Jerry, thanks for the clarifications. They have been very helpful to me in understanding where you are coming from.
I think I understand what you are saying about Silk Reeling and Yang Style arm rotation in Peng and Lu. This interpretation would seem to fit some of the practice methods I have been taught and is an interesting way to view Yang Style theories. I also recall reading recently that an early member of the Yang Family (Yang Shau Hou?) stated that all movement in Taijiquan “proceeds in spirals.”
I think where I hesitate is that I have been taught by some other teachers that Silk Reeling is not limited to particular movements in the form, but should be present in each and every movement and joint. For such teachers, it seems that the traditional Yang forms either lack something or else express it so subtly that it is practically invisible. For instance, I can see clear Silk Reeling in Wu2 Style Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg, but do not interpret the Yang Style equivalent in the same way, where I feel no need to focus my mind on twisting my arms or legs inward.
What I have generally read of Chen Stylists seems to represent this view, arguing for instance for “rotations” of the Dantian, rotations of the legs in each step, constant rotations of the hips and shoulders, and rotations of the arm in pushing strikes. If Shen does not represent this view or if, at least, there is room for dissent among Chen Stylists, I can understand how someone could say that the Chen doctrine applies to Yang Style.
Jerry, you mentioned that Shen was dealing only with one level of full and empty and “does not go that many levels down.” I do not object to his choice not to do so, but have trouble with the fact that I cannot figure out how to do so based on what he says. Whenever I have encountered a “fractal” principle in Taijiquan, it has always seemed fairly easy to apply it both in macrocosm and in microcosm. In the case of Shen’s explanation, I do not know how to apply his practice suggestions beyond the specific examples he provides. For instance, I cannot apply his principles to the spine.
My learning style is strongly biased toward looking for universal principles. Without understanding something of other levels of Full and Empty, I would have difficulty applying his methods even in the specific cases he mentions. For me, it is like trying to learn a language sentence by sentence and never being taught any vocabulary words or principles of grammar. Not everyone has much success with such approaches. At least so far, Shen does a great job of talking about the implications of Full and Empty and the reasons for why they should be distinguished, but I think I am too thick-headed to understand what specific means are necessary to do this.
Jerry, in talking about Yin-Yang duality, I was not addressing “zhong xie,” but rather whether “xu” is best thought of as “empty,” “relatively empty,” or “absolutely empty.” For me, the question is what kind of state and what kind of opposition is being described. I am talking about a problem which I believe is inherent in all human languages and which English and Chinese seem to solve somewhat differently. In English, the default meaning for scalable words is that they have absolute reference. Calling something “tall” usually implies that it is tall in absolute terms. In Chinese, calling something “gao” usually implies tallness only in relative terms. “Jei4 xie1 hai2 zi, nei3 ge gao1?” does not ask which of a group of children strikes one as tall, but which of the children is tallest. The tallest child can still be very short.
When we talk of fullness and emptiness in English, we theoretically are talking about absolute states. A bucket that is full cannot receive any more water. A bucket that is empty cannot yield up any water. Because such absolute states are rarely encountered in our daily lives, we stretch these terms to cover situations where buckets are merely “virtually” full (an inconsequential amount may still be added) and “virtually” empty (an inconsequential amount of water may still be poured out); nevertheless, these terms cannot normally be stretched to cover situations where buckets are only ¾ full or ¾ empty. Such buckets are neither full nor empty.
If we extended this specific concept of opposition to our Taijiquan, we would conclude that in most Taiji forms, our legs are neither “full” nor “empty” during most of the key moments. A 70/30 posture could not be a considered a combination of a full leg and an empty leg, but would have to be a combination of neither. A 70% weighted leg would be like a bucket ¾ full—neither full, nor empty.
If instead of the above concept of opposition, we considered an opposition of the type represented by “big brothers” and “little brothers,” there would be no problem with classifying a 70% weighted leg or indeed any intermediate states. Big brothers need not be big; little brothers need not be little. To be a “big brother,” a brother need only be slightly older than another brother. “Big” and “little” are mutually exclusive in this sense, but neither represents something absolute. Using this logic with our stances, a 70/30 or even a 51/49 stance is easily classifiable as a combination of a full leg and an empty leg (i.e., a “big brother” and a “little brother” as opposed to contrasting a “brother who is big” and a “brother who is little”).
In Chinese, we have the same issue, but I think less grammatical resistance. If I put myself in the role of an author of one of the classics and re-coin or refer to the compound word “Xu1Shi2,” I need only clarify for the reader that I am not using it with the grammar of “Hei1bai2” (“black and white”), which indicates opposite absolute states, but with the grammar of “Zhong4qing1” (“relative heaviness or lightness,” i.e., “weight”). When I say that “emptiness” does not mean absolute “emptiness,” I may simply be saying that I mean “relative emptiness.” I do not need to redefine a 70% full bucket as “full” and create a specialized meaning of “full.” I just need to make clear that I am talking about “relatively full” versus “relatively empty.”
An example of what I am talking about in English would be the following imaginary lines from the classics: “In considering the issue of weight, we must examine heaviness and lightness. But what is meant by heaviness is not limited to things that have no lightness. What is meant by lightness is not limited to things that have no weight. ‘Heaviness’ can include some lightness, and ‘lightness’ can include some ‘heaviness.’ ‘Heaviness’ means just weighing a bit more, and ‘lightness’ just means weighing a bit less.”
For me, the above paragraph reads more naturally than the equivalent statements about Full and Empty, because “heavy” and “light” have more relativity in their normal meanings. I speculate, however, that the problem has more to do with differences between English grammar and Chinese grammar than with the underlying material.
I have reread Sunzi’s use of Xu and Shi. What he writes seems to support your position about a binary choice without any gradation. To me, Sunzi seems to be referring to distinguishing between actual attacks (Shi) and feints (Xu) and between vital parts of the enemy (Shi) and unnecessary parts (Xu). He implies the two can interchange not because one alternates with the other, but because one can masquerade as the other. This interpretation supports simply drawing a line between Xu and Shi and not paying any attention to gradations.
In other words, Sunzi sees the opposition as one of black and white ( represented grammatically by “Heibai”), where grey is disregarded or not allowed. Despite this, I find an opposition of “relative heaviness” contrasted with “relative lightness” (represented grammatically by “zhongqing”) much easier to fit into Shen’s description. It preserves a relationship of mutually exclusive opposites (“heavy” things cannot be “light”), but explains what to do with states that do not represent absolutes (“heavy” is a relative term). All “gray” gets defined as either “relatively black” or “relatively white.” “Pure black” and “pure white” have no particular importance. They are not inherently better than “somewhat black” and “somewhat white,” only easier to distinguish.
Jerry, you mentioned that Yang Jun uses stances in Push Hands that are much closer to 50/50 than in his form. I have no objection to your citing this, if this is what Shen meant. My statement was that I had not seen anyone vary his or her form stances, not Push Hands stances. I was reacting to my inability to imagine how to go about changing the form to accommodate a tendency toward 51/49 weighting.
If I restrict my analysis to Push Hands, I think I can understand how one could try to “hang out,” using near 50/50 weighting; however, would this not be more dependent on what the opponent does than on what you want to take place? If you have a skilled opponent who “fully” shifts weight back and forth, is it prudent to try to impose less of a distinction on the situation? An example would be the “Shan” (“Lightening?”) attack at the “end” of the Da Lü, where the back foot is barely weighted (at least in the version I learned). I am not sure it would be advisable to move toward more even weighting in the feet for this position, since this would tend to reduce your ability to advance and might even imply an additional weight shift backward away from the strike. Another example might be in Lifting Hands. Reducing the amount of weight shifted to the rear in this posture would seem to imply being able to “swallow” less of an opponent’s punch and less of an ability to mobilize the front foot. If your relative skill is great, you can, of course, work magic with smaller circles and less shifting; and this may be what you mean. Shen’s statement is so specific, however, that I think it is hard not to take him fairly literally.
I agree that Shen does not advocate that one arm should be slack or passive; however, I can see how those who argue for the importance of seeing “fen” as “distinction” and “separation” would use his words to support their position. “If a little is good, more must surely be better.” What better way to distinguish full and empty than by completely emptying one arm and leaving as much “action” as possible in the other arm? Shen does, of course, argue almost exactly the opposite for actual practice, advocating trying to come close to even waiting to enhance nimbleness. I find myself yearning for a statement of theory that could justify both practice choices, as well as the somewhat middle ground exemplified by the Yangs’ requirements for the basic barehand form.
Jerry, in answer to one of Psalchemist’s questions, you stated: “You can be 90/10 and still not distinguish well.” Could you amplify on what you mean here? Are you saying that a person could use 90/10 weighting, but not be able to tell which leg has more weight? How are you using the word “distinguish” here? If there is something more to it than telling which leg is which, what is this “something.” I think that this is the crux of what I still cannot follow completely.
Jerry, you stated:
<<I think that once again Audi you are mixing up the physical implementation with the higher level of empty and full. If you read the essay carefully, you will see that Shen does not say that when stepping or standing on one foot there is no distinction between full and empty, only that the weight distribution cannot follow the prescription of both legs have a purchase and one is more weighted than the other in these circumstances. When a leg is suspended in the air it would be very difficult for it to bear weight - this is only common sense.>>
Perhaps you can clear up my confusion. Shen first talks about empty and full, discussing the general implications of the doctrine and why it is important. I cannot discern any description of actual methods of distinguishing full and empty until he takes up the case of the legs. Here, the only method he seems to discuss is varying the weighting in the legs. I think it is then natural to wonder what one is supposed to do when this method is impossible, for instance, when one leg is not in contact with the ground.
Because of my learning style, I need to know whether having a leg in the air is an exception to the rule of distinguishing full and empty or something else. If it is merely a different situation that still obeys the rule, then I need to have an inkling of how to apply the rule there. If it is an exception, then I need a glimpse of the higher order rule to understand how to relate the exception to everything else. Without one of these two things, I find it difficult to proceed.
One choice is simply to follow Shen’s prescriptions blindly and hope that understanding will come. Such a strategy still poses problems for me. If keeping uneven weighting in the legs is the only thing I have to do, it would seem to me that I already do this simply by following the external requirements of the form. I could then ignore Shen’s advice entirely, since it is built into the form itself. If there is more, I feel I must pester someone (like you or other volunteers) to show me another path. A third possibility is that following Shen’s ideas, at least in my case, involves “giving up the near for the far” because other methods for distinguishing full and empty are more relevant to my particular understanding or situation.
Jerry, as you say, “Ultimately [my] authorities in this area are [my] teachers and [myself].” I only wish that my understanding of all the teachings were internally consistent or that I was certain where the reason for the inconsistency lay.
Jerry, thanks for your statement about sometimes the legs leading and sometimes the arms leading. This helps me understand something I have often read about differences between the two main Chen Style routines, which is that in one form the body leads and that in the other the hands lead. I had always wondered how such variation is possible if the “waist” was supposed to be leading everything. I can see how this could apply martially to Yu nü chuan suo.
I am still puzzled, however, about how to fit this within what Shen says. His theories do not seem to distinguish between static and dynamic relationships. He emphasizes that one should figure out how to observe full and empty in corresponding arms and legs even during transitions. From what he says, it would seem that one should avoid pairing an “empty” Ward Off arm over an “empty” stepping leg. The only way I can see to justify the transition in Yu nü chuan suo is to understand “full,” “empty,” or “ward off” in some other way that is not clear to me. A dynamic interchange of the arm leading or the leg leading would not seem to help.
Louis, thanks for your explanation of a possible basis for why a Ward Off arm would be “empty.” It does make some sense this way; although, like you, I still cannot make the entire theory work for me. I am reminded of the Roll Back in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail and the “unnamed” roll backs that precede left and right Separate Foot. It seems to me that the relative weighting between the legs and the arms is opposite in these postures, and I cannot figure out how to justify both with my present understanding of Shen’s theory.
David and Jerry, my recollection of the way Yang Jun tends to teach the Roll Back posture agrees with Jerry’s statement. What I recall is that Yang Jun shows the initial rotations to the right, after Ward Off Right, and then says that during the subsequent movement to the left, the arms do not move much relative to the body, leaving this leftward movement to be accomplished elsewhere in the body. I think he then usually points out that the arms do drop slightly during the move to the left. To my eye, the drop represents only a few inches and is not visually much different from what I recall of Fu Zhongwen on video. When I do this move, I am not sure what part of my body actually produces the slight drop. It is possible that the leg shifting has a large role in it, since I feel no need to emphasize anything in my arms. Overall, the effect of Yang Jun’s movement is by far more horizontal than vertical, and so I am not sure whether he and Fu Zhongwen are doing slightly different things or doing the same thing while emphasizing different aspects of the movement requirements.
David, I think the saber move you were describing corresponds to the fourth line of the Saber Formula, which, without any attempt at poetry, goes something like “White Crane Spreads Wings, Five Element Palm” (“Bai2 he4 liang4 chi4 wu3 xing2 zhang3”).
Jerry and David, do not both the weapons and the hands forms have many instances of strikes that involve both inward and outward rotations? In the Saber Form, I can think of cases where outward rotation is used to make a flat thrust with the Saber (e.g., Teng, nuo, shan, zhan and Zuo you fen shui); whereas there is an inward twirling thrust off of a single right leg at the end of Feng zhuan he hua ye li cang. In the bare hand form, we have inward rotations during the straight punches, Double Peaks/Winds to the Ears, and Step Back to Ride the Tiger; but outward rotations during Chop with Fist, White Snake Spits out Tongue, and High Pat on Horse to Thrusting Palm. In Strike Tiger Left and Bend the Bow to Shoot the Tiger, there is arguably both inward and outward rotation in the right and left arms, respectively.
As for blocks, in Yu nü chuan suo in the barehand and saber forms, one sweeps or lifts high with inward rotation; whereas in Wild Horse Parts Mane, one sweeps or lifts high with outward rotation. In Chop with Fist, we “block” downward with inward rotation of the right arm; whereas in Deflect Downward, Parry, Punch, we “block” downward to the right with outward rotation. I am not sure I can find any particular significance or regularity to these differences, but thought it might have relevance for your discussion. Certainly, the amount and variation of the rotation is impressive, especially for a style that “does not emphasize Silk Reeling.”