<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
The deflection of the opponent’s hand from one’s center should really take place in the turning of the waist.</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
This is, as always, an excellent point. I have some questions about what some people mean by this type of waist movement, however.
First, let me explain my current thoughts about the "waist." Since Taijiquan makes little or no consistent use of the middle and upper vertebrae, the largest relevant "solid unit" of the body is the torso. This is then the unit capable of generating the greatest amount of jin. To control the position and use of the torso, you have to pay attention to the lower vertebrae, or the Chinese waist. Since the goal is to use the jin available in the entire body, the key building block must be the unit jin directly controlled by the waist. Once you get the most out of the waist and torso, you can then figure out what to do with the other units of the body to augment your power. Hopefully, you can go beyond additive power and can achieve some synergy.
In the single hand circling, if my partner is pushing through a circle that intersects the surface of my abdomen (that is actually how I was taught), I can, at least in theory, neutralize merely by turning my waist. It is like two circles touching. When one turns, the other must turn. Alternatively, you can visualize a stick pushing at the surface of a circle straight towards its center. If the circle is turned even a little, then the stick is "pulled" off course, without any contrary force.
I have, however, two difficulties with the above analogies in the context of the exercise. First, if my partner pushes in a circle that intersects where my body will end up in its retreat, then I cannot simply turn. Turning would involve some pushing back, since the rotation would cause the distance between the contact point and my center to decrease. This motion is like the back and forth movement of a piston connecting two circles.
My second difficulty is that my partner is not just pushing on my waist, he is pushing on my arm. If I do not allow the distance between my arm and my body to decrease fairly freely, I will be resisting my partner's attempt to push in a larger circle closer to my center. (In the way I was taught, keeping your partner from "collapsing" your arm against your torso was a lesser priority than maintaining good sticking and the ability to "rollback" in even such an extreme position.)
I have reached several tentative conclusions about this exercise after more instruction and practice. First, I find that the waist is the key to ordering the movements, but is not the only factor. Second, my partner can move in such a way as to make the exercise impossible, for instance, by making the circle so large that I cannot rotate my waist clockwise without engaging in the fault of resistance. Third, how close my stance is to my partner's makes a crucial difference in the feel of the exercise. Fourth, the exercise is limited in scope and is not designed or intended to deal with all types of circular pushes.
The way I now approach the exercise is quite different than before. I now view it as an exploration of basically three things: what motion is compelled (which includes what motion is forbidden), what motion can be freely varied, and what motions are interdependent.
I view the rotation of the contact arm as something that is compelled by the need to stick during the circling in a way that does not expose a vulnerability. It is then a happy coincidence, or better yet an aspect of the Taiji principle, that this rotation also does other things: e.g., change defense into offense, transform into An energy, or make possible the use of cai/ts'ai. If you do not rotate during the forward advance, you leave yourself open to rollback. If you do not rotate during the backward advance, you leave your wrist in an awkward position to maintain good wardoff energy.
I do not understand variation to be something emphasized in the basic practice; however, I think it is inherent at a subtle level. Different speeds, different pressures, and different shapes have to be harmonized to arrive at what appears to be a perfect circle that is traced at a constant speed. If you can force a speed, a certain level of pressure, or a certain shape without the cooperation of your partner, I think this violates the principles of the drill.
I see interdependency in the direction of my partner's push, the timing of my retreat, the motion of my waist, shoulder, and elbow. I know that some people describe the exercise as retreating and waiting for the right moment to turn the waist; however, I have difficulty seeing the exercise in such a straightforward way. In fact, I see some friends who do this and get the very strong feeling that they are completely violating any notion of "yielding self and following the other." In other words, I can feel that they take initiative and give me a sensation that demands that I attempt to counter their motion to their detriment. On the other hand, I now feel that the retreat is not called for until my partner lines up her push with where my center currently is. If she pushes in a circle that is larger than this, I would not retreat at all, but rather let the push expend itself on emptiness.