Yang Taijiquan 101: Opening and Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail

tc63rd Generation Yang Taiji

Although the theory and methods of the Taiji method of boxing are extremely deep and penetrating, anyone can learn it and the benefits are universally known and agreed upon.  As with many things in life it takes many years to master the methods of Taijiquan no matter what style you practice.  It is also true that there are many variations to the Yang family style with some being very close to the original and others not so much.

Some of the more profound aspects of the Yang style seem to have disappeared or rather become less important in the popular methods and therefore require a deeper study and research far beyond just learning the Taijiquan long boxing for health promotion.  The benefits of looking beyond the surface and also in examining the many variations can be multiplied dramatically as well as prevent one from being overly dogmatic in approach and thus free your mind to see deeper into the structure of the art as well as the much mythologized alchemy of Taijiquan and Qi cultivation.  As with the oldest forms of Taijiquan, the Yang style originally was far more close resembling the Chen family heritage but with many significant variations hinting at the combination of the Baguazhang system and the utilization of a prior system called the soft or cotton pam methods.system having variations that could be roughly compared to the large frame, the middle frame, and the small frame.  One can refer to the Wu style to research the Yang method taught by Pan Hou and which is not presently taught as a Yang style set but as a Wu Style method.

Our lessons are concerned with teaching as closely as possible an historically accurate representation of the 3rd generation Yang family Taijiquan.  The reason is that this was the generation that the family method as represented by the long boxing was fixed, i.e. Yang Chen Fu’s method as represented by his published accounts after he was 50 years old.  This is what the Yang family vouches is true and we believe them.

There are principles to the 3rd generation method that are not universally followed precisely and as a result the full effect of the form; the fighting utility, the “fa jing” meaning the issuing of energy, the real applications that really work and not the silly affectations that don’t wash in the heat of self-defense and fighting.  The 3rd Generation Yang method was a method that still retained combat efficiency and was the reason for such a high reputation of the Yang family in the world of Wushu (Kungfu).

The Opening and transition to Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail

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First steps in the method

  1. Take a solid foothold observing the principle of single-weighted posture, the body observing the principle torso methods (Shen fa).
  2. The familiar opening of raising and lowering the arms requires that the upper torso is completely supple and relaxed.  The arms are not bent but straight there being space in the joint and a curved which gives a round aspect and the elbows sinking downward and palms naturally parallel to the ground not raising above the shoulders or dropping below the waist.
  3. When you chamber the hands as in the 3rd image there are several important methods to observe.  The left palm rises inward to a position in front of and not below the right elbow.  The torso is turned into the movement so as to close making a subtle coiling move involving the hips, the waist, and the torso so that the center line faces in a 45 degree rotation and thus the left palm does not cross the center-line which would ground-out or discharge the Qi that is accumulating with the prior movements and thus defeat the whole purpose of the form cultivating Qi.
  4. The right arm is raised to form a guard position triangular formation which is the middle guard position in the Taiji boxing and is found throughout the form repeatedly in exactly the same way the middle guard position is found throughout all kungfu and boxing styles, each having their own unique expression of it.   The position of the right palm should be protective of the cheek bones and advanced in front of the chin and located near the middle of the torso at the sternum and also not crossing the center line which would also discharge any accumulated Qi.  You can test this out playing with diagonal fly or other parts of the form by crossing your arms to the opposite flanks as is universally practiced by many practitioners of Taijiquan.  Experiment by doing it crossing the body and also doing it without crossing the body and the comparison will make it obvious how to one can continue to accumulate, cultivate, and exercise the Qi while performing the movements.
  5. The fourth image is an advancing step bringing both the flank, shoulder, and arm in a supportive position. Weight as always is single-weighted and the transfer of weight should be smooth, uniform, and the head should not bob up and down but the torso and head remains at the same height throughout. Pay attention to the alignment of the hip, the knee, and the space adjacent the big toe as these should form a straight line. This is a ward-off movement, not a fly movement and one should pay close attention to where you look and when it changes during the open and close of this movement.  One must practice this many times to gain insight into its method and purpose.
  6. Image five is a close posture following the open posture and the weight transfer here from one to the other is of genuine and profound importance if one wishes to really understand open and close, advance withdraw, and the principles of the 5 steps. Taking note of both the 3rd and the 5th image you can see that we are at middle guard position again. Only this time it is on the left side instead of the right side of the body.  Most movements and transitions in the Long Boxing go forth and return to this middle guard.  This is logical and very efficient and key to understanding the whole Taijiquan routine and its real applications. The stances shown are the Wuji shi, the T bu, and a side-body gong bu or Pang-mian-shi; the Taijiquan reference no specific designation for the latter posture but we include it in order to differentiate this posture from the standard or wide gong bu stance which is the characteristic stance of Yang family Taijiquan. It is from this middle guard position that the combination form called Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail is launched.

 

 

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 Grasp the Sparrows Tail: Ward-off, Roll-back, Press

  1. The first image illustrates the posture known as Ward-off, in Chinese this is called Peng and is an ordinary term that means bump as in to make contact.  In the specialized terminology of Taijiquan it has expanded meaning and functionality.  This shape functions in Taiji as a block, a parry, and redirect when used in conjunction with the moves in this combination as well as by itself in a great variety of contexts.  The energy is like water holding and supporting a boat so the function is more than just blocking and when mastered can destabilize an attacker as soon as contact is made.  Such a skill cannot be gained only through push hands practice (tui-shou) but requires an ability to intercept the energy of a blow, push, or onrushing attack and then controlling it.  Most Taijiquan practitioners when confronted with a boxer or fast attacks have no skill to deflect or redirect anything and are lucky to merely use the blocking function if they are lucky.  This comes from not understanding or mastering the core principle or understanding that the skill is not mastered by becoming entangled with an opponent which is the very description of push hands drills but in the skill of intercepting energy and controlling the adversary and thus avoiding entanglement.  Entanglement is weak and is of no use in combat.  The role of push hand practice is to learn how to seize the advantage once contact is made.  Best to gain control of the adversary prior to contact or at the moment of contact which action will most often be very sudden, unpredictable, and sometimes quite violent. Peng (ward-off) is your first point of contact. Note that the arm is extended with a 45 degree bend upward and inward with the rear supporting hand conveniently placed to provide support if the attack is unusually heavy or to protect if the attack penetrates the first defense and extends toward your body in which case the rear hand is your second defense.
  2. The circular and horizontal movement to the outside flank of your body is not part of the ward-off movement as some confuse this to be so. it is a transition phase having to do with what comes after.  The movement travels beyond the tip of your right shoulder and is supported by the movement of the waist and the continuing torsion in your legs not forgetting the necessity of maintaining the alignment of the hips, knees, and feet as previously mentioned.  These principles are maintained throughout the form (taolu) without a single exception.  Any compromise for beauty of performance or theatrical expression constitutes an error in method for which the utility of the form and method will fail in actual use against an adversary.  Rotating first to the right and then back to the left flank is called Roll-back.  Please take note that in these postures we also maintain the careful observation of the rule and do not violate our own center-line and thus discharge or ground out our own Qi.  The mind leads the movement and the Qi supports.  If you discharge your Qi you will have to rely entirely upon force (li-qi pronounced lee-qi).  This is of course a violation of the Taiji principle of boxing which uses the three treasures known as spirit, energy, and vitality (Chinese: Qi, Shen, and Jing).  this aspect of training is not for beginners so much until a foundation is prepared. However; it is important to reason, that at any point wherein you discharge your Qi unwittingly instead of with pure intent, then directing the Qi in one direction or at a single point should be considered an error in method and should be avoided in your practice.  The final resolution of the roll-back movement is with the right palm in a standing position (fingers facing upward thumb toward your body) palm surface facing  to your left in front of the left shoulder.  Additionally when determining if you are crossing the center-line you can imagine a line drawn from right to left shoulder point and call this line a-b, and a perpendicular line from the center of line a-b and extending toward the front and that line we can call c-d and the angles formed are right angles.  So you rotate your waist and torso as a single unit articulated by means of your hip joints to maintain the method and even though your right hand is in front of your left shoulder it also does not violate the rule.  The left hand as in the image is tucked inside and elevated at the elbow position.  Do not allow the palm to drop to the waist as is often done by others.  We are teaching the method of Yang Chen Fu and not any other.
  3. In preparation for Press, we center the body and sink deep into our rear hips and legs in a close position and the left hand slides into a position of the forward that is precisely at the solar plexus.  In this position the right palm is inward and the left palm lightly rests on the radial side of the forearm and is almost touching your sternum.  It is from this position that you begin to extend the press movement forward and upward on a very slight incline path.  the extension follows through until fully extended and then the arms and hands release by sliding along the upper surface crossing in a scissor type movement until the fingers are pointing forward and outstretched. This movement is referred to by the terminology of separate and seal and is expressed in two variations here and elsewhere in the long boxing routine.

 

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Grasp the Sparrows Tail: Push and Transition to Single Whip

  1. Upon full extension the palms are withdrawn carefully keeping the hands elevated above the hypo gastric region throughout the subsequent movement of withdraw, preparation, and push.  Thus far we have transitioned through ward-off, roll-back, and press.  Now we are preparing for the push.  In Chinese these are severally and in order; Peng, Lu, Ji, An.
  2. The chamber position shown in the second image above has the base of the palms near the solar plexus about the width of a closed hand just in front of the root of the arm pit.  The root of the armpit is found easily by reaching inside and touching the concave soft inner tissue at the middle point.  This can be considered the root for our purposes.  The lao-gong point of the palm, also referred to as the zhoong-xin-zhang or heart of the palm is aligned with the root of the armpit in a straight line directed precisely forward. The body is weighted toward the rear in an approximately 60/40 to the rear distribution ratio.  This can and does vary depending upon how low the postures taken and also how literal one wishes to interpret the “single weighted” principle. Here is shown a 6/4 ratio which will be more easily performed with the postures and shapes variably adjusting the weighting 60-front, 40-back, 60-back, 40-front without violating the rules and parameters of the routine (taolu). This weight-shifting and rocking back and forth and side to side is a characteristic requirement of the long boxing method.
  3. The Push action (An); is executed similar to the press movement and performed to full extension and also following which the palms are pronated and fingers extended as at the end and transition point similar to the Press action.  The two actions are not the same and the differences being subtle and profound.  The obvious difference is that one action presents the outside of the palm and forearm and the other uses the palm action exclusively as the press and push actions work together to overturn, uproot the adversary and also function to issue energy.
  4. After the full extension the pronation of both palms the torso rotates to the left and at the same time shifting the weight to the rear at a ratio of 6 to 4. Observe the alignment of hip-toe-knee when performing and which requires deep rotation in the hip joint to maintain the alignment properly. As the torso rotates and the body shifts the vertical root the entire body rotates as the palms move in a horizontal and circular fashion but maintaining the palms at or slightly above the clavicle area in front of the body.
  5. the final image is the end-point of the method and the beginning point of the next lesson, the Single Whip.