Fang Song: Compare and Contrast

Postby César » Mon Oct 15, 2007 1:20 pm

Hi to everyone!

Great post Audi.
I have watched this video, and I think (I know nothing about chinese) that Master Yang Zhenduo explains fang song a little. He seems to emphasize (as usual) flexible and resilience postures rather than limp or "ruan"
Perhaps you could tell us, what else is he saying? Image
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Postby bamboo leaf » Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:02 pm

(In the high skill fang song would be “empty”. What do they mean empty? After all that hard work, now have to work hard to empty it? ( this is the yin?) Then the yang side of that is, to keep a right frame of mind… )

very nice post captures much of what i feel and practice.

[This message has been edited by bamboo leaf (edited 10-15-2007).]
bamboo leaf
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Postby Audi » Thu Nov 01, 2007 12:16 am

Hi César,

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by César:
<B>I have watched this video, and I think (I know nothing about chinese) that Master Yang Zhenduo explains fang song a little. He seems to emphasize (as usual) flexible and resilience postures rather than limp or "ruan"
Perhaps you could tell us, what else is he saying? Image

Alas, my oral and aural skills in Chinese are way behind my reading skills, which are themselves quite modest without the help of a dictionary. What I can understand of the video with all the background noise includes the following.

At the beginning of his demonstration, I believe Yang Zhenduo is explaining how his understanding of "relaxation" and not using excessive force (guo4 li4) should be manifest. At first he shows a version of Press that shows how some people "relax/loosen up" (fang4 song1) but he says it does not have any spirit/energy/vigour (jing1 shen). Then he says that as soon as you "relax/loosen up" in the second way, you "naturally" have spirit/energy/vigour and the eyes have spirit (shen2).

He the goes on to talk about hand techniques/shapes, focusing on the palm. He then demonstrates some uses, including palm grabs in Brush Knee, palm strikes in Repulse Monkey, and "Push" (An) energy. He also shows how it would apply in Diagonal Flying. From time to time he talks about how the postures should be large and extended (e.g.,"da" and "fangkai").

Later on when Yang Zhenduo has the guy demonstrate Single Whip, I think he starts off saying that it is not bad, but I think he then goes on to say that it is not quite like the way he was describing before. Notice that the person's posture first collapses somewhat when his arms are pushed on. Then when he fully extends, Yang Zhenduo does not collapse his arms.

Yang Zhenduo then closes by explaining that there are three postures that are not designed to focus energy in one direction and so require that the torso not lean, but rather be straight: Single Whip, Fan Through the Back, and Ward Off Left of Grasp Sparrow's Tail.

Perhaps someone with better listening skills than me can correct where I am wrong and supplement my description.

Take care,
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Postby Kalamondin » Mon Nov 05, 2007 5:57 am

Hi Audi,

Thanks for clarifying the distinctions between the Yang Association's emphasis and other styles' emphases. I don't tend to make distinctions easily, so I enjoy reading what you think because then I get to see the details more clearly. That's how I read the first part of your message.

In the second part, you wrote:

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>

As for being “soft,” I think our system requires a clear distinction between “ruan” (“pillow soft”?) and “rou” (“yielding and resilient”?). We seek the latter, but not the former. In other systems, the distinction is not so important or else is not emphasized.

Let me give a few concrete examples:

In the Preparation Posture, do you let the arms hang loose and leave the shoulders and fingers alone? Or, do you use “energy” and “effort” to extend the shoulders and fingers?

In Press, do you leave the fingers alone, since they do not appear integral to the application? Or, do you use “effort” to extend the fingers?

In the kicks, do you leave the standing leg as is? Or, do you extend the knee of the standing leg? When you prepare the kicking leg or bring it back in, do you simply leave the ankle alone? Or, do you expend energy to point the toe a little bit?

In forming any posture, do certain stages allow more “relaxation” than others? Or, does “relaxation” feel like something uniform, independent of limb position?
Does “fajin” feel like a temporary “violation” of the injunction to relax? Or, does it feel like a natural outgrowth of loosening and extending the limbs?

During pivots, do you try to minimize the exertion in the ankle and lift the toes as little as possible? Or, do you just try not to keep the ankle stiff and do not pay attention to how high you lift the toes?

Yes, I pay attention to those details, using energy in Preparation to have my arms slightly rounded at my sides. I use energy in Press to make sure my fingers are extended and slightly separated. In kicks, I extend the knee of the supporting leg to straight-but-not-locked, and bend the kicking leg such that the toes are slightly pointed and the foreleg angles slightly inward. I hadn't really thought about the ankles or toes in the pivots before, but trying it just now, I realize I use enough energy to keep my toes off the ground, but not so much that I can't relax and feel the terrain under my heel.

Energy is used to maintain these small postural details, but not any more than is used to maintain the rest of a relaxed and unified structure. I think I exert more energy in checking these details than I do in making them happen. It's more of a mental effort than a physical one.

However, the points you describe above are areas that I used to feel required more "effort" or "energy" to hold and maintain. They were places where I had constrictions or tightness that prevented proper structure with minimal effort.

One of the places where words get tricky is in the phrase "minimize effort." On the one hand, it could be taken as an under-charged, passive, limpness. On the other hand, it could be read as relaxing to the degree that more energy can flow through the system.

I discovered later that if I relaxed even more, then internal energy would circulate more naturally through me and these things became less difficult. They became easier to the degree that I don't think about my fingertips any more than I think about my elbow or my triceps--they feel like all part of the same extended, curved structure.

There's a difference between "effort" and "effortlessness" with regard to holding the postures. With increased relaxation, those fine details, that at first seem to require more or extra effort, don't require any more effort than the rest of everything else. (I'm not talking about muscle effort--I'm talking about the feeling of effort as measured by the sensation of tightness or strain, whether physical (feeling tight) or mental (the effort required to remind oneself to extend the fingertips).)

When I'm doing the form correctly (as best I know how according to what feels most comfortable and natural to me) then the feeling of relaxation is generally smooth and even. It's as you said, "something uniform, independent of limb position." The "effort" required to do anything doesn't seem like effort at all.

The sensation is that there is energy flowing through me, and I can allow it to extend my extremities, fill me like a balloon. It's like this picture of the effects of static electricity:

The girl isn't putting in any effort to make her hair stand on end--other than connecting to the power source. And yet her hair, which is soft, relaxed, and lacks any integral stiffness that would allow it to stand on end, is able to stand in defiance of gravity .

In my current understanding, as result of fang song, the whole body can be charged this way, and stored energy released like an arrow from a bow. Much like a build up of static electricity can be released--only held and released at will. Is this a violation of the admonition to relax? I don't think so. I think that the energy cannot be expressed without the relaxation, and that the tightening and hardness that is exhibited upon impact still retains an element of softness and relaxation within--much the way a fire hose is hard when water is rushing through it, and yet both the hose and the water retain a quality of relaxation and formlessness.

So now that I've said that I find relaxation to be generally uniform and even, even when explosive force is involved, I'm now going to turn around and say that within the relaxation, there are times when it feels more natural to sink and relax...and those places coordinate with exhalation of the breath. There's an ebb and flow to the relaxation--not really increased tension vs. decreased tension, but rather expansion vs. contraction and opening vs. closing.

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Postby Kalamondin » Mon Nov 05, 2007 6:19 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by bamboo leaf:
<B>(In the high skill fang song would be “empty”. What do they mean empty? After all that hard work, now have to work hard to empty it? ( this is the yin?) Then the yang side of that is, to keep a right frame of mind… )

This message above reminds me of a poem that could apply to all tai chi students. No insult meant to anyone--it applies to me as well as to anyone:

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say — "This is not dead," —
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says — "This is enow
Unto itself — 'Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me."

It's called "Indwelling" by T.E. Brown (published 1893). While it's written about God, I think it applies to the trials of studying tai chi just as easily: trying for relaxation, softness, emptiness, beginner's mind and the "filled" sensation pung jin, vs. ego, thinking too much, stiffness, double-weightedness, being full of oneself.

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Postby Audi » Sun Nov 25, 2007 7:52 pm

Hi Serena,

Thanks for your post and your poem.

Your image of a balloon in your post struck the strongest chord with me and is something different from my former practice. As I now practice, I would say that the feeling of Jin and "relaxation" are hard to separate, but both are directed uniformly outward from my center.

Everything is soft like the air in the balloon, but the air pressure also gives an element of hardness. The "skin" and "shape" of the balloon are designed by my mind intent, but it is the process of "loosening up and extending" that actually forms the postures.

In my former practice, we talked a lot about using the minimal amount of effort to hold a posture. It was almost as if the limbs should hang effortlessly off of a framework that formed the bare minimum of a posture. This concept loses most of its meaning in my current practice, because it is the very process of "relaxation" that forms my posture. Focusing on minimums would be like asking someone to fill a balloon with the minimum amount of air necessary to form its shape. There is basically a direct correlation between air and shape\size, and so speaking of "minimums" can be strange.

For our practice, I like the image quoted by Horatio, comparing the links of a chain lying on the ground and the links of a chain that you whip around your head. It seems to me that in Push, my mind intent is to make use of mostly straight-line energy, something designed by the universe, not by me. To manifest this energy, I relax and loosen my limbs into a position that feels in accord with this flow, but which is definitely not maximized to accord with the pull of gravity. Because of the limitations of my anatomy, the position I achieve is actually not straight. In other words, the straight energy comes from not locking the joints or straightening them completely.

The position is also highly dependent on what I design to be the place on my hand where I want the flow of Jin to leave my body. It is almost as if the Jin is being pulled from my body and my muscles and tendons extend to accord with this pull.

In Press, I perceive that we make use of a "law of the universe" that allows circles to generate straight energy on a radial path. To manifest this energy, I try to extend my arms into the largest circle possible to ensure true circularity. In other words, I design the circle through tendon pressure, not with my eye. In reality, I do not use a circle, but two overlapping curves, one along each arm. To manifest the energy properly, each curve must begin at my spine and than travel along each arm, through the hand, and then through the tips of the fingers. I relax and extend into these curves, not into the pull of gravity.

In the Opening Posture, I feel that we use what I call banana curves that pivot up and then down from the back, shoulder, and upper arm. Here, the angle of the wrist is dictated by the curve manifesting by the back and the shoulder. I again relax into this curve, not into gravity.

In Roll Back, we seat the right wrist into what I also think of as a banana curve. This seating is different from the seating in Push. The arm shape is in contrast to the more circular curve of the left arm which is going to show more the energy of a wheel turning. To make the shape of the left arm, I need to anchor the direction of my left fingers in the direction of my right forearm, relax and extend my left thumb away from me to turn the palm upward, and then try to make the circle as big as possible to ensure that it is truly circular. This is just like the soft and uniform air pressure that stretches a flat balloon into a sphere.

I realize that for clarity, I should also distinguish between doing forms and doing push hands. In push hands, I think our method is to use "relaxing" as a means of gradually teaching the body to eliminate stiff strength. Yang Zhenduo uses the image of forging iron into steel, but I think you also visualize giving a message or kneed elasticity into dough. To eliminate the stiffness, you need some energy and force. It does not mean that more force and more energy are always better, but that the basic technique requires conscious effort and energy.

The method also means that "relaxation" is really not the goal in itself, but only part of the method. The interest is not so much in achieving a particular state of "relaxation," but in using it effectively to eliminate the stiff strength and replace it with Jin and unified, pliable force. Here "relaxation" is important as an effective process, not a state. The process is meant to operate over the months and years to create the right feeling and knowledge of how to manifest the inner strength.

In the method I formerly practiced, relaxation was always discussed as a state. The idea was to learn how to do it more and more deeply and extensively. It takes months and years to create the state, and that state defines what is meant by Jin.

In our method, "relaxation" is maintained in push hands, but here I think an additional refinement is necessary. In form, I do not think there is much need to vary the feeling of "pressure" that maintains the shape of our "balloon." The goal is to focus on ourselves and eliminate the stiff strength, not to mimic precisely what might occur during actual application. In push hands, you may need to allow portions of your ballon to "collapse" under the pressure of your opponent and so you must concentrate more on the Yin and Yang aspects of your contact. In other words, you may need to let the balloon deform quite substantially.

In the circling, I think the feeling is somewhat uniform, but in application, you have to go through the full range of extreme Yin to extreme Yang of local pliability as you play with the distribution of empty and full. In neutralization, you are more pliable with respect to the opponent's energy. In issuing, you are more pliable to the flow of your own energy.

As for the amount of ankle bend in steps, I think what I do is directly related to the amount of weight shift at any particular moment. At the point just before my heels contacts the ground during a step, I think I focus on "pushing" through the whole sole of the foot and so keep my foot at more or less a 90 degree angle with my lower leg. As I shift weight to the foot, the angle initially becomes greater as the sole approaches the ground and then fully flattens. With this method, you can make a definite and visible change in the ankle as weight is shifted forward. The change is particular noticeable in Lifting Hands. In my former method, such a change was not shown, since the entire emphasis was on lifting the sole of the foot as little as possible.

You mentioned "tension" in your post. I have come to dislike this word, because I feel it has two sides. Tension that manifests stiffness and unwillingness to change and adjust is bad; however, tension that maintains uniform communication and integration is good. The elasticity of a rubber band or of a spring is borne of tension.

If we look again at the image of the chain, I think I can be clearer. The chain lying on the ground has no tension, but also no "relaxation" in our meaning. When you pull it off the ground at both ends, the tension along the links will allow it to manifest perfect "fangsong." The links are in perfect accord with the flow of energy. If, now, someone pulled on the center of the chain and it failed to yield to the triangular energy that should result, it would not be manifesting "fangsong," but would be "stiff."

In humans, in our method, I do not think tension is really a matter of the level of muscular exertion, but rather any muscular exertion not in accord with the desired flow of energy. In other words, the issue is not intensity, but rather quality. Even a slight exertion out of accord is bad, whereas the amount of exertion you show along the flow of energy is not really important. That is why Push Hands makes things complicated, for there the natural flow of energy results from a combination of both people. If you insist on your own flow, you cannot do "connecting"/"linking" ("lian") and "following" ("sui"). If you completely yield to your opponent's flow, you cannot do "adhering" ("zhan") or "sticking" ("nian"). If you cannot use these skills, then you cannot control the opponent's hardness through softness.

Take care,
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