The Fourth Essential

The Fourth Essential

Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed May 09, 2007 2:00 pm

Separate empty and full

In the art of Tai Chi Chuan, separating full and empty is the number one rule. If the whole body sits on the right leg, then the right leg is deemed 'full' and the left leg 'empty'. If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed 'full' and the right leg 'empty'. Only after you are able to distinguish full and empty will turning movements be light, nimble and almost without effort; if you can't distinguish them then your steps will be heavy and sluggish, you won't be able to stand stably, and it will be easy for an opponent to control you.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed May 09, 2007 2:25 pm

Whoops, meant to put in some commentary before I hit "submit".
Well, here goes.
Have just begun a totally new understanding of this Essential, which seemed quite easy on the face of it (don't they all!), I am a tad confuzzed and would appreciate any comments or insights anyone would like to make on seperating full and empty (Xu and Shi, if I am getting the Chinese correct).

It seems to me there is more to it than "If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed 'full' and the right leg 'empty'".
I feel that, but for me at this time I seem to feel more. I'm curious as to whether what I'm feeling and thinking about this essential at this point is at least on the right track, or if I'm confusing it with other essentials and need to understand better.

While it's true that my seperation is in great part defined by the weight of the body being mostly on one side, there seems to be more.
My "waist" seems to play quite a large roll in the seperation as well.
It begins there, I can clearly feel it there as almost a V in my lower back, where one side of the V is "full" and the other side is "empty". The feeling of this goes down through my legs and then back up through my entire body.
When I have this clear feeling of seperation I step easily, my kicks and spins are pretty effortless. If I lose that connection I become very clumsy.
Further, my head MUST be lifted and centered and my shoulders must be sunk in order for me to reach this feeling. If my head is not lifted, my neck is tense and my shoulders are up then I cannot feel that division in my lower back that allows me to begin and control movement from there.

Is this an aspect of "seperate empty and full", or is this something else entirely working with the seperation of empty and full?





[This message has been edited by Bob Ashmore (edited 05-09-2007).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed May 09, 2007 5:55 pm

Greetings Bob,

You may recall that way back, Jeff (Gu Rou Chen) did an excellent post on this issue, and the role of the waist, in the Single Weightedness thread: http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/000032-2.html

Regarding your remark, It seems to me there is more to it than "If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed 'full' and the right leg 'empty'".

As Xiang Kairan put it, “If it were merely like this, then what would be so difficult about understanding the fault of double weighting? How could one have spent several years perfecting skill, yet still be unable to understand this little bit of theory?” —Xiang Kairan, in Wu Zhiqing’s Taiji Zhengzong, pp. 247-248

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Simon Batten » Wed May 09, 2007 8:40 pm

Bob: if you're on the wrong lines, then so am I, as I agree entirely with everything you say. Personally, I always try in accordance with fundamental principles to initiate all movements with the waist and guide them with it and therefore regard full and empty as intricately bound up with the waist. Another thing I would add is that in movements involving standing on one leg, I focus even more on the waist there from the point of view of balance, as I find it useful to move my waist across to be more over the rooted leg. Particulary in Tai Chi sword I find this a very helpful approach. But in kicks, I find it convenient, as the kick is executed, to transfer my intention away from the rooted foot and concentrate on the kicking application of the foot and the blocking with the extended hand. This helps me maintain balance. As soon as my mind reverts back to the root once I have initiated the kick, I start to wobble, as if the chi doesn't know where it's going, i.e. whether it should be moving to the foot and hand or back again to the rooted foot - hence, I suspect, the wobbling when that happens. Kind regards, Simon.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu May 10, 2007 4:07 pm

Louis,
Ah! Thank you!
Yes, an EXCELLENT post!
I've already copied and pasted it to one of my fellow students, who is also just now beginning to "get" this concept. He loved it.

Thanks for reminding me. I could not remember where this conversation was held. I recalled that we'd had this discussion before, with me fully and firmly in the opposing camp, but I couldn't recall where.

No excuse, at all, but I think it may have taken me a while longer than normal to feel this and begin to understand it because I have a VERY bad back.
I haven't managed to aggravate my lower back in nearly a year, and so have had that long to search for the feeling.
The good news for me so far has been that I can feel the small muscles down there getting stronger, muscles which until just a few weeks ago I didn't even knew existed.
I can't help but think this will help me with my back problems.
Another thought just occured to me. It may be that I'm learning to stand and move more correctly, and that's why my back hasn't been bothering me lately.

Hmmmmmm..............
Maybe this Tai Chi stuff IS good for the health, after all.
Who knew?
;-)


[This message has been edited by Bob Ashmore (edited 05-10-2007).]
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu May 10, 2007 4:18 pm

Simon,
I too have to think of the kicking foot and intercepting arm, otherwise I start to get wobbly.
Good observation.

Bob
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu May 10, 2007 4:31 pm

My last posting to Simon reminded me of the next question I wanted to ask.
The seperation seems to work for me best when I'm clear in my own mind about full and empty. At first it was easiest for me to think about full, and to a certain extent it still is. If I think, "full, full, full" and concentrate my thoughts mostly on the full side I get very good results.
Lately I thought to myself, "What would happen if instead I think mostly of the empty side?"
So I gave that a try.
It took me a while to get any real feedback that way. At first it plain old didn't work, but after a time I was able to think mostly of the empty side of my waist and I began to get some very good results, equal to thinking mostly of the full side most of the time, for things like kicks I actually got more stability.
I then convinced myself I need to concentrate on BOTH sides at once.
Absolute disaster.
At this time I simply do not have the mental wherewithal to think of both sides simultaneously.
My question is this:
Which side do you think of when you do this?
And:
Is there one side that the Classics or our Masters in the Yang family advocate thinking of over the other?
If the answer is "both", then does that come with time or is there a method to reach that point?

Thanks.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu May 10, 2007 7:04 pm

Greetings Bob,

For me, the answer is “both.” You are writing about your experiences, so it is necessarily a subjective matter, and I cannot be sure I understand the processes you are describing. Some of what you say, however, brings me back to the issue much debated here in the past about whether it is more proper to speak in terms of “separation” or in terms of “clearly distinguishing.” I think that if one concentrates on full *to the exclusion of* empty or vice-versa, then the separation becomes artificial. Think of the classical injunction to “stand like a balance scale.” If the model is a platform scale, the waist would be analogous to the center that supports the free-moving pivot of the beam that holds a pan at either end. When one end is weighed down, the other end rises proportionally. It is not possible for the one action to take place to the exclusion of the other. Or, perhaps the intended model was meant to be a steelyard, a kind of weighing instrument that was ubiquitous in Chinese marketplaces when taijiquan evolved, and well before. With that kind of balance scale, an object to be weighed is suspended from the shorter end of a beam that is in turn held aloft at a fulcrum by a string or wire. The beam on the other side of the fulcrum is a graduated rod along which a counterweight can be slid until the beam is level -- indicating the weight of the object on the other end. This model works even better for the taiji practitioner, I think, as it captures the waist (the steelyard’s fulcrum) as well as the all-important postural requirement of lifting the crown of the head (xu ling ding jin). Again, for the steelyard, the action of the counterweight cannot take place in a vacuum, as it counterbalances “something” on the other side of the fulcrum. Recall that in the Taijiquan Classic it says, “Empty and full must be clearly distinguished.” Then, it goes on to say, “Each point has its point of empty/full. Everywhere there is always this one empty/full.” So “clearly distinguished” here would seem to indicate fine-grained increments of emptying and filling, rather than large-scale buckets, separated into one empty and one full.

Here’s my translation of a short text by Li Yiyu (1832-1892) that is evidently the locus classicus of the taiji slogans, “within full there is empty,” and “within empty there is full.” The original text accompanied a drawing, a schematic of a human body, with annotations identifying the top of the head, the neck, chest, back, fingers, feet, etc. This text appears in the 1991 collection, _Taijiquanpu_, and was first published publically, I believe, in Gu Liuxin’s and Tang Hao’s 1963 _Taijiquan Yanjiu_ (Researches into Taijiquan). I’m not aware of any published English translations of this particular Li Yiyu text.

~~~
Illustrated Chart of Empty and Full
Full does not mean to completely stand firm; within full there is empty. Empty does not mean completely without strength; within empty there is full. The above chart speaks in reference to the whole body, and although it addresses emptiness and fullness in its broad dimensions, when we delve more minutely into the entire body, there isn’t a spot without empty and full, nor can one depart from this empty and full. One must keep them constantly conjoined, using the mind intent to employ the qi, and using the qi to mobilize movement. One must not let the body shift chaotically, nor let the hands and feet exchange in confusion. Emptying and filling, then, are just like opening and closing, so that in going through the form, or playing hands with a partner, you must engage your mind/heart in each and every movement. With more practice there will be greater refinement. The longer your efforts accumulate, the more your skills will be esteemed.
—Li Yiyu
~~~

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 05-10-2007).]
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu May 10, 2007 7:30 pm

Louis,
I was afraid you were going to say that. Image
Of course, the answer would have to be "both" or it would not be a Tai Chi Chuan answer. Image
I will work more on this. Right now, if I try to keep both in mind I go into overload and can't keep a clear seperation.
I don't think I concentrate entirely on one over the other, there is an awareness of both going on, but one is more prevelant in my thoughts than the other. I have to keep my intent more clearly on one aspect than both at once or I just go to pieces where I'm at with this now.
Right now, with the limited experience I have, it just doesn't work for me to try to keep both aspects clearly in mind at all times.
But then again, it didn't work at ALL before, so at least making it half way is a step in the right direction.

As Yang Cheng Fu has been quoted as saying: "I'm not good yet, I need more practice".
So...
I'll practice more.
And for GM Yang Zhen Duo's sake, I'll practice harder too!

Thanks for the translation of the passage. Much appreciated, as always.
I'll pass that on to my training partner, who sometimes lurks here but never posts (that's YOU Jim!!). He is in very much the same place I am on this aspect right now, so it will be usefull for him as well.
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu May 10, 2007 7:55 pm

Wanted to expand a bit on how I'm feeling this now. As I can see how it is unclear from my previous postings.
When I say I think, "full, full, full" or "empty, empty, empty" my mind is sending that as a signal to the opposite side of where that aspect is now.
If my right side is full at the end of a posture then I send the command "full" to the left side. I feel a definite movement of what I can only say is chi immediately begin to move from the full side to what is now the empty side.
This is a palpable feeling for me now, it never really was before. Very real and very clear. I then feel the muscles in my lower back, along the sides of my spine and then all the way down to my bubbling well, begin to move. I keep thinking, "full" at it until the point where it is, for lack of a better word, full.
I don't try to make it "full" and hard, rather I relax it and just let it fill until the movement that I need is completely made. At that point I then, immediately, send the signal for "full" to the opposite side.
Same thing happens in reverse.
During all of this, I am keenly aware of muscles moving that I've not often, if ever, used before all along my spine on either side of my waist.
It feels like the muscles in my lower back, my waist, are lifting my leg, making it move. I can still feel the leg muscles moving too, but in cooperation with and following the waist.

Does anyone else feel this, experience this, think of this in the same fashion?


Also wanted to ask, how does this work during empty stances?
In bow stance, one side is full, one empty, it's pretty obvious how that works.
In empty stances one side has most of the weigth, but the intent is still to move some weight forward.
I'm still working on this and any thoughts would be welcome.


[This message has been edited by Bob Ashmore (edited 05-11-2007).]
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Postby Audi » Mon Jun 11, 2007 12:46 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B> Also wanted to ask, how does this work during empty stances?
In bow stance, one side is full, one empty, it's pretty obvious how that works.
In empty stances one side has most of the weigth, but the intent is still to move some weight forward.
I'm still working on this and any thoughts would be welcome.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Hi Bob,

I have been thinking of how to answer your questions. I do not have time to do them justice, but this is what I can come up with for the moment.

First, I believe Yang Jun has said that empty and full in the weight is one thing and empty and full in the energy is another. My own belief is that they are related, but not in a direct way.

Second, I believe that the changes in the spine are important to changes of empty and full, but focusing two much on this can limit one’s thinking to analogies like that of a swinging door that only show right-left empty and full. Empty and full can be up and down or front to back. As other posters have said or quoted, each point is supposed to have empty and full.

You may wonder how every point can have empty and full, but think of the water gushing through a hose. At each point, the water is passing own pressure on the downstream side of the point, while it is relieving pressure on the upstream side. The overall sum of the effects is for water pressure to be passed from one end to the other.

If you stay with the hose analogy, you may wonder: which end is full and which end is empty? In my view, the answer is both, depending on your viewpoint and the timing. This is the “magic” you can feel sometimes in push hands.

I have to go now.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby shugdenla » Tue Jun 12, 2007 3:29 pm

Full and empty (substantial and insubtantial) may either be subtle or obvious. A former teacher, Prof Ho Chi Kwang, when doing his version of Yang taiji used to physically raise the knee and I have incorporated this into the Chengfu/Zhenduo frame, that I have studied for awhile. The raised foot/leg is obviously empty in this regard.
"Crane spreads wings", where outstretched foot is empty, though it may not appear to be, since it is touching. Sometimes I slightly raise it off the ground though it is not obvious.
When I do brush knee, I sometime raise the knee (brushing) and as I got o final position, the empty/raised leg is slowly put down (to touch the ground) where it may be 60/40, 70/30, depending on the action the foot/body may perform.

The slight turning of the heel outward to turn may necessitate a 90-back/<10-front? to control the oncoming force by tripping/stop knee of other (I am partial to shuaijiao) so it depends on the usage at the moment!
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Jun 13, 2007 4:33 pm

Audi,
I've been at the Louisville Seminar all weekend and the beginning of the week, so I just now got back to the internet to see your response.
Great seminar, as always. I made a total hash out of my ranking form test, though I did very well on the written they tell me. Nerves I guess. Hopefully I'll do better next time!
Anyway...
Yang Jun indeed made it clear that Empty/Full weight and Empty/Full energy are two different things.
Up/Down, Side/Side, Back/Forward and many other aspects of the Empty/full reltionship have to be considered.
Frankly, his answer to my question gave me a headache when I got to thinking about it later, as it shows me how much more I need to learn.
However, it at least got my brain working in a slightly different, but hopefully more correct, direction.
Much to work on.
Seminars are fantastic, but sometimes I feel like I'm in information overload afterwards.

Thanks for your very correct reply. Much appreciated, as always.
I've got a long way to go.
The more you know, the more you know you don't know.

Bob
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Postby Audi » Sun Aug 12, 2007 1:37 am

Hi Bob,

Here are some additional thoughts about empty and full.

I think of empty and full as dealing with the problem and uses of the allocation of resources. The resources can be weight, mass, attention, energy, or anything of use. Inherent in the idea of "allocation" is a lessening in one place to provide an increase in another.

I also think of empty and full in terms of what I think physicists all "work." "Work" can take place by the expenditure of potential energy, or the evening out of the differences between two opposing states. If you add the idea of a cycle that never stagnates at a neutral position, I think you can get an idea of "separating full and empty."

To go right, you must first go left. To go up, you must first go down. To go forward, you must first go back. If you cannot go left, down, and back, then you cannot go right, up, and forward. Without separation of the opposites and the ability to "allocate" you cannot do "work."

A pendulum at rest has no energy and no separation of empty and full. A pendulum held up by your hand and ready to swing has potential energy and a separation of empty and full. While the pendulum is in motion, it also has energy and a separation of empty and full.

When you step "like a cat," one leg is temporarily dedicated to stabilizing the body and the other is dedicated to extending the reach of your energy.
When both feet are on the ground they can also share each other's duty in equal proportion. In this way, they duplicate the energy framework of a pendulum.

If one leg reaches too far, a moment comes where both legs must contribute to the extension of energy. During this moment, there is a corresponding deficit in stability. To compensate, both legs will then have to contribute to stabilization and allow a deficit in extension. This is basically what happens when you jump and have to stabilize upon landing.

In some interpretations of what it means to "separate full and empty," it sounds like you should preferably stand always on one leg and strike or push with one hand. I personally think this is a misinterpretation. Let me give an analogy.

You want a battery to have a separation of positive and negative so that it can provide power as it winds down to a neutral state. Leaving the battery unused and with a maximum potential energy yields up no energy. The problem with the battery is not that you use it, but rather that there is no ability to cycle the energy.

A better analogy might be a pendulum. If you never let a pendulum swing, it will never manifest energy. If you let it swing, it will manifest it clearly and smoothly in an ongoing cycle.

In my view, the pendulum separates full and empty not only when it is at an extreme in its swing, but during the entire arc of its motion. On the other hand, full and empty is not separate when the pendulum is at rest or when it moves chaotically. For instance, if you have a pendulum that is a ball on a string, you must keep the string taught. If you merely pick up the ball, let the string go slack, and then drop or through the ball, you will produce chaotic motion where full and empty are not separate or at least not clearly separate.

Another analogy could be made with pedaling a bicycle. Generally, you want one foot pushing and one foot lifting, but efficient bike riding in actual practice may involve both feet pushing or both pulling. Try a unicycle and you will see what I mean. Sometimes you want to coast, sometimes you want to stabilize with both feet.

In my view, there is a physical and a mental part, but the mental part is ultimately more important. This means that you must train your mind through physical things and its interactions with the physical world. The more you train your mind, the less you are constrained by physical things. In my view, you never break free of all physical constraints, but you can "bend" the restraints more and more.

I think another misunderstanding about the cycle of energy is to think that everything must be in motion. If you are considering empty and full, then "motion" or "stillness" are the same. Being locked on a path headed for stagnation and being locked in stagnation are the same.

What I try to do in my form is be conscious of the "extremes" and how they exchange and transform. If there is a circle, then the components and "phases" of the circle should be clear.

Sometimes I focus on the ability to manifest short energy, which I can do only when I can distinguish and feel the existing opposites in my body. If something must first be prepared, then I know that I have not maintained the separation. It should be like the tension in a drawn bow string. The dynamism of the equilibrium should be clear.

I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Aug 13, 2007 3:33 pm

Audi,
I will have to take some time to think over what you've posted here.
My understanding of seperating full and empty has also undergone some extensive changes in the past couple of months and I haven't really had time to sort it all out yet.
Let me think over what you've written here and see how I can best explain where I am now in at least as semi coherent fashion.
Reading this on my first run through has already lead to a change in my perceptions and I'll have to work the whole thing out again now.

I'll print this up, read it more thoroughly, think about all of this, then get back to you.
So much has changed for me, physically and mentally, on this subject that I'm going to have to think it through before I could make any sense out of it.
Let's just say that my perceptions have changed due to an influx of some belly dancing into my repetoire.
That's right. Belly dancing.
It'll all make sense, I hope, when I can put it together in my own head better.
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