All I can say is that for now, I cannot figure out how your experience intersects with mine. I can certainly understand how habit can make a particular frame of the form more comfortable than others; however, I think you are not really talking about that and looking for something more that I cannot get at.
Let me now return to the larger discussion of empty and full that everyone has contributed to. I recently attended a brief push hands seminar with Yang Jun that left me feeling that I had come to understand this issue better than I ever had in the past. He had a way of putting things that made everything seem quite simple and logical. Unfortunately, I do not recall his exact words; and even if I did, they would not have the same meaning without his physical movement to illuminate them.
I think the idea of avoiding double weighting and of “Dividing full and empty” are essentially the same. I want to reiterate, however, that focusing too much on the words “full” and “empty” can be deceptive, since there are quite a few grammatical subtleties within and between English and Chinese that can obscure important aspects of how these words are used (e.g., differences in verbal aspect, states vs. actions, and absolute qualities vs. relative qualities), even where bilingual and fluent speakers are involved. For instance, does “to empty a leg” mean to take 100 percent of the fullness out of it or just a little bit? Are an “empty leg,” a "leg that is 'emptying'” and a "leg that has been 'emptied'” all the same thing? All of these expressions and concepts might be rendered with the same Chinese words.
I would be happy to elaborate on my linguistic thinking if anyone is interested, but I think a safe way of avoiding hidden ambiguity is to think about “filling vs. emptying.” (This is an idea I got from Louis, who, however, may well disagree with much or all of what I am saying.) Using process words forces one to consider the different aspects of these processes and makes them live. I will promptly ignore my own advice in this post, but I wanted to offer up this cautionary opinion in any case.
To explore what “Dividing Full and empty” means I would like to propose the exercise I describe below. It is inspired by applications that Yang Jun taught during the push hands seminar I attended. It is not, however, something he taught and I cannot cite him as a direct authority for anything I say. I mention the connection only to make clear that I am not inventing all of what I say from whole cloth. I am not particularly good at what I describe, but I have gotten this to work almost immediately with friends with very limited experience in push hands. Doing it in person is fairly quick and simple, but putting it in writing will be a challenge.
Imagine two guys, Attacker A and Defender B, who are standing face to face with their feet shoulder width apart. They are standing an arm’s length apart from each other with weight equally distributed between their legs and their arms at their side. Imagine that, without moving his feet, Attacker A launches a right-hand Karate-style punch to Defender B’s left shoulder or to the left side of his chest. If Defender B does nothing to intercept the blow, Defender B is likely to get hurt. It does not matter how his weight is distributed. Even a blow to a dangling (and, therefore, arguably empty) arm is likely to cause injury. Defender B can, of course, attempt to dodge the blow or to block it, but such a strategy depends on speed, which is not the focus of Taijiquan as I know it.
I propose that the above exchange describes an interaction that is outside of what Taijiquan teaches, because Defender B does not connect with Attacker A’s energy. Without joining with his opponent’s energy, Defender B cannot work his Taijiquan skills. He is not really in a “Taiji” relationship with his opponent. “Dividing full from empty” really does not come into play.
Now let’s imagine the same scenario, except that both Attacker A and Defender B begin with their right arm straight out in front of them. Each person has his right palm against the left chest and shoulder of the other. Their left arms remain at their sides, and their feet remain shoulder width apart with the weight evenly distributed.
If Defender B remains more or less stiff, Attacker A can easily push him backwards and cause him to lose his footing. To counter Attacker A’s push, Defender B can attempt to “yield” with his left shoulder, by twisting his torso and retreating his left shoulder along with the push. If, however, Attacker A has some skill and can follow this movement, Defender B reaches a point of maximum rotation and gets stuck. At this point, Attacker A can now launch his push in earnest by pushing through Defender B’s center, with the same result as before.
One solution to this problem is trying to root through only one leg at a time and act like a “swinging door,” as Wushuer has described. I will describe this based on what others have told me previously and do not assert that this fully encompasses what Wushuer has been describing. I do not myself practice Taijiquan in this way and so can only give an impressionistic description. I do so just for illustration purposes and to bring this idea within the ambit of this exercise and contrast it with other strategies.
To root through one leg, imagine that you are Defender B in Scenario 2 above. This time, however, shift all your weight at the outset to the right leg, rather than having the weight equally distributed between the legs. Leave the sole of the left foot in contact with the ground, but unweighted. When Attacker A begins his push, you make sure to keep the left side of your body “empty.” This allows you to “yield” on the left and twist your torso much further than in Scenario 2, since the axis of your spine is now more or less over one leg, rather than being between two legs that act like anchors to restrict movement. Attacker A can, of course, thwart this defense by changing the direction of the initial push, but that sets up a different dynamic that would call for a different response.
What I personally do not understand about the approach in Scenario 3a is that it seems to require an extra initial condition that I find problematic: i.e., having the weight already shifted over the right leg. One solution to this is to say that Defender B does not need to begin the exercise with the weight shifted, but merely needs to begin mentally rooting through the right leg and emptying the left leg. Defender B would then physically shift the weight from left to right only as time and reactions permitted. This has the added benefit of not revealing the nature of one’s defense before the attack is launched and allowing the attacker to adjust the direction of his push.
I find this solution better, but I still wonder a little about its practicality. It would seem to me that, if Attacker A is skilled, he can follow the shifting of the weight in such a way that Defender B can never quite rid himself of Attacker A’s force and will end up getting stuck over one leg with no remaining ability to rotate away Attacker A’s force. I repeat that I have only limited acquaintance with this type of practice and so do not have much confidence in my judgment. I think it is better to be clear about my doubts for others to judge, rather than to ignore the issue.
One way to solve the problem I raise would be for Defender B to use reaction speed to prevent the Attacker from getting a good sense of the path towards his center; however, I do not think it is good Taijiquan to rely on speed as an essential component of technique.
Another possible solution would be to incorporate torso leaning into the mix of defensive tools. Adding vertical rotation to the horizontal rotation makes it much harder for an attacker to find the path to the defender’s center. This seems much more flexible to me and still in keeping with the principle of Taiji; however, it does go against the majority of the Taijiquan traditions that counsel against a great deal of leaning. At this point in my studies, I wonder if this is the general approach that Wu (2) Style takes. Any speculation?
Let’s return to Scenario 2. To repeat, both Attacker A and Defender B have the weight equally distributed between their feet, each with the right palm against the other’s left shoulder and chest. As Defender B feels Attacker A begin his push, Defender B splits his body vertically into empty and full. The left side of this body empties and the right side of his body fills. As Attacker A pushes, Defender B follows his force and circulates it into his right side and into Attacker A. He does this by rotating his torso counterclockwise about the axis of the spine. For every inch his left side retreats, his right side and right arm advance. Defender B must maintain good Ward Off energy in his right arm and through the middle of his back. If Defender B does this correctly, he will borrow Attacker A’s force, circulate it from one side of his body to the other, and allow it to manifest in his right palm to push Attacker A backwards out of his root.
Defender B’s technique should make Attacker A feel as if he has pushed himself, rather than that Defender B has beaten him to the “punch.” Attacker A should feel as if there was no time lag and that it would have been physically impossible for him to anticipate or avoid Defender B’s counter push.
There is a desktop ornament that I think displays a similar use of energy. This is the ornament that has a row of metal balls suspended from two parallel horizontal rods. Each ball is attached to its own individual pair of strings. One string in each pair hangs from one rod, and the other string hangs from the other rod. Each pair of strings forms a “V,” with the ball at the bottom. When at rest, the metal balls hang touching each other. Along with the strings, they form a long row of vertical V’s that are arranged front to back.
If you pull back the ball at one end of the row and allow it to swing back in place, pendulum-style, into the remainder of the balls (which must be in contact with each other), the last ball at the other end of the row flies out from the resulting energy. The other balls remain absolutely stationary in the middle, despite the apparent force of the striking ball. When the other ball, which is now in motion, swings back down against the row of balls, the original ball is now flung up to conclude the cycle in the other direction. If two balls are originally used, then two balls swing up in reaction. The more balls used, the more that will swing up.
In Scenario 4, Attacker A’s right palm plays the role of the initial ball, while his left shoulder and center play the role of the ball at the other end of the row that is flung up by the impact of the initial ball. Defender B plays the role of the balls that remain suspended motionless in the middle and merely transmit the force back and forth.
Notice that this technique does not depend on a given weight distribution among the feet, but rather a transfer of energy through the torso that can be accomplished with various weight distributions. Notice also that the difference between Scenario 2 and Scenario 4 is not so much in the disposition of Defender B’s body, but rather what he does with it. In this exercise, one becomes double weighted simply by not using the mind to split the body into empty and full, not by failing to assume a particular posture. This failure can result from many different causes, such as ignorance, inattention, distraction, or inexperience, but rarely merely from faulty initial positioning.
Notice also that the body cannot act by itself to product this effect. Both mind and body must act. One cannot separate empty and full in the mind alone or allow the body to act like a mindless dead weight independently of the mind’s control. Merely “yielding,” being “soft,” or “relaxing” are insufficient to product the effect, although these qualities are involved. Notice also that Defender B must adjust the “degree” of emptiness and fullness absolutely in accordance with the movement of Attacker A’s push and cannot control the essential speed of the action. Defender B must “forget himself and follow the other.” Any attempt to control the timing interferes with the free circulation of the energy. Allowing the right elbow to “relax” and go limp will defeat the purpose of the movement, since the right palm will not become full. Likewise, trying to “push” independently by flexing the right shoulder or elbow in isolation will not work, since this intent splits the one action (which has a yin and yang aspect) into two separate ones. This destroys the Taiji relationship between the two.
My understanding of the rationale behind splitting your body into full and empty is that it allows the opponent’s Jin to flow into you, through you, and back out. If one does not do this, the opponent’s Jin will stop in you and cause damage or upset your root. The idea then is to allow the opponent’s energy to circulate in unrestricted fashion through your body, rather than to promote positional flexibility that will allow you to launch other techniques.
The Scenarios I have sketched out above are limited in many ways. For instance, I have only described a simple horizontal waist rotation that Defender B can perform. It is my belief that other postures from the form exhibit other ways to circulate energy, such as between the feet or vertically through the torso. I welcome anyone to point out limitations in my scenarios to refute my points or to build on them to make other ones.
I think these scenarios can be used to illustrate other related points of Taijiquan’s theories, such as: Why you must “launch second, but get their first,” why remaining in contact is so important, why you must “know your opponent and not let him or her know you,” why keeping the body “song” is so important, etc. I interpret all these admonitions in a somewhat specific and literal fashion in the context of Taijiquan, rather than merely as exhortations to develop one’s skill to a high level.
[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 04-07-2003).]