Monday, May 23, 2011

倾斜 Weight distribution in Classical Tai Chi

Tai Chi Walk

Michael wrote that he recently purchased Master Hwa's DVD series and has some questions about "leaning", weight distribution, Tai Chi Classics, and Yin and Yang:

"As i watched the video more intently, i'm being drawn to the movement of the lower limbs ie. from the hips down. Can i assume that master hwa advocates the separation of ying-yang footing i.e. 100% weight on one leg and the other 0%, in all postures (except the end of single whip)?  Whilst i understand the weight shifting from one posture to another - i'm interested to know the weight distribution e.g. brush knee twist step at the end. Is it 100% in the front leg and the back leg is insubstantial? i'm studying the classics by zhang sang feng and it was mentioned that one should not lean on any sides. i would intepret this as leaning forward, backward, or at the sides - but if there is 100% weight on one leg, i do assume that there is a leaning force involve? "

In Classical Tai Chi my teacher Master Stephen Hwa explains the principles of movement (the how and why) in terms of Yin and Yang.  This is explained in detail in the: DVD series, Yahoo Email Group, Classical Tai Chi Forum, Classical Tai Chi Website (Table of Contents for DVD). He also explains the principles in terms of "body weight distribution".  When one moves they do not let their weight "distribute" itself in an out of control manner.  This is a grievous error and can have both health and martial consequences.  

This is illustrated in the Tai Chi Walk as seen in the attached video link to Youtube. When one takes a step forward in Classical Tai Chi the weight stays 100% on the back foot until the front foot is flat on the ground 0%.  The practitioner will then pull the body forward till the body weight 100% is on the front foot with the back foot becoming 0%. The body weight distribution is both dynamic, fluid and continuous through all postures with no exception.

An understanding of "leaning" in Classical Tai Chi should encompass the thought that one should take the Tai Chi Classics with the proverbial "grain of salt".  The Classics are as Master Hwa has said and  are "attributed to various authors".   Regardless of who wrote them, we did not hear of them until Wu Yu Xiang "found them in a Salt Shop".  The Classics for one do not specify what they mean by "lean".  Did the mystical Zhang Sanfeng mean don't lean at all, don't lean too much, etc? Then there is definition: 倾斜 is better defined as "incline, tip, bias, slope, etc. I'm not fluent in Chinese but even I cannot find "lean" defined as "incline" in Chinese.  Lean in Chinese is more like "thin" as in a lean piece of meat.  I like "incline" better than "lean" for Tai Chi terms etc. and  in pinyin one says "Qingxie". 

There is usage of the term "incline" in the Wu Family Gold Book as elucidated by Grandmaster Wu Kung Cho.  What he means is do not "incline" by breaking at the waist.  You see a lot of "breaking at the waist" in some styles of Tai Chi, it is painful to watch.  Master Hwa does use the term "lean".  In his explanation, he makes it work in English where "incline" would not.  He does not caution against it as does Zhang Sanfeng, on the contrary he tells us how and why we need to do it.  It is discussed in detail on page 56 of  his treatise in the book "Uncovering the Treasure". I think there is a key point there in regard to not "breaking at the waist" when he says: "The head, the body and the back leg form a straight line in the lean forward". With that in mind one can readily see that breaking at the waist would break the straight line and any energy flow.  

To sum it up, I think that the Classics while having some key insights are often filled with "contrariness" and can be very cryptic.  I would therefore not attribute  deviation in basic principles of Classical Tai Chi to what are often contrary statement in the Tai Chi Classics...hence "take it with a grain of salt".

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

提手上勢 Tí shǒu shàng shì 2. Raise Hands

“Raise Hands” is a form that is done while standing on one leg while raising both arms. The script tells us a little more if we look at the character or Tí.  A dictionary definition of Tí says it is a verb which means “carry in the hand (with the arm down). I think the implication here is one of raising something that has some weight.  The first part of the character  for Tí is a verb for “hand” but the second character shǒu is a noun. shàng is defined as go upwards” and with shì is “go upward with strength or skill”.

The idea that we are raising our hands up as though they are weighted is important here.  In fact the whole series of characters suggests that something of weight should be raised with power.  It is also very interesting that the instructions for square form of this posture first state the importance of moving the arms while keeping the body still.  The Yin-Yang junction is once again at the waist with the moving part  (Yang) being the upper torso and the stationary part (Yin) being below the waist. 

Along the same lines, I think everyone would agree that picking up anything such thing as a weighted object with the hands would cause the other portions of the body to move.  In our form practice we of course are not lifting an object, we are just lifting our arms with the hands open and empty. Nevertheless we are still instructed here to lift as though lifting something of weight.  How is this possible if there is nothing in the hands?

For this we have to look to the “Round Form” and the internal discipline, our internal physical movement involving the core of the body.

·          Of course we must tuck in the tailbone
·          Have our elbows down
·          Stand with body aligned
·          Use “Yi” to lift the arms
·          The movement uses “internal discipline” from the waist to lift the arms, keeping the knees bent and do not stand up.
·          The feeling of lifting something that is weighted is what comes into play here.  If one were to lift anything, such as a kitchen chair, one’s child, etc., the core muscles would naturally “engage” .  We say “lift using your legs” and “put your back into it” when describing the sensation of lifting something.  It is somewhat the same admonition here as applies to the feeling one needs in using the internal discipline to lift the arms and hands upward.  The vast majority of people would never think to engage the core muscles when lifting an arm with nothing in the hand in an upward fashion. In fact, Master Hwa describes the whole process as a “dynamic” one wherein the internal physical discipline treats the arms as simply appendages that must be taught to move in coordination and direction of the torso.
·          However, this is not simply movements of the arms from the shoulders…on the contrary
·          The core muscles of the abdomen very low beneath the navel and are used to start the movement up, then the job is “traded off” to the muscles of the upper back to complete the lift.  We only describe the “lifting” portion of the movement here, not the folding portion of the arm at the elbow.
·          Do not push out the rear end when doing this and keep it under you.  This is an important part of keeping one portion of the body still while another part moves.  This may also be tested while practicing with the back close to the wall.  You will feel the rear touch the wall if it is being pushed backward.
·          The movement can be practiced by itself, uncoupled from other postures as both a silk reeling and qigong exercise.
·          Part of the martial intent of the movement has Peng (ward off or even punch).  Your “Yi” should encompass that as well.  The rising portion could be used to deflect an opponents strike in a wardoff motion.  As the opponents strike is deflected, the foot could be used to kick to the lower leg.  The muscles of the torso do the work of lifting and positioning the leg, and planting the foot or kicking the opponent.

Note: The list of possible applications is not limited by any means.