The importance of the Kwa

The importance of the Kwa

Postby The Wandering Brit » Tue May 24, 2005 2:11 pm

I was browsing a few sites searching for information about the kwa and found the following - I was interested to see what other people thought of it and how it tallied with their own practice. I believe different schools place different emphasis on the relative importance of the kwa, and wondered what other people's experience and advice was?

"Yang Zhenji learned from his father that the waist is located just above the hips. Because of this it can turn while the hips and knees remain fixed in place. Stable hips and knees provide a strong foundation for the posture and add power to Ward Off, Rollback, Press, Push, etc.

Yang Zhenji maintains that this location of the waist strengthens one's push hands as well. "In push hands you move forward and back with the legs and move the waist, not the kwa (hip region). As soon as you sit down and move the kwa, you are wrong."


Personally, I have always been very stiff across the hips and find that I have some trouble in forward bow stance in maintaining correct alignment when tucking the front kwa...I feel a tightness around the outside of the rear hip and struggle to keep my rear knee projecting out over the toes. Is this a problem other people have experienced? It does concern me that this genetic stiffness across the hips may prove a real barrier to progress...
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Postby Audi » Tue May 24, 2005 9:51 pm

Greetings WB,

As I understand it, "kwa" is an ordinary Chinese word that just means "hip" and that can correspond directly to the English usage of the term. I think, however, that it can also refer to the hip socket and that is the reason we have adopted into Taiji English. If you are listening to a Chinese speaker talking about hip placement, it may be worth bearing in mind the possibility of both usages.

As I also understand it, "yao" is an ordinary Chinese word that refers to what is normally the narrowest part of the torso. Specifically, it can mean the English "waist," but also the lumbar region of the body. In Chinese, "back pain" can be translated as "yao" pain.

Because of these differences, I think it is well to distinguish between hip and waist. Where I think some of the confusion begins is that the hip is a very mobile joint; whereas the lumber spine actually has rather limited rotational ability. As practitioners attempt to reposition the torso, it becomes puzzling how much to do so with the hip socket and how much to do so with the lumbar vertabrae.

If you stand with your feet shoulder width apart, it is very easy to move the direction of your navel 180 degrees from side to side by simply freely rolling your ankles and knees. If you get down on your knees, freeze your legs, and attempt to swivel your navel from side to side, you will get a very different feel.

What I understand from Yang Zhenji's comments and Yang Jun's teaching is that we should not compromise our root by rolling our ankles and knees, but should try to move from our lumbar area. Since this mobility will be limited and no joint should be rigidly locked in place, some slight accompanying hip movement (and even slight knee rotation) seems to be okay. Here the major constraint is that the crotch must remain rounded, which means that the knees must remain more or less oriented in the same direction as the corresponding toes. I do not recall any mention of conciously attempting to "fold the kwa," which can tend to pull the knee of the other kwa out of alignment. Instead, I think you want the deployment of your hip sockets to mimic the deployment of your rounded shoulders, even though their ultimate purpose will be different.

A good space to examine this issue is in Cloud Hands. Yang Jun requires that the Pluck energy end up directly downward on either side of the body, requiring something like a 90-degree swivel of the navel that is similar to the 180-degree swivel I described above. The big question is how to accomplish this large swivel by using the lumbar region as the steering wheel, while not compromising the legs and kwa, which function as a power shaft.

Your comment about your rear hip tightness seems to relate to what I have described as the tension between folding the forward hip and keeping the crotch rounded. Generally, I am actually in favor of a feeling of dynamic tension, but not in this case.

I think that tension is good when it concerns Yin and Yang aspects of the same thing, but not when it concerns different things. I perceive the reasons for rounding the crotch to be different from the reasons one might want to fold the kwa. If you try to hold both these ideas firmly in your mind at the same time, you must pick a specific stopping point for each, cannot really be "song," and cannot really let the Qi flow freely. You will have to cultivate a feeling of constraint and make the Jin harder to thread through the body. The body will be hard to unify internally.

If you think of extending and being "song" as "swelling up with water," you may get an idea of what I am trying to convey. It is not that your body cannot have bends in it or even needs to straighten out everywhere, but the "water" that swells up in one part is immediately connected with and affecting the water swelling up in another part.

Your mind intent controls the overall shape of the swelling, but without imposing an arbitrary shape on the "container." The swelling water shapes the container and the size of the vessels, rather than the container or its connecting vessels shaping or constraining the flow of the water.

You do not want to introduce any emphasis on local muscular tightness that will divide the interior of your body into compartments, but instead use your mind to direct the vectors and intensity with which the "swelling" proceeds.

As I understand it, the Yangs do not teach to assume arbitrary shapes or angles, but always stress lengthening out to be "song." As I interpet this, I think the issue is never to reach a particular state of straightness or curvature, but rather always to extend the right part of the body out to the logical extension of its natural motion. Since you are always extending more than one thing at once, the product of your various extensions will produce your ultimate postural shape.

If I apply this thinking to the direction of the knees and rounding the crotch, I would say that the knees point in the direction of the toes because they are actively engaged in lateral stability. (Perhaps, Look left and Gaze Right is the right image.) In other words, they are actively extending and doing something.

The back knee is extending outward, but also acting to extend the leg toward straight. If you extend too much, you lose the feeling of swelling and make your joints too rigid. You eliminate the space you need to maintain continuous change. If you extend too little, you either put arbitrary constraints on your motion that do not respect the feeling of swelling out or you fail to develop a good feel for the potential of what the swelling can do for you.

In this scenario, I know why the knees must extend in the direction they do, but am not sure what is accomplished by actively "tucking in the kwa." Do you have any thoughts about this? I used to think that it helped reposition the torso, but now think that this should primarily be the job of the lumbar vertebrae.

Again, how much you are actually able to pull your navel around by using your waist does not seem important, so much as to extend out into the proper vector and go all the way to the logical conclusion of what your swelling Jin can produce. If for some reason, you have to pull your navel all the way around to straight, then I see why tucking in the forward kwa could be a signpost to indicate when the final position was reached.

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 05-25-2005).]
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Postby The Wandering Brit » Wed May 25, 2005 10:50 am

Hi Audi,

Thankyou for your reply...some of the things you said rang a few bells and after several readings I went away and did the form. I think that I was indeed 'compartmentalising' my body - when, say, stepping forward to brush knee or to do the punch in advance, parry and punch, I was forcibly tucking in the front hip, puling it back in to try and drag the upper body round with it. I now think maybe this was use of localised force, just as bad as striking purely from the shoulder, but I was confusing myself into thinking it was whole body movement.

Instead ot tucking or drawing in the front hip, I then tried just sinking it - this appeared to gently allow the body to turn in the right direction naturally and felt much better.

I wonder if I have just been making a very basic error and not sinking correctly? I think perhaps I have been confusing 'sinking' with 'bending the knee and ensuring my weight is forward, and then pulling my front hip in to try and attain correct posture'. Does that make sense?
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Postby Audi » Wed May 25, 2005 2:22 pm

Hi WB,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Instead ot tucking or drawing in the front hip, I then tried just sinking it - this appeared to gently allow the body to turn in the right direction naturally and felt much better.</font>


In my opinion, there is a split in the practice methods of the Yang Style community with respect to the issue of "sinking." I know people who disagree with this view and who seem to try to practice both ways simultaneously. I personally think people can get some profit from considering the approach of both, but will ultimately get better success focusing on one or the other.

One way, which I do not believe to be Yang Jun's way, is to maintain a strong "dance with gravity" and continuously cultivate a feeling of using only the minimal effort to hold up the limbs against gravity. You constantly try to cultivate a sense of gravity pulling you into the ground and sinking deeper into the joints. It is as if your body is hanging in the air from a coat rack from a few key points.

I think that what this method teaches is a keen sense of what your muscles actually need to do and what they do not need to do. I also think it can teach a fine discrimination of degrees of force and what it can do. Since I no longer practice this way, I will not comment on it further.

The other method, which I believe to be Yang Jun's method, largely ignores the feel of gravity as only a minor component of how the body needs to relate to itself. Basically, gravity is an important concern in maintaining overall stability and Central Equilibrium, but it is not a major regulator of tendon activity. For this purpose, your sense of opponent and knowledge of Jin points is much more important to determining what you need to do with your tendons and joints.

"Sinking the Qi to the Dantian" is, however, a very important concept and is where sinking come into prominent play in method two; however, this is largely accomplished by what is described in several of the Ten Essentials (e.g., hollowing the chest, sinking the elbows and shoulders) plus tucking in the tailbone in slightly.

The tailbone issue is where the hipsockets do become involved. Some people talk about sinking the tailbone, others about tucking it in. The issue is that you need a feeling of staightness in the spine that complements the feeling of pushing through the top of the head and emptying the neck. The two together allow the spine to assume a position where it can rotate more freely and permit your spirit to rise up.

By lengthening down the back from stem to stern, this allows the Qi to settle more easily down your front into your Dantian. From here, it can more easily be utitlized in all parts of the body than if it is stuck in your upper torso. If you allow yourself to have a feeling of a sway back, you tend to destroy these sensations.

"Sinking the Qi" in this sense is less a matter of "attititude" or general mental visualization than the product of maintaining a certain type of body structure and respecting it. It is not an advanced skill to be slowly developed over years, but rather something that should be engaged with during the first weeks of beginner practice.

Overall sinking has a role as a Push Hands tactic in certain situations; but in general, rooting is probably a more important concept than sinking in practicing the form, outside of the issue of sinking Qi to the Dantian.

If you follow method one, I think your tentative solution is probably the correct one. You may want to check on where you feel your knees are sinking to. Try letting go a little too much and see if you tend to become knock-kneed (which is bad) or if your knees tend to head toward your toes (which is good). You should also feel as if your torso tends physically to sink down stably between your feet through a fairly stable spinal and hip structure. If you are flexible enough, you would simply end up sitting straight-backed, but comfortable, on the floor with your legs around you like a spider.

If the method two floats your boat, I would advise not trying to "sink" your leg joints at all. Instead, cultivate dynamic tension between them so that both legs feel that they are swelling up with Jin and pushing against each other. Make sure your hip sockets are included in the feeling.

The level of dynamic tension and the extent of your muscular exertion, within reason, is ultimately irrelevant and not the point. It is not a direct expression of martial power, but rather a training method to cultivate internal connections and bodily unity. It is a way of feeling how the Qi and Jin can flow freely throughout your body and thread through all the joints.

The issue is to unify the legs so that the action of one is actively mediating the action of the other. Think of a wishbone. At the start of such practice, I recommend that people actually push quite hard, even to the level of developing some stiffness in the legs. Then, when the sensation becomes clear after awhile, the level of effort can be dialed back down to a more comfortable level. Taijiquan generally seeks a middle way, but it can be important to explore some of the territory near the ends of the Yin-Yang continuum from time to time.

It is also important to note that the level of the exertion in the legs should not be independent of the level of exertion in the arms. The swelling Jin should flow everywhere without comparmentalization, with a "pressure" that is reasonably even during barehand form practice. (The weapons forms and Push hands feel a little different for me, but should still respect the underlying principle.)

By doing the second method, you will feel your knees actively engaged all the time and can feel whether they really are orienting (Note that I do not say "oriented," which is a static concept.) toward your toes. In other words, you will know whether your mind is using the swelling Jin to expand them to help your lateral stability or weaken it. This is not a one-time thing, but something you should be during all your weight shifts and during the culmination of each posture.

You should develop a feeling of being wedged between the soles of your feet, as if your legs are poles being driven into the ground like stakes. Even though both legs "push," they push differently: the back one is "thrusting" and the front one is "propping up." Because of how your mind orchestrates the flow of your swelling Jin, your knees end up at different angles. It is not that you choose a particular angle for your front knee in advance and simply bend it to that point. You should also not just "lean" into your front leg and catch yourself at an angle that you prejudge to be appropriate. Because you are forming your shape with your swelling Jin, you can feel whether your front knee reaches an equilibrium of strength or weakness with respect to its position over its corresponding toes. You can, of course, look down and check with your eyes; but the real issue is an internal one of feel, not of copying and reproducing an external standard.

For both methods, you should do a check at the culmination of the posture to feel whether the positioning of your torso agrees with your understanding of the martial purpose of the posture. Make sure you know where the main Jin points of focus are and whether your torso is expected to be square to these points or open to the side. Your shoulders and hips may not have to be in perfect alignment with each other. You should feel comfortable, although method two will require you to maintain a sense of lengthening of all the tendons that requires some feeling of exertion.

Since I am sure that my frequent mention of exertion troubles some folks, let me again say that I think there are different practice methods and that mixing them is not a simple matter. Also, the level of exertion will vary throughout the Taiji curriculum, depending on purpose, experience, personal taste, etc., just as we vary speed in the curriculum. The main thing to remember is that large frame forms and practice methods are large for a reason and should not be compromised by continually looking for ways to minimalize them.

My personal observation is that beginners without martial experience hear too much about relaxation and under-exert themselves. This is like receiving a massage from a therapist whose hands are too light. You don't want to be stroked to sleep in the massage chair, but want to have your muscles unknotted through some reasonable pressure.

Some beginners who do have martial experience mistake the exertion as a direct calibration of martial effectiveness and misunderstand its internal purpose. This is like thinking the only good massage is where the therapist continually pummels you and you enjoy a feeling of relief when the beating stops.

Somtimes such people also get lost about wondering when to exert and when not to and whether cycling between exertion and muscular laxity has something to do with alternating between Yin and Yang, opening and closing, or empty and full. What I am trying to describe has nothing to do with these concepts at all.

I hope this helps.

Take care and good luck,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 05-25-2005).]
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Postby The Wandering Brit » Wed May 25, 2005 6:03 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Audi:
<B>Hi WB,



1. One way, which I do not believe to be Yang Jun's way, is to maintain a strong "dance with gravity" and continuously cultivate a feeling of using only the minimal effort to hold up the limbs against gravity. You constantly try to cultivate a sense of gravity pulling you into the ground and sinking deeper into the joints. It is as if your body is hanging in the air from a coat rack from a few key points.


2. The tailbone issue is where the hipsockets do become involved. Some people talk about sinking the tailbone, others about tucking it in. The issue is that you need a feeling of staightness in the spine that complements the feeling of pushing through the top of the head and emptying the neck. The two together allow the spine to assume a position where it can rotate more freely and permit your spirit to rise up.

3. You should also feel as if your torso tends physically to sink down stably between your feet through a fairly stable spinal and hip structure. If you are flexible enough, you would simply end up sitting straight-backed, but comfortable, on the floor with your legs around you like a spider.


4. You should develop a feeling of being wedged between the soles of your feet, as if your legs are poles being driven into the ground like stakes. Even though both legs "push," they push differently: the back one is "thrusting" and the front one is "propping up."

5. Some beginners who do have martial experience mistake the exertion as a direct calibration of martial effectiveness and misunderstand its internal purpose.

]</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Hi Audi,

For brevity's sake I pulled a few points out...

1. After a mere 15 months practice I am still largely unaware of the splits, schisms and subsets within the Yang style, but this certainly sounds like the method in which we are taught. My teacher often tries to instill a feeling of our structure supporting itself - the skeleton doing all the work, muscles doing nothing.

2. Yes, I tuck the tailbone and pull my chin back slightly to get the feeling of a lengthening spine - I do feel a distinct lengthening when I get it 'right' (or at least I have the feeling of it).

3. Again, that sounds very much like the teaching I receive...

4. But then so does this...

5. I think initially I went the other way - having a martial background I tried to be too soft and relaxed - floppy rather than song. I understand the form and the way one performs it changes greatly over time, but at present I exert myself enough so that the long form takes 25-30 minutes and I am dripping by the end of it and my legs know they've been working, though perversely I feel that I have an awful lot more energy when I've finished it than I did when I started.

Anyway, thankyou for your posts - they are really, really appreciated.

All the best.
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Postby Anderzander » Wed Jun 01, 2005 5:25 pm

If I may join in :-)

I think the Kua are important - they, like any other part of the body, should not be stiff.

Whether you use jing or work with emptiness all parts of the body need to be able to change.

The Kua changing converts a vertical internal movement into a horizontal external one. In turning one opens as one closes.

Everyone has areas of deep rooted tension. Relaxing is like defrosting a fridge - every now and then a big chunk falls off.

There are two things that need to be developed and synchronised:

working with gravity, that is the upward and downward forces. (all movements start in the feet, sink to one side etc etc)

working with Qi, that is opening and closing from the centre. (sink the Qi to the dantien etc etc)

Both require all parts of the body to be able to change (let their be no breaks, hollows protruberences, when one part moves all parts move etc etc)

hope thats useful to somebody :-)
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Postby CheeFattTaichi » Thu Jun 02, 2005 3:18 pm

Hi all,

Allow me to share some of my thoughts on this, Audi is absolutely right to differentiate `yao' (waist) and `kua' (hip). Yao should be flexible and pliable and kua is the source of power. Both must work in unison to generate power `yao, kua, ma he yit' (waist, hip and stance must work as one). It is difficult to know what is right from wrong by relying on intepretation and intellectual comprehension, I had this problem too. Bear in mind that the requirement is for them to work as one to generate great power and strength so, use this as a tenet. One good way to train this unison of yao, kua, ma is by direct experiencing their power they generate by working against a wall. Apply ann, ji or whatever tech by placing palm on a wall. Push using the strength from the combination of yao, kua, ma working together. When you come to a point where your power is the sum of these three, you will know what is kua as meant in TC.

All the requirements pertaining to kua and yao is aimed at unifying strength created by two largest groups of muscles and ligaments which are legs and hip areas. Experiment by direct experiencing the powers created here and you will understand.
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Postby The Wandering Brit » Fri Jun 03, 2005 10:13 am

Ander, Chee,

Thankyou very much for your insights - I have been starting to focus on opening and closing from the centre only very recently, as the concept has only just been introduced to me by my teacher. Internal opening and closing is something we focus on in standing Chi Kung practise and I am trying to implement it into my form gradually, as I find it far, far harder to do when moving as opposed to when static.
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