Volume 1 Number 1
By Jason Yeung
Separate Leg Right and Left, and Turn and Kick with
Foot, could be considered Taijiquan's "daredevil" sequence,
as much of it is executed while balancing on one leg. Indeed, with one's
arms thrust out to the sides for stability, the sequence can take on
the look of a circus high-wire act.
This sequence is common to most styles of Taijiquan,
and is representative of the most challenging moves one encounters in the
form. It thus creates much frustration for the beginning student, who should
take heart in the fact that it remains a substantial challenge for the experienced
student as well.
The first set of moves in the sequence, Separate Leg
Right and Left, or You zuo fen jiao, is a literal description of the move.
The Chinese character for separate, fen, depicts the sentiment of the move
perfectly: on the top half of the character, there is a line that has been
cut into two, and below, the knife used in cutting. Thus the word fen means
to divide, separate, or distinguish, as in the Taijiquan Classics' phrase, "Empty
and Full must be distinguished clearly" (Xushi yi fen qingchu).
The next move, Turn Body and Kick with Foot, or Zhuan
shen ti jiao, also literally describes the move itself. Zhuan means to turn,
shen means the body, or the self. Ti is to kick, and jiao, means foot or
as above, leg.
Once one is accustomed to this sequence, it can be very
enjoyable to practice. There is a nice ebb and flow to it. When executed
well, this whole sequence smoothly connects from section to section. When
things are not going so well, one will start to wobble, and by the time
Turn and Kick arrives, the wobbling will often take the form of losing one's
balance and falling over. It is this subject that I will address below.
Common sense tells us that the lower one's root, the
more stable the posture. This move, however, has three limbs making dramatic
outward gestures, so it is logical that when coupled with the nervous anticipation
that often accompanies such a move, that stability is compromised. We can
then analyze this kind of move into several aspects.
- Preparation: How stable is the transition from the prior
move? Is the body in proper alignment? Are the feet and joints flexible?
Is the mind settled? When one is simply taking a step, the leg is low
enough to the ground that it does not disturb one's balance too greatly,
and again, does not vex the practitioner, as the safety net of the ground
is close by. In this sequence, however, one must prepare even more carefully,
as it is not only more physically challenging, but produces among many of
us a certain anxiety, before and during, in anticipation of the difficulty
of the move.
- Lifting the leg: Can you use the yi (the mind) to gather
inward and send the root down even further? One must take care in this sequence
to settle the weight deep into the root before lifting the empty leg outward.
While the arms are used to counter-balance the leg movement as it goes up
and out, one should remember that moving the whole leg outward in this manner
transfers a great percentage of the body weight away from one's center of
gravity. To this is added the momentum of the rising leg, also going out
away from the body. It should be no surprise, then, that the balance is
- Bringing the leg in: Can you bring it in toward your
root, rather than simply letting it drop back? In other words, though gravity
is the primary force at work as the leg comes back, if the focus is on the
gravitational pull, it may allow the leg to drop, which may create a bounce
in the body. If, however, you keep the focus on the root, the force will
be tranferred into the ground and you will remain more stable.
- Completion/Transition: Do you feel a sense of relief as
you complete the move? This may imply that you were so preoccupied with the
move that you now can relax. One should work toward achieving this relaxed
state before and during the move as well.
We can see that Separate Leg Right and Left, and Turn
and Kick with Foot above all require careful adherence to the Taijiquan
principles. The dramatic challenge they present can be an opportunity
for honing one's skills. The means to lifting the leg up high should
be exactly the same as when stepping out comfortably low. The only difference
will be the mechanics and, most importantly, the mind-set.
Jason Yeung, a native of Hong Kong, resides in Los Angeles, California,
where he works as an engineer.
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