I would like to post a few follow-up thoughts to this thread in no particular order. I am sure that much of what I say (to the extent it may be correct) does not come as news to you or to many others.
First, my understanding of the Yangs’ teaching method is as follows: First they expose you to theory and then they teach standard movements within which to explore and study the theory. Once the theory is understood and internalized, one is no longer restricted by the standard movements and can explore other movements that deepen and adapt the theory as circumstances require.
Even after theory is internalized, one never abandons the quest to refine the standard movements. Also, as one explores more advanced movement, one always tries to work towards the ideal described by theory. When theory and practicality clash, I think that practicality must always win out. However, jumping to justify a movement on the basis of practicality is always dangerous, because one’s understanding of deep principle is usually incomplete.
Also, many of the theories are often stated in simple ways that should not be taken too literally into more advanced practices. For instance, the injunction to “keep the elbows or shoulders down” does not find the same physical expression in push hands as it does in the form, because other principles influence the precise outcome in a given situation. The form seems to be aimed at a “neutral” situation that rarely occurs in practice.
I say all this to clarify that when I attempt to describe what I understand of Yang Style principles, I need to make clear if I am talking about statements of theory, standard movements, or free-style approaches. These are, of course, interrelated; but as I understand it, there are subtle and important differences.
Another difficulty about talking about “Taijiquan” is that I understand this term to be ambiguous in Chinese and that this ambiguity is somewhat reflected in any discussion in English. I think that the term “Taijiquan” can refer (1) to the entire martial/health art in all its aspects, (2) to only the barehand aspects of the art, or (3) to the principal barehand form, as opposed to push hands or sparring.
To help understand the reason for the ambiguity, one can note that the terms “Taijidao” and “Taijijian” can refer to the saber and sword forms, respectively, in opposition to the term “Taijiquan.” The “quan” in “Taijiquan” literally means “fist,” but can also refer to a fighting method that includes “boxing” with fists as a major component. (Note that Baguazhang uses palm techniques, rather than fist techniques, and so incorporates the Chinese term for palm (“zhang”) into its name, rather than “quan.”) The “dao” in “Taijidao” means “knife” or “saber.” The “jian” in “Taijijian” means “(straight) sword.” Thus, when someone says that a given teacher’s Taijiquan is this or that way, the reference may be somewhat ambiguous, depending on context.
Most of what I have attempted to describe refers to the principles revealed through form practice. How many of these principles must be retained unaltered in other circumstances is often not clear to me. There are many practices I have seen good Yang Stylists perform in certain push hands situations that I believe would be condemned during performance of the form. For instance, I understand that the shoulders must be kept level during the traditional Yang Style form, yet I believe that spiraling the axis of the shoulders is quite acceptable and even necessary in certain situations during free-style push hands. In other words, keeping the shoulders down is a training principal for form that finds a slightly different expression in push hands training.
Wushuer, you seem to have settled on an interesting and reasonable hypothesis for justifying the differences between NAWS and traditional Yang Style. I am inclined to agree with your conclusions. I have to say, however, that there is quite a large variation within the greater Yang Style community on these issues. For instance, there are many that prescribe 100/0 weight shifts in Empty-Solid Stances, but 60/40 in Bow stances. In other words, I am not sure this is merely an issue of Yang vs. Wu, or even of large frame/circle vs. small frame/circle.
In describing the difference between how NAWS distinguishes full and empty and how I think traditional Yang Style does, I am not sure that I note a difference in stepping method per se. What I note is mostly a seeming difference in timing preferences.
While both styles go through the same differences in weight percentages in the legs in order to perform a step, NAWS seems to see the relevant cycle of receiving or issuing power as starting and beginning with all the weight in one leg, whereas this is about the only combination of weighting that seems to be rare in traditional Yang Style postures. The only apparent occurrence of this type of cycle in Yang Style forms that I can recall is the sequence between the two Golden Roosters in the barehand form. Even here, I would think that the neutralization occurs between particular portions of the two instances of “single weighting” and that the “heart” of the Fajing would occur as one straightens the standing leg while already “single weighted.”
Another preference that NAWS seems to have is to terminate a Fajing on a “single-weighted” bent leg. The only instance of this in the Yangs forms that I can think of is in the Da Lü. I believe that the very last attack and defense in the “standard” sequence (the “Lightning Attack” to the face) occurs when both practitioners go from 70/30 bow stances to “single weighted” empty stances. Since I am not sure about how the Yangs do the Da Lü, I would appreciate confirmation of this from anyone who knows.
If I am correct, this posture from the Da Lü may serve to illustrate what I tried to explain earlier in my post, which is that slightly different “design constraints” seem to operate at different levels of the Yangs’ training curriculum.
I should also say that I have often seen this type of stepping in other practitioners during free-style moving-step push hands. This step occurs when long Jin needs to be applied after one has ended a previous movement in a bow stance. In order to issue force immediately without taking time for a full step, you shift the weight forward to power the strike and bring the back foot up next to the front step. You do not, however, shift any weight to the moving foot and just let it touch lightly on the floor with the ball of the foot or the toes. All I can say is that this type of weighting clearly does not seem required in most instances and does not seem to underlie how the Yangs distinguish full and empty.
In the Yang Style weapons forms, it is not uncommon to finish a move while standing on one leg with the supporting knee more or less straight and extended (but not locked). In the barehand form, this is done during the kicks and in Golder Rooster Stands on One Leg. I conclude from this that Yang Style does not think it important to maximize the potential for medium- or long-distance mobility at the instant that power is delivered. Clearly, standing on a single straight leg is not the most mobile stance to assume if one is preparing for sudden unpredictable movement.
I think the theory is that one never does such a move (or any real Fajing) unless one has already trapped the opponent’s energy and the opponent cannot evade one’s strike without compromising his or her position. I think that this is true even of the kicks. Each position seems to be justified on its own merits of the moment or with reference to a current intent, and not with reference to future possibilities. Even so, you maintain a stable posture and link it to your subsequent movements. You do not allow your intent to stop.
When you feel the need to chase the opponent, such as in Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch, you do not assume a Bow Posture during the transitional steps. Instead, you take a transitional step that I do not know a name for. This type of stepping also occurs in several places in the Saber form when forward steps are linked together in what appear to be attack sequences.
During moving step push hands, yet a different expression of principle seems to operate. I am not sure how the Yangs perform it, but the mechanics of the movements I learned require stepping patterns that I do not think occur during the forms. I learned moving step push hands as a string of modified Bow Steps that never conclude with the back knee extended. Instead, the stances end with the weight shifted 100% (forward or backward) as the “trailing” leg is lifted free of the ground. The logic of this appears to be that the training sequence is meant to be an endless loop and that assuming a fully extended bow stance would imply successfully striking the opponent and ending the cycle.
When the weather turned warm recently in my area, I returned to doing form on my deck. Because of flower petals and dust left over from the winter snows, the surface was extremely slick. To test the surface and just for perverse fun, I performed two complete spins in a row on one leg (720 degrees) with little effort, as if I were ice skating. Whenever I do form in such an environment, where slipping and pulling a muscle is a real possibility, I feel I must alter what I do slightly. One foot has to remain “under” my center of gravity, while the other “moves” and advances the posture to the next phase. I do not think much of this would be readily visible to an observer, but I would think that this type of feeling is closer in spirit to what NAWS seems to teach. It may even be required for basic Yang Style, but I have not been taught this explicitly.
In rereading my post on the scenarios, I realize that I may have given an incorrect impression in two respects. First, as you know, a fundamental principle of Yang Style (and of others) is that you must follow or go along with the other’s force. One reason for this (but not the only one) is to borrow some of this force. While arts like classical Aikido stress using little or none of one’s own force, I do not think the theory is quite the same in Yang Style.
In other words, one is required to follow the other person’s force and use some of it, but how much you use of your own force depends on circumstance, intent, and level of skill. You try to work with the other person’s energy as much as possible, but you are not completely forbidden from using any of your own, as long as it fits within the same flow or pattern of force.
If I had constructed the scenarios with both people in Bow Stances and with slightly different arm positions, I would have had to add another requirement to the movement of Defender B. This is something I had trouble with at the seminar and which I still do not do correctly. As you know, when you push, you must use your entire body. Turning the waist is not necessarily sufficient. Put differently, you should not fail to fully shift your weight with the push and “straighten” the back leg. This means that you will be adding the full force of your body mass behind your push and are not limited to the amount of energy that Attacker A has put into his initial attack.
I constructed my initial scenario with horse stances and a forward application of energy to avoid having to complicate my initial description. I also did this to isolate how someone might feel what distinguishing full and empty can mean. With a slightly different use of energy, such as what occurs in Cloud Hands, one would again have to shift weight and straighten (but not lock) one of the knees. The reason for the difference would be that the energy of Cloud Hands is applied to one side, rather than forward.
Perhaps, in my scenario, I should have prescribed a vertical shift of weight while straightening both knees at the instant of the counter-push. This would conform to the body mechanics that are maintained in the Beginning Posture of the form (at least in the way that the Yangs perform it). On the other hand, Cross Hands is performed with the same stance and is done with both knees bent.
Enough for now.