Yin-Yang in Taijiquan applications
There are many ways that a person can be attacked and many ways to respond. Put together all the forms from all the Taijiquan routines and what one has is a catalogue of possibilities. Just because a routine is taught in a particular sequence it does not mean that in defending oneself, the use of Part Wild Horse’s Mane for instance, has to be followed immediately by White Crane Spreads Wings (as is found in the Beijing 24 routine). Any appropriate form can be used either by itself or combined with any other in providing a defensive response. As this makes the number of possible responses almost limitless the following examples use a single form from two different routines—one barehands, one weapons—to illustrate how lessons learned from Push Hands about Yin–Yang can be incorporated into applications.
1. Beijing 24 Bare Hands routine
Suppose an attacker aims a right handed punch upwards and towards a defenders head. The trajectory of this punch being upwards and most likely, slightly curved as well, means that it can be countered by using—Part Wild Horse’s Mane (form #2—left side ).
In the routine this form proceeds with holding the ball 45° to the right side, followed by stepping out with the left heel while keeping the weight centred on the bent right leg. Then and all at the same time, the waist is rotated left, arcing the left arm to the front (palm up) while the right leg straightens out, transferring the weight to the left leg, 60/40 fashion.
To use this form as a defence against a punch as described above, the first requirement is always central equilibrium—stillness in movement, Yin-Yang in balance—so that one can focus on what to do without panicking, raising stress levels and inducing tension.
As the punch is travelling upwards and coming from the left towards the centre the defender would immediately transfer their weight to the right leg while turning the waist to their right side as well. This action will increase Yang energy and concentrate it in the curve of the right leg (which will now be regarded as substantial) rather in the same way as a spring stores energy when compressed. Concurrently, the turning waist is used to push the left heel forwards, placing it to the left of the opponents right foot (which may well be forward at this point). The left leg is now Yin (insubstantial).
While all that is happening the right hand has reached up to make contact with (stick to) the attacker’s right arm, preferably just above the elbow. The left arm also swings to the right, driven by the turning waist, with the left hand being kept at waist level. If this is all achieved, then the turn of the waist will very easily (4 ounces)act to ward off and deflect the energy of the punch (one thousand pounds) upwards, outwards, away from the defenders face and past the tipping point where incoming Yang energy deflates into Yin.
The complete action of weight shifting and waist turning is the yielding component that is so important to Taijiquan applications and equates to performing roll back in Push Hands.
If done correctly, deflecting the punch may also off-balance the opponent to some degree. It is at this point that the counter attack happens. All that is now required is to maintain the deflection and release the stored Yang energy in the right leg, transferring it up through the waist and into the left arm. This is accomplished by straightening the right leg to an off-lock state and transferring the weight back to the left leg. As that transfer happens the waist turns to the left, driving the left arm upwards to connect (join) with the opponents chest—toppling them backwards over the defenders left leg. This equates to push in Push Hands.
It is an interesting exercise to try this move without using the waist turn. It will quickly be discovered that it either does not work or a lot of force will have to be applied by the left arm to try and push the opponent over. It will be rather like using one thousands pounds to defeat 4 ounces.
2. Yang 32 Sword Routine
The principles and methods that apply to bare hands applications apply also to the use of weapons—in this case, the Jian sword. The main difference is that energy transmitted from the lower body, through the waist and into the arms and hands does not stop there but should continue on into the sword blade—or into whichever weapon is being used.
In sword routines and applications, the sword is acting as an extension of the hand and arm. Consequently, the correct method applied to the point where hand and sword join together becomes vitally important. The grip must be correct at all times. If it is loose or incorrect, it will break the energy flow in the same way that not turning the waist will do in bare hands and the effectiveness of the sword stroke will be severely compromised—even if the practitioner has taken care to get other aspects of their sword play correct.
In the context of the form being described here it is also important to pay attention to where the sword blade makes contact the attacker’s weapon. Defensive moves such as this one make use of the strongest section of the blade. Jian swords are thinnest, sharpest and weakest at the tip graduating to thickest, bluntest and strongest at the hilt. The ideal point is not too near the defender’s sword grip (to avoid possible injury) but not too far from it either (see figure 6) as the ability of a sword to absorb energy and to take control of an attack decreases the further that point gets from the hilt. It would be foolhardy to mount a defence by using the part of the sword that is intended for attacking.
Suppose then that an attacker has aimed a sword stroke from their right side, waist level, towards the defenders upper body, neck or head. The trajectory being upwards and from the opponents right will allow it to be countered by using—Swing Up Sword In Left Empty Stance (form #16).
In the routine and at the end of form #15, the practitioner is in a right sided bow stance. The sword is thrust forwards at about shoulder level, the left hand and arm are raised and weight is on the right leg—60/40.
Form #16 commences with a waist turn to the left and a transfer of weight back to the left leg by moving through a horse stance. While that happens the sword arcs upwards and is kept parallel to the floor. The right palm faces inwards and the left hand sword fingers make contact with the right hand wrist. As the left leg receives the body’s weight (becomes substantial) the sword continues in a circular motion, from parallel to the floor to vertical and then down to parallel again.
Concurrent with the transfer of weight, the right foot (now insubstantial) is slightly raised then, as soon as the sword has reached the second parallel to the floor position, is placed down, heel first. As the sword continues its circular path, weight is transferred back to the right leg, making it substantial again. The waist turns to the right and the left leg steps forward into an empty (insubstantial) stance, driving the sword upward up in an arc to finish above the head with the sword tip pointing towards the opponent.
To apply this defence to an attack such as the one described, the first essential is to make contact with the opponents weapon (which in this case is a sword but could be any other type of weapon with a long blade) and divert its trajectory out of harms way. This is accomplished by stepping the left foot back, turning the waist to the left while sinking to a horse stance and raising the sword upward to a parallel to the floor position with palm facing inwards.
At this point the flat side of defender’s sword blade should contact (join) the blade of the attacker’s sword and by continuing the circular momentum as described, divert the Yang force of the attacker’s blade away to the l thereby neutralizing its effect. By moving through the horse stance and transferring the bodies weight, Yang energy is accumulated in the left leg in much the same way as happens in the aforementioned bare hands form. This effectively combines ward off, roll back and deflect into one and is also the vital yielding component.
All that remains is the counter attack which will happen if the defender completes the move in the same way as described for the routine. The waist turn to the right, the shift of weight to the right leg etc. and the resulting circular path of the sword will serve to drive it straight up the middle of the attacker’s body. If performed correctly, all the defender’s Yang energy will have been delivered to the sharp end of the blade and will complete the transition from defence to attack, equating to push in Push Hands.
NB: The counter attack will have to be performed very quickly for as soon as the defender’s sword reaches the initial vertical position it will quite likely lose contact with that of the attacker and leave the defender unprotected and vulnerable.
A deceptively simple routine like the Push Hands exercise described in this article has all the necessary components to teach and understand Yin-Yang. It can be learned by any practitioner once they have reached a reasonable level of competence and can be understood by using either Western or traditional Eastern terminology.
It can teach how understand energy, distinguish Yin from Yang, how to relax and focus, how to be light and nimble, why the waist is so important, plus many other qualities—all of which can be applied to regular Taijiquan practice and applications training. The key to it being a profitable exercise is that students learn what to look for and then make use of that knowledge.
By using the principles of Yin and Yang as a kind of metaphor for the way that physical energy can be manipulated, one can get that little bit closer to discovering why Taijiquan was once (and maybe still is) considered to be the ultimate martial art, providing that is, one is prepared to dig a bit deeper and not succumb to the need for quick results. Patient practice can lad lead to a meaningful understanding of that often quoted but obscure saying:
Four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds.