Monday, February 22, 2021

The Crane and Bear in Tai-Chi Chuan

"Breathing in and out in various manners, spitting out the old and taking in the new, walking like a bear and stretching their neck like a crane to achieve longevity - this is what such practitioners of Dao-yin, cultivators of the body and all those searching for long life like Ancestor Peng, enjoy."

-Chuang-Tzu, Chapter 15

I first heard about Crane and Bear, and sweep and trigger, in Tai-Chi when my teacher, Master T.T. Liang quoted the above quote in class one day. He said all postures can be divided into Crane postures and Bear postures. He said Crane posture were more straight, expanded, tended to rise, push, and emphasized attack. Bear postures were more round, closed, tended to sink, pull, and emphasized defense. He also said Crane postures used more leg, and that Bear postures used more waist.

He said the Yang Style used two kinds of postures, sweep and trigger. He explained that sweep postures were big, long, and tended to keep the energy inside the body. Trigger postures were small, short, and tended to release energy outwards. He gave Single Whip as an example of sweep ,and Lift Hands as an example of trigger. In his method of using counts, he said six count postures were sweep while two count postures were trigger. He also said that four count postures were a mixture of both.

He then put it all together by saying that Crane postures were Trigger and Bear postures were sweep. I had learned from Master Paul Gallagher that his Wu Style teacher, Sophia Delza, taught that there were two kinds of postures: long and short. She explained that long postures taught long breaths and short postures taught short breaths.

To look at the use of Crane and Bear, I find they are yet another example of yin and yang. The Crane is yang by virtue of its rising, expanding, pushing nature, and look. The Bear is yin by nature of its sinking, contracting, turning nature, and look. 

They also carry their opposite as well. For instance the Crane looks big and strong, but they are really light, delicate, and fragile. The Bear looks soft and gentle, but in reality they are strong, fast, and can be ferocious!

Tai-Chi is not the only style to use these complimentary animals to teach yin and yang in the body and technique. Hsing-Yi uses the Eagle and Bear. Pa-Kua uses the Dragon and Phoenix. Hung Gar uses the Tiger and Crane.

A good exercise is to look at your postures and try to assign an animal, energy, or attribute to each one. Is it Crane or Bear, yin or yang, Sweep or Trigger?

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