Mind Intention in Taijiquan

Postby Kalamondin » Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:03 pm

Hi Audi,

Sorry for the long delay in responding—life happens. Anyway, I did a lot of thinking about things you mentioned. This is sort of a general posting in response to your message. I don’t doubt that you already understand most, if not all, of what I’m writing about, but the act of writing it helps further my own understanding so I hope you’ll forgive me if I sound like I’m preaching to the converted at all.

You suggested: <<Why not try to find an exercise that tends to rattle you, but will give you immediate and physical feedback whenever you yield and let yourself become rattled?>>

Thanks, I’ll do that.
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A: <<I also do not think the Yangs teach in this way. I would also say that their method calls for a particular quality of softness, rather than trying for a feeling of a complete lack of substance or solidity. An opponent should feel a firmness that he or she cannot engage directly. To some extent, the degree of softness seems to be a matter of individual choice and personal style.>>

K: Yes, that’s my understanding of softness as well. It’s the softness of a fish swimming through your fingers, or can have the element of a near miss—like being barely grazed by something large and fast moving. Some opponents seem stiff but can change to softness on a dime. Others are filled with a pung (ward-off) energy that feels like hardness but are very nimble. Others feel soft and insignificant until you are launched. I agree there is no room for flimsiness or weakness in tai chi “softness.” Even if flimsiness or weakness is used as a means of deception, there must still be a core of steel, even if it’s a small but open channel that can be filled instantly.
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A: << I should also confess that I personally do not accept the view that terms such as Qi and Jin used in the Taiji classics refer to “fields of force,” “emanations,” or principles of reality unknown to modern science. I personally do not believe in “Qi disruption” through non-physical means. I have not yet seen anything in the Yangs’ basic teaching or writings to make me reassess this view, but I am sure others would disagree.>>

K: Everyone has a slightly different understanding of chi and jin. In my limited understanding at present, I agree that there can be no chi disruption through non-physical means—but I think we disagree about what constitutes “non-physical.” I find the recent physics theory of the universe as a hologram attractive because it lends some explanation for non-local events. This theory holds that each part of the universe is a part of and constitutes the whole (see Michael Talbot’s “Holographic Universe” for an interesting discussion of recent physics and how it may tie to abnormalities in “reality”). Thus, all parts are physically connected, so there is no discrepancy between what happens here and what happens there. The physicist talk of matter and energy being inseparable, a continuum that also includes time and space (and therefore, why not matter and spirit, like you said the older Chinese texts suggest?).

So it looks to me like science is beginning to find correlations between chi and non-local phenomena. Not just in physics, but also in medicine, where fields of electro-magnetic energy are used to make diagnoses. I am not arguing that heat, light, electricity, or electro-magnetic energy are chi. But I do think that they may be correlates and can be used to gauge some sense of a person’s chi, especially for those who haven’t studied listening energy, or other such subjective ways of gauging chi in another.

There are studies out there measuring sound in decibels emanating from Qi Gung masters after practice, photographs taken of light emitted from energy centers in the body, measurements of the distance at which machines can register the electromagnetic field of the heart (which is greater for those with chi training), as well as a 20 year MIT physics study with a massive sample size that seems to indicate that intention can influence seemingly random events.

I’m sorry for rambling here—I’m just seeing more and more of a confluence between science and tai chi lately and think it’s really exciting. Of course I can’t speak to what the Yang’s position on chi as a “field” or “emanation” might be. My personal experience and reading make me lean towards the idea that we are made (that everything is made) of interpenetrating fields of energy. For example, when I am doing standing meditation, with my arms in round arcs facing my belly, and I breathe into my Dantien, I can feel my arms pushed out from my body with a very tangible pressure, as though they were resting on the surface of a large balloon that expands and contracts with my breath.

Moreover, I tried your earlier suggestion about feeling for a web of energy connecting here with there and it has had a wonderful effect on my form: I could feel where to go, I could feel where it was easiest and most natural to go, as though I was able to gauge air resistance or something. I know one could argue that I was merely feeling the proper alignment of the body with the ground, but the experience felt more fluid than that, as though I were caught in a current. I don’t think it matters whether you call it flowing with the Dao, or swimming in the air, or floating with a current, or wading through a field of electrons or chi—but I dislike the idea that there is nothing there. It doesn’t mesh with my direct experience.
________________

A:<< If his intent is doing what I want, I know that his center will have to follow my actions. If he has some other intent, my actions will be worse than useless, since I will expose a vulnerability to him for no gain. This is what I understand by “knowing your opponent, but not letting the opponent know you.” If I do not know the opponent I cannot execute my Taiji techniques at all. It is not a matter of excellence, but of necessity.>>

K: Thanks for your advice on following intent instead of looking for the location of the opponent’s center at any given moment. I’m going to have to think about trying to see how their intent could do what I want (laying traps, for example, by letting them do what they want). At the moment, with those who are more skilled than I, I am only able to gauge intent and deflect…sometimes.
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<<K: I’m wondering about your experience of applying attacks like these. Does understanding someone’s intention necessarily entail a deep understanding of him as a person? Do you feel like you have to listen to their every motivation in order to counter them effectively? How close do you need to get? I’m wondering if the injunction to “read their mind” involves a blurring or dissolution of distinctions between you and your opponent. How can you match them unless you listen so closely that there’s not really a difference anymore? Do you experience anything like this?>>

A: <<You raise an interesting point.

In my inexpert opinion, one does not need to understand how a person generally is, but only how they are at the current moment. (In Spanish, for those who read it, this is “como es una persona” vs. “como esta una persona.”) To understand the person-of-the-moment, one has to draw on one’s common experience as a person. To some degree, one must put oneself in the other’s skin. … Blurring and dissolving distinctions is also a good way of thinking of this, because you really need to stick so closely to your opponent’s spirit, intent, Qi, and body that you are one system of energy. In my view, this involves surrendering initiative to the opponent, but not surrendering control or your autonomy.>>

K: So it sounds like we have a similar experience on this one too—only I’m still trying to figure out how to not surrender control or autonomy whilst still surrendering initiative. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. More practice needed, I’m sure. I think I have the opposite difficulty of most people: getting into their skin is no problem—it’s getting out that’s tricky!! Thankfully, push hands is an excellent vehicle for figuring out how to do that. Getting knocked off balance repeatedly is an excellent feedback loop for figuring out how to maintain control and balance.

I asked my teacher the same question I asked you above and he said you have to let them in completely, you have to be empty, and you have to be able to distinguish between empty and full. I went home and meditated on this and had a vision of my opponent and myself as a kind of Venn diagram. If you take the idea of the body as a non-solid mass of vibrating energy or posit that it has a field of chi, then the portion where my energy overlaps with my opponent’s is the intersection of mutual understanding, and it differs for each person involved. This overlap is where I read my opponent’s intention. If I can make myself empty by dissolving my own chi blockages (which are often areas of physical and psychological tension), then there is no place the opponent cannot enter. The intersection is large and I can read lots of things about him. If he is stiff and blocked, then the intersection of me with him seems quite small from his perspective and he can’t understand me very well.

A chi blockage is an area of fullness. I just learned that emptiness isn’t about removing anything, it’s about making it fluid, an absence of tension. The more I am able to empty myself of resistance, expectation, whatever, the more my opponent’s energy can come in. The more that comes in, the more I can understand. The circles of the diagram overlap more and more until there is only one set containing both of us. Well, that’s not entirely right. The person who is more “empty” contains the opponent’s set as a sub-set, but and the partner who is less empty has a set that excludes the other to a greater or lesser degree. I’m there and he’s there, but the greater the intersection, the easier it is for me to read areas of fullness or stuck-ness in his body. The intersection contains everything I need to know about what he has excluded from his version of the same diagram. I could feel from inside the energy field what was stuck and where I needed to push.

So that’s all well and good, but I’ve only just had the glimmer of that understanding and can’t claim to do it yet.
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A: <<If your opponent is manifesting a disturbed spirit and excited Qi, you should not copy this behavior. You just stick and follow with a calm and detached spirit. Imagine that you have a child that is throwing a temper tantrum. You can observe the child closely and make sure he or she comes to no harm and causes no harm, but you do not need to throw a tantrum yourself. In fact, if you copy the behavior, you lose all ability to follow closely and to “follow the changes” at will.>>

K: Now that you say it, it seems obvious. Matching a “disturbed spirit and excited Qi” would only exacerbate the situation. No wonder that technique has worked about as well as a train wreck in the past. I’ll keep striving for calmness—I think detachment is probably the key. Not detached in the sense of separate, just not locked up or jumbled up in their excitement.
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A: << I talked about “Shi” in my post of 1/24 on this thread and do not think I cand improve much on it. One thing I read recently was that during Han Dynasty times, this term apparently was applied to the “authority” inherent to the emperor as the moral and spiritual axis uniting heaven, earth, and humanity. >>

K: Interesting. I’ll look at your 1/24 post. I like the idea of the moral and spiritual axis.
I’ll probably have to go back and look at this thread from the beginning in my vast spare time : )


A: <<While your Shen can affect your body, your body can also affect your Shen. This is why you “suspend from above” to allow your spirit to rise up your spine and into your head. I think another aspect of this for Yang Chengfu’s teaching is “matching inner and outer.” If you can integrate Qi, Yi, and Shen, then all you need to worry about directly is Shen, since this inherently the most nimble (“the most refined form of Qi”) and flexible of the three.>>

K: Thanks for your discussion of Shen. I’ve been working on this for a few months now, and certainly can feel a vast difference if I manage to allow my spirit to rise enough. It’s as though having Shen elevated naturally pulls Yi and Qi into line. This is the point where the details fall away, the form feels strong and fluid, I feel healthy and alert. The suspension from above seems to come from beyond the top of my head, and my spirit to rise slightly above my head (I don’t claim that’s what it’s doing, it just feels like the focus point is about 1.5 feet above my head).

A: Yang Chengfu probably said it best (in Jerry’s translation):

“8. Match Up Inner and Outer

What we are practicing in taiji depends on the spirit, hence the saying: "The spirit is the general, the body his troops".
If you can raise your spirit, your movements will naturally be light and nimble, the form nothing more than empty and full, open and closed. When we say 'open', we don't just mean open the arms or legs; the mental intent must open along with the limbs. When we say 'close', we don't just mean close the arms or legs; the mental intent must close along with the limbs. If you can combine inner and outer into a single impulse [], then they become a seamless whole.”

K: I’m glad you reminded me of that. I’m going to think more about how intent can open and close with the limbs. I’ve thought about how to open and close the limbs with intent…but now it seems like there’s more. That’s what I love about tai chi. There’s always more!

Well, this post has gotten long enough. Thanks for slogging through!

Kalamondin
Kalamondin
 
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Postby Audi » Sat Jun 12, 2004 6:59 pm

Hi Kalamondin,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">This is sort of a general posting in response to your message. I don’t doubt that you already understand most, if not all, of what I’m writing about, but the act of writing it helps further my own understanding so I hope you’ll forgive me if I sound like I’m preaching to the converted at all.</font>


Let me repay the favor. In other words, I am not responding below to your beliefs, but rather to some topics you have raised.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I’m sorry for rambling here—I’m just seeing more and more of a confluence between science and tai chi lately and think it’s really exciting.</font>


I may have been unclear in explaining my view. At present, I see no necessary contradiction between accepted theories of modern science and Taijiquan and no contradiction between accepted theories of modern science and what the Yangs and many similar teachers teach.

I made my statement primarily to clarify that my comments on this forum address quite mundane and practical uses of Qi. If one focuses on a view of Qi as a subtle emanation or unexplained phenomenon outside of modern science, one can have difficulty evaluating these immediate uses. One can “miss the near by seeking the far.” The near may be even more exciting than the far.

One principle I try to adhere to in practicing Taijiquan is to focus on things that I can in some way explain or demonstrate within a minute or two. If I cannot do this, I question whether I can really study the material properly or teach it to others. Material that does not fit these criteria may also be important, but I just question how accurately it can be communicated, taught, or practiced. Much of what I have read about theories of Qi in TCM seems to concern things that do not seem easily demonstrable within the context of Taijiquan. Of course, some things in life must be accepted on faith, but I try to separate what requires faith and what merely requires understanding. I must also rush to say that some level of understanding of a subject does not guarantee competency, skill level, or mastery. In other words, I am not making any assertions of competency in any of the theories I discuss, even if I hope I have a small degree of understanding of certain things.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Of course I can’t speak to what the Yang’s position on chi as a “field” or “emanation” might be.</font>


I should be clear that I am not trying to explain the Yangs’ position, which I do not know, but only my perception of how they teach. Whenever I hear them talk about Qi, I perceive that they are calling for immediate and direct action on the part of students and not something esoteric or meditative. For instance, when they talk about “settling Qi,” I perceive them as calling for specific, observable action, rather than something connected with “inward meditation” or special mental skill.

Similarly, when the Yangs talk about judging a student’s expression of “Shen,” they are talking about a quality that everyone should be able immediately to display to some degree and which judges should be able to score reasonably objectively. While one’s level of “spiritual attainment” or “spiritual power” may be connected with this at some level, I do not think this is what is meant at the basic level. In my experience, the basic level is deceptively simple, but also very, very deep.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">My personal experience and reading make me lean towards the idea that we are made (that everything is made) of interpenetrating fields of energy.</font>


I agree with this completely. In fact, I think to believe otherwise would be far outside the mainstream of what mainstream physicists believe. For instance, even as you read these words, you are simultaneously experiencing the gravitational pull exerted by my computer mouse, as well as the pull of every star in the observable universe. Our energetic connection is quite real and not really controversial.

My question about such beliefs is not whether or not they or true, but whether or not they are useful for Taijiquan. For instance, I, personally, do not believe that the mind can be used to suspend the laws of gravity; however, I know that some people seek such power and others claim to teach it. While I cannot disprove such beliefs, I think I have experienced that approaching the Yangs’ teaching in ways similar to this can detract from other very important and very subtle principles. If one thinks that the goal of a “Taiji” mind is directly to manipulate emanations, physical laws, or the opponent’s “emanations” or limbs, I think that one can fail to grasp other applications of the mind that are absolutely critical to some approaches to Taijiquan.

Some people teach that it is important to learn to “feel Qi” and prescribe specialized exercise to do so. Some state that many years of hard practice are necessary to learn about Qi. Whether or not this is true of some Taijiquan, my understanding of what others teach is different. In fact, many teach that to follow Qi sensations closely will lead down incorrect paths.

Many Qi sensations are somewhat ambiguous. What some feel to be evidence of strongly flowing Qi, others describe as sensations indicating harmful blockage. Below is an example of the type of confusion I have experienced.

I recall one fellow student remarking that a certain senior practitioner was exhibiting strong Qi, because his hand and fingers were trembling as he softly and slowly relaxed to express the culmination of certain postures. You could see that his expression of spirit was very strong. Others have told me, however, that such trembling indicates blockage at the wrist or forearm, since the Qi is trying to break through and causes the hand or fingers to tremble. My own experience leads me to the latter interpretation.

Local feeling may thus indicate blocked flow or suddenly released flow. If one continues far down this road of analysis, I think one quickly gets deep into the territory of Qi Gong and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), which have their own bodies of knowledge, controversies, and contradictions. If one’s teacher dips into this well of knowledge, I have no objection; however, if a little is okay, more is not necessarily better. I do not think that attempting simultaneously to master three separate disciplines (i.e., Taijiquan, Qi Gong, and TCM) is something for the faint of heart.

For what I do, I believe that what is important about Qi should be perceived and acted on almost immediately from the beginning of study. Qi cannot be seen directly, but neither can “emptiness,” “mind,” or “balance.” None of these concepts are at all troublesome to modern science. All are very important to Taijiquan, and all should be worked on almost from the very first hour of study. The Yangs’ basic method seems to me to have little more direct emphasis on Qi flow per se than it has on blood flow.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">For example, when I am doing standing meditation, with my arms in round arcs facing my belly, and I breathe into my Dantien, I can feel my arms pushed out from my body with a very tangible pressure, as though they were resting on the surface of a large balloon that expands and contracts with my breath.</font>


I have no problem with your statement as such, but it gives me a jumping off point to repeat why I am wary about mixing and matching methods. I do not in anyway dispute the validity of what you feel or its usefulness for your practice. How could I judge such a think across the Internet without ever having seen it in person? If you are taught in this way by a good teacher, by all means stick with it and make the most of it. What I would question, however, is why the raw exercise would inherently be useful without some further connection to some other Taiji method or principle.

Your brief statement describes an exercise or a practice tool, but a tool is not really a complete learning method by itself. Nothing in your statement explains what you are to do with your knowledge or with your feelings. (Again, I am not asserting that you cannot explain or justify the exercise if so inclined and given the chance to do so. I am just questioning why Qi sensations are relevant in and of themselves.) Put another way, why is feeling your Qi automatically any more useful than feeling your changes in blood flow or blood pressure? If you could control your blood flow or blood pressure at will, would this automatically improve your Taijiquan?

I would guess that the exercise could be used to “remove blockages.” Again, I have no problem with this; however, many masters assert that the form does this quite well by itself and requires nothing else. At the other end of the spectrum, some authorities write that Taijiquan must be supported by specific types of seated meditation, standing meditation, breathing exercises, diet, prolonged abstinence from sex (This is repeated in several sources by the way.), etc. in order for practitioners to progress adequately. I do not think anyone can conclusively argue that any particular way is best, but I think one can obtain substandard results by reading one approach onto another or by automatically thinking that either more complexity or greater simplicity is inherently superior to some other method.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I don’t think it matters whether you call it flowing with the Dao, or swimming in the air, or floating with a current, or wading through a field of electrons or chi—but I dislike the idea that there is nothing there. It doesn’t mesh with my direct experience.</font>


One hypothesis in current mainstream particle theory posits that the “empty space” between discrete bits of observable matter is actually seething with particles of energy and matter that constantly wink in and out of existence. Whether this phenomenon has any relevance to launching an opponent is another matter.

Even in the physics of Einstein, empty space is not empty of properties. Such properties are analogous in my view to what Neo-Confucians termed Li3 (“principle” or “cosmic order”), even though the details understandably differ considerably.

The Daodejing/Tao Te Ching makes a very forceful point that it is the very property of “nothingness” that gives many things their usefulness. (See http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/contao/laotzu.htm, Chapter 11.) The point that I am trying to make is that filling one’s thoughts only with “emanations” of Qi or with Qi as something akin to “psychic electricity” may destroy the very value of Qi that one may be seeking in some situations.

The crest and trough of a wave are both quite real, but you can scoop up neither in your hands and show them to someone. They cannot be put into a bucket. The true energy of the wave manifests within a fluid, but is not itself a fluid. I do not think there is even a mechanical probe that can directly register wave energy independently of time and place. The energy can be transmuted into something else, but cannot be “held.” Mapping the precise characteristics of the spiraling “Qi” that flows from crest to trough may be fascinating, but not of much practical use in avoiding getting dumped by a wave.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I’m going to have to think about trying to see how their intent could do what I want (laying traps, for example, by letting them do what they want). At the moment, with those who are more skilled than I, I am only able to gauge intent and deflect…sometimes.</font>


Words are slippery things, and I am not sure of your meaning here. If you are with me this far, I want to try to be as clear as possible in case I may have misled.

When I am talking about “intent” or “Yi,” I am not really talking about what an opponent “intends” to do. “Yi” does not really mean this as far as I know. I am talking about what sense a person makes of his or her body’s layout from moment to moment, how the mind relates to the body. What one “plans” to do is not the issue at this level. A person does not need to try something on you for you to be able to make use of his or her intent. You simply use whatever you find. In fact, you have to make use of what you find or choose a completely different strategy.

A person standing before you is using his or her “Yi” to maintain a particular equilibrium of Yin and Yang and of full and empty. This equilibrium is always an act of will, whether conscious or unconscious. It always has some sort of purpose or orientation, regardless of whether the person has any real intention of doing anything. If there were no exercise of will, the person would be lying in a jumbled up heap on the ground.

Because an equilibrium is present, the potential for a strong flow of Jin is usually not apparent, but it is always nonetheless present. If you simply upset the equilibrium, the flow to a new equilibrium can be quite strong and even violent, as Yin and Ying readjust in another way. If you can “distinguish full and empty” clearly, you can have access to this method. If you cannot, then you must use another method.

“Traps” should come into play because you sense that your partner is relying on an equilibrium that is unstable or fast disappearing. You, on the other hand, can see further backward and forward in time and know what the future equilibrium has to be if you partner does not change his or her intent (Again, I do not mean “intention.”). You then just wait for your partner to continue down the chosen path to destruction and follow closely.

“Deflect” is also a slippery word. Some use it to imply only making the opponent miss your center. This sounds similar to the expression “luo4 kong1” (“land on emptiness”). I think the best usage of this is not to think about diverting the opponent into thin air, but rather into leading him or her to something that is of no value. For me, the distinction is vital.

“Deflect” in the first sense connotes a separation of energy, which is contrary to traditional theory. “Deflect” in the second sense implies clear discrimination of full and empty and an ability to control the opponent. You should in fact control the "empty" just as much as you control the "full." Where you lead the opponent is not to a place out of your control, but into your control.

You control the opponent by always yielding up what the opponent thinks he or she wants, but which will be of no value. This is why focusing on intent is important. An opponent’s “disposition” (“shi4”?) always implies a distribution of value across his or her posture. If you can perceive this, you can always control the opponent by leading him or her into emptiness and offering irresistible, but useless or disadvantageous things. The only defense to successful use of this approach is to change the initial intent. The opponent must master him or herself first, before he or she can fight you.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B> If you take the idea of the body as a non-solid mass of vibrating energy or posit that it has a field of chi, then the portion where my energy overlaps with my opponent’s is the intersection of mutual understanding, and it differs for each person involved. This overlap is where I read my opponent’s intention. If I can make myself empty by dissolving my own chi blockages (which are often areas of physical and psychological tension), then there is no place the opponent cannot enter. The intersection is large and I can read lots of things about him. If he is stiff and blocked, then the intersection of me with him seems quite small from his perspective and he can’t understand me very well.

A chi blockage is an area of fullness. I just learned that emptiness isn’t about removing anything, it’s about making it fluid, an absence of tension. The more I am able to empty myself of resistance, expectation, whatever, the more my opponent’s energy can come in. The more that comes in, the more I can understand. The circles of the diagram overlap more and more until there is only one set containing both of us. Well, that’s not entirely right. The person who is more “empty” contains the opponent’s set as a sub-set, but and the partner who is less empty has a set that excludes the other to a greater or lesser degree. I’m there and he’s there, but the greater the intersection, the easier it is for me to read areas of fullness or stuck-ness in his body. The intersection contains everything I need to know about what he has excluded from his version of the same diagram. I could feel from inside the energy field what was stuck and where I needed to push.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Great concept! Great teacher! If you can “see” this and pursue it, you should have no problem with any of the stuff we have talked about above.

The only thing you might want to examine is the question of training routine. In other words, how does one actually learn Listening, Understanding, Neutralizing, Sticking, Adhering, Linking, Following, the eight primary Jins, etc.? In other words, how do you get the intellectual framework to move from your head into your body?

I would say that my skill level is quite limited and so freestyle pushing constitutes only about 5% of the time I dedicate to pushing hands. Most of the time, I am working on circling or drills that require me to apply some of the basic skills. The rest of theory is simply a background to help me understand why certain things are necessary and what their potential is.

If I get the simple things right, I believe that my skills can naturally deepen. If, on the other hand, I try to work directly on such things as “making my opponent land on empty” without any structure to the exercise, I believe that I will block my improvement by practicing incorrect, but seemingly effective methods.

I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 06-12-2004).]

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 06-12-2004).]

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 06-12-2004).]
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Postby Kalamondin » Sat Jun 19, 2004 12:21 am

Hi Audi,

Here's the first portion of my response--I wanted to send it off before the weekend hits.

Quote:
A: <<If one focuses on a view of Qi as a subtle emanation or unexplained phenomenon outside of modern science, one can have difficulty evaluating these immediate uses. One can “miss the near by seeking the far.” The near may be even more exciting than the far. >>

I think there can be just as much danger in missing the far by seeking the near or “missing the forest for the trees.” I agree that one of the best ways to improve is to break progress down into small, manageable doses. But I also think it’s very important to think big every now and then b/c the larger goal you are working towards must dictate what you study in the short term.

Quote:
A: <<One principle I try to adhere to in practicing Taijiquan is to focus on things that I can in some way explain or demonstrate within a minute or two. If I cannot do this, I question whether I can really study the material properly or teach it to others. Material that does not fit these criteria may also be important, but I just question how accurately it can be communicated, taught, or practiced. >>

Yes, I agree that material that is beyond the current scope of the student or the teacher cannot be communicated, taught, or practiced accurately. The material needs to be presented at a level just slightly higher than the one the student is at—high enough that improvement may be sought, but low enough for the student to make progress without reaching for the impossible. It sounds like your policy of being able to explain or demonstrate quickly is a very good one, but I also think it’s important for both student and teacher to balance focus on step-by-step improvement with a willingness to reach for the stars as though it were the next logical step.

This kind of expansive thought is just as much a part of tai chi as the daily focus on improving details of the form. There are tai chi masters who talk of achieving a state during solo forms practice where the boundaries between themselves and the universe seem to disappear, where they lose track of time or action.

It’s my belief that thinking about these larger things now and then, whether it’s transcending the limits of the form, mastering one of the ten principles, or just learning to relax, can be just as beneficial as methodical improvement. I think that incorporating an expansive quality of thought is part of what allows for drastic and sudden leaps of understanding.

Quote:
A: <<Much of what I have read about theories of Qi in TCM seems to concern things that do not seem easily demonstrable within the context of Taijiquan. Of course, some things in life must be accepted on faith, but I try to separate what requires faith and what merely requires understanding. I must also rush to say that some level of understanding of a subject does not guarantee competency, skill level, or mastery. In other words, I am not making any assertions of competency in any of the theories I discuss, even if I hope I have a small degree of understanding of certain things. >>

I’m going to second your last statement about competency—the same goes for me. That said, I’m going to argue that understanding requires faith. If, for example, a beginning student doesn’t have faith in the experience of those who’ve gone before, the masters of our art, how could the student accept that principles like, “Combine inner and outer,” or “Distinguish between empty and full” are possible, much less useful in a fight? How could they justify trying to learn them?

I think it’s important to keep revisiting the things you believe require faith to see if your understanding has changed. The things that I had to take on faith when I first started seem much more easily demonstrable to me now, particularly the links between tai chi, Qi, and TCM. It’s like distinguishing between empty and full—faith vs. understanding. The locus is constantly changing, as are the components of both, so it’s important to notice what has shifted now and then.

Here’s a somewhat related story: my teacher once offered me the correction for my form that I must raise my spirit. Not understanding, I asked how. He replied, “You must believe.”

So I tried it out, practiced practicing as though I believed my spirit were raised, in spite of not knowing precisely what that might look or feel like, especially in a tai chi context, and sure enough some measure of understanding seemed to flow from belief.

For those who don’t quite get how a raised spirit can help the form, YCF says on principle #8, Combine inner and outer:

Tai Chi trains the spirit. It is said that "the spirit is the leader and the body follows its command". If you can lift your spirit, then your movements will naturally be agile and alive. Postures are nothing more than solid and empty, opening and closing. Opening does not just involve the hands and feet, but they must work in concordance with the opening of the heart/mind. Closing does not just concern the hands and feet, but they should coordinate with the closing of the heart/mind as well. When the internal and external are unified as one harmonious chi, then there are no gaps anywhere.
--------
You were talking about esoteric v. more concrete knowledge:

Quote:
A: <<Whenever I hear [the Yangs] talk about Qi, I perceive that they are calling for immediate and direct action on the part of students and not something esoteric or meditative. For instance, when they talk about “settling Qi,” I perceive them as calling for specific, observable action, rather than something connected with “inward meditation” or special mental skill.

Similarly, when the Yangs talk about judging a student’s expression of “Shen,” they are talking about a quality that everyone should be able immediately to display to some degree and which judges should be able to score reasonably objectively. While one’s level of “spiritual attainment” or “spiritual power” may be connected with this at some level, I do not think this is what is meant at the basic level. In my experience, the basic level is deceptively simple, but also very, very deep.>>

I agree completely with your last sentence, but it’s this very idea that makes me want to quibble with your first paragraph. When I’ve heard them speak about Qi, I think yes, “specific, observable action” but I also think yes, “esoteric and meditative.” It’s a both-and situation. Yes, a student can practice immediate and direct action. Everyone can settle their Qi to some extent just by thinking “down” or thinking about lowering their center of gravity.

But the deeper one goes into the basics, the more and more meditative and esoteric it gets. I’m not talking about meditation in addition to tai chi, I’m talking about the meditative aspect of tai chi itself. “Settling Qi” can be a deep inward process, and a mental skill that must be learned. There are nuances like what kind of Qi is settling, how it settles in different regions of the body, whether it’s settling into the ground, or the dantien, or in muscles or cells. Where is it settling from? Where is it going to? Can it be felt? Seen? Granted, these are things I’ve been thinking about and haven’t heard the Yangs discuss specifically.

Maybe the issue is with the word “esoteric.” The OED definition is “Designed for, or appropriate to, an inner circle of advanced or privileged disciples; communicated to, or intelligible by, the initiated exclusively. Hence of disciples: Belonging to the inner circle, admitted to the esoteric teaching.” If you meant something like that definition—that Qi can only be felt or sensed or used by advanced practitioners, then my answer is still: well, yes and no. Yes, most people can readily use and apply the Yangs' basic instruction about Qi. But there’s no denying that an advanced practitioner can do it better and show the Qi more clearly. And here, of course, I’m not claiming that I’m that advanced—but I’ve had the privilege of watching more advanced people demonstrate.

Quote:
A: <<Others have told me, however, that such trembling indicates blockage at the wrist or forearm, since the Qi is trying to break through and causes the hand or fingers to tremble. My own experience leads me to the latter interpretation. >>

This is my experience too.

All for now, have a great weekend,
Kalamondin

[This message has been edited by Kalamondin (edited 06-21-2004).]
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Posts: 309
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Postby Kalamondin » Thu Jun 24, 2004 6:36 pm

Hi Audi,

Here’s the second half of my response. You said:

Quote:
Audi: <<What I would question, however, is why the raw exercise would inherently be useful without some further connection to some other Taiji method or principle.

Your brief statement describes an exercise or a practice tool, but a tool is not really a complete learning method by itself. Nothing in your statement explains what you are to do with your knowledge or with your feelings. (Again, I am not asserting that you cannot explain or justify the exercise if so inclined and given the chance to do so. I am just questioning why Qi sensations are relevant in and of themselves.) Put another way, why is feeling your Qi automatically any more useful than feeling your changes in blood flow or blood pressure? If you could control your blood flow or blood pressure at will, would this automatically improve your Taijiquan?

I do not think anyone can conclusively argue that any particular way is best, but I think one can obtain substandard results by reading one approach onto another or by automatically thinking that either more complexity or greater simplicity is inherently superior to some other method. >>

For some people, it’s probably true that substandard results will be obtained by mixing and matching schools of thought, martial arts, and exercises. I’ve found it’s the opposite for me. I am constantly comparing and contrasting; experimenting to see if this idea or that helps or hinders my understanding of the form and tai chi principles. When I feel that my progress has reached a plateau, the next step invariably comes from outside tai chi.

We’re probably talking about a difference in learning styles. I agree completely that it’s impossible to argue that any particular way is best. I wouldn’t even try. I can only talk about what’s working or not working for me, or possibly others I’ve observed. I have a very associative thinking and learning style. So for me, because tai chi is one of my abiding passions, I am constantly making connections and associations between tai chi and just about everything else I do or think about.

You are right again, no raw exercise is inherently useful _without some further connection to some other Taiji method or principle_. But in my opinion, the student bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for making connections between individual exercises (or just about anything) and tai chi.

There’s no denying that a good teacher will lead a student to discover these connections. A good teacher is an essential guide for a student’s course of study, particularly if a student gets off track. But each person has disparate reasons for studying, different study habits, and different learning styles—so even if a teacher were trying to teach the same thing to each student, each student would learn something different.

There’s that old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” So if I’m a horse (grin), and my teacher has led me to study standing meditation, it’s up to me to drink it in and figure out the connections to tai chi methods and principles on my own. If I get stuck, I might ask him a question, but just because it’s a tool and not a complete learning method doesn’t mean I can’t pick it up, play with it, and figure out how to do something useful with it. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors there.)

Chinese tradition is very clear about honoring, respecting, and obeying one’s teacher. But tai chi tradition is also very clear that gung fu can only be mastered through constant practice. There are some things a teacher cannot teach, but must be learned experientially through dedicated practice. I believe there is room here in gap between “Do as you’re told” and “Practice more” for the intellectual curiosity and “Think for yourself” values that are occasionally cultivated here in the States.

Some people might wonder: “Think for yourself? Where is there room for that? The form is very precise! There’s no room for improvisation—what are you going to do, create your own form?” No, that’s not what I mean at all. Improvement is the goal of practice. The student must continuously pay attention to improvement, and in solo practice, this means analyzing the defects of one’s form and attempting variations in order to discover how to align one’s body with the correct and standard alignment. This is, at first, a purely physical and technical process. Later, the refinements are more subtle and more internal.

These personal adjustments are a result of independent thought and intellectual curiosity. Practice that does not contain these elements is merely repetition. And repetition of such errors as may exist only serves to reinforce them until they are habitual. There can be little improvement (perhaps none), even if the student “practices” a great deal with out also trying to cultivate the “beginner’s mind” that is open to instruction—from within and without.

Wow, I’ve really been on a soapbox today. Again, I’m trying to write for a more general audience and am not criticizing your practice style. I’m having great fun reading, thinking about, and responding to your posts. My apologies if any of that was abrasive—I’m not quite fully invested in loss on the topic and certainly have my opinions.

That was all a bit of a tangent, but back to your question about why Qi sensations are relevant in and of themselves: they are information, a kind of data, and useful as such. The value and relevancy of information varies, depending on who’s got it, and what they choose to do with it.

There’s a whole range of values and relevancies just using your example of Qi sensation and the practitioner whose hands trembled with the force of their Qi. A beginner with trembling hands might get scared that tai chi is making them palsied and quit. Another slightly more senior student might get excited at his or her first evidence of chi movement and go around showing it to anyone who will listen. Another might interpret it as Qi strength, mistaking the trembling for the kind of vibrating fa jing energy the Chen stylists exhibit, and thus try to replicate it by tensing up. A more senior student might say, “Ah, I have a blockage somewhere—what can I relax so that the trembling stops?” A push hands opponent facing the student with trembling hands might decide…well, there are many more possibilities, all depending on the skill level and temperament of the opponent.

You also asked, “If you could control your blood flow or blood pressure at will, would this automatically improve your Taijiquan?”

Yes, I think it would improve your tai chi. Someone with that high a level of control over autonomic physiological responses would likely be able to control their chi at will as well. In order to gain control over blood flow, blood pressure, or chi, a person has to be extremely tuned in to the operations of their body. In other words, they have to be able to listen really well. This listening ability translates relatively easily into being able to listen to an opponent (provided the practitioner is also able to remain relaxed, which is much more difficult.). I think that a person who could control himself or herself that well could learn to control an opponent much more easily than someone who’d never practiced any such internal arts, because they might be able to “hear” the opponent’s intentions before they manifest, or they might be able to “hear” where the opponent’s blockages are.

On a different note, I liked what you had to say about particle physics and enjoyed your discussion of waves and the media they flow through. Neat!

Quote:
K: <<I’m going to have to think about trying to see how their intent could do what I want (laying traps, for example, by letting them do what they want). At the moment, with those who are more skilled than I, I am only able to gauge intent and deflect…sometimes. >>

Quote:
Audi: <<When I am talking about “intent” or “Yi,” I am not really talking about what an opponent “intends” to do. “Yi” does not really mean this as far as I know. I am talking about what sense a person makes of his or her body’s layout from moment to moment, how the mind relates to the body. What one “plans” to do is not the issue at this level. A person does not need to try something on you for you to be able to make use of his or her intent. You simply use whatever you find. In fact, you have to make use of what you find or choose a completely different strategy.>>

I’m still a bit confused about your distinction between intent and intention/planning. Do you mean a kind of trajectory, the combination of their mind’s intention/planning (conscious and unconscious) (mental) and what they are able to do with their body (physical)?

Thanks for your discussion of the various definitions. I still struggle with all of it. At present, I usually gauge what they mean to do and where they’re headed (and occasionally the gap between plan and action) somewhat in advance. This advantage doesn’t yet do me much good because I have a tendency to run scared, deflecting before they even commit fully to an action. I am learning to deflect in your second sense of learning to control the empty and can sometimes turn my deflections in to an upset for my pushing partners, but for the most part, I’m not there yet.

I need to work on traps though. I’m not good at waiting for them to come in close, or waiting for them to over-extend or commit to a course of action. I usually head them off at the pass with pung energy, which tends to result in small movements, but no great upheavals. By this I mean that I can lead them to something of no value, but it’s often of little value to me too b/c I’m not skilled enough to use it well. I know that if I could learn to wait a little longer I could draw them into the sort of disadvantage where they lose their equilibrium more spectacularly with little effort on my part. Instead of waiting for the figurative 1000 pounds to build up momentum, I’m diverting before it even builds up steam. If I could just wait a little longer, I could use that momentum against them.

This paragraph of yours is going to be really useful to me:

Audi: <<You control the opponent by always yielding up what the opponent thinks he or she wants, but which will be of no value. This is why focusing on intent is important. An opponent’s “disposition” (“shi4”?) always implies a distribution of value across his or her posture. If you can perceive this, you can always control the opponent by leading him or her into emptiness and offering irresistible, but useless or disadvantageous things. The only defense to successful use of this approach is to change the initial intent. The opponent must master him or herself first, before he or she can fight you.>>

This is exactly right and goes back to my fundamental problem of not being empty enough yet which I expect will come when I’ve mastered myself (don’t hold your breath Image )

Quote:
Kalamondin: <<If you take the idea of the body as a non-solid mass of vibrating energy or posit that it has a field of chi, then the portion where my energy overlaps with my opponent’s is the intersection of mutual understanding, and it differs for each person involved. This overlap is where I read my opponent’s intention. If I can make myself empty by dissolving my own chi blockages (which are often areas of physical and psychological tension), then there is no place the opponent cannot enter. The intersection is large and I can read lots of things about him. If he is stiff and blocked, then the intersection of me with him seems quite small from his perspective and he can’t understand me very well.

A chi blockage is an area of fullness. I just learned that emptiness isn’t about removing anything; it’s about making it fluid, an absence of tension. The more I am able to empty myself of resistance, expectation, whatever, the more my opponent’s energy can come in. The more that comes in, the more I can understand. The circles of the diagram overlap more and more until there is only one set containing both of us. Well, that’s not entirely right. The person who is more “empty” contains the opponent’s set as a sub-set, but and the partner who is less empty has a set that excludes the other to a greater or lesser degree. I’m there and he’s there, but the greater the intersection, the easier it is for me to read areas of fullness or stuck-ness in his body. The intersection contains everything I need to know about what he has excluded from his version of the same diagram. I could feel from inside the energy field what was stuck and where I needed to push. >>

Audi: <<Great concept! Great teacher! If you can “see” this and pursue it, you should have no problem with any of the stuff we have talked about above.>>

Thanks!! I’m doing my best to pursue my teacher’s suggestions, but of course it’s much harder to put theory into practice. Staying calm (chi sunk, well-grounded) seems to be at the heart of it. On days when I can manage to say calm and relaxed I can see more clearly where I overlap with my practice partners.

Audi: <<The only thing you might want to examine is the question of training routine. In other words, how does one actually learn Listening, Understanding, Neutralizing, Sticking, Adhering, Linking, Following, the eight primary Jins, etc.? In other words, how do you get the intellectual framework to move from your head into your body?>>

This answer may not work for you, but for me there is no routine. Maybe I can explain it better by referencing Madeleine L’Engle, who once wrote something about how the sonnet is an extremely constrained form, but within it there is the possibility of nearly infinite variation and creativity.

So, the only routines I have are the forms themselves, the various push hands patterns, and simple push hands exercises. These are my constraints. But learning all the things you listed has been largely a matter of trial and error, trying to come up with creative variations until I stumble upon the one that, in my limited understanding, seems to most closely approximate the dictates of the form and the ten principles. Someone suggests something; I try it. I think up something; I try it. If it doesn’t work, sometimes I think up a variation and try that. If it still doesn’t work, sometimes I forget about it for a year and then it works.

More specifically, and here’s where I step off the path of accepted normality and into the world of kookiness: my specific technique is that I imagine things all the time. Here are some specific examples of things that have advanced my understanding of the form or push hands: What if I had little ears inside my arms? What if my arms were my ears? What if I had tree roots? How would they grow to support the angle of my trunk and branches? What if my dan tien were a child’s inflatable lifesaver swimming float? What if I actually were a Daoist warrior-sage? How would it affect my sword form and my attitude towards curious on-lookers? What if there were a blue cloud, wrapped like a bandage, binding me to my opponent—would that help us stick? What if I had suckers on my hands like an octopus? What if my frustrating pushing partner were my friend or my brother? What if I really loved this person instead of finding them challenging? What if everything I hate about them is only what I refuse to acknowledge as part of myself? What if there were no difference between who I am and who he is and we were just one big ball of light? Where is my center? Where is it all the time? What if my natural habitat were the thin line between yin and yang?

Audi: << If I get the simple things right, I believe that my skills can naturally deepen. If, on the other hand, I try to work directly on such things as “making my opponent land on empty” without any structure to the exercise, I believe that I will block my improvement by practicing incorrect, but seemingly effective methods.>>

I may be wrong, but it sounds like learning works best for you when it’s like building a pyramid: a solid foundation of basics, a clear understanding of what the shape will be from the theory. I wish I could learn that way! For me, it’s like a giant shifting jigsaw puzzle whose pieces move and disappear and reappear—exciting and challenging but not yet stable or well connected. I can reach into the pot of loose pieces and pull out something interesting any time, but I can tell that putting it all together is going to take the rest of my life—if I’m lucky!

Working on the simple things is essential and leads naturally to a deeper understanding…but it’s a very cyclical process wherein the deeper things lead back to the simple and it keeps spiraling into a broader and deeper understanding of tai chi. I think just as much a mistake to focus on the simple to the exclusion of the profound as it is to leap into trying to grasp the profound without a firm grounding in the basics. They really feed each other, and I think we must be careful not to dice the art into something that has a perfectly linear progression.

There’s a related debate going on in biology at present: should all research be hypothesis driven, where you have an idea and are trying to prove it? Or should research be exploratory, like the human genome project, which had no specific questions but was trying to find out as much as possible? The truth is that neither is as useful on its own as they are together. Here's a reference, if anyone wants to read more: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/106571852/ABSTRACT

Here’s an analogy they often use for describing the difficulty of one approach used to the exclusion of the other. First off, much research is done by breaking up cells and then spinning them in a centrifuge to get at the different parts. If you tried to study a car that way, by wrecking it and looking at the pieces, you could learn a lot, but you wouldn’t have a very good sense of the big picture. You’d be missing a lot about how cars move, how a sleek piece of machinery corners, what the whole thing looks like, or how a powerful motor sounds. On the other hand, if you only watched cars out on the road, you would have no idea what goes on inside.

Tai chi is like this as well. If you only study the details, the parts, you may forget the joy of standing on the curb admiring a classic convertible drive by in the summer sun. Likewise, looking at the genome as a whole has sparked tons of hypothesis driven research about genes that have never been mapped before. Studying the details can lead to larger, deeper things, but thinking about the big picture can show you which details need more focus.

Now, back to parts v. the whole with regard to the 8 primary Jins: when I started learning push hands applications, we started with repetitive drills of the 8 primary Jins. But when we moved on to free style, I found it excruciatingly difficult to figure out the next logical stage of the process, which was, “If this, then that.” I have trouble with logic, sometimes, and am more prone to leaps of logic and sudden flashes of understanding. So when we reached this stage, I somehow managed to leap into listening and reacting on a very instinctive level. This was useful in that I could get out of seemingly impossible situations, leaving my practice partners asking, “How did you do that?”

The disadvantage was that I could never answer them. I had no idea. I had no idea what had just happened or what kind of move they’d just tried. I didn’t understand the simple, basic building blocks enough to know the answer to “If this, then what?” This was a clear case where more focus on the simple, repetitive exercises would have been very useful to me.

It was like we were working in opposite directions. I was starting from a different place, being more naturally suited to listening and reacting on a body level, divorced from the part of my mind that analyzes. They were starting from a more logical, intellectual place: if you do this, then I do that, but couldn’t feel their way around very well. They had to work to develop listening energy. I had to work to pay attention to the details of what was happening, what kind of energy we were using, and how to break movements down into their components instead of seeing long twisting arcs and spirals. I think it took me longer to understand which positions were vulnerable and what was over-extended because I would follow, follow, follow until the cows came home and I was sitting in the dirt wondering how I got there. I was following the whole of their movements, even to their inevitable conclusion, without stopping to analyze what was disadvantageous.

I’m better at reconstructing now, but the simple and the complex are inextricably bound up for me. If I work on something simple, I’ll often have a flash of understanding about something complex—like sighting a whale before it slips back under the surface of the sea. Sometimes my teacher mentions that something I’m working on is a high level practice—like the whole emptiness thing. His comments are a mixed blessing: a compliment for thinking about something he doesn’t expect us to be working on yet; a gentle reminder that there’s more to learn before we get there, there are still basics to master; and a condolence: yes, it is very hard and will take a long time to master. But I don’t get the impression that it’s a reprimand. I don’t think he’s saying stick to the basics; do not try, do not dream.

Well, I hope my comments have been useful to somebody. Sorry for being so long-winded.

Best wishes,
Kalamondin

[This message has been edited by Kalamondin (edited 06-24-2004).]
Kalamondin
 
Posts: 309
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 7:01 am

Postby Audi » Fri Jul 02, 2004 1:00 am

Hi Kalamondin,

Thanks for the exchange and the dialog. I have prepared most of a response to your earlier post but do not have access to it right now. Despite this, I thought I would work on a response to your latest.

First, let me say that I actually agree with 80% of your post, and maybe feel even more strongly than you do about many of the points. In my view, the Yangs not only encourage students to think for themselves, but require it. “Give a student one leg (or is it three?) of a table and make him or her provide the missing leg(s) him or herself.” If the student does not, he or she is probably not putting forth enough effort to make use of much more teaching.

I also wholeheartedly applaud using imagination, experiences outside of Taijiquan, experience with other teachers, and whatever else to advance one’s understanding. My concern is not with what one uses to help one’s understanding, but with what one practices and why.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">For some people, it’s probably true that substandard results will be obtained by mixing and matching schools of thought, martial arts, and exercises. I’ve found it’s the opposite for me. I am constantly comparing and contrasting; experimenting to see if this idea or that helps or hinders my understanding of the form and tai chi principles. When I feel that my progress has reached a plateau, the next step invariably comes from outside tai chi.</font>


Let me try to be more specific. On some of the other threads, there is a rather pointed discussion going on right now about what it takes to learn Taijiquan. In my opinion, some of the difficulty surrounding the discussion is that different teachers use the same words to cover very, very different approaches. Whether or not one approach is better than another is always an interesting inquiry, but how can this be discussed if there is not even agreement in basics. To spar or not to spar is not the question for me, but rather when, why, and how.

Our dialog took a new direction when I made a comment about Qi. Let me use this as an example. If someone’s teacher says: “Do not pursue Qi sensations in guiding your practice,” yet the student centers her practice on this, I would say that she is taking a big risk. The risk I am describing does not depend on whether Qi sensations are useless, false, or imaginary, but rather on the fact that the student is no longer following the path charted by her teacher. Different paths may lead to the same destination, but some times they do not.

Suppose another teacher says: “Make sure to explore Qi sensations in all their variety. Learn all you can about Qi.” If the same student decides to abandon the instructions of the former teacher and follow this new teacher, then there will be no inherent problem. It is simply a different teaching method that may or may not lead to the original objective. However, the student might also say to herself: “Well, I don’t fully understand either approach by itself, so I think I’ll take a little bit of both and see what happens.” I would say that in this case, she has stacked the odds against her success, because neither teaching method is designed to accommodate her approach. She will be asking the wrong questions. Whatever answers she finds will likely be of little practical use, no matter how wonderful they may sound by themselves.

If one mixes and matches too readily, one will not know if one is doing the equivalent of using sprints to train endurance, swimming for weight training, or jogging to build up oxygen transport. My issue is not with the thing itself, but how it is used and why.

In my view, the Yangs’ system is not built around Qi sensations. As I understand them, the Ten Essentials are not primarily concerned with sensing, controlling, or manipulating Qi. Similarly, I do not believe the Ten Essentials are about limb positions per se. One uses the limbs to demonstrate the principle, but the principles cannot be captured by still photographs.

TCM, Qi Gong, kinesthesiology, neurology, and physiology all have insights that can bear on Taijiquan, but they each have their own systems of thought. In my opinion, there is no problem referencing individual aspects of these areas of studies in one’s Taijiquan. I could use aspects of any of these to illustrate certain points. However, I see difficulty if one tries to ground study of the Yangs’ Taijiquan (or some of the other traditional styles) in any of them.

As a further example, I am not criticizing people who mention Lao Gong (?) points in the palm of the hand, but I am questioning whether focus on these points leads to proper hand usage in Yang Style. I have similar doubts about too heavy a focus on maximizing use of lumbar vertebrae. Although such usage sounds as if it is a “scientific way” to approach “leading with the ‘waist’” or “loosening the waist,” I think that it can lead one into unproductive practices. In my opinion, the classics do not use this sort of language or this sort of approach. Taijiquan is more about feelings than phenomena one can draw on a chart.

TCM and Qi Gong share common roots with Taijiquan, but so do Chinese wrestling, Chinese calligraphy, Daoism, and Neo-Confucian philosophy. Would anyone warm up to the idea of studying calligraphy as an essential part of Taiji training? It can surely help, but is it really essential or even the best way to proceed? How about studying Zhuxi’s thoughts on Qi, Shen, Xing (form), and Jing (essence)? I think these things can have utilitarian value in the same manner as stretching exercises can, but I do not see them as essential keys to Taijiquan in themselves. One can be masters or experts in these areas and have no Taiji skills at all. If one relies on them to define areas of study within Taijiquan, I have doubts about the likely outcome.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Working on the simple things is essential and leads naturally to a deeper understanding…but it’s a very cyclical process wherein the deeper things lead back to the simple and it keeps spiraling into a broader and deeper understanding of tai chi. I think just as much a mistake to focus on the simple to the exclusion of the profound as it is to leap into trying to grasp the profound without a firm grounding in the basics. They really feed each other, and I think we must be careful not to dice the art into something that has a perfectly linear progression.</font>


For me the simple is the same as the profound, only easier to discuss and demonstrate. I also think that most traditional methods of teaching are progressive. In other words, you are expected to proceed in pyramid style, as you have described it. In doing this, I absolutely endorse the worth of considering more advanced practices at all stages in order to help provide guidance, but I think this must be done cautiously.

Let me give some examples.

Taijiquan requires speed. Most martial arts have good methods for training this, including doing forms at “combat speed.” Anyone who has studied such an art and who begins to study Yang Style Taijiquan is confronted by the seemingly ridiculous pace at which we do form. Many such people never see this as more than a more careful performance of the same moving skills they have worked on before. They cannot wait to move onto the fast techniques they are more comfortable with. In maintaining such an attitude, it can be difficult to perceive that what is being practiced in Taijiquan may be very different from what was practiced in the former art. It is not a matter of slowing down the same things, but doing something different. Similar externals do not guarantee similar internals.

Many Taiji schools do, of course, have relatively quick-paced movements as part of their basic practice repertoire. In my view, they have their own methods of integrating this into their curriculums and assuring that students practice correctly. My point is not that fast or slow or even both together have to be exclusive methods, but that if one does not know the why or how of it, the external practice may not yield the correct results. The why and how should determine the what.

Another example is the pursuit of power. Most martial arts have means of generating power, but these means are not always interchangeable. Even Qi is the common property of all Chinese martial systems I am aware of. Learning the ins and outs of Qi and generating power is just as valid a basis for “hard styles” or “external” styles as it is for “soft” or “internal” styles. If one indiscriminately introduces other methods into one’s Taijiquan, certain skills may be very hard to obtain.

My understanding of the Yangs’ method and similar traditional methods is that external training is actually a requirement for advanced practice. To do this external training, however, I do not think one can succeed by doing a daily dose of 500 push-ups, sit-ups, straight punches, or front kicks and expecting this to translate seamlessly into better form or better push hands. In some cases, I think the opposite would result. Again, I am not saying to avoid such practices altogether and at all times and all places, only that mixing methods may lead to undesirable outcomes.

Cutting up potatoes and frying them are yummy. Leaving them whole and baking them is yummy. Cutting them up and baking them, or leaving them whole and frying them will not yield the best results. My argument is not with cutting, frying, or baking, but with what result one wants and the ability of most people to improvise methods. If you are a good cook, you can microwave, boil, sauté, and roast potatoes. If you are good at Taijiquan, you can practice it in a thousand different ways. If you are still learning basic cooking, it is best not to combine recipes. If you are still learning basic Taijiquan, I think it is best not to combine unsanctioned methods. Once you know “enough,” you should indeed experiment to advance and confirm your knowledge. In those areas where I feel comfortable, I myself do this.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I think just as much a mistake to focus on the simple to the exclusion of the profound as it is to leap into trying to grasp the profound without a firm grounding in the basics. They really feed each other, and I think we must be careful not to dice the art into something that has a perfectly linear progression.</font>


I must confess I am somewhat surprised by your comment. With all my rambling, unsubstantiated, pie-in-the-sky posts, are you really intimating that I am being too simple, too basic, and too linear? Image I really must be slipping.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Here’s an analogy they often use for describing the difficulty of one approach used to the exclusion of the other. First off, much research is done by breaking up cells and then spinning them in a centrifuge to get at the different parts. If you tried to study a car that way, by wrecking it and looking at the pieces, you could learn a lot, but you wouldn’t have a very good sense of the big picture. You’d be missing a lot about how cars move, how a sleek piece of machinery corners, what the whole thing looks like, or how a powerful motor sounds. On the other hand, if you only watched cars out on the road, you would have no idea what goes on inside.</font>


I have no complaint with this. But would you want to compare notes about humvees, formula one racers, Saturns, and Jaguars without knowing what was what? Would you be excited if I told you you could make a formula one racer more comfortable by adding reclining leather seats or that I could improve the ground clearance of a Jaguar by adding mag wheels?

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Now, back to parts v. the whole with regard to the 8 primary Jins: when I started learning push hands applications, we started with repetitive drills of the 8 primary Jins. But when we moved on to free style, I found it excruciatingly difficult to figure out the next logical stage of the process, which was, “If this, then that.” I have trouble with logic, sometimes, and am more prone to leaps of logic and sudden flashes of understanding. So when we reached this stage, I somehow managed to leap into listening and reacting on a very instinctive level. This was useful in that I could get out of seemingly impossible situations, leaving my practice partners asking, “How did you do that?”</font>


As I understand it, such drills should be looked at the way you might look at “balance drills.” The precise movements allow you to practice something that is not visible and that has no precise form, like balance. Once you learn the standard movements, these movements have limited purpose in themselves. They are a jumping off point. By this, I do not mean that you should abandon the standard exercises, but rather that reproducing the standard exercises in precise and unvarying detail is not the point. They are a canvas to learn something that is not strictly physical.

What I have been taught to think about is how the standard exercises give play to Listening, Sticking, Adhering, Following, etc. The exercises are about using Jin, not about limb positions. Some practitioners can correct you when you do not do these things correctly and can tell you what to work on and how. They can show you how a certain technique will not work if you do not use Adhering at a particular juncture and why. They can tell you that a particular technique you tried did not work because you took the initiative and did not Follow. They can tell you that a particular response was not appropriate because you were anticipating future movement, rather than Listening to the current situation. They can say that a particular technique requires that you empty a particular part of your body at a particular place, whereas you may have simply reproduced an external sequence without the internal requirements. If you play with such things enough, you can generalize from the specific to get a sense of how the interplay of Jin (the energy) can be used to advantage.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I think it took me longer to understand which positions were vulnerable and what was over-extended because I would follow, follow, follow until the cows came home and I was sitting in the dirt wondering how I got there. I was following the whole of their movements, even to their inevitable conclusion, without stopping to analyze what was disadvantageous.</font>


I could well be wrong, but I think I understand “following” somewhat differently. For me, it is not necessarily about being passive and not attacking, but about attacking in such a way that you give minimal opposition to the opponent’s use of Yi. The opponent decides the essential elements of the battle, but you distinguish the full and empty in the battle and always have a means to defend and attack. Because the opponent is extending his or her Yi towards a specific goal, he or she becomes imprisoned by the logic of that choice. All choices have empty and full. The issue is not so much with making the correct choice as in understanding the inherent consequences of a particular choice.

Humans are hardwired to deal with resistance and to seek progress towards their goals. If you can manage not to give such resistance and can show the opponent progress towards a goal that is useless in reality, you gain a control that is hard to shake at a basic psychological level. How can an opponent defend against positive feedback and a sense of success? How can he or she defend against the consequences of his or her own actions? It is a mind game played by the limbs, not a game of limbs played by the mind.

This is all I have time for at the moment. I’ll try to address your other points at another time.

Take care,
Audi


[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 07-01-2004).]

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 07-02-2004).]

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 07-02-2004).]
Audi
 
Posts: 1131
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA

Postby Audi » Fri Jul 02, 2004 10:17 pm

Hi Kalamondin,

I hope your weekends have been good and continue to be so.

I think we are largely in agreement. I may be beating this thread to death, but I would like to "take another turn on the soap box" Image and respond to a few points you made in your earlier post.

By the way, I figured out how to do the quote formatting as follows: I simply copied the special codes in the dialog box that appears when you press the button at the top right of any individual post. If you hold your cursor over the button, the balloon that may appear says “Reply w/Quote”. One set of codes starts the quote formatting, and another set ends them. The starting codes have “[KUOTE]”, except with a “Q,” rather than a “K”. The ending codes have “[/KUOTE]”, except again with a “Q,” rather than a “K”. I cannot type the exact codes here within this post without forcing the conversion and preventing you from seeing them.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">But I also think it’s very important to think big every now and then b/c the larger goal you are working towards must dictate what you study in the short term</font>


I mostly agree, but would back up the statement somewhat differently. As I understand it, Taijiquan works both in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. One of the “dynamic dualities” that I find important is keeping this relationship in mind.

I mentioned “missing the near to seek the far” because I think that we all try to “explain” Taijiquan in manageable bites. In doing so, I think it is always tempting to go too far and substitute the “explanation” for the reality.

When I returned to studying Taijiquan some years ago and was between teachers, I read a lot of literature that had elaborate discussions about theories of Qi. Some of this was helpful, but I now find that much of it was a distraction away from what I now turn my mind to. I also find that theories of Qi in traditional Chinese thought are more varied and more involved than what I was initially led to believe. Also, every Chinese martial art seems to talk about Qi in some way, but usually without adhering to the methods or theories of Taijiquan.

In discussing concepts like “Qi disruption” with some practitioners, I sometimes find it hard to discuss things I feel to be fairly basic. The difficulty arises because the discussion gets bogged down in a body of doctrine I believe to be related to, but independent of Taijiquan. For instance, if I am in a discussion about how to balance during the kicks in the form, I am not expecting an involved analysis of pre-birth and post-birth Qi, lack of harmony in personal life, or Qi imbalances caused by atmospheric phenomena. These things may perhaps affect someone’s ability to perform at any given moment, but they are rarely the things that should be focused on during a practice session. I would say the same about neurology and physiology. These things are linked to Taijiquan, but I do not think that mastery of these fields leads to mastery of Taijiquan. These fields are also very complicated in and of themselves, with their own controversies and difficulties. Using them too often as a substitute for Taiji theories can be like going from the frying pan into the fire.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Yes, I agree that material that is beyond the current scope of the student or the teacher cannot be communicated, taught, or practiced accurately. The material needs to be presented at a level just slightly higher than the one the student is at—high enough that improvement may be sought, but low enough for the student to make progress without reaching for the impossible. It sounds like your policy of being able to explain or demonstrate quickly is a very good one, but I also think it’s important for both student and teacher to balance focus on step-by-step improvement with a willingness to reach for the stars as though it were the next logical step.</font>


I agree with “reaching for the stars,” but I think I explained my point badly. I was not talking about step-by-step improvement versus improving by leaps and bounds. I was talking about understanding and practicing concepts like “distinguishing full and empty” that are simultaneously basic and advanced. I find that I can best practice and teach such concepts if I can find some aspect that I can highlight physically. I try to do some movement with the concept involved and then with the concept not involved. Since the microcosm and the macrocosm are in one sense the same, if I can competently demonstrate a small aspect of a concept, I can approach the totality of the concept itself. If I cannot find such a minimal aspect, I question whether my efforts can be efficiently directed. In other words, if I cannot find the microcosm, there is little point in my spending too much time on the macrocosm. On the other hand, if I have no sense of the macrocosm, I have no way of recognizing the microcosm, even if it is right before my eyes.

My feeling for such concepts is that efficient learning requires both a macrocosmic view (e.g., a general statement of the concept) for general guidance and a microcosmic means to make the concept immediately concrete. One can then progress by exploring the commonalities. I think this is more or less the same point you are making. However, many of the early books I read about Taijiquan seemed to put such an exclusive stress on macrocosmic visions of Qi that I cannot see how a practitioner could practice anything that would be immediately concrete and palpably related to the macrocosm. If one relies primarily on imagination, there is no reliable feedback loop to confirm whether one is on the right track. Imagination of what one does not understand is not the same as visualization of what one does understand.

Let my bring up an analogy with swimming that I have made in the past. In the YMCA’s where I live, there is a method of teaching swimming to kids that, in my opinion, involves a great deal of seemingly inadequate and misleading information. I once witnessed a child who was following instructions precisely by “reaching and pulling” with his arms, “blowing bubbles” into the water, and kicking with “splashing toes.” Unfortunately, this kid was actually managing to make backward headway (footway? J). Even though his body was more or less in the right position, he was actually heading slightly backward in the water in the direction of his toes.

Despite this experience, I think that the YMCA’s method is a very effective one. It even ended up being effective for the kid in question. The reason the Y’s method is effective is that their instructions set kids down a certain path of relating to the water. After that, the water teaches them how to swim, more than the instructors. Once the kids figure out the basics of swimming, the general instructions can be altered to be more accurate and more appropriate for what good swimming actually requires (e.g., moving the cupped hands in an S-curve; rotational breathing; flutter kicks with reasonably straight, but flexible knees and ankles). Methods may be effective, even if they sound objectively false.

Some people approach Taijiquan in the same way as the YMCA approaches swimming. They give concrete and simple instructions, and then refine endlessly with greater and greater detail. I find this method to be less effective, because Taijiquan does not have a feedback mechanism as effective as the water is for swimming. Feedback in Taijiquan is more a matter of will, than of “keeping one’s head above the water.” I also do not like the reverse approach, where instructors just say to “relax,” “act naturally,” and “harmonize with the universe.” Such teaching provides little guidance for me. For me, methods matter a great deal.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I’m going to argue that understanding requires faith. If, for example, a beginning student doesn’t have faith in the experience of those who’ve gone before, the masters of our art, how could the student accept that principles like, “Combine inner and outer,” or “Distinguish between empty and full” are possible, much less useful in a fight? How could they justify trying to learn them?</font>


I agree that it takes faith to stick around long enough to acquire understanding, but I think understanding itself is not based on faith. When I teach and when I practice, I try to show precisely how such principles like, “Combine inner and outer” and “Distinguish empty and full” are both possible and useful in a physical way. I try to show students places in their form where I perceive that they are not doing these things, explain why I reach my conclusion, and what the consequences may be for failing to proceed in that way.

My skills are certainly nothing special. I still stumble during the form, get pushed often, and forget to observe basic principles. Because of this, I actually do not like it when people accept my word for some things, rather than being able to demonstrate the reality for themselves, at least to some extent. Since my understanding is limited, no words I can use can capture the reality. The best I can possibly do is to provide coarse hints of what I think is appropriate in the same way that swimming instructors do at the YMCA. If someone simply accepts my word, without verifying facts for him or herself, there will always be a critical gap between understanding and reality.

Here is a concrete example. One may notice that a fellow practitioner does not have his elbow down at a particular point. You can show him where it should be. If he corrects his posture, but does nothing else, he will have learned only a little. In my view, there is no “correct position” for the elbow that holds true throughout the form. The elbow takes all sorts of orientations, and learning the precise orientation for every moment of every posture and transition is impossible.

“Keeping your elbow down” is a relative concept. It is simply a hint of a principle or a procedure that does indeed hold true everywhere in the form, but which cannot easily be captured in a still posture, any more than rooting or balance can be. It is a rule-based approach, rather than an exhaustive description of an external. If one understands the rule deeply, one can apply it everywhere. If one does not understand it, one cannot really apply it effectively anywhere. To reach such understanding, one generally needs to proceed both from external positions and internal principles simultaneously. In my view, where these two approaches intersect is where true understanding lies.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>Here’s a somewhat related story: my teacher once offered me the correction for my form that I must raise my spirit. Not understanding, I asked how. He replied, “You must believe.”
So I tried it out, practiced practicing as though I believed my spirit were raised, in spite of not knowing precisely what that might look or feel like, especially in a tai chi context, and sure enough some measure of understanding seemed to flow from belief.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

It sounds again like you have a very good teacher. I believe this to be a very sophisticated way to practice; however, my understanding may be a little different from how you have used it in your argument. In any case, your phrasing seems to point at possible agreement with what I have been trying to convey.

Here is how I understand the phenomenon you have described. Shen, Yi, and Qi are all linked. As I understand it, Taijiquan at its best is more concerned with Shen and Yi then with Qi, although the three are always linked. If you truly act as if your spirit is raised, it will be. This act of will creates a particular and temporary link between Shen, Yi, and Qi and can help cultivate a conscious integration of the three that is a fantastic foundation for good Taijiquan. If, on the other hand, you merely believe this, but do not act on the belief, nothing will happen. In other words, it is the act or procedure that is important, not one’s belief system. Even if one disbelieves it, but can manage to act as if it is true, this will be quite enough to yield good results. Shen leads Yi, which leads Qi in turn. “The general directs the signal corps that in turn leads the troops.”

If you practice in this way, I would think that it could give you the possibility for tremendous progress, especially if you can maintain your spirit raised throughout the form. I should say, however, that most people must constantly approach this also from the Qi and Yi levels. They must check that they are meeting the physical requirements of “suspending the headtop” in order to allow the spirit to rise. Then they must check that this positioning is actually relevant to their purpose of the moment. The positioning must be linked to function. When I discuss this in person, I again try to show concretely and physically how the feeling is generated and what it feels like. I understand this as a basic requirement that is hard to meet consistently, but not as an advanced requirement only to be worked towards later.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">This kind of expansive thought is just as much a part of tai chi as the daily focus on improving details of the form.</font>


The Yangs seem to pay much more attention to details than other teachers I have had. I perceive this to be because of differences in teaching methods and philosophies. Different is not necessarily better. This is a matter of opinion.

Three specific reasons I could give for focusing on details are as follows. One is that attention to detail is simply a way of practicing discipline and discipline is important to consistent progress. A second one is that demonstrating ability with a small detail is a way of showing mastery of a fundamental principle and opening the way to more advanced things. A third is that failure to observe a principle in one small place may indicate a failure to observe it fully in other places where failure may be less apparent. In other words, if you do not make a proper circle in one place, it may be because you do not fully understand any circle anywhere. If you cannot observe the Ten Essentials in the Preparation Posture, can you truly observe them in any posture? Said differently, if you can master the Ten Essentials in the Preparation Posture, can you fail to master them in all the postures?

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">There are tai chi masters who talk of achieving a state during solo forms practice where the boundaries between themselves and the universe seem to disappear, where they lose track of time or action.</font>


I have my doubts about some interpretations I have heard about “losing track of time or action,” since these words can be ambiguous; however, I would say that having the “boundaries between [oneself] and the universe seem to disappear” is a definite goal, or even a requirement of good Taijiquan.

Let me describe what I take as a philosophical approach to this issue. Louis or Jerry may be able to give better insight then me, since I do Chinese philosophy only as a sometime hobby and have never studied it formally. Nevertheless, my understanding of relating the individual to the universe and to the concepts of Shen and Qi as used in Taijiquan are that they probably owe much to early Neo-Confucian thinking.

For instance, Zhou Dunyi (or Zhou Lianxi) was the guy who apparently came up with the familiar interpretation of the Taiji Diagram almost a thousand years ago in his “Explanation of [the term] Taiji.” He and his successors talk about Qi as being something akin to fundamental “matter-energy” and as being embodied in the Five Phases. Qi is the fundamental building block of all material and non-material “things” in the universe, but is organized by Li, or principle. Shen, or spirit, is not viewed as a phenomenon different from matter, as is usual in Western philosophy, but simply as the most refined form of Qi. Shen is the source of human intelligence. Shen “penetrates when stimulated.” It is “responsive” and “mysterious.” “Things do not ‘penetrate’ in this way, but Shen/spirit ‘subtly pervades the myriad things.” To be a sage, or a person of moral saintliness, was to extend one’s Shen/spirit to pervade the entire universe. (By the way, I am getting this stuff mostly from Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol One., compiled by Theodore De Bary & Irene Bloom, but am not quoting the material accurately in order to condense what I am trying to say.) In my view, all such talk of having one’s spirit “pervade the universe” has much in common with the idea of “dissolving the boundaries between oneself and the universe,” as I have loosely quoted your words. Nothing in this philosophy, however, necessarily invokes a paranormal outlook. It is even a separate tradition from Taijiquan and also from TCM, even as it shares links with them.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">But the deeper one goes into the basics, the more and more meditative and esoteric it gets. I’m not talking about meditation in addition to tai chi, I’m talking about the meditative aspect of tai chi itself. “Settling Qi” can be a deep inward process, and a mental skill that must be learned.</font>


I agree wholeheartedly with this and apologize if I gave a contrary impression.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">There are nuances like what kind of Qi is settling, how it settles in different regions of the body, whether it’s settling into the ground, or the dantian, or in muscles or cells. Where is it settling from? Where is it going to? Can it be felt? Seen? Granted, these are things I’ve been thinking about and haven’t heard the Yangs discuss specifically.</font>


Here is where I get uncomfortable. I find this line of inquiry akin to delving deep into theories of neurology and physiology as guideposts for Taijiquan. I think it is great as an intellectual endeavor, but treacherous as a practice method. It may be okay as an analysis of the why, but not as to the how. As I understand traditional Yang Style teaching, the principle method is simply to have the Qi sink to the Dantian. What the Qi then accomplishes is simply an effect of universal principles of Yin/Yang reversal theory. One does not need to help the universe along. There is little or no focus on consciously controlling the nature or disposition of this Qi or consciously augmenting it in any particular way. One sinks the Qi to the Dantian to harness it, but otherwise does not bother much about it.

Some places in the Classics employ language like “arousing the Qi like a drum.” Personally, I do not understand such talk so much as describing an explicit method of working Qi, but rather as an indication of the feeling one gets as the end result of using other methods.

In a similar vein, I was surprised by a recent link that was posted in this forum. The link led to an article relating an interview with one of the most noted Chen masters of the present. He specifically talked about how some Chen practitioners incorrectly moved the Dantian independently of the rest of the body, rather than integrating it into overall body movement. In other words, maximum Dantian rotation was not the goal, but rather integration of Dantian rotation. I have not heard of Dantian rotation in Yang Style, but the discussion had exactly the same flavor of Yang Style discussions I have had about Qi and waist movement. Integrating “waist” movement into overall body movement is one thing. Maximizing movement of the lumbar vertebrae for its own sake is another. The first deals with a feeling. The latter deals with external structure.

By the way, if you read the interview, you may recall that the Chen master also talked about Qi Gong as being something he taught only to those students who were interested in it. In other words, Qi Gong practice was apparently not an integral part of his practice method. He did say that Qi Gong and Taijiquan could have similar health effects, but my point has not been to say that Qi Gong is bad or that it has no connection with Taijiquan, but only that it is a separate discipline. Being a Qi Gong master does not make you a Taiji master.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">most people can readily use and apply their basic instruction about Qi. But there’s no denying that an advanced practitioner can do it better, more clearly.</font>


Wonderful! For me, this is exactly it. Ordinary folks like me are working with the exact same thing that advanced practitioners are working with. They just do it better and more clearly. The wonder and the mystery is not about something “elsewhere,” something undiscovered by Western science, or something fundamentally apart from our daily lives. The mystery is in the mundane. The mechanism of operation is not important, but how the mystery can be used and what it can accomplish are very important. If sense of Qi is important to your practice method, then I believe it is the sense that we all have every day of our lives and not something that only takes years to perceive.

One very important and recurrent theme in Confucian thought and in early Daoism is that the keys to the Dao (the “Way of Things”?) are very, very simple, but also very, very hard to put into practice. This is how I understand the basic practice method the Yangs and similar teaches use.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I’m still a bit confused about your distinction between intent and intention/planning. Do you mean a kind of trajectory, the combination of their mind’s intention/planning (conscious and unconscious) (mental) and what they are able to do with their body (physical)?</font>


In my earlier post, I think I failed to address this point you raised. Just as for everything else, what follows are just my possibly worthless opinions, but they are nonetheless important for the way I try to practice. I get the sense that many others do not hold to the view of “mind-intent” I am going to describe below. This was certainly true for some flavors of Taiji I have studied. It is one of the reasons I am paranoid about not mixing methods.

The Chinese character/word Yi4 maps poorly to any specific English words. This is not so much a peculiarity of Chinese or of English, but rather a very common phenomenon among all languages. In my view, Chinese is not specially adapted to discuss or explain Taijiquan; however, it is specially adapted to discuss the Chinese in which the seminal works of Taijiquan are written.

The Chinese word Yi4 and the English word “mean” share clusters of usages and senses that are related to the action of the mind. I believe that three of these usages are important to distinguish:

1. Words have “meaning,” which is a sense in which Yi, or at least compounds of Yi, can be used. Such “meanings” can, to some degree, travel with the things they are attached to and do not need an actively operating mind to create or sustain them. The Chinese word “shu” means “book,” whether or not you are asleep or awake, alive or dead.

2. “What you ‘mean’ to do” refers to what you intend or plan to do. This sense attaches to the mind of an individual, but that mind does not have to be active. Once you form your plans or your intention, these remain until you change them. You need not actively support them with your mind. Another person can also share the same intent, since it has some objective reality.

3. “What you mean by something” refers to the significance your mind attaches to something in the present. If someone says something provocative to you, you may ask: “What do you mean by that?” You are not asking so much about the person’s plans, but for the significance of the physical action as interpreted by that person at that moment. The same physical action can be “meant” in different ways. Only the author of the action can define and sustain this “meaning.” It cannot be shared. Except in rare circumstances, it has no existence apart from an individual mind that is in active operation.

In my view, the type of Taijiquan practiced by the Yangs and many others, focuses on this third sense, but not the other two senses. When one uses Ting (“Listening”), one is not trying to look for telltales that will predict the movements of the opponent, but rather trying to perceive what “sense” the opponent is giving to his body. A palm beginning to exert pressure on your chest may be reflect that the opponent is using it to push you away, to push himself way, to probe, or even to prop himself up. At an instant in time, the differences between these are not physical, but rather a matter of Yi and how the opponent is relating to his palm.

An opponent that is using her palm to prop herself up against your chest may be intending to launch an unknown attack. All you need to know is that she is relying on this prop and that subtly removing it will cut off her root and destroy the ability to launch any kind of attack. Her intent of the moment is more important than her intentions for the immediate future.

When you put your hands on your opponent’s forearm, you try to sense whether he is using the forearm at that moment as a barrier, a lever, a rolling pin, an antenna, or whatever. As your skill grows, you understand more and more of the consequences of any choice he makes and what it means for the rest of his body and its potential to act. This is what I understand as “Dong” (“Understanding”). As your skill grows further, you are able to make internal changes to your own “sense of yourself” (i.e., Yi) to exploit the opponent’s disposition for offense and defense. This is what I understand as “Hua” (Neutralizing/Transforming). What is at issue is not the position of your limbs, but how you are using your limbs. How you are using them will affect how you dispose your muscles, tendons, and the equilibriums among these that you establish. Different equilibriums can look the same externally, while being differently internally. Between the crest and trough of a tidal wave, the sea will reach the same height as if it were calm. This appearance is deceiving as to the nature of the energy interaction involved.

When you use Zhan-Nian-Lian-Sui (Adhering, Sticking, Linking, Following), you apply these techniques with your Yi against the opponent’s Yi. You try not to Butt up (Ding) against the opponent’s sense of himself and trigger countermeasures. You try not to be Flat (Bian) and fail to stick to all the contours of the opponent’s expression of his Yi. You try not to “Lose Contact” (“Diu”) with his Yi. And you try not to “Resist” (Kang) his expression of Yi and lose the opportunity to use and control it for your advantage.

One of the reasons I go on and on about mixing methods is that some approaches to Taijiquan do not really seem to use much of Zhan-Nian-Lian-Sui. For me, this is a fundamental difference. In these approaches, Yi is usually discussed only as a way of adding “focus,” “concentration,” “will power,” or “cleverness” to one’s physical techniques. The sense of touch is also usually de-emphasized.

Other approaches seem to focus on “cultivating Qi” in ways that sound like methods to manipulate the “external environment.” In these approaches, Yi is often described only as a means of using Qi as a fuel to create some special force. The more fuel you have and the more efficiently you can transform it, the better. The opponent may be important as a source of fuel, but his “mind usage” is again not very important to execution of fundamental techniques. Sticking to a ball is fundamentally the same as sticking to a person’s arm in such approaches.

Again, my intent Image is not to criticize these other approaches, but rather to distinguish them. To emphasize distinctions clearly, I cannot give them their just due without allowing my purpose to be hijacked.

This is more than enough for now. I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi
Audi
 
Posts: 1131
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA

Postby Kalamondin » Fri Jul 02, 2004 11:53 pm

Hi Audi,

It's summer vacation time and I will have only occasional internet access. I look forward to reading your post (have printed it but must dash). You may not hear from me until August...but then again, you never know.

Have a great month!

Kalamondin
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Postby Kalamondin » Tue Aug 10, 2004 8:56 pm

Hi Audi,

Thanks for your patience with my long absence and the length of this post!

You said:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I could well be wrong, but I think I understand “following” somewhat differently. For me, it is not necessarily about being passive and not attacking, but about attacking in such a way that you give minimal opposition to the opponent’s use of Yi. </font>


This sounds about right to me. Maybe I expressed myself badly in a previous post, but for me, listening is not a passive act. It’s going along with what the opponent is thinking/feeling/doing so closely that when you do act (attack) in a way that diverges slightly from the totality of their experience (what they are thinking/feeling/doing), they won’t even notice that you are doing/have done something until the end result is upon them. This is where the element of surprise comes in, when your attack seems like a natural outgrowth of what they’ve done. I think you said it very well here:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> How can an opponent defend against positive feedback and a sense of success? How can he or she defend against the consequences of his or her own actions? It is a mind game played by the limbs, not a game of limbs played by the mind. </font>


I particularly like that last bit! I also thing that we are largely in agreement, and if we’re beating this thread to death…well, maybe we’re just pounding rice. Oh, and thanks for the “Quotes” assistance.

I agree that a student cannot study one thing and use it to say he has mastered another. Nor can one thing, like tai chi, be explained completely in the context of another (physiology, psychology, particle physics, or whatever). I see where you’re coming from when you talk about a student trying to learn from two or more masters and applying their various instructions haphazardly or inappropriately and to the detriment of their practice. I agree that that’s a terrible way to go. But I still maintain that at some point the student has to learn to figure out for himself or herself what’s useful (in terms of practice or analogy) from other disciplines and when to apply it. It’s better still if they can discuss their explorations with their teacher for confirmation or correction.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> …many of the early books I read about Taijiquan seemed to put such an exclusive stress on macrocosmic visions of Qi that I cannot see how a practitioner could practice anything that would be immediately concrete and palpably related to the macrocosm. If one relies primarily on imagination, there is no reliable feedback loop to confirm whether one is on the right track. Imagination of what one does not understand is not the same as visualization of what one does understand. </font>


I’ll buy that. There were books that, as a beginner, I dismissed out of hand because I couldn’t understand what they were talking about on the macrocosmic level as anything more than theory with no connection to my practice. It took having a teacher who could demonstrate the theory on a small scale before I could follow along and begin to feel how the theory works in practice. I really see how the expression of the microcosm is an indication of understanding the macrocosm. I liked that. I also thought your swimming analogy was a good one. I hadn’t consciously thought before about how the simplicity and ambiguity of the rules force a student to think in order to understand. Students only come to see what’s right in front of their faces after they undergo a refinement in discernment. And yes, watching a teacher model something for me always works better for me than specific verbal instructions.

However, the act of thinking about the macroscopic and the microscopic at the same time has helped me when I do receive detailed directions. If my teacher says bend your wrist like this and complying with his instruction is uncomfortable and feels off, I try to look at the bigger picture and how my wrist aligns with the whole—the raised shoulder, the un-sunk chest, the un-relaxed waist. It almost always comes down to a small error farther away: my hips slightly off, or my toes a half inch out of alignment. And when I fix that problem, then the wrist correction feels right. It’s weird (and marvelous!) how everything fits together.

I guess this is an example of how a rule can be re-deduced, or extrapolated backwards from a small detail. But if I hadn’t been familiar with the rules in the first place--about wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, relaxing the waist, and errors stemming from the feet and waist--then I would probably just have bent my wrist the way I was told, gritted my teeth at the pain of it until I forgot the instruction and went back to the previous, incorrect alignment. This all seems to corroborate with something you said later in the article: “… failure to observe a principle in one small place may indicate a failure to observe it fully in other places where failure may be less apparent.”

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In other words, it is the act or procedure that is important, not one’s belief system. Even if one disbelieves it, but can manage to act as if it is true, this will be quite enough to yield good results.</font>


Yes, this was exactly how it worked. Some part of me doubted, but in setting that aside and acting as if it were true that my spirit was raised, I could feel the rush of Qi along my spine and my head suspended itself, as if of its own volition, and the form passed before me in a sort of golden haze.

I particularly liked that you explain to your students that you “understand this as a basic requirement that is hard to meet consistently, but not as an advanced requirement only to be worked towards later.” Things come to me in glimpses from time to time that I cannot maintain all the time, and this seems like a really useful way to describe it. I don’t feel like an advanced level student—tai chi doesn’t feel cohesive yet, or spring to hand without thought—and yet strange things happen from time to time that seem more advanced than I feel and that no one else is talking about yet. So I really like your method of not separating things into beginning vs. advanced. It sounds like you might be saying something more like, “Here is the whole as I understand it. Take what you can though the entirety may be too much to hold yet, and you cannot yet maintain what you are holding consistently.” This is a neat explanation for why flashes of understanding bubble past me from time to time, too much for me to contain or retain.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> If you cannot observe the Ten Essentials in the Preparation Posture, can you truly observe them in any posture? Said differently, if you can master the Ten Essentials in the Preparation Posture, can you fail to master them in all the postures? </font>


Nicely said!

With regard to permeating the universe and dissolving boundaries, I had a previous teacher who was quoting from somewhere (sorry, my memory for references is wretched!) but talking about a specifically tai chi related practice of condensing the chi in the Dantien and expanding/extending the spirit outward into infinity. This seems like a permeation of the universe or dissolution of boundaries to me. But I think that in later years, I heard something that was quite the opposite: condense the spirit, but expand the Qi. I’m quite confused about all of it, actually, and hope that someone will have the original reference and can explicate the text. Would condensing the spirit prevent it from getting “lost?” Expand the Qi so you can sense intent, etc. from afar? Expand the boundaries of the self to encompass the whole so as to achieve the emptiness necessary to become one with the opponent?

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Here is where I get uncomfortable. I find this line of inquiry akin to delving deep into theories of neurology and physiology as guideposts for Taijiquan. I think it is great as an intellectual endeavor, but treacherous as a practice method. It may be okay as an analysis of the why, but not as to the how. As I understand traditional Yang Style teaching, the principle method is simply to have the Qi sink to the Dantian. What the Qi then accomplishes is simply an effect of universal principles of Yin/Yang reversal theory. One does not need to help the universe along. There is little or no focus on consciously controlling the nature or disposition of this Qi or consciously augmenting it in any particular way. One sinks the Qi to the Dantian to harness it, but otherwise does not bother much about it. </font>


Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been too much in my head of late and my penchant for watching things happen seems to get in the way of being able to react naturally—there’s no such thing as an objective observer, right? Image

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Some places in the Classics employ language like “arousing the Qi like a drum.” Personally, I do not understand such talk so much as describing an explicit method of working Qi, but rather as an indication of the feeling one gets as the end result of using other methods. </font>


I’ve seen that, but I’m not certain about your interpretation. I was just re-reading Waysun Liao’s translation of the Classics and he includes a section that seems to describe accelerating waves of chi beating against the outer limits of something (the body? The energy field?) held taut with pung energy (I don’t understand it yet). It’s set forth as a method in and of itself: do this, then do that. On the other hand, I’ve never heard the Yangs talk about this either, so it may not be part of their methodology. But I also think it’s important to keep in mind that they haven’t been teaching in the West for very long (on a tai chi scale). So maybe no one has asked them these questions yet?

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> The same physical action can be “meant” in different ways. Only the author of the action can define and sustain this “meaning.” It cannot be shared. Except in rare circumstances, it has no existence apart from an individual mind that is in active operation. </font>


Thanks for your explanations of meaning. I understand that meaning is extremely subjective, but I suspect that at the master level meaning, as defined by any particular author, can be shared by a master. There’s got to be a level where concepts like author, meaning, intent, and observer all merge. In these rare circumstances it may be possible to understand what another means so thoroughly that the meaning of another’s action does have an existence apart from the author’s mind—at least insofar as the mind of the master may incorporate the other’s mind and thus, meaning.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In my view, the type of Taijiquan practiced by the Yangs and many others, focuses on this third sense, but not the other two senses. When one uses Ting (“Listening”), one is not trying to look for telltales that will predict the movements of the opponent, but rather trying to perceive what “sense” the opponent is giving to his body. A palm beginning to exert pressure on your chest may be reflect that the opponent is using it to push you away, to push himself way, to probe, or even to prop himself up. At an instant in time, the differences between these are not physical, but rather a matter of Yi and how the opponent is relating to his palm. </font>


I think this describes it very well. I would only add that I would try to listen to their state of mind for insight into how they are using (or are about to use) their palm. I always find it useful to gauge an opponent’s emotional state as well. Are they having fun? Frustrated at work and looking for a punching bag? Serious but calm? Irritated and about to launch a swift attack? All of these things could be summed up in the “’sense’ the opponent is giving to his body” so perhaps you already meant to include these things.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
When you use Zhan-Nian-Lian-Sui (Adhering, Sticking, Linking, Following), you apply these techniques with your Yi against the opponent’s Yi. You try not to Butt up (Ding) against the opponent’s sense of himself and trigger countermeasures. You try not to be Flat (Bian) and fail to stick to all the contours of the opponent’s expression of his Yi. You try not to “Lose Contact” (“Diu”) with his Yi. And you try not to “Resist” (Kang) his expression of Yi and lose the opportunity to use and control it for your advantage. </font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Thanks for this reminder! I especially like the phrase “stick to all the contours of the opponent’s expression of his Yi” because I was thinking last week about myself as a Fred Flintstone-esque car tire: lumpy, made of stone (too stiff), and bumping along every pothole in the road (the opponent). But if I could expand my collapsed, flat (flat tire?) understanding of things and be a nice round rubber tire, then I could I could hug the surface of the road and there would be no surprises or gaps where I’m not in contact. (It’s not the world’s greatest analogy, failing to account for gaps in the road, momentum, etc., but maybe you see what I was getting at.)

So when I tried to expand outward, I discovered that there’s a massive difference between physically touching someone’s arm, expanding internally to listen at the edges of your skin, and expanding to listen beyond the surface of your skin. Beyond the surface of my skin it was much easier to listen to my opponents’ varying contours of expression. It was very intense.

I’ve been thinking more about Zhan-Nian-Lian-Sui and I don’t understand them as well as I would like. I asked in a different thread about the difference between Sticking and Adhering and was directed to an older thread (Form names). It gave me a lot to think about, but I’m still wondering what these (sticking and adhering in particular) feel like (the touch sensation when you are using them and when they are being used on you) and wonder if you have anything to add?

Thanks,
Kal
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Postby Audi » Sun Aug 22, 2004 4:10 pm

Hi Kalamondin,
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>However, the act of thinking about the macroscopic and the microscopic at the same time has helped me when I do receive detailed directions. If my teacher says bend your wrist like this and complying with his instruction is uncomfortable and feels off, I try to look at the bigger picture and how my wrist aligns with the whole—the raised shoulder, the un-sunk chest, the un-relaxed waist. It almost always comes down to a small error farther away: my hips slightly off, or my toes a half inch out of alignment. And when I fix that problem, then the wrist correction feels right. It’s weird (and marvelous!) how everything fits together.

I guess this is an example of how a rule can be re-deduced, or extrapolated backwards from a small detail. But if I hadn’t been familiar with the rules in the first place--about wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, relaxing the waist, and errors stemming from the feet and waist--then I would probably just have bent my wrist the way I was told, gritted my teeth at the pain of it until I forgot the instruction and went back to the previous, incorrect alignment. </B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

In my opinion, this is a terrific way to put “internal” content into one’s practice. I also think this is why the Yangs precede their seminars with lectures and put such emphasis on the Ten Essentials. One needs to put the simple corrections together with the simple theory to get the best results. One without the other is usually incomplete. Unfortunately, I do not do this enough, and my form suffers for it. I have recently tried to refocus on simple fundamentals and think I have improved significantly because of it.

There is another concept that I also like to pair with the above, and that is “Yi” (mind intent). Sometimes when I teach, I am perceived to be concentrating on advanced details. This is a failing that I have and cannot seem to overcome. In my mind, what I am trying to address is not an advanced detail, but what I perceive to be a disconnect between mind and body or what some might term a fault in the use of “mind intent.” Basically, what I see is that a student is moving in a way that no human being would ever use if they had the proper purpose in mind (“yi”). The problem is not really that the student lacks practice, but that he or she is unknowingly trying to do the wrong thing. The physical result is merely a symptom of a problem with their purpose.

One example of this phenomenon is in Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane, Single Whip, and similar postures in the Sword Form. In this posture, many students fail to position the left hand correctly, usually leaving the palm (really the Tiger’s Mouth) behind or beside the body and in a horizontal or downward-pointing orientation. What the students are unconsciously doing is striking an arbitrary pose, without giving proper thought to the mental pattern they are using to guide their movements.

If one visualized pulling a rope or stretching taffy between the left palm and the right wrist, no human being would have difficulty orienting the left hand correctly. As another analogy, I sometimes talk about sliding the left palm down a banister as far as it will go. Even if someone is arthritic or physically impaired, he or she can exert him or herself correctly. The correct exertion should be somewhat visible, independently of the final physical result. Although this palm orientation is less “relaxed” and comfortable than pointing the left arm backwards or letting the palm hang downward, just about everyone can accommodate a reasonable position, as long as the process is correctly understood. In my view, if one merely “strikes a pose,” one can never be relaxed in the way the Yangs’ method requires and one can never generate Peng energy in the way they mean. All the internal sensations will be wrong, and progress in training will be greatly hampered.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">With regard to permeating the universe and dissolving boundaries, I had a previous teacher who was quoting from somewhere (sorry, my memory for references is wretched!) but talking about a specifically tai chi related practice of condensing the chi in the Dantien and expanding/extending the spirit outward into infinity. This seems like a permeation of the universe or dissolution of boundaries to me. But I think that in later years, I heard something that was quite the opposite: condense the spirit, but expand the Qi. I’m quite confused about all of it, actually, and hope that someone will have the original reference and can explicate the text. Would condensing the spirit prevent it from getting “lost?” Expand the Qi so you can sense intent, etc. from afar? Expand the boundaries of the self to encompass the whole so as to achieve the emptiness necessary to become one with the opponent? </font>


I recall lots of language about “containing the spirit inwardly,” but no particular language about expanding the “Qi.” Here are my best speculations about the seeming contradictions you allude to.

In plain contemporary American English, I think that “containing the spirit inwardly” means to “focus” and not allow one’s thoughts to wander. At the same time that you must “focus,” you cannot be rigid. You must actively engage your point of focus, be receptive to input, and adapt accordingly. These two ideas can sound contradictory, but really are not.

In terms of Chinese metaphysics, below is how I understand things.

Around the 1200s, various scholars (Zhu Xi, etc.) brought new interpretations to prevailing understandings of Confucianism. These scholars are commonly called Neo-Confucians. These new understandings arguable drew on Daoist, and maybe Buddhist, ideas of cosmology, although these Neo-Confucians would have adamantly denied such influences. Their ideas remained more or less mainstream in China up to the 20th Century and might be presumed as the backdrop for the Taiji Classics.

One of the important concepts of Neo-Confucians was something called “Investigating Things” (Ge2 Wu4). This process involved expanding one’s mind to encompass all things in the universe to understand the principles (Li3) behind them. In understanding these principles, one could come to understand the “rightness” that an impersonal Heaven imbues in all things. One could then develop one’s capacity to the fullest, lead the perfect life (and death), and assume one’s perfect role within the natural order of things.

In order to “investigate things” properly, one had to simultaneously expand one’s mind, but also empty it of preconceptions and make it an empty vessel to be filled with Heaven’s principles. The concept of an “empty mind” or “empty spirit” (xu1 ling2) is one of the interpretations that can be attributed to the first of the Ten Essentials, which is ambiguously worded in Chinese. According to this interpretation, the “internal” content of this injunction refers to emptying, freeing, or unburdening the mind so that one can allow energy to flow up into the head.

A similar apparent dichotomy can be observed in terms of Qi. One sinks Qi to the Dantian in order to use it instantaneously outside the Dantian. One can analogize with the air in a balloon. If you pump air into a balloon, the air pressure can support the implicit structure imbedded in the near formless skin of the balloon. By randomly pumping the air inside, this structure can reach its strongest and most stable state. Pressure inside yields pressure outside. Concentration yields expansion. Pumping air outside the balloon lends no stability or strength and merely dissipates the pressure to little purpose.

Even though you want to sink the Qi to the Dantian and concentrate it there, you do not want to obstruct the effect of the expansive “pressure” it exerts. You “relax-and-extend” your joints so that the Qi can instantaneously follow your thought to all your extremities. (“Yi” leads “Qi.”) To use the balloon analogy, if you squeeze one end of the balloon, the pressure is instantaneously felt at the other end, unless there is some obstruction.

At a deeper level, one also must engage with one’s opponent and not deflect or avoid him. If I can expand on your words, I would say that one’s “Qi pressure” must not stop in the Dantian, or at the surface of one’s skin, but penetrate all the way through the opponent. You “know” your opponent in this way. Again, one can see the link with the idea of expanding the empty mind to “Investigate Things.”

All of the above is why I distinguish this training approach from those that focus heavily on tracing Qi through the body, training certain meridians, or manipulating Qi in particular ways. At their mildest, these approaches are no different than using stretching exercises to improve one’s form. Some people do; some people don’t. No conflict in principle is involved. At their most involved, these approaches imply different conceptions of the art that in my view are not easily compatible. Training to channel one’s Qi outwardly in a specific configuration is not the same as training to sink it in an undifferentiated way. Of course, between the two extremes are many other approaches that cannot be easily pigeon-holed as this or that. My purpose is not to criticize any particular practice; but to say that in my experience, organizing one’s practice along theories of Qi meridians cannot seamlessly be added to other methods of training.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I was just re-reading Waysun Liao’s translation of the Classics and he includes a section that seems to describe accelerating waves of chi beating against the outer limits of something (the body? The energy field?) held taut with pung energy (I don’t understand it yet). It’s set forth as a method in and of itself: do this, then do that. On the other hand, I’ve never heard the Yangs talk about this either, so it may not be part of their methodology. But I also think it’s important to keep in mind that they haven’t been teaching in the West for very long (on a tai chi scale). So maybe no one has asked them these questions yet? </font>


I also would love more exlanation of all this. At the moment, the only ideas I have are to think in terms of “balloon pressure” as I have outlined above. You don’t want the effect of the Qi to be like a deflated balloon or a steel ball, but like the resilience and liveliness of the surface of a drum. Another possibility would be to think in terms of the difference between a steel rod, a rope lying on a ground, and a stretched elastic band. Peng (“Pung”) Energy (or “Ward Off Energy”) in the general sense can be analogized with “balloon pressure,” the surface of a drum, the elastic band, or the water floating the bottom of a moving boat.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I’ve been thinking more about Zhan-Nian-Lian-Sui and I don’t understand them as well as I would like. I asked in a different thread about the difference between Sticking and Adhering and was directed to an older thread (Form names). It gave me a lot to think about, but I’m still wondering what these (sticking and adhering in particular) feel like (the touch sensation when you are using them and when they are being used on you) and wonder if you have anything to add? </font>


I am not sure that I could improve much on the discussion in the earlier thread, but perhaps can add a little.

As I mentioned earlier on this forum, I think that Taijiquan places a special emphasis on the concept of “Shi” (“configuration” and “disposition”). Basically, this means engaging the opponent and using his or her energy, not avoiding it or dodging it. I must confess that I have a fundamental problem in practicing this, because of other training I have had. I have great difficulty not shrinking away from force or trying to deflect it, which I believe is not good Taijiquan.

One way to look at this is that you must “dance” with the opponent. “Dancing” implies is that both parties cooperate in producing a result. It is not a matter of attack and counterattack.

Zhan-nian-lian-sui can be thought of as four different aspects of the same thing, which is this “dancing.” If you and your partner are using these techniques, you will not feel so much a sequence of attack and counterattack as a flow of dancing, where you and your partner alternately take the lead. Zhan (“adhering”? or “making stick”) is when you encourage your opponent to follow your lead away from his root. Nian (“sticking”? or “being sticky”) is when you insist on dancing fully with your opponent’s movements. None of his important movements lies outside of the dance, and he is not free to act independently of you. Lian (“linking”) is when you do not lose the thread of the music. One movement flows into the next. Sui (“following”) is when you incorporate the opponent’s movements into the dance, and he cannot maneuver you into opposing obstructing his dance movements.

I think that one can experiment a little with these ideas within the basic circling exercises. With small alterations in speed, rhythm, and distance, one can get a sense of when these energies can and do operate. One can also look for them during Push Hands applications, particularly if one concentrates on the feeling of “dancing” oneself out of difficulty and “dancing” the opponent into difficulty. This should feel different than attack and counterattack, because the energy between you and the opponent is joined and the energy of attack and counterattack begins to overlap and become hard to distinguish.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Zeuglodon » Thu Aug 26, 2004 6:16 pm

Use “Mind” and not “Body”.

Mind = Internal and knowledge
Body = External and brute strength

‘nuff said
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Postby Zeuglodon » Thu Aug 26, 2004 6:46 pm

“Use mind intent”

When translating from Chinese to English, as often happens, the correct English word is derived, but the usage (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) is occasionally misguided. From the dictionary definition of the word “intent” we can see that it may have been so in this case.

intent

SYLLABICATION: in·tent
PRONUNCIATION: n-tnt
NOUN: 1. Something that is intended; an aim or purpose. See synonyms at intention.
2. Law The state of one's mind at the time one carries out an action.
3. Meaning; purport.

ADJECTIVE: 1. Firmly fixed; concentrated: an intent gaze.
2. Having the attention applied; engrossed: The students, intent upon their books, did not hear me enter the room.
3. Having the mind and will focused on a specific purpose: was intent on leaving within the hour; are intent upon being recognized.
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Postby chris » Thu Aug 26, 2004 7:51 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Zeuglodon:
<B>Use “Mind” and not “Body”.

Mind = Internal and knowledge
Body = External and brute strength

‘nuff said</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

What do the classics say about leading an opponent into emptiness, via brute strength?
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Postby Kalamondin » Thu Sep 02, 2004 10:06 pm

Hi Audi,

I’ve been reading over some of the older forums and I wanted to respond to a couple points in your post of 6-3-01 (sorry, it’s been a couple weeks and I don’t remember the forum name anymore—but it seems relevant to what we’ve been talking about).

You wrote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> You also asked about what I meant by "soft on the outside and hard on the inside." In my view, "soft" basically means yielding, and the yielding provides the power for the hardness. I believe decent analogies could be drawn with a hand pressing on a beach ball, the action of gravity on the Sun (whispy outside, diamond-hard center), or the buoyancy of water acting on a surf board (the water yields, but does not compress). I also believe that this is the same for mental, tactical, and physical aspects of T'ai Chi. Do you view this differently? </font>


I have a third analogy for you that resonates with your sun analogy, courtesy of my teacher: it is impossible to shoot a bullet thought a bale of cotton. When you shoot a bullet into a bale of cotton it yields at first, but eventually the cotton becomes so compressed that it will stop the bullet. This is the hardness concealed in softness.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> <B>What do you (or anyone else interested) make of the following excerpt, with which you may well be familiar. It is from Chen Kung/Stuart Alva Olson's Intrinsic Energies of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Vol. II.

"If there is no neutralization, there can be no issuing (this is a guarding and an attack). Without a neutralization you'll be unable [to] make the opponent extend all his force so you can issue. You must also take into account the neutralization....

"Never give an opponent an opportunity to guard and attack, or put yourself in the position of having to guard and attack. This way you will avoid many potential threats to your spirit and vitality. These words truly embody principles. If you don't pay full attention to this, then you must pay attention to guarding and attacking, because your spirit and vitality will become divided and dispersed."
</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I think this is a subtle and interesting point. My very loose reading of this passage might be something like this: Do not put your opponent on the defensive. Don’t ruffle his or her feathers such that they feel compelled to be on guard all the time or attack you. Don’t push them such that they become stiff with the anticipation of guarding against your attack.

If you can keep the opponent mellow and relaxed (by staying mellow and relaxed yourself), they won’t need to attack you. The people with chips on their shoulders won’t feel compelled to come after you. If you can avoid being guarded, then you will not divide and disperse your spirit and energy by trying to be prepared for battles on all fronts. You won’t become exhausted from the stress of being in fight or flight mode at all times.

When I say “on guard” here I’m really talking about the kind of tense sense of anticipation you see from people who are expecting that the next fight is just around the corner, the ones who are expecting to be attacked or who are looking for a fight.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In my opinion, one can perform quite "well" in push hands by guarding and attacking, which I understand to be Karate and wrestling strategies; however, I do not think such strategies are the best for developing T'ai Chi insight or skills. Again, does anyone see this differently? </font>


Can you explain a bit more about Karate and wrestling strategies of guarding and attacking? How do you understand guarding and attacking?

I also think it takes more skill not to guard and attack. These words are rather confusing. I can tell the author has a specific meaning, I’m just not sure I understand it. I don’t think that “not guarding” means that you can’t meet an incoming attack and neutralize it. And I don’t think that “not attacking” means that you can’t circle an incoming attack and return it with accuracy and/or augmented force. I think these words more properly describe states of mind and their resulting physical manifestations: guarding and attacking result in stiff defensive postures and heavy-handed, not-nimble attacks.

I agree that guarding and attacking are not the best for “developing T’ai Chi insight or skills.” But then, I’m not always sure how best to work on NOT doing that. Lately, I’ve been trying to deflect things before they get started so I don’t get backed into a corner where I feel like I have to guard. And with regard to not attacking, I’m also deliberately pushing slowly enough that my opponents can counter me. If they can’t counter me, I push slower and slower until they figure a way out of it. This has more of the flavor of not guarding or attacking, but I can tell that it’s not precisely what’s meant. On the plus side, I don’t raise their hackles and I do a better job of staying calm. I think it’s a useful strategy for pushing with people who’ve got something to lose (speaking as one myself). It feels very soft and internal, trying to listen to someone closely enough to know how far I can push them before we lose our cool and trying to maintain an equilibrium so that we are both progressing but neither is bored nor over-excited.

OK, now back to this thread: thanks for your good description of how to position the tiger’s mouth in parting the wild horses mane, etc. I’d never thought of a banister analogy, but I think it’s a good one for giving students an intuitive sense of where to place their lower hand.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> In plain contemporary American English, I think that “containing the spirit inwardly” means to “focus” and not allow one’s thoughts to wander. At the same time that you must “focus,” you cannot be rigid. You must actively engage your point of focus, be receptive to input, and adapt accordingly. These two ideas can sound contradictory, but really are not. </font>


This sounds good to me, but I think there is a directional component as well—that the focus should be on putting the mind in the dan tien. The specific discipline of training the mind to exist in the dan tien eventually allows one to fight instinctively, without the linear “if this, then that” of more head-oriented thinking. I have also heard that the Chinese locate one aspect of the mind in the heart. I don’t understand this very well, but if I remember correctly, my copy of the I Ching has the characters for “actualizing-Tao” as “heart” and “straight forward.” Yet for tai chi, the focus is on putting the mind in the dan tien. I wonder if anyone knows why it’s the dan tien rather than the heart we’re supposed to put our mind in? Is it that this is the greatest of our Qi reservoirs? I would like to know more if anyone has anything to add.

I would speculate that one of the primary reasons for training to keep the mind in the dan tien is to be able to maintain focus when being attacked. During regular forms practice this kind of training is good for keeping the mind from “wandering,” “spacing out,” having one’s “head in the clouds.” But in an attack situation, it would help a person stay present in their body. Many people spontaneously disassociate during trauma, including fights. Survival instinct takes over and they operate without thought—going into a fight or flight response (“Like something just came over me”) or they just freeze up and “check out.” What good are fighting skills if your mind checks out in crisis? I think that keeping the mind in the dan tien is a way to fight instinctively AND stay conscious (fully aware of what’s happening).

It’s clear to me that the “empty mind” of Chinese metaphysics is not a state of absence, or vacuity. Rather, it is a yielding and an openness that allows all things to enter without physical or psychological resistance. All sensory input can just flow and the body can react instinctively. The more relaxed one is, the more easily the Qi flows through the many tiny spaces of the body—exactly like the “threading the pearl” image where the path through the pearl has all sorts of twists and curves (sorry again for my profligate lack of references, I tend to absorb images but have a hard time remembering where they came from). The more open the path, the faster the Qi can circulate. The faster it goes, the stronger the “pumping” or “drumming” action of the Qi radiating outwards from the dan tien. This internal pressure dictates the strength of pung energy.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> By randomly pumping the air inside, this structure can reach its strongest and most stable state. Pressure inside yields pressure outside. Concentration yields expansion. </font>


I realize I’ve been repeating much of what you said, but I’m also trying to solidify my own understanding of it. I think there are some slight variations through: for example, I don’t believe that the pumping of air/Qi is random. It feels ordered and rhythmic to me. Concentration does yield expansion, but the acceleration is done with the mind, not randomly, and not trying to impose a rhythm, but rather yielding to a greater one.

On the other hand, we may actually be on the same page regarding random/non-random behavior if you meant random in the chaos theory sense. Bounded chaos does yield some extraordinarily beautiful, ordered patterns and repetitions (I’m thinking of Mandelbrot sets here). Here are couple links with neat pictures for anyone who wants to see what I mean: http://www.ddewey.net/mandelbrot/ and
http://aleph0.clarku.edu/~djoyce/julia/explorer.html

The rhythm of Qi movement can be altered with the mind, but the mind alone does not suffice. It must operate in conjunction with the body and the spirit. When combined into a single unit, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I think I understand your concern about the incompatibility of different approaches to tai chi study, namely, the difference between meridian-oriented methods, and the Yang style (and other styles) that focus primarily on sinking the Qi to the dan tien. This seems like a difference between the specific and the undifferentiated. Could the two approaches not be two ways to get to the same place? I say this because I’ve heard it said that internal and external martial arts are part and parcel of the same thing. They differ in their approaches but arrive at the same place: high level practitioners of hard styles become quite soft & internal and high level practitioners of the soft styles become quite hard. It’s difficult to see the difference between hard and soft at the very high levels.

The more Qigong related styles seem to focus on specific pathways, clearing specific blockages and guiding the Qi to specific locations or to erupt from specific points. The style I’m familiar with focuses only on guiding the Qi to the dan tien, with the idea that everything else will take care of itself. Blockages in other parts of the body will gradually release at the prompting of pressure from the center. The movements of the form will naturally lead to the Qi moving in appropriate ways. The outward expansion of Qi and undifferentiated wholeness of the system will allow the practitioner to be aware of even the smallest part (the inception of an attack to a finger joint, for example) without losing the awareness of the whole. Again, this wholeness allows for the precise release of explosive force from a pinpoint location although the practitioner has not necessarily trained in exploding energy from that precise location.

But are they really two sides of the same coin? I don’t know. I just don’t know enough to say whether different training methods interfere with or hamper traditional tai chi training (any tradition you choose). I know you have a strong opinion about this. For my part, the various things I pick up here and there all seem like parts of a larger puzzle and I am happy to incorporate whatever seems to make sense…and that’s the operative word: sense. I keep what feels right and natural and discard the rest—or put it on a back burner until I feel I’m ready for it.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> At a deeper level, one also must engage with one’s opponent and not deflect or avoid him. If I can expand on your words, I would say that one’s “Qi pressure” must not stop in the Dantian, or at the surface of one’s skin, but penetrate all the way through the opponent. You “know” your opponent in this way. Again, one can see the link with the idea of expanding the empty mind to “Investigate Things.” </font>


I agree that one must listen beyond the boundaries of the skin, but I keep wondering about the propriety of penetrating someone’s energy field so deeply. Isn’t this impolite? Is it sufficient to listen to a practice partner at the outside surface of their pung energy, as though you were holding the “balloon” of your opponent’s energy between your hands? You have full contact with the surface, you know where it is and where it’s going—but if you penetrate the balloon have you then punctured it? Should this be reserved for actual combat? Or is it like my earlier Venn diagram idea wherein your balloon (the outward expansion of energy) encompasses the other, interpenetrating without harm, on some level beyond the material? I keep coming back to the propriety of it though. Do you have any thoughts on this?

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Basically, this means engaging the opponent and using his or her energy, not avoiding it or dodging it. I must confess that I have a fundamental problem in practicing this, because of other training I have had. I have great difficulty not shrinking away from force or trying to deflect it, which I believe is not good Taijiquan. </font>


I know what you mean! It’s hard to stand your ground AND yield AND circle their force right back at’em. Excellent dancing analogy, BTW, I thought that summed it up very well. Sometimes the feeling of push hands is like a rollercoaster ride as well—all those curves and spirals and loops, back and forth, the same narrow death-defying escape from certain danger, all at high speed…well, even if you’re not going very fast it can seem fast when your body is moving faster than your mind can track. You’re in it together but there are no lurching stops and starts.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> One way to look at this is that you must “dance” with the opponent. “Dancing” implies is that both parties cooperate in producing a result. It is not a matter of attack and counterattack…particularly if one concentrates on the feeling of “dancing” oneself out of difficulty and “dancing” the opponent into difficulty. This should feel different than attack and counterattack, because the energy between you and the opponent is joined and the energy of attack and counterattack begins to overlap and become hard to distinguish. </font>


Yes, this is when push hands is the most fun for me—when it’s serious game, when it has the effortlessness and the joy of dancing. Well, the kind of joy in dancing that most people only manage after several beers. I’m coming to understand that it’s possible to bring to an actual, serious fight this same kind of joie de vivre (not that I’m anywhere close to being able to do this!). Can you imagine a light-hearted fight—relaxed, joyful—yet deadly serious? It boggles the mind.

All for now,
Kal
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Postby Kalamondin » Thu Sep 02, 2004 10:11 pm

Hi Zeuglodon,

Thanks for posting the dictionary definition. Was that from a Chinese to English dictionary? Or one of the American English dictionaries? I don't know Chinese, but from my experience each and every one of the definitions you listed applies to this art at one time or another. I'd be interested knowing more about the etymology and various connotations and denotations of the Chinese word for "intent."

Best wishes,
Kal

[This message has been edited by Kalamondin (edited 09-02-2004).]
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Postby Audi » Sat Sep 11, 2004 10:33 pm

Greetings Kal,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I have a third analogy for you that resonates with your sun analogy, courtesy of my teacher: it is impossible to shoot a bullet thought a bale of cotton. When you shoot a bullet into a bale of cotton it yields at first, but eventually the cotton becomes so compressed that it will stop the bullet. This is the hardness concealed in softness.</font>


Nice analogy, it fits with everything else.
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B> What do you (or anyone else interested) make of the following excerpt, with which you may well be familiar. It is from Chen Kung/Stuart Alva Olson's Intrinsic Energies of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Vol. II.
"If there is no neutralization, there can be no issuing (this is a guarding and an attack).....
"Never give an opponent an opportunity to guard and attack…. If you don't pay full attention to this, then you must pay attention to guarding and attacking, because your spirit and vitality will become divided and dispersed."</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
This is certainly a difficult passage, but here is what I make of it.

Some martial arts focus on different ways to guard and different ways to attack. Sometimes you must concentrate on one, sometimes on the other. Sometimes you can try to concentrate on both. This involves dividing your attention and spirit on different things.

In Taijiquan, we should not pay any attention to either guarding or attacking, but only on the flow of energy between yourself and the opponent. This unitary thing has many components, but remains a unity. The term “Taiji” refers to a dynamic duality that creates infinite diversity, but it is nonetheless a unity. Using this as a strategic principle is fundamentally different from guarding and attacking.

As I understand it, the 13 configuration (Shi4, i.e., the Eight Gates and Five Steps) and the basic energy techniques explored in Push Hands drills cannot be easily classified as “offensive” and “defensive.” It would seem quite odd to have a long discussion about Taiji “blocks” or “strikes.” I think similar things could be said about classic Aikido, where separating techniques into offense and defense would seem quite awkward.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Can you explain a bit more about Karate and wrestling strategies of guarding and attacking? How do you understand guarding and attacking?</font>


In addition to what I have said above, it seems to me that in Karate, wrestling, and in similar activities, one does a lot of testing and challenging the other person. You launch a technique to see what effect it will have and whether the other person can block it in time. These arts are oriented towards taking the initiative.

In Taijiquan, I believe you are not supposed to take the initiative, but instead work with the opponent’s initiative. The strategy you work with does not revolve around pitting technique against technique, but rather struggling for control of a common flow.

If your mind is either wholly on attacking or defending, then you cannot be Following (sui2). When you attack, you give the opponent energy that can be used against you and you lose theoretical control of the result as the energy leaves you. The more energy you put in, the more your risk. Of course, he who strikes first and hardest may not need to strike again. This is an excellent strategy in martial arts, but I personally do not believe it conforms to Taiji principles or approaches.

When you defend, you are setting up a defensive wall that may hold or that may be breached. By putting up resistance, you put the outcome at risk. Again, this is a fine strategy in many martial arts, but I do not believe it conforms well to Taiji principles. Instead of “defending,” you simply “Follow.” If the opponent cannot deal with the new situation, you will necessarily win.

Since you are not expending energy to create anything or shape a particular reality, you are at a theoretical advantage. You are merely trying to guide events along, instead of trying to create or halt them. If you are skilled at this, you do not have to put your energy flow at risk, because you are always moving in the “shadow” of your opponent’s “intent” where he or she can never reach. You are in the “lee” of your opponent’s flow. To harm you, the opponent has to create a flow. By definition, every flow has this “lee.” To be full in one place, the opponent must be empty in another.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I agree that guarding and attacking are not the best for “developing T’ai Chi insight or skills.” But then, I’m not always sure how best to work on NOT doing that.</font>


If you ever do figure this out, by all means share the secret with me.J I think I mentioned an exercise for exploring some of this, but let me describe it here in case I did not.

Start off in some comfortable pushing position where you and your partner are more or less equal. The object is not to push or pull your opponent, but to make him push or pull himself. As you begin, “listen” for whatever your partner is giving and take it. For instance, if your partner curls his fingers, cover them and do not let him straighten them out again without exhibiting a lot of stiff force that you can use for something else. If your partner bends his wrist for no reason, cover his hand to prevent him from straightening it back out.

Be as relentless as water, but always keep your structural stability. If you are rigorous about it, you will reach a point where you are stable and strong, but your opponent is unstable and weak. In order to move toward stability, your opponent will constantly have to give something up in order to assert himself. If you are more rigorous about this than him, he will reach a point where he must move in order to maintain stability, but cannot move without giving up more than he can afford. He must than push or pull himself.

If you try this, but seem as if you and your opponent merely stand as statues waiting for the other to do something, try pushing glacially slowly, as if you will take a full five seconds to complete your movement. This allows for plenty of energy to get things going and to move the two of you away from stagnation.

In reality, just about everybody needs to make minor adjustments all the time, even to maintain a “still” posture. To maintain all postures requires a lot of energy, the stillness is merely an elusion caused by a stable equilibrium. If this were not so, we would be able to hold postures for hours without tiring. Just think of atomic fission or fusion, which do not create energy. They simply destabilize an existing equilibrium that unleashes energy.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> This sounds good to me, but I think there is a directional component as well—that the focus should be on putting the mind in the dan tien. </font>


I hear many people who seem to teach this, but I am not sure that it is universal. I understand that one should “sink Qi to the Dantian,” but I am not sure that I would say that one must “think” from there.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">The specific discipline of training the mind to exist in the dan tien eventually allows one to fight instinctively, without the linear “if this, then that” of more head-oriented thinking. </font>


I have begun to wonder whether “instinct” or “lack of thought” are the best images. I think the classics talk about “spiritual or mental clarity” (“shen2 ming2”). My understanding is that this refers to when one understands something so thoroughly that one can see it in all of its aspects and ramifications with no effort.

If I can return to my past swimming analogies, I think one reaches this state of “mental clarity” in swimming when one can orient one’s body in any position without thinking in terms of strokes or executing any preset sequence of movements. It’s not so much that you move in the water by “instinct,” but rather that you have total command of the principles that govern how your body interacts with the water. There is no pattern or training that must filter your experience of the water and how you interact with it.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I have also heard that the Chinese locate one aspect of the mind in the heart. I don’t understand this very well, but if I remember correctly, my copy of the I Ching has the characters for “actualizing-Tao” as “heart” and “straight forward.” Yet for tai chi, the focus is on putting the mind in the dan tien. I wonder if anyone knows why it’s the dan tien rather than the heart we’re supposed to put our mind in? Is it that this is the greatest of our Qi reservoirs? I would like to know more if anyone has anything to add. </font>


English has many words describing different aspects of mental activity. Other languages have many words, as well. Surprisingly, languages usually do not separate out these activities in the same way. Even the core meanings of the word “mind” do not seem to correspond to an objective reality recognized in the same way in other languages.

The general Chinese word for the seat of our thoughts and feelings is “xin1.” This word, however, also corresponds to much of what we associate traditional and culturally with the English word “heart.” Whenever you see a Chinese word translated as “heart,” realize that, if the reference is not strictly physical, the word might also be translated as “mind.” The problem gets more muddled, because “mind” can also correspond to at least two other Chinese “words” that have different meanings: one is the word “Yi4,” which is often translated as “mind intent,” and the other is “Shen2,” which can also be translated as “spirit.”

When people talk of “putting there mind in their Dantain,” I assume they are talking about “seating their thoughts there.” The might also mean, putting the “mind intent” there; but this would seem opposed to other more practical uses of the “mind intent” in directing Qi to the limbs.

From what I understand, Chen Style, and perhaps others, puts great stress on initiating Silk Reeling energy and rotation from the Dantian. This is not taught by the Yangs, to my knowledge, and do not recall reading about this sort of practice among the Yang Family writings. In their version of Yang Style, motion seems to depend more on the lumber region (i.e., the Chinese “waist”) than on the Dantian.

As far as I understand, the Yangs teach only about sinking Qi to the Dantian, and nothing more. I think this is to be able to harness it for use in the limbs and extremities. Since we are talking about “whole-body” movement of Qi, we do not want to build it up in the limbs, but just want it to circulate freely.

According to the “Yang Forty Chapters,” harnessing Qi involves bringing about a Yin Yang reversal. Yin Qi causes water to seek the lowest point. To harness this Qi, you must damn it up or put it in a pot so that the water is prevented from dissipating its Qi downward. Yang Qi cause the heat in a fire to rise. To harness this Qi, you must cover the flame to prevent the heat from dissipating upwards. If you put the water in a pot and set it on a flame, the Qi of the two mix to cause steam because the sinking Yin Qi is over the rising Yang Qi in a reversal of the normal pattern. Steam can carry “water” upward; boiling water can carry “heat” downward, with its flow.

To harness Qi for use externally by your limbs and extremities, you store it internally in your Dantian. You fight by bringing up Qi from the ground, but want to harness this by actively trying to make it sink.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> On the other hand, we may actually be on the same page regarding random/non-random behavior if you meant random in the chaos theory sense. Bounded chaos does yield some extraordinarily beautiful, ordered patterns and repetitions (I’m thinking of Mandelbrot sets here).</font>


Great example! I am not specifically familiar with Mandelbrot sets, but know a little about set theory and fractals. Someone not understanding anything about such things might say that if bounded chaos can produce such beautiful patterns, would not “bounded order” be even better? If harnessing Qi is a good thing, is it not better to control every aspect of its flow and distribution throughout the body? The answer to both questions is: “not necessarily so.” One of the points of Wuwei (“non-action”) is precisely about not having control and not trying to improve things.

There is a famous Chinese story about a man who wanted his rice to grow quicker and taller and so tried to help them along by giving them little tugs. All he succeeded in doing was disturbing their roots and making them wither.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I think I understand your concern about the incompatibility of different approaches to tai chi study, namely, the difference between meridian-oriented methods, and the Yang style (and other styles) that focus primarily on sinking the Qi to the dan tien. This seems like a difference between the specific and the undifferentiated. Could the two approaches not be two ways to get to the same place?</font>


I think this depends on how you define the “same place.” I think that high-level Taijiquan does not use the same strategy and tactics as Ba Gua, let alone the strategies and tactics of high level Tae Kwon Do. I am not even sure that tradition Taijiquan of different styles will truly be the same in all aspects, even though they will be infinitely closer in approach then so called “external” arts.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> I keep wondering about the propriety of penetrating someone’s energy field so deeply. Isn’t this impolite?</font>


I sometimes chuckle when I hear some people describing Taiji as the epitome of gentleness, harmony, and innocuousness. In some ways, I think that traditional Taijiquan is immensely sharper and more aggressive than many of the more popular external arts. The classics talk about “knowing the other and not letting the other know you.” If you really think about it, this is quite an extreme statement.

For me, the question of politeness or harm is woven in with that of intent. The same palm that supports me, caresses me, soothes me, or relaxes me can cause discomfort, pain, injury, tension, or embarrassment. The key is in the intent and control of the person using the palm, as well as my reaction to it. If I invite the palm and you reciprocate, where is the offense? If I do not invite your contact and you set your will against mine, cannot a mere touch be highly offensive or even life altering?

As I understand it, absolutely basic practice in “listening energy” involves trying to feel for your partners mind and “spirit.” This is already quite intimate; but again, this is an exchange of intimacy by invitation only. It is also quite limited in purpose. I do not see any violation of privacy, unless the intent is immoral; but then again, this can happen even without contact.

As for some idea of Qi damage, I do not believe that using listening skills on another person can damage him or her directly in normal circumstances, any more than normal radar or sound energy can. You are listening for energy the person is manifesting or sending outward. You are not trying to alter that energy or disrupt anything. I do not see personal Qi as a balloon-like thing that can be punctured.

Most of the other techniques trained in Push Hands can, of course, cause harm, but the whole point of Push Hands is to have a reasonably safe way of exploring the limits of energy exchange. All of the basic techniques should be able to be used safely. Even within the safe range, however, the whole purpose is to learn to learn how energy circulates through your partner not to play at the surface of the skin.

Take care,
Audi
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