I one time asked Master T.T. Liang what practices I could do to improve my pushing hands when I didn't have a partner. He taught me three practices, Tai-Chi Post, Tai-Chi Long Spear, and how to "Distinguish 5 Kinds of Postures." He showed me how to develop and practice issuing energy in a relaxed and clear manner during my solo form. This lesson can be embraced and practiced in all Tai-Chi forms,styles and systems, and can help with any martial arts or sports.
Before I share that lesson with you I need explain a bit about the concept of "double weighting." Many students are confused, or only grasp the most basic idea of this governing principle in Tai-Chi. Master Liang gave a short list of what double weighting can be when commenting on the Tai-Chi Classic, We often see one who has painstakingly practiced Tai-Chi for several years but cannot neutralize an attacking energy and is generally subdued by an opponent. This is because they have still not understood the fault of double-weighting. In Liang's commentary ( pg 43 ) he gives the following list of double-weighting defects;
-To collide with your opponent
-To push your opponent with energy in both hands
-To put energy in your upper torso when doing the postures
-To step forward and backward with weight on both feet
-To find the opponent's defect and obtain a superior position of your own by using a hand block
Double weighting means the pressure in your body, either from gravity into your stance, our your opponents body and weight into your body or structure. If gravity is engaging the muscle in my lower left body and legs, I use the right upper body to be balanced and have my energy be able to come out completely.
Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi carefully explained that your technique and what is does to your opponent's body will travel through and affect your body and you don't want it to get stuck or make you tense. He called this the "reaction force," the power going down through your structure, through your feet, bouncing off the floor, and returning back up to you arms and technique. Many times he told me, "Remember, when you hit the heavy bag, it hits you back." Our structure needs alignment and balance so our techniques will be correct. Hitting and pushing are similar, but have a few differences that are beyond this introduction.
The concept of single and double weighting comes from the yin-yang symbol, which is the foundation of the art. We need a black and white, or opposites, not two black fish or dots. Most practitioners think double weighting is just having weight equally on both feet, which is true. We don't want weight on both feet because it locks up our hips and waist and makes movement slow and awkward. But there are so many other ideas for double weighting, yet they can be divided into two categories;.
-You can double weight with a part, or your whole, body, or how my body weight, and gravity, affect my body
-You can double weight with another person, or how weight, tension, gravity, and mechanics affects my technique
Anytime the classics list opposites, they are referring to this concept. When you read insubstantial and substantial, hard and soft, still and moving, advancing and retreating, attacking and defending, they are giving examples of how to be either balanced or single-weighted. Here are a two examples;
Take steps like a cat walking = weight on one foot while the other is empty and free to step, feel, and investigate before transferring weight and gravity to that foot. To be single weighted is to have gravity and balance with one leg while the other is free to perform an action such as stepping, kicking, sweeping etc. I asked about the Horse Stance in Ta-Lu and some of the weapons forms, and Master Liang said as long as we are still, we can have weight on both feet. He cited the classic In motion they separate, in tranquility they fuse into one.
Do not let go and do not resist = resisting can mean pushing your partner at the exact same time as they are pushing you. To be single weighted, you can push any time before or after they push, just not the same time.
This is by no means a complete explanation of single and double weighting, but it will lay a foundation for the 5 Kinds of Postures lesson. If you have specific questions or want an even more detailed explanation, please feel free to contact me. Now, on to the lesson.
Master Liang taught that there are 5 kinds of postures, and we have to do something different when we do each. He said we have to "distinguish and identify each so we will know how to do it." He listed the following, rise, sink, stand, squat, stay the same. He taught that when you come to the end of a posture, you have something to do with your height and stance. Liang said for beginners, try to maintain the same consistent height throughout the solo form. Paul Gallagher shared this lesson from his Wu Style teacher, Sophia Delza who taught that, "The head should be like the horizon, not a cork bobbing in the ocean!" Master Liang said, "Prof Cheng stood up in White Crane and squatted down in Squatting Single Whip. We also stand up in High Pat on Horse and we squat down in Needle at Sea Bottom."
When you begin your solo form, at the first bow stance, set a height that will be your base height. It can be comfortable with the ability to step, root, and issue, without tension or exhaustion. That is the height you maintain when not doing four of the five options. Notice that built into your form is the return to that height, like when you stand or squat, the first part of the next posture is either to come back up or drop down into a stance. To really get this lesson, you need to not do them during your solo form, but pull postures out and work on them individually before linking them together. I always teach that you don't change the oil in your car while you are driving. OK here goes.
1. Rise One Inch. These postures end single weighted, weight on left foot and action with right hand, or vice versa. The application happens at the end of the movement and you rise to begin issuing energy. They are Da-Chin, Striking Energy, Short-Power. These are also referred to as "twist-step." Examples are Brush Left Knee where you end with your weight on your left foot, and you push with your right hand. You would rise one inch to engage the correct issuing action. This is where Prof. Cheng Man-Ch'ing wrote " The right hand is connected in one line of energy with the left foot." Some other examples are Parry and Punch, Fair Lady, Turn and Chop with Fist.
2. Sink One Inch. These postures end double weighted, weight on the left foot and action with the left hand, or vice versa. The application happens in the middle of the posture or action and you sink one inch to recover. We used a shift to issue energy and not only is power generated, but momentum as well. We have to sink after issuing so we don't overextend or loose balance. Master Liang would say, " You don't want to push an opponent off a cliff and you go with them!" These postures are Fa-Ching, Issuing or Releasing Energy, Long-Power. These are also referred to as "favorable-step." Examples are Single Whip where you end with your weight on your left foot and the action is with your left arm. You would sink one inch at the end to root and catch your momentum. In the middle of the posture, when you have stepped but not shifted or issued, you are single weighted, with your weight on your right foot and the action in your left arm. One application for Single Whip being a throw, or trip, over your left knee. Some other examples are Fan Through the Back, Diagonal Flying, and Ward-Off.
3. Stand Up. These postures come up almost completely at the end. They either help with the application or give a rest to your legs. They also add dimension and flavor to your solo form. Examples are White Crane Spreads Wings, and High Pat On Horse.
4. Squat Down. These postures go considerable lower, or well below, the established height that you set to do your solo form. They either help with the application or add extra exercise as well as ,stretch, strength, and challenge to your form. Examples are Needle at Sea Bottom and Squatting Single Whip, also know as Snake Creeps Down (or Creep Snakes Down!).
5. Stay the Same Height. These postures are the same height during the beginning, middle, and end. The reason is because they either have too much information, or not enough! These posture are either emphasizing the health, mediation, and qi-gong aspects, or they are only giving a partial application. These are tricky without having a teacher who knows the health, self-defense, meditation and philosophical meaning of each posture. An example of the health benefit outweighing the self-defense would be Cloud Hands. A partial application would be Play the Guitar. In these you would just stay the same height and give equal emphasis to height and action.
That is the lesson I received. I learned it, mastered it, and now teach it. So, now it's your turn to work! Do the following lesson with your solo form. It won't matter the style or lineage or tradition.
Take each posture in your solo form and assign it one of the five actions, rise, sink, same etc. according to how the hand/weight is at the end. For example, Parting the Wild Horse's Mane, or Diagonal Flying. Is it single weighted, opposite hand and foot, or double weighted, same hand and foot? Review what to do and then practice changing the height, or not.
Be careful, some have multiple or many ideas and can be done rising, sinking or staying the same. Have a clear idea what your want these kinds of postures to do.
Kicks are all single weighted i.e weight on one side action on the other, so rise for those.
Two handed posture like Push, Press, Fair Lady, see if you can pick one hand for the main action and do the rise, sink accordingly.
When in doubt, stay the same height.
Good luck! Do this work on your solo form before you apply it to weapons. Now, on to your own exploration and discovery!