Some Wu Tunan

Some Wu Tunan

Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Sep 29, 2006 5:06 am

Greetings,

Here’s my translation of Wu Tunan’s remarks about “lingkong” (airborne) skills, from his book, Taijiquan zhi yanjiu (Research on taijiquan), co-written by Ma Youqing. The edition I have was published in Hong Kong by Shangwu yinshuguan, 2003. I think the original was pub’d. in 1983. In this passage, Wu responds to a question about how one makes contact with the hands in taijiquan application, and what sort of role lingkong plays. Wu was trained in scientific method, and seems to make a point here of using terms like “matter,” and speaks of the skill in terms of accute sensitivity of ordinary sense organs (in distinction to imagining or pretending, or extra-sensory phenomena). He also uses more traditional terms such as jing, qi, and shen, as well as ying-yang theory, quoting a line from the Xice commentary to the Book of Changes. I kind of like Wu’s take on this, but even still some of it strikes me as hyperbolic. On the other hand, it kind of reminds me of a little lecture Art Blakey gave when I went to hear his band many years ago, when he described the kind of turn-on-a-dime displays of spontaneous mastery that is possible among highly trained, sensitive musicians. It may seem like magic or E.S.P., but it really comes from a lot of very hard work.

~~~
When applying taijiquan, on the whole there are two ways of making contact. One is where the two hands and two arms come in contact with the opponent—this is the same as in most sparring. If two people have not yet come into [physical] contact, yet one is able to prevail over the other, this belongs to a different category. This is the so-called higher level, or lingkong.

The first step in lingkong is to train skill (lian gong)—it is a product of training. A person’s jing and qi are two kinds of matter; the combining of the two produces shen, which is the most crystallized [product of training]. It is incredibly subtle—“where the yin and yang cannot be fathomed, it is called shen” (‘yin yang buce wei zhi shen,’ a quote from the Xice). You say it is yin; it is not yin. You say it is yang; it is not yang. Since it can be either yin or yang, it therefore transforms into yin-yang. So this matter that is produced by the conjoining of these two things, yin and yang, is shen. When speaking of the level of joining hands, how is shen used? If the hands or arms of two people are in contact, this is enabled by close-distance sensing. Because you are making contact, you are using the sense of touch. When we speak of lingkong, we are addressing far-distance sensing. In general, far-distance sensing can be broken down into the senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Taijiquan beginners frequently talk about tingjin (listening jin). For most, having talked about it, they’re indifferent to it. In reality, they talk of “listening,” but they haven’t truly listened. Perhaps they’ve worked at it for half the day, but they have not “heard,” and they’ve listened in vain. This is because they haven’t actually used their senses of hearing, smell, or sight in endeavoring to “listen.”

We should be listening before our hands and arms have made contact with the opponent. At that instant the eyes are looking, the nose is smelling, the ears are listening—everywhere enlisting these far-distant senses. In this way, you will be able to guage the opponent in his entirety, from his internal organs to his external appeareance. His pulse rate, blood pressure, length of breaths, the churning of his stomach, even his bladder and small and large intestines—we perceive all in its totality. Once we’ve penetrated (toukong) the entire body in this way, we are then able to understand the situation at a glance (yi mu liao ran). In such a situation, when we set out to engage the opponent, there is no place with which we cannot engage. Far-distant sensing can also be called remote control. Using shen, we can control the other from a comparatively distant position. This kind of transformation is to become one with nature. Therefore there is no need for shape or form; in the midst of shapelessness and formlessness you are already united as one body.

As for this penetrating (toukong) of the entire body with regard to oneself, it means that no object can be added to the surface of my body [without triggering my awareness]. In this way, when you engage in some back-and-forth with a partner, then you will be able to respond to things spontaneously (yingwu ziran). To talk about it at a deeper level, it means that when you are about to connect hands with another, it is as though your own vital organs are exerting overwhelming effort (fanjiang daohai—‘overturn the rivers and upset the seas’), and this enables you to prepare for each and every possibility. Although on the surface one may only see arms moving and legs moving, the reality on the inside is the marshalling of the function from the brain up into the vital organs, directly to the blood circulation, to the breathing, etc. Therefore, taijiquan entails the integrative function of the body. One could also say it is taking the original taiji principles of the Zhouli (Book of Changes) and applying them in our bodies. That is taijiquan.

So, at a distance, before he has issued, you know he is about to issue. At just that spot where he wants to move, you know he is about to move. Another way of putting it—at the point where you haven’t touched the opponent, almost to the extent that you haven’t yet employed your far-distant senses, you already know him like the palm of your own hand. So you advance upon him as you please, and it is like entering an undefended territory. I once explained it with this sentence: “The enemy wants to change, but does not get to change; wants to attack, but doesn’t get a chance; wants to evade, but has no escape.” To put it more simply, it is the highest stage of gongfu. If it’s just a matter of carelessly striking and randomly improvising (manda manpin), that’s not taijiquan. Although one might call it taijiquan, in fact it is not.
~~~

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 09-29-2006).]
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Postby Yuri Snisarenko » Fri Sep 29, 2006 7:17 am

Greetings Louis,

The material is really interesting to read, thank you. I am not one who chases kongjin, but we all are researchers a bit and such things can provide good food for consideration.

Wu Tunan wrote a good review. I liked his description of liangong, however it sounds a bit strange to me, because usually some stages are pointed out, not merely a combination of jing and qi. Everything else he wrote is mostly about listening-jin and perception – things that taiji practitioner starts to work on since the first tuishou class.


Take care,

Yuri


[This message has been edited by Yuri Snisarenko (edited 09-29-2006).]
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Postby Yuri Snisarenko » Fri Sep 29, 2006 11:29 am

I have something to add in order to clarify my opinion on "lian gong".

It seems to me that sometimes "kong jin people" miss something very innate in taiji-quan, namely neijin in its obvious phase, so to speak, which could be characterized by metaphors "needle in cotton", "move jin as drawing silk out". As any metaphor, these two can be understood in multiple contexts, but imo their basic meaning relate to neijin. So I think that the fist stage of "lian gong" is about moving from li to neijin. Then if a student has proper talents he/she will be able to move further to more subtle matters. But without good understanding what neijin is in its material phase it would be hard to see taiji-quan as a whole art. That's why I've mentioned "some stages" of lian gong. I would be much happier to know the receipt of neijin rather than kongjin.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Sep 29, 2006 12:00 pm

Louis,
Thank you once again for an excellent translation. I will have to read this many times before I feel clear on the concept, I'm sure.

At what is now my third reading of this passage, I must say that it makes an incredible amount of sense.
My western trained, sometimes incredibly closed mind has so far read it this way:
Pay attention to all of the things being reported to you, by all of your senses not just one or two, about your opponent. In this way you can know as much about them as possible before you ever touch them and you will be that much farther ahead of the game.

Crude, I'm sure, but it's what I am seeing so far.
And in this way it makes complete sense to me.
My eyes can see, my ears can hear, my nose can smell and my tounge can taste. Why should I be ignoring these senses in the rush to engage? I should, in fact, be using them to full advantage before I ever physically engage my opponent, so as to know all there is possibly to know about him prior to actually touching.
A very good point that certainly is overlooked by a lot of students.

Anyway, that's what I take from this passage at this time. I'm sure there's much more there, but it will take me time and mentation to see it.

Bob
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Postby bamboo leaf » Sat Sep 30, 2006 4:55 am

did he have the skill that he wrote about?
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:53 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by bamboo leaf:
did he have the skill that he wrote about? </font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

greetings bamboo leaf,

I don’t know what to make of your question, and I don’t know the answer. I doubt that Wu Tunan would have spoken or written about something without knowing anything about it or having any experience of it. By accounts I have heard, Wu’s taijiquan skill was considerable. He was also skilled at other things. For example, he was skilled at living to an advanced age (105). He was skilled in teaching, friendship, and marriage. He was skilled at going without food for days under conditions of oppression and poverty. When nearly everything had been taken from him, he was skilled at having the will to continue practicing taijiquan. He said, “Well, they can’t take my practice away from me.”

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:40 pm

Greetings Yuri,

I’m glad you find this material useful. I present it in the interest of research, and I welcome any feedback. I am in complete agreement with your comments about stages of development, and Wu’s remarks in this section do not seem to provide much detail. Keep in mind that this material comes from an interview of Wu by Ma Youqing, so it has sort of a chatty, conversational tone (which presented some challenges to me in translating it). Wu Tunan had written an extensive book on his years of taiji research, but the manuscript was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. So this interview may be an attempt to recall his thoughts from that earlier work. He may indeed address stages of training in more detail elsewhere in this book, but in this particular section he seems to be on one hand affirming that lingkong is a valid category of taijiquan skill, but that on the other hand suggesting that it is best understood from the standpoint of fundamental skills.

Some additional thoughts I have on the passage:

I think it is significant that Wu uses words like “matter” and “crystallized” in his description, not so much because jing, qi, and shen are material substances per se, but because the consequences of training take place in the material world—in the bones and flesh of the human body. My first taijiquan sifu used to tell us that the objective of our training is to change our bodies at the cellular level. He jokingly called it “teaching your cells gongfu.” Does that imply that the cells themselves change in structure, or is it more a question of a change in cell behavior? I don’t know the answer to that, but we do know, for example, that language acquisition in infants is accompanied by trillions of new nerve connections in the brain (called Wernicke’s Area), and that in later stages of development neurons are activated in another area of the brain (Broca’s Area) that enables speech. So I think we can say that learning and training entails actual changes to neural pathways.

Wu’s discussion of yin-yang theory is interesting. Again, it is sort of sketchy and impromptu, but to me it evokes a point I was trying to make in another thread about causality. In some operations we observe in the world, we can see clear chains of causation, where A causes B, and B causes C. This is not always so, and the yin-yang theory of the Book of Changes is a system of argument from the perspective of complex causation. One who is able to grasp situations of complex causation are said to have developed a capacity for shen, and we can see examples of this in the Sunzi and other early texts. See, for example, the following quote from Sunzi, Chapter 6:

“Now the army’s disposition of force [xing] is like water. Water’s configuration [xing] avoids heights and races downward. The army’s disposition of force [xing] avoids the substantial [shi] and strikes the vacuous [xu]. Water configures [xing] its flow in accord with the terrain; the army controls its victory in accord with the enemy. Thus the army does not maintain any constant strategic configuration of power [shi]; water has no constant shape [xing]. One who is able to change and transform in accord with the enemy and wrest victory is termed spiritual [shen]! Thus [none of] the five phases constantly dominates; the four seasons do not have constant positions; the sun shines for longer and shorter periods; and the moon wanes and waxes.”
—Sawyer, p. 168

In the famous saying from the Xice commentary to the Book of Changes, “where the yin and yang cannot be fathomed, this is called shen,” the phrase for “cannot be fathomed” is “buce.” The graph “ce” means “to measure by a sounding line,” that is, to measure the depth of a body of water with a weighted line. The image of something that cannot be fathomed is compelling, and this phrase, “buce” sometimes appears in texts about push hands. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of pushing hands with a high-level master where it seems as though “there is nothing there” to push against. It reminds me very much of the phrase in the Taijiquan Treatise: “Suddenly hidden, suddenly appearing” (huyin huxian).

Following the section on lingkong is a passage with Wu explaining “responding to things spontaneously.” I think it’s even more interesting than the linkong material. I’ll try to translate that soon too.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:36 pm

Greeting Bob,

I think you got the message of the passage quite well. By the way, since I know you’re interested in names, I’ll relate some trivia about Wu Tunan’s name. Wu was not Chinese, but Mongolian. His Mongolian name, as represented in Chinese characters, was Niaolahan. His Chinese name, Wu Tunan is quite interesting, and probably reveals something about his scholarly and philosophical interests. Tunan is a reference to a passage in the first chapter of Zhuangzi. Literally, tunan means, “setting a course for the south.” It refers to the course set by the huge Peng bird. Here’s the passage:

“If water is not piled up deep enough, it won’t have th strength to bear up a big boat. Pour a cup of water into a hollow in the floor and bits of trash will sail on it like boats. But set the cup there and it will stick fast, for the water is too shallow and the boat too large. If wind is not piled up deep enough, it won’t have the strength to bear up great wings. Therefore when the Peng rises ninety thousand li, he must have the wind under him like that. Only then can he mount on the back of the wind, shoulder the blue sky, and nothing can hinder or block him. Only then can he set his [course] to the south (tu nan).”
—Watson, trans., The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, pp. 29-30

Zhuangzi’s Peng bird, by the way, inspired the name of a form in the Yang sword form: Great Peng Spreds its Wings. Also, Yang Chengfu's cousin (Yang Banhou's son) had the character for the Peng bird in his name: Yang Zhaopeng.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby bamboo leaf » Sun Oct 01, 2006 5:45 am

The question was because just reading it, it seems so different from my own experiences. I don’t know how my own teacher would say it but I just wondered weather he was writing from first hand experience.

Thank you for the time in translating it is interesting reading just does not describe my own feelings on it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QRj4aqLsu8&watch2

[This message has been edited by bamboo leaf (edited 10-01-2006).]
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Postby Yuri Snisarenko » Sun Oct 01, 2006 6:21 am

Greetings Louis,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Wu’s discussion of yin-yang theory is interesting. Again, it is sort of sketchy and impromptu, but to me it evokes a point I was trying to make in another thread about causality. In some operations we observe in the world, we can see clear chains of causation, where A causes B, and B causes C. This is not always so, and the yin-yang theory of the Book of Changes is a system of argument from the perspective of complex causation. One who is able to grasp situations of complex causation are said to have developed a capacity for shen, and we can see examples of this in the Sunzi and other early texts.</font>
.

I think it might be called "understanding of the principle (Li)". One text from the Forty Chapters comes to mind – "Taiji tiyoung jie", where it's said "Mind and body have one ruler – namely principle Li" (xin shen you yi ding zhi zhuzaizhe, li ye).


Take care,

Yuri



[This message has been edited by Yuri Snisarenko (edited 10-01-2006).]
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Postby Yuri Snisarenko » Sun Oct 01, 2006 8:59 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by bamboo leaf:
The question was because just reading it, it seems so different from my own experiences. I don’t know how my own teacher would say it but I just wondered weather he was writing from first hand experience.

Thank you for the time in translating it is interesting reading just does not describe my own feelings on it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QRj4aqLsu8&watch2

</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Personally I like his performance. It may look not very martial but he definitely has some qualities that I would like to have. His qi is circulating smoothly. Hi is relaxed and alert. Stable in the pauses and quite alive in the transitions. It seems that he is performing with ease and gets a nice feeling from it.




[This message has been edited by Yuri Snisarenko (edited 10-01-2006).]
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Oct 02, 2006 2:45 pm

Louis,
Tnank you. Yes, I am quite interested in names and any particular meaning they may have.
I'm curious now to try and understand what significance Peng traveling to the south (tu nan) has, if any?
Why is the southerly direction rather than any other so important to the Peng birds flight, and consequently to us?

It seems I always have questions that spring from answers.
Sorry about that. I am ever curious.

Bob
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Postby shugdenla » Mon Oct 02, 2006 3:05 pm

Wu Tunan was one of the first to get away from superstition in taijiquan and test many of its benefits. Sometimes the language of taiji does more to encourage superstition and other misperceptions.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Oct 02, 2006 3:10 pm

Very interesting watching Wu Tunan do form work. This looks to me to be small frame. Very controlled movements, very well done. I'm quite interested in his hand movements and placement. It almost appears he's giving the thumbs up in a couple of places...

Bob
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Postby Louis Swaim » Mon Oct 02, 2006 6:12 pm

Greetings shugdenla,

You wrote: "Sometimes the language of taiji does more to encourage superstition and other misperceptions."

Could you give exapmples? Is that a rational assessment, or a superstitious hunch?

Take care,
Louis
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