Neck Rotation and Taiji Principles

Neck Rotation and Taiji Principles

Postby Yin Peixiong » Fri Jul 25, 2008 9:24 pm

Li Yaxuan was one of Yang Chengfu's top students. He lived in Sichuan after the Second World War and died in 1976. One of his students Zhang Yijin has written Authentic Principles of Taijiquan (Taiji Quan Li Cuan Zhen) to celebrate his art. The book's third edition was published in 2003. The book includes many essays on Taijiquan. The following vignette is from his essay, On the Practice and Cultivation of Taijiquan.

One early morning when we were chatting on the steps under the eaves I felt some discomfort in the yao and automatically rotated my yao and kua several times. he glared at me briefly, and I knew trouble was brewing. After a while he said coldly, "There is no such movement in Taijiquan!" Taijiquan dominated his life; he used Taijiquan principles to guide his daily activities, and he severely demanded that his students adhere to Taijiquan principles.

I have a stiff neck. As one of my warmup exercises I rotate my neck. I try to be mindful of Taijiquan principles: to let yi guide my rotation and with slightly bended knees to sink qi to my dantian. What else should I do to avoid Master Li's cold stare?
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:18 pm

Greetings Arthur,

It’s good to see you here! Welcome to the board. I’ve just returned from a backpacking trip with my daughter, and read your post.

Regarding: “What else should I do to avoid Master Li's cold stare?” I don’t think he can see you, can he? There should be no problem avoiding his stare.

I haven’t read the book you’re quoting from. I’ve read a bit by or about Li Yaxuan, some of which I found admirable and useful. However, I also read a bit of some personal commentary or marginal notes that he wrote, alleging that the taiji form “Bao Hu Gui Shan” was misnamed and misleading. But I found his notes impressionistic and illogical, and not born out by other earlier sources that used that name. This came up in a discussion here on the board a while back.

In like manner, I’m a little perplexed that he would admonish his student against a particular loosening-up exercise because “There is no such movement in Taijiquan.” There are plenty of good human movements that aren’t necessarily in Taijiquan. There are no chewing movements in taijiquan, for example. Does that mean Master Li would disapprove of us chewing our jiaozi? I can think of other good movements that aren’t in taijiquan, but it’s a good thing he can’t see to disapprove of them.

I was taught some hip rotation and neck rotation movements years ago as part of my warm-up routine prior to doing the form. I later learned that some modern exercise experts consider full neck rotation—particularly allowing the neck to hyperextend back—could actually be harmful to the neck vertebrae. I’ve altered my routine to a partial neck rotation—rolling from left side to forward to right side and back—which is recommended by some physical therapists. There are other effective neck exercises, like a firmly-held chin tuck, which I would not do while I’m doing my form, but it’s instantly therapeutic for a stiff or tired neck.

So I guess my take on this is that while Li Yaxuan was correct to integrate taijiquan principles into his daily life, it sounds like he was being a bit dogmatic when he admonished his student. It’s difficult to know for sure, not knowing the particular yao/kua movement Zhang Yijin was doing.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Jul 28, 2008 1:04 pm

What one exercise would I indulge in directly in front of my teacher that is not included in Taijiquan movement after such an admonition on his part?
I would ASK him what he would recommend I do to loosen a stiff yao.
That way I would avoid any future movements that would give my teacher a reason to glare.
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Postby Yin Peixiong » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:12 pm

Hi Louis and Bob,

I would guess that Master Li's disapproval comes from Zhang's violation of what Louis has translated as "the joints are threaded together", from the feet to the legs to the waist; his rotations are localized to the waist.

The warmup exercises that I do, neck, knee, arm rotations, can all be performed by using crude strength or by applying taijiquan principles to fang song and let yi guide the rotations. The differences are quite pronounced.

Of course there is a huge leap from using taijiquan principles to guide such movements to having taijiquan dominate our lives, and most of us prefer a more balanced approach to life.

Regarding whether Master Li can see our performance, I must quote Judge Dee in the Chinese Gold Murders, "It would be foolish to deny the existence of supernatural phenomena. We must never forget that Master Confucius himself was very noncommittal when his disciples questioned him on those things."

Regards,

Arthur
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:38 pm

Greetings Arthur,

You wrote: 'Regarding whether Master Li can see our performance, I must quote Judge Dee in the Chinese Gold Murders, "It would be foolish to deny the existence of supernatural phenomena. We must never forget that Master Confucius himself was very noncommittal when his disciples questioned him on those things."'

In the Lunyu it is said that “The subjects on which the Master did not talk were—extraordinary things, feats of strength, disorder, and spiritual beings.” I would say Kongzi’s attitude was different from what could be called non-committal. As I recall, he embraced efficacious practice over belief, and advocated sacrificing to spirits “as though” (ruo) they were present. In like manner, I think it is efficacious to practice taijiquan “as though” our movements are being carefully scrutinized by known masters.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Jul 29, 2008 6:13 pm

Hi Arthur,

Also, on the subject of stiff necks, and the neck in general in taijiquan, you may be interested in this discussion string from a few years ago on “neck muscles”: http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/000046.html

In that discussion, Audi mentioned a book by Robin MacKenzie, _How to Treat Your Back and How to Treat Your Neck_, that addresses the chin tuck exercise. I’ve found that useful.

--Louis
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Postby Yin Peixiong » Fri Aug 01, 2008 4:06 pm

Gu Liuxin invokes a somewhat enigmatic quote when discussing the practice of taijiquan:

ming guiju er shou guiju;
tuo guiju er he guiju

understand the principles to adhere to the rules;
deviate from the rules yet in harmony with the principles

My interpretation is that although guiju is used four times, it's only the second and third instances that refer to "rules", and the first and fourth instances allude to "principles".

While it is important to have the correct postures in practicing the form, the focus eventually switches to broad principles: physical principles such as "the joints are threaded together", from the feet to the legs to the waist and the central role of the yao and mental principles such as using yi to guide movements.

Even if my rotation exercises do not have taijiquan form stances and the rotations are different from taijiquan form movements, taijiquan principles can be applied to convert these into taijiquan movements.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Aug 02, 2008 2:40 am

Greetings Arthur,

You’ve made an excellent point. Jerry Karin once pointed out to me that I had somehow managed to miss the ironic meaning of the Gu Liuxin phrases from his “Introduction to Yang Style Taijiquan” that you quote above. Jerry helpfully suggested something like “he conformed to the rules even while breaking them.” I think this is true of activity that is genuinely skillful. Eventually one internalizes the principles to such a degree that one is no longer merely following the rules. Or, as Lee Yearly put it, perfected-skill activity reveals “an instantaneous responsiveness that accords with the general rules of an activity but is not simply guided by them.” (“Zhuangzi’s Understanding of Skillfulness and the Ultimate Spiritual State,” in Kjellberg & Ivanhoe, eds., _Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi_, pp. 152-182)

Take care,
Louis
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Postby fumin » Sat Aug 02, 2008 3:34 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Yin Peixiong:
<B>Gu Liuxin invokes a somewhat enigmatic quote when discussing the practice of taijiquan:

ming guiju er shou guiju;
tuo guiju er he guiju

understand the principles to adhere to the rules;
deviate from the rules yet in harmony with the principles

My interpretation is that although guiju is used four times, it's only the second and third instances that refer to "rules", and the first and fourth instances allude to "principles".

While it is important to have the correct postures in practicing the form, the focus eventually switches to broad principles: physical principles such as "the joints are threaded together", from the feet to the legs to the waist and the central role of the yao and mental principles such as using yi to guide movements.

Even if my rotation exercises do not have taijiquan form stances and the rotations are different from taijiquan form movements, taijiquan principles can be applied to convert these into taijiquan movements.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Hi,Yin
It's just like learning and driving a car.
While we are learning to drive,we ming guiju er shou guiju. After that we drive on the road,and there are many cars around running, turning and rushing to our car,but we can naturally react upon those situations and nothing harm happen to us.We tuo guiju er he guiju.


Taichi Quan is the same. While you fight with your enermy, you react naturally without knowing the principles and then you can harm or control your enemy.

but driving a car is easy. After all car is alreay designed perfectly for man's use.
However, we human are not perfect, so while we want to learn and use Taichi to fight, there must be many things inside us which should be adjusted and fixed to the principles. That's why it is difficult to apply taichi. It's not that hard to understand the principles. Because to apply is difficult, there are many doubts happening on the principles.

Actually, the problems are on ourselves not on the principles.

cheers

[This message has been edited by fumin (edited 08-01-2008).]

[This message has been edited by fumin (edited 08-01-2008).]

[This message has been edited by fumin (edited 08-01-2008).]

[This message has been edited by fumin (edited 08-01-2008).]
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Postby Audi » Sat Aug 09, 2008 5:05 pm

Greetings Arthur,

I really like the comments that Louis, Bob, and Fumin have made. Having had the benefit of their comments, I would like to return to a portion of your original post:

"As one of my warmup exercises I rotate my neck. I try to be mindful of Taijiquan principles: to let yi guide my rotation...."

For me, this is a critical point. I am not sure what you mean, but I do not think of Yi has something that is added to motion, but rather something that defines motion. For me, Yi ("intent") should have something of Yi ("meaning") in it. When you paint or do calligraphy, you do not think of adding Yi to your movements, instead Yi defines, shapes, and motivates the movements.

If you do neck rotations and subconsciously imitate some motion someone has shown you or even an ideal motion in your mind, I would question whether your Yi is really correct for the purpose you describe. If on the other hand, your intent is to circle and loosen up the muscles with each micro-movement, you will move slightly differently. Then I would say that you are really using Yi.

In any case, I have read admonitions against full neck rotations similar to what Louis describes and no longer do them.

I can also add that in Association seminars, we also sometimes do brief simple warm-ups, stretches, or limb shaking, expecially after a sitting break. These motions are not in any Tai Chi form I have seen and yet seem acceptable and useful.

Welcome to the Board,
Audi
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Postby Yin Peixiong » Thu Aug 14, 2008 7:57 pm

Hi, Audi,

Suppose we use consciousness for yi (mind/intent). The advantage of using this word is that we commonly consider a range of conscious states. When I first learn a posture, as with the detailed instructions in Fu Chongwen's manual, I try to be highly conscious of each component of each movement. As I become more familiar with the posture, my consciousness becomes more integrated with my physical movements. In fact, my consciousness becomes more abstract, more light, quicker, and yes, it increasingly contains more yi (meaning) in my movements.

If I should then become interested in a different interpretation of the posture, then I'll go through the same process again although hopefully the process will be less labored since my taijiquan will be more mature.
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Postby Yin Peixiong » Thu Aug 14, 2008 8:30 pm

On this discussion topic the key question for me is, "what constitutes taijiquan" or, more narrowly, "what constitutes a taijiquan movement".

This question comes up frequently. Most recently we have questioned whether the dance segment in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics is taijiquan. On this board I have viewed historical videos and read discussions on whether Ho Chi Minh or Wu Gongyi in the Wu-Chen Macau bout performed taijiquan movements. Our references to the major taijiquan schools implicitly acknowledge that the forms, however different, all fall within some notion of taijiquan.

Indeed, as with other gropings on "what is", there are varying degrees of implicit or explicit, systematic or intuitive criteria on what constitutes taijiquan.

When rotating the waist, an isolated physical rotation in standing position is not the same as taking a bow and arrow stance, mindful of the torque of starting from the feet, through the legs, rotating the waist while remaining centered and loose, and applying other taijiquan principles. And it's not hard for me to say that the first is not a taijiquan movement.
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