From the publisher
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By Bradford Tyrey
In the arts of Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and Taijiquan, for example, as taught within clans taught by such masters as Cheng T’ing-Hua, Yin Fu, Liu Bin, Sun Lu-T’ang, Liu Feng-Chun, Liu Xing-Han, Huang Bai-Nien, and Gao Yi-Sheng, movements that are connected to Snake and its methods are governed by specific training principles. In Section 3 below, these training principles, in part, are listed. It is important to understand how to apply these principles to postures in both form and application. In Snake, no matter what movement, it must adhere to one or more of the principles.
Master Sun Lu-T’ang
One of Sun Lu-T’ang’s last living disciples, Wang Xi-Kui (passing away in 1986), said that Master Sun taught the Nine Skills to be developed, Snake Shape Flowing Posture Palm (蛇形顺势掌 Shexing Shunshi Zhang) as passed down from Cheng T’ing-Hua. These are listed below. In Master Sun’s public styles of boxing these methods were not explained for the most part. However, Teacher Wang said that when Master Sun taught the longer traditional snake forms that he had learned in Bagua and Xingyi the Nine Skills taught within snake were strictly taught and adhered to by his students. Teacher Wang told us that he and his classmates did not always understand the meaning of each skill in snake forms but when Master Sun demonstrated applications each of the Nine Skills became more apparent to them through time and practice.
*Note: Sun Lu-Tang and Liu Bin studied Baguazhang under Cheng Ting-Hua. Liu Bin was the senior student under Cheng, and upon Cheng’s death in 1900, Sun joined Liu Bin’s class. Liu Xing-Han’s father was a senior student with Sun under Liu Bin. Liu Xing-Han, as a student in the class was often taught by Sun who taught Bagua and Xingyi to students. Sun also, according to Liu, taught Taijiquan sets and their direct relationship to the Bagua and Xingyi.
This drawing, from Cheng Style: Gao Yi-Sheng Branch, shows an abbreviated form of the longer circular set, Snake Form Following Pattern / Style Palm (蛇形順式掌 Shixing Shun Shi Zhang ). It should be noted that the drawing does not show the exact long-body postures used in Snake as this sketch is used only as reference for beginning students and for those who have already learned the pattern.
The foundation (基本 jiben) for understanding Snake in circular and straight sets is given in part below.
1. As an example, Snake Shape Flowing Posture Palm (蛇形顺势掌 Shexing Shunshi Zhang) is
commonly known by the names: Smooth Body Palm, Flowing Movement Palm and Flowing Postures Palm.
Health benefits: Eliminates Heart-Fire which reduces high blood pressure and associated illnesses that are caused by excess of the Fire element within one’s body. Additionally, as Snake is associated with Water, the bladder and kidneys being vessels of Water are directly affected and are said to be ‘harmoniously enhanced with Qi’ through the practice of Snake sets. It is most important that in practicing Snake methods the arms tuck more toward one’s centerline using a rolling inward movement.
Keeping toward the centerline, aids in unifying with the heart to reduce accumulated Heart-Fire that can cause a multitude of health ailments. In addition to the arms, the pelvis and legs also follow this same rule to fold or tuck somewhat inward toward the centerline so that the body is moves together like a snake flowing throw tall grass. Snake Shape Flowing Posture Palm (蛇形顺势掌 Shexing Shunshi Zhang) is most important for heart health and should be carefully studied.
Master Xie Peiqi’s student demonstrates the traditional Yin Fu style posture ‘Snake Moves Through Tall Grass’ which was known by a variety of names even among the Yin Fu clan.
2. Kan Trigram Snake Shape Flowing Posture Palm (坎卦蛇形顺势掌 Kan Gua Shexing).
According to the ancient Chinese text the Book of Changes (易經 Yi-Jing) the Snake’s associated trigram is ☵ (坎 Kan), which embraces the Water element, hence, the Snake’s bodily movement is like that of flowing water. All parts of the body move as one, no part takes action independently. Movement mimics the snake’s head testing and sensing, the trunk entwining and constricting, and the tail whipping with force to produce a body wave. Each set, as well as each individual movement, is composed of three parts: hand(s) entering and piercing through and into the adversary’s defense to sense/test his intent is the Head of the snake; pressing upon, wrapping, and constricting with one’s body upon the adversary is the Body of the snake; and whipping with recoiling force is that of the Tail of the snake.
As the bladder and kidneys are receptacles of water, they are linked in spirit to the Snake. The central /middle section of one’s body contains the bladder and kidneys, and therefore was given the name the Middle/Center (中 Zhong) to denote that it is the middle [central region] for one’s wellspring of Qi and enhancement of power. It is ‘the Middle,’ referring to one’s Pill Field / Cinnabar Field (丹田 Dan-t’ien ) located in the lower belly that is to be kept full and heavy with Qi, like a great body of water without end. It is from the Dan-t’ien that great power is achieved in twisting and revolving methods which are issued by the shoulders, waist, and inner pelvic cavity. Snake teaches the profound skill of Flowing/Compliant Power (順力 Shunli), which is the ability to unify all movement and power into a single direction, like that of flowing waves merging to create ‘One’ overwhelming current. The practice of Snake seeks to unify all joints to produce rolling wavelike force through the body and into the striking hand or foot. Joint alignment is not easy to practice or attain, but it is a necessary practice skill to comprehend.
Jue Hau, one of Sun Lu-Tang’s disciples, demonstrates the Sun style Taijiquan posture ‘Advancing Step and Parry’ which was originally taught by Master Sun under the name ‘White Snake Protrudes Tongue’ taken from its origin in the ancient art of Xingyiquan.
3. The Nine Skills, developed within Snake Shape Flowing Posture Palm (蛇形顺势掌 Shexing Shunshi Zhang) to which Sun Lu-T’ang and many other boxing masters adhered are listed below. Sun, like other teachers, taught beyond these nine principles once a student had attained higher levels of skill and understanding.
1. Shoulders (Jian 肩): The shoulder pairs with the hip to produce specific unified force. The shoulder is also used in bumping and striking methods, along with rolling inward with the hip to produce coiling force. Additionally, the adversary’s shoulder can be seized to control his hip, thereby locking up his body.
2. Elbows (肘Zhou): The elbow pairs with the knee to produce specific unified force. The ‘Eight Elbow Methods’ are contained within Snake applications and must therefore be closely attended to. Additionally, the adversary’s elbow can be seized or attacked to control the direction to lead the adversary’s knee; this is the theory of ‘that which is above controls all below.’
3. Knees (膝Xi): The knee pairs with the shoulder to produce specific unified force. Stepping (movement of the foot) is connected to the knee, therefore the knee is vital in both skillful stepping force and execution of elbow methods. The adversary’s knee is also an area to be attacked through use of grasping, binding and striking methods. Low postures in Snake often attack the knee or ankle using strikes of throws, thereby controlling the adversary’s upper torso.
4 .Inner Pelvis (胯 Kua): the Inner Pelvis involves the rotational ability of the hip which unifies with the waist to produce turning force in throwing and in quick twisting force used in Snake techniques. Additionally, the adversary’s outer hip region can be attacked and pressed upon to collapse his body’s structure and balance.
5. To Explore / Test (探Tan): this is the skill of sensing and testing the adversary’s intent in both attacking and defending. My attack probes and explores the adversary’s reaction, seeing if he yields to aggressive movement or commits himself further into attacking. Tan further means to ‘quickly dart out’ one’s attack as a means to observe the instinctual reaction of the adversary.
6. To Hold (握Wo): this is the skill of ‘to hold’ in a manner that embraces and binds. Hands, arms and legs are all able to ‘hold’ and constrict around parts of an adversary, like that of a snake coiling around its prey, constricting upon and binding all movement. Wo is particularly dominate in methods of throwing and Chin-Na (Control and Seizing).
Cheng T’ing-Hua style Baguazhang sword is represented here by a drawing of the posture ‘Separate Grass in Search of Snakes’ from one Master Liu Xing-Han’s books. Liu, student of Cheng’s disciple Liu Bin who carried on the original class following Cheng’s passing in 1900, made every effort to impart the old teachings as they had been taught by Master Liu Bin.
7. To Hook (刁Diao): as if to hook a large, stealthy fish. Diao Zhang (Hook [Hooking] Palm) refers to the palm using a hooking action to draw in and control the movement of an adversary, thereby entrapping him. Additionally, both Snake and Dragon methods employ using the inner area of the elbow and the back of the knee to wrap around and hook the adversary’s arms or legs thereby leading into dragging and throwing. Dragon and Snake often share some martial principles for the reason that earthbound dragons (regarded as snakes) were said to be the offspring of Celestial Dragons.
8. To Seize/to Grasp (拿Na): this is the skill of ‘seizing’ joints, muscles, and nerve points in order to control the adversary. Each posture in Snake contains a ‘hidden teaching method’ to apply Na, as well as Dian (Dotting) which is the skill of striking with the finger(s), toe(s) or palm upon a specific vital point that causes injury. Such ‘dotting [thrusting/piercing/stabbing]’ is likened to a snake’s fangs striking a specific target.
9. To Pierce/Bore Through (穿Chuan): In practicing Snake, Chuan Shoufa (Piercing Hand Methods) is the skill of using one’s hand to pierce into and through the adversary’s defense. 穿 Chuan is regarded as the mother of Stabbing and Poking specific targets such as the eyes, throat, and solar plexus, groin, and nerve points.
Another important topic that were drilled into us during training in China in the 1980s was: Hand methods are paired with specific stepping methods that enable the body to produce wave-like power issuance that is akin to flowing motion found in Snake techniques. There are a number of stepping methods paired with Snake though two that were most taught by old boxing masters in past generations were: Yin-Yang Fish Advancing Step (陰陽魚進步 Yin-Yang Yue Jinbu) and Snake Weaving Advancing Step (蛇行進步 She Xing Jinbu). Often these two methods are taught as the same movement, though in traditional boxing clans these stepping routines have different emphasis so that different, specific skills can be attained.
Yin-Yang Fish Advancing Step (陰陽魚進步 Yin-Yang Yue Jinbu) mimics the interplay of the two fish-like shapes found within the Yin-Yang symbol. That is, body movement and stepping draws inward upon itself as if one fish chasing the other beneath the water. When observed it appears to take on a zigging and zagging pattern that some snakes will use to maneuver.
This method is considered more Yang in intent as it very active and like two fish chasing one another, hence symbolizing vigorous, energetic movement. Snake Weaving Advancing Step (蛇行進步 She Xing Jinbu) is taught as a Yin method of stepping, that is, slightly more passive, not actively competing with the movement of another creature, and taking its own time to move, as it will. The characters 蛇行 She Xing can be translated as Snake Movement, but it is the character 行 Xing that is most important here.
Master Xie Peiqi
Master Xie Peiqi, an old Yin style Bagua master who lived in Beijing, taught us at a Bagua gathering that 行 Xing referred to the body weaving to and fro while in forward movement, though not as defined as the zig-zag pattern in that of Yin-Yang Fish Advancing Step (陰陽魚進步 Yin-Yang Yue Jinbu). Xie said that it is the subtle differences that refine hidden, rather obscured methods into becoming great useable skills. It was such subtle methods and differences, if correctly followed, that Xie said could enable a general practitioner to become a highly proficient and renowned Chinese boxing master.
Though there is so much more to discuss on this topic this is a good place for us to reflect upon this information into our own practices. I look forward to presenting another related aspect of such training from past years in China that was shared with me, now is my opportunity to share with others.