<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Could you describe the staff power training exercises used in Yang style? Is it the three-posture form referenced below, or is it more like Chen style using six directions (in three pairs) as indicated below? </font>
I am not familiar with the Chen Style six-direction training and cannot follow it from your description; however, the Yang Style power training exercise (good wording, by the way) is as follows:
Using a waxwood staff that is perhaps about 14 feet long (more than 4 meters?), you begin in a back-weighted bow stance with the back hand just about at the end of the staff and the other hand holding the staff further up. You shift the weight forward, turn your waist, and thrust the staff forward, sliding it through the grip of the front hand to maximize your reach. The Fajin will end with the hands in adjacent grips and the arms and staff in a straight line more or less at shoulder height. At this point, the shaft should quiver with the force that you have brought up from the ground, through your legs and into the staff.
For the second “movement” of the exercise, you continue by shifting your weight backward, using your back hand to pull/slide the staff through the grip of your front hand, and shift the tip of the staff to the side where your front leg is. The position feels somewhat like the preparation for Rollback. For the third “movement,” you circle the tip of the staff to your other side as you rotate both palms. This motion is for controlling the opponent’s weapon. Repeat a couple of hundred times to each side, and then your done.
By the way, it is extremely easy to throw at your back doing this exercise. Anyone that does not have experience with it, should be careful doing even as few as three or four repetitions with any power. You have to work up to a decent number of repetitions and learn to relax.
My experience with this exercise is fairly limited, and so please take make my description with a heavy dose of salt. It is my impression that the Fajin should be done with a great deal of expressed power; however the overall motion is not done with an even speed. In other words, you do not hold back on the speed of the Fajin and can call this “full power,” but you do not race from position to position. I think you are supposed to “stop, but not stop” at the climax of each position to make sure to express the full power Jin, but not break the flow. Overall, I would not expect that the tempo or level of power expressed to be different from what Chen Style normally exhibits.
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> "Heel, to ball, to toe"</font>
I think this is one of the absolute most important aspects of the form. It is the root of a number of principles. Without understanding this, it is hard to understand the basis for “full and empty,” “power generation,” “coordinating upper and lower,” “keeping the Jin continuous,” etc.
I support the earlier posts, but would like to add a few.
When the heel first touches, touch so lightly that if there were a piece of paper under it, someone could pull it out without disturbing the foot’s position. The same holds for just before you lift your foot from the ground (usually by the toes).
When you “roll” to the ball of your foot (really the “bubbling well or bubbling spring,” make sure that you actually push the weight over and do not simply lean. Some teachers of other traditions stress cultivating a feeling of muscle laxity and ease as their definition of being “song” or “loose and relaxed.” This approach can incorrectly encourage you to avoid muscular exertion that is critical to make good progress in other traditions.
When you “roll” to the ball of your foot, you actually should be thrusting with your back leg. The term in Chinese is “Deng/Teng,” which is also the term for the thrust kicks performed with the heel in the form. As weight shifts to the front foot, this foot must begin to support the thrusting of the back leg and so it must push backwards. How hard you push is ultimately not important, since that would vary in actual live application; however, it is vitally important that you push hard enough to make the relationship between the two legs clear. Only at this point can you truly root properly. It is not really a question of imagining root tendrils connecting your feet to the ground.
While you are flattening the foot and engaging the ball, your knee should not be stiff and should bend slightly; however, you should basically reserve your real knee bend for when you begin to grip with your toes. The feeling of gripping and the feeling of bending the knee should have a direct relationship. Again, use enough force to make the relationship clear. If you do it right, your back leg will lose its ability to push just as the front knee gets into its final position. It is this force relationship that should prevent the knee from going beyond the toes. If your back leg has nothing to push against, then your front knee may be in danger.
Another aspect of this approach is that it must be coordinated with the hand movements. There are many postures where these three phases of the footwork correspond to three different phases of arm movements.
In Twin Peaks Pierce the Ears, I understand the coordination as follows. The right heel should touch as the curved arms are reaching their lowest position (but not the lowest position of the hands). As you flatten the foot, engage the ball of the foot, and root. At the same time, straighten your elbows and drop and rotate your hands into fists in order to initiate the bottom of an arm circle that will end the posture. When the foot finishes flattening, the fists will have finished seating and will be ready for the upward striking motion. As the knee bends, the fists rise and strike to the temples in a curve that was begun by the motion of seating the fists.
One difficulty of this motion is figuring out how to rotate the hands into the seating position. It is usually easier to figure this out at speed than to do it slowly. If you do it fast, however, it becomes hard to “coordinate upper and lower.”
As for Diagonal Flying, the main difficulty comes from the very three phases of “heel to ball to toe.” At speed, one may use momentum to achieve the final position. Done slowly, the posture is extremely demanding. Below is my understanding.
From the final Repulse Monkey, the arms will circle into a “closed position” at the left side of the body. Some traditions talk of “holding the ball,” but this description does not apply to what we do anywhere in the form. In the “closed hands position” the bottom palm is approximately under the elbow of the top arm. The top arm occupies approximately the same space that it would in a Ward Off position, except that the palm is seated and inverted, facing the ground with a slight upward angle. The arms are not symmetrical. This position is not held, but you do have to circle through it.
I begin the transition by beginning to shift the weight to the rear and beginning to rotate my waist to the right, this lifts the right toes and sends the right arm circling to the right and the left arm circling to the left. I then bring in my rotating right arm and right leg together. As my right arm crosses my midline and it extends to the left, I stretch out my right leg to the right. The right heel touches lightly just as the arms close on the left to counterweight the right leg. Take care that the right hip opens far enough.
Imagine that the heels at the final posture will be on two parallel railroad tracks that are a shoulder width apart and in line with the toes of the right foot. This means that during the transition, when the arms close on the left, your right heel should first touch in line with where the right railroad track will be. This makes the angle of the feet really more than 180 degree. At this point, the left leg has 99.9% of the weight. As you continue turning the waist to the right and begin to circle your right arm to the right and your left arm to the left, you thrust with your left leg to shift weight to the right leg and “roll” to the ball of the foot. Don’t bend your knee very much yet. After the foot flattens, you then bend the knee and finish shifting the weight (about 60%) to the right foot and finish opening your arms.
Most people doing this posture in this way have difficulty keeping full and empty clear (i.e., the distinct phases of weight shifting). What they (and I) often do incorrectly is plop the right heel down with weight. Another difficulty is in getting the right toes to end up pointing all the way into the correct corner. Let’s not even talk about balance issues.
This same footwork exists in the Sword form, but no one has outward trouble with it there, because you can use momentum to reach the final posture. The problem with practicing this way all the time is that you can fail to keep full and empty clear in your mind and appear to get a way with it.