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Form & Function:  The Low Punch

Volume 1 Number 3
Fall 2000

By Jason Yeung

Our Taijiquan teachings are not without their contradictions. The Taijiquan Classics, for example, assert that we should not lean, yet there are times when a movement requires leaning, and there are styles of Taiji which use a slight lean as their norm. How are these contradictions to be reconciled?

One move that requires leaning is called Low Punch, a blow slanted obliquely downward. While there are variations in how people perform the Low Punch, some basic problems often arise in regards to weighting, angle of body, and trajectory of punch.

The Low Punch is in essence a Brush Knee posture done with the body leaning forwards, which delivers a punch angled at approximately 45 degrees toward the floor (the details of this will vary depending on the style of Taijiquan practiced). It is not dissimilar to the horizontal punches elsewhere in the form. The leaning of the body in the Low Punch is essentially the same as in the posture Needle at the Bottom of the Sea. One steps out, lowers the body, shifts and brushes knee, with the left hand guarding the groin and the right hand creating the punch. The punch's application is that of a blow to the opponent's groin, or to someone who is sitting or lying on the ground. The transition out of the Low Punch is also important to our discussion. As one shifts to the back leg and straightens the torso back upward, one should concentrate on dropping the weight into the back foot.

The first group of difficulties encountered in the Low Punch are related to the root. The tendency is to lean forward and pull up out of the root when doing the punch, and then at the transition out of the Low Punch, the tendency is to use the pelvis and tailbone as the axis for straightening up, rather than making use of the root in the foot. The first scenario gives the opponent the opportunity to lead you forward out of your stance, and the latter offers an opening for him or her to apply a tifang, or uproot.

The second major group of Low Punch problems is to be found in mis-angled maneuvers; for example, an incorrect perception of the target. In the Low Punch, just as in the horizontal punch, the target is straight ahead toward the midline of the opponent's body. The lowering and angling of the body in the Low Punch should not change this target; it has simply lowered it, and it is still straight ahead of one's midline.

The Low Punch stance is also compromised by many in an effort to attain some misconceived position. Regardless of the details of this move, the stance is identical to the upright punch, with adjustments only to the angle of the torso and the amount of bend in the knees. However, one should keep both the feet flat on the ground, no matter what.

Postural alignment is a main problem area in Low Punch. If one examines drawings, photographs and videotapes of seasoned practitioners, one will discern a great variety of positions for the peak of this move. The majority of these practitioners appear to follow some simple guidelines:

  1. Make sure that the spine does not curl, and that the head keeps in line with the spine. Many people, without realizing it, hunch over as they do the Low Punch. Many people execute the move as if they are bowing in obeisance; and in their hands the Low Punch becomes a gesture of submission, rather than a martial arts application. They raise their shoulders, tuck their heads, and curl the spine forwards. Whether this is because of a misinterpretation of instructions or simply how they habitually bend over is difficult to ascertain. To do the move in this way is tantamount to preparing to launch a forward somersault. One becomes poised, ready to be uprooted. In an actual fight, this obviously would give the opponent a tremendous advantage.

  2. Keep the eyes aware. Simply because there is a lean forward, it does not mean that one's attention to surroundings should drop away. To do so would be like doing two tasks at the same time. One must maintain a full awareness and not let it drop away along with dropping into a lower position.

  3. Lean where required by the form, but do so without compromising other principles. Rooting is of primary importance in Taijiquan. Therefore in the Low Punch, or any time that one is required to lean, the lean forward should be done by maintaining the root, not by being too stiff, nor too limp. If one is able to keep the center of gravity low, the root will be maintained. The move should feel as solid as any other move in the form. The image of the untippable doll may be helpful; when pushed over, its innate nature is to hold to its root and return to an upright position.

As exemplified in the Low Punch, a root and correct alignment are essential to all moves. As one progresses in study, an internal awareness of the consistency of these qualities will be developed. This awareness will allow one to monitor oneself, and must be done conscientiously. A move such as the Low Punch can then be a welcome challenge.

Jason Yeung, a native of Hong Kong, resides in Los Angeles, California,
where he works as an engineer.

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