What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

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What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Michael » Mon May 30, 2011 1:25 pm

Regardless of style, I find it useful to periodically ask this question: What is distinctive about your martial art? What makes Taijiquan (or Yangjia Taijiquan, specifically) different from other martial arts?

I say "periodically" because we are all students, and our understanding changes over time. I have never practiced Taiji, so I'm interested in this question as an outsider. I would like to see what Taiji practitioners value about their art. It seems to me that there is no one better to ask why an art is special than those people who went out of their way to become students. This is also a good critical thinking exercise.

Any thoughts? As an outsider, it seems to me that one distinctive feature of Taijiquan might be its heavy emphasis on the long-term results over short-term results. This is partly speculation, so I'm not married to this idea.
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Linda Heenan » Sat Jun 04, 2011 5:32 pm

Taijiquan is distinctive from most martial arts in that it trains a person to strengthen and make use of their ligaments bones, mind and breath, rather than muscles. It brings energy for every strike through a rooted leg, using the whole body as a tool to power it. Of course, many students tend to use their muscles anyway, but this is not correct. Yangjia Michuan is distinctive from other schools of taijiquan because is functions from a rear foot weighting. There are numerous individual differents in movements with similar names, from other systems, but this is probably the main one.
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Michael » Mon Jun 13, 2011 2:34 am

Linda Heenan wrote:Taijiquan is distinctive from most martial arts in that it trains a person to strengthen and make use of their ligaments bones, mind and breath, rather than muscles. It brings energy for every strike through a rooted leg, using the whole body as a tool to power it. Of course, many students tend to use their muscles anyway, but this is not correct. Yangjia Michuan is distinctive from other schools of taijiquan because is functions from a rear foot weighting. There are numerous individual differents in movements with similar names, from other systems, but this is probably the main one.
So do you think that most martial arts rely primarily on the muscles? Do you differentiate between strength as applied by muscles vs. general body tension? I ask because I am currently studying Wing Chun at a school which uses a lot of exercises from Taiji and we end up "connecting" the body using very specific body tension. This is still using the muscles, but not in the same way that pushing someone with your arms is using the muscles.
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Linda Heenan » Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:00 am

I'm certainly no expert and have only studied taijiquan. I'm repeating what I've been taught to say that taijiquan is recognised as an internal martial art while many others are external. This question now needs input from people who have studied more than one art.
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Michael » Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:27 am

Linda Heenan wrote:I'm certainly no expert and have only studied taijiquan. I'm repeating what I've been taught to say that taijiquan is recognised as an internal martial art while many others are external. This question now needs input from people who have studied more than one art.
Well yes, it's always in comparison to other arts. A distinctive feature is an unusual feature(or combination of features).

I don't think the "internal" label is a useful one. It's very difficult to get people to actually define what they mean by this, and when you get down to it, most of the qualities of "internal" and "external" martial arts exist in either category. It's really only a useful category when it comes to extremes. Also, the origins of the internal/external division are themselves questionable. Tang Hao and Stanley Henning have written about this, and it's been mentioned elsewhere on this forum.
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Mon Jun 13, 2011 3:31 pm

Michael wrote:What is distinctive about your martial art? What makes Taijiquan different from other martial arts?
the first thing that comes to mind is the working philosophy of taijiquan as i was taught it is embodied in the name itself
not that this is itself a distinction, rather i mean to share that the philosophy of the martial art, the quan of taiji, so to speak is itself unique.

For this reason the opponent is not an opponent, they are a duifang, an opposing energy. Consider a parry, it is most effective in relation to specific angles and lines, one for example cannot deflect a force without adding (or removing) kinetic force in relation to the direction of the force. This is employed in Wing Chun and taiji as well as numerous other martial arts. Taiji embodies this attitude in a systematic manner.

Consider a basic motion, no matter what the motion there is a place of direction where energy is projected, this also creates an empty space of energy where energy is drawn from. All motion can actually be categorically considered according to the two primary and reciprocal forces of full and empty.

Taiji employs this knowledge as a system along with a directional aspect of 5 element cycles,

from full and empty arise movements comprised of full and empty aspects in a systematic manner giving rise to 8 basic energies, which in concert with the 5 directional aspects form the 13 postures which are the essence of taiji. There is some confusion about the postures themselves as that there are formal postures, however the 8 energies are not actually specific moves and can be put into any weapon, needless to say shoulder and elbow contain the energies, but the energies are not the moves themselves and can thus can be expressed with a weapon like a club, a spear or a sword without employing the shoulder or elbow. Likewise the energies can be used together in limitless ways, a formal posture of ward off can express a different energy than the one it represents in the teachings, however the formal postures tend to be taught containing the proper energies for each posture with some exceptions.

the 8 energies are basically 4 sets of two reciprocal energies and can be represented as follows:
000-111
010-101
001-110
100-011
the direction aspects are teachings of angles and reciprocal energies that are employed with the energy sets
There is move forward, move backward, move left, move right and center, these motions are not only steps but are inherent to all motion energies and apply in all directions. On simple way to consider this is that the moves are set up so that forces employed compliment the force received and do not oppose them directly.

The body itself is employed in the martial art as a single unit, this requires a particular emphasis upon motion, posture and energy aspects and gives rise to specific rules, which can be considered in terms of physics, about the use of the body and motion in response to the duifang.

Taiji shares a great deal with many other martial arts, but is in and of itself unique. It contains a philosophy, a strategy even, as well as an advanced understanding of physical principals of motion. It is more of a martial science than a martial art. It is in proper transmission an incredible system that is totally unique and deceptively brilliant.

some of the uniqueness of taiji can be found in specific teachings:
Once in motion, every part of the body is light and agile and must be
threaded together.
Qi should be full and stimulated, Shen (Spirit) should be retained internally.
No part should be defective, no part should be deficient or excessive,
no part should be disconnected.
The root is at the feet, (Jin is) generated from the legs, controlled by the waist
and expressed by the fingers. From the feet to the legs to the waist must
be integrated, and one unified Qi. When moving forward or backward, you
can catch the opportunity and gain the superior position.
If you fail to catch the opportunity and gain the superior position, your mind is
scattered and your body is disordered. To solve this problem, you must
look to the waist and legs.
Up and down, forward and backward, left and right, it's all the same.
All of this is done with the Yi (Mind), not externally.
f there is a top, there is a bottom; if there is a front, there is a back; if there is
a left, there is a right. If Yi (mind) wants to go upward, this implies considering
downward. (This means) if (you) want to lift and defeat an opponent, you must
first consider his root. When the opponent's root is broken, he will inevitably be
defeated quickly and certainly.
Substantial and insubstantial must be clearly distinguished. Every part
(of the body) has a substantial and insubstantial aspect. The entire body
and all the joints should be threaded together without the slightest break.
What is Long Fist? (It is) like a long river and a large ocean, rolling
ceaselessly.
It should be noted that the way the mind is used in taiji is itself distinctive and unlike other martial arts.

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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Michael » Mon Jun 13, 2011 11:50 pm

JHepworthYoung, it seems to be that most of what you have described is a method of organizing Taiji knowledge. For example, you mention 4 directions of motion, plus center. Other arts might choose to divide up motion into 8 directions, or 16 directions, etc. Likewise, while you could divide "energy" into binary states of emptiness and fullness, you could also quite easily divide it into trinary states of positive, neutral, and negative. A lot of organizational schemes, while useful and important, are arbitrary to some degree. I like to look at them as tools to facilitate understanding,

My question for you is this: To what degree do you think these organizational schemes actually are Taiji, and to what degree do you think they're just teaching tools to help us understand Taiji? Do you think that the same things could be accomplished with different methods of organization? If so, are these methods still representative of Taiji?
J HepworthYoung wrote: It should be noted that the way the mind is used in taiji is itself distinctive and unlike other martial arts.
Can you elaborate?
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Tue Jun 14, 2011 1:47 pm

it seems to be that most of what you have described is a method of organizing Taiji knowledge. For example, you mention 4 directions of motion, plus center.
I am not the best at relating this. This is not knowledge organization without application, the 5 motion aspects are application oriented. No other way of representing the applications would be taiji.
Do you think that the same things could be accomplished with different methods of organization?
Not whatsoever.
Let me explain with the 5 movements:
forward=metal
backward=wood
left=water
right=fire
center=earth
this provides application information and is more than a system of organization
if you consider the teachings, this is not an organizational scheme of motion into quadrants, it is the same in all manners, a move towards up or down has the same dynamic aspects.
let me explain further:
one would not use wood to deal with metal, in this way one does not answer forward energy with backwards energy, nor would one use metal to deal with metal. One would use fire answer metal, in this way motion/energy left responds in a dominant way to forward motion. This described a way to encounter and deal with energies in a manner that is not about quadrants, for example motion upwards in a vertical plane is the same as forwards or backwards, depending upon your dynamic relationship to it.

Imagine pushing forward on a surface and having that surface move perpendicular to the plane of your force. This can easily be done with materials around the house.


As for the energies, it is harder to explain without demonstrating it in person. As you mention trinary states let me address that, to recognize trinity states there must be an initial binary basis. Neutral is for example the balance of positive and negative forces and not something independent of this. For this reason neutralization can be had through dynamic reciprocity. Binary forces are actually singularities divided in a polar manner, there is for example in binary code only one value, this is on, the other so called value is the absence of value, off.

the concept of the energies is more than an organizational schema, it is an operational schema. To try and present the same material in a different manner is a lot like explaining color to a blind person.

Consider the word Taiji-quan
quan means system/martial art
taiji refers to wuji, taiji and the bagua as they relate to eachother.
The system of the employment and operation of this knowledge is taiji-quan.

in terms of the mind, It is much harder to explain.
It has to do with intent, the intent of your mind affects your energy.
The 13 postures are not only physical, they are correlative to the psyche, because in thought and awareness the mind itself moves.
One can for example move the mind to the thumb, so to speak. To focus is to ignore that outside of the domain of focus. To unite the body as a single unit depends as much on the mind as it does the body. The awareness must not be differentiated in and of itself.

Have you ever been poked by something or someone in an area where you are ticklish and not been tickled? there is often an intent behind tickling that can turn a touch into a tickle, regardless of where it lands on the body. In this same way the entire body has potential as an erogenous zone, the difference of touch is in the mind energy intent, for the energy follows the mind. When someone touches another with an intent to harm it is similar. The nerves go both ways, the mind sends energy to the body just like the body sends energy to the mind.

Wuji and taiji are mental/physical/spiritual states. In this sense spirit is more like mood, so one could say mind/body/mood, all three relate to eachother but are not eachother, mind affects body and mood for example, and so on and so forth.

Taijiquan trains the mind, the body and the mood, so to speak, in the 13 postures, which are actually infinite in application. This is important to understand in a manner, because understanding this does nothing, one must practice this and if the mind is thinking about it when one practices then it is not employing the 13 postures. This seems impossible to explain in a meaningful way, but I can say one cannot think and employ taijiquan at the same time. The same physical postures without the right mental and mood aspects are empty. For this reason good taiji is best felt, but the eye cannot detect it. The eye can detect good form and stance, but cannot detect the energy.

Taijiquan also capitalizes (so to speak) upon the mind/mood of the duifang. A mental disconnect or distraction is the same as a physical mistake, most martial arts employ some form of this, but taiji is rather interesting in its employment of this. A person may have the right posture or guard and then if distracted for a fraction of a second it does them no good and one can attack them right through their guard.

In terms of movement physics taiji is also efficient, consider a rotation of a limb, a small motion at the fulcrum is carried to a larger arc with increased speed, the arrival of the entire limb occurs at the same time, the larger arc arrives as the inner portion does. The larger path of the motion takes no more time to occur than the inner path of the motion, despite covering a greater distance. It is a common misconception in some martial arts that a more compact move is faster, or that a linear move is faster or more efficient than an arc, nothing could be further from the truth. in proper motion a compact move is neither faster nor slower than the larger version, to illustrate this take a thin pole and spin it, does the end of the spinning pole arrive later than the center part?

Now try to move the pole in a linear manner without having any arcing motions in your body. All linear pathways are articulated through circular movements. this is quite true for the punches employed in Wing Chun. When properly understood and executed taiji has one of the greatest economies of movement of any martial art. I have had training in Wing Chun by the way and think highly of it but personally find taiji to no less effective or efficient. I can say that from the perspective of an outsider, trying to understand taiji from information and testimony about it is like trying to learn what the color blue is like if you are and have always been blind. Taiji and Wing Chun are mutually exclusive in terms of motion and energy, despite having many things in common.

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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Jun 15, 2011 12:37 pm

Josh,

While I generally like what you have written, and it is obvious that you have given a lot of thought to this, I want to point out a few things that you may want to think about clarifying or refining.

First, while I was taught the same five phases correlations that you list (i.e. “forward=metal”...), some traditional authors of Taijiquan have differing associations. One of Jang Jwing-Ming’s books, if I remember correctly, cites three different arrangements from various Taijiquan literature (e.g. one giving advance/forward = fire, etc.). I do not really think that this specifically invalidates what you wrote since it is the relationships between the five phases that is important rather than the specific phase that is assigned to the specific action/energy. But it does lend support to the idea that the Taijiquan philosophy is somewhat arbitrary, and that other ways of arranging the concepts may also be valid!

Second, I think that your spinning pole analogy may need to be reexamined, if I understand it correctly. While a pole of a given length will have a point close to the spinning axis travel at the same rate as a peripheral point, it is also true that a smaller pole will spin faster than a longer one. This would be nicely illustrated by an ice skater spinning with their arms tucked close to their body which produces a fast spin, whereas extending out the arms slows the spin down!

DP

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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by taiwandeutscher » Wed Jun 15, 2011 7:52 pm

[quote="Dan Pasek"]

....

First, while I was taught the same five phases correlations that you list (i.e. “forward=metal”...), some traditional authors of Taijiquan have differing associations. One of Jang Jwing-Ming’s books, if I remember correctly, cites three different arrangements from various Taijiquan literature (e.g. one giving advance/forward = fire, etc.). I do not really think that this specifically invalidates what you wrote since it is the relationships between the five phases that is important rather than the specific phase that is assigned to the specific action/energy. But it does lend support to the idea that the Taijiquan philosophy is somewhat arbitrary, and that other ways of arranging the concepts may also be valid!

....
DP[/quote]

Yes, that is very true, as I have found out in yrs of research on Taijiquan and it's philosophical/medical background. Fact is that those traditional theories out of old Chinese philosophy or Chinese traditional medicine (not trad. Chin. medicine, which is the modern stuff out of PRC) are different from what a lot of Taijiquan teachers advocate. Maybe the uneducated elders of the art just didn't really understand? And my late teacher, quoted in Yang's work as giving a different arrangement, has strictly adopted theories out of his medical background in a rather academic way, avoiding the stubborn copying of older mistakes?!

At the end, I think the often unlogical theroetical concepts put onto TJQ later in it's developement, are not the most important distinctive part of the art. It is the quality of movement, the way it deals with movement of oneself and a duifang in time and space.
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:18 pm

Dan Pasek wrote: First, while I was taught the same five phases correlations that you list (i.e. “forward=metal”...), some traditional authors of Taijiquan have differing associations. One of Jang Jwing-Ming’s books, if I remember correctly, cites three different arrangements from various Taijiquan literature (e.g. one giving advance/forward = fire, etc.). I do not really think that this specifically invalidates what you wrote since it is the relationships between the five phases that is important rather than the specific phase that is assigned to the specific action/energy. But it does lend support to the idea that the Taijiquan philosophy is somewhat arbitrary, and that other ways of arranging the concepts may also be valid!
A lot of diversity has arisen due to peoples personal revisions and subsequent publication of their revised versions. While this might be interpreted as indicating an arbitrary content this can also be seen as re-interpretation relating to altered and incomplete transmissions. I was taught very strict information and told that there were many corrupted versions of it out there.
And my late teacher, quoted in Yang's work as giving a different arrangement, has strictly adopted theories out of his medical background in a rather academic way, avoiding the stubborn copying of older mistakes?!
this is a good example of this, this teacher thought he could improve upon the information and chose to modify it, believing the old teachings to be mistakes. I find this to be absurd. Personally I do not support this type of revision, to me it is like saying that blue will now be red and red will now be blue, because it makes more sense to me. Maybe I will re-arrange the number system and make 4 mean 3, so it will now go 1,2,4 and one can say now that the order and meaning of the numbers is arbitrary because multiple versions of the number system exist. To me the application and motion aspects of taiji have a direct and logical relationship to the teachings and the two cannot be had without eachother. I do think that there is a lot of Taiji-like martial arts linneages passing along the name of taiji, sort of like how there are a lot of sword like objects for sale online being called swords.

This would be nicely illustrated by an ice skater spinning with their arms tucked close to their body which produces a fast spin, whereas extending out the arms slows the spin down!
This is a good example. It does not actually mean a smaller body spins faster, nor that a larger body spins slower, it does however demonstrate that in the action of spinning a contraction towards the fulcrum increases the rate of spin, and the reverse slows it. As you well know this has applications in taiji and many other martial arts, most notably Judo, and it a matter of leverage and torque. The action of altering the diameter of the spinning body has a direct impact on the rate of spin there is no doubt, this dynamic example does not however illustrate that a smaller circle spins faster, but in general a smaller circle has greater torque as is well known in regard to how to deflect using a sword, employing the third near the guard as opposed to the portion near the tip, because of the leverage aspects.

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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:28 pm

one can think of the relationship of taiji-teachings to its function as the relationship of the written word to speaking
some people are more concerned with speaking only and don't care to read or write, some people read and write a language they do not speak
some people write, read and speak well

sometimes the same charachters are used to represent more than one spoken language, sometimes a single spoken language can be written in more than one way, however this does not indicate that writing is arbitrary in relationship to the language. I find that a lot of revision or so called correction arises because of arrogance and misunderstanding.

the language of taiji itself is unique, though it has some aspects in common with other related languages.

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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Michael » Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:42 pm

J HepworthYoung wrote:Where are you located in the world?
I was in Beijing when I last responded, but now I'm back in Portland, OR. It's good to be back. I'll be hopping around quite a bit in the near future, though.
J HepworthYoung wrote: Now try to move the pole in a linear manner without having any arcing motions in your body. All linear pathways are articulated through circular movements. this is quite true for the punches employed in Wing Chun.
I was really amused by this. It's not because I disagree, but because it is 100% opposite to a principle taught to me by a former European swordsmanship teacher of mine. He likes to say that all forces are made up of straight vectors, and that only a combination of straight vectors can form a curve. He also advocated the idea that we should focus on producing those straight lines for more effective transfer of force. That doesn't mean that the combination of vectors doesn't produce curves, but those curves happen naturally and not as a result of the martial artist consciously turning. Having practiced like this for several years, I can say that this is an effective way of learning certain types of swordsmanship. I would very much like to put the two of you in a room and let you guys figure it out!

I'd be interested in understanding the rationale behind your side. Are you suggesting that, because the body operates using joints which only operated in hinged and circular motions, all straight body motions are therefore a product of this curved motion of the joints? If you elaborate a little more, I can actually go ask that former teacher and see how these ideas might be reconciled.
J HepworthYoung wrote:This is a good example. It does not actually mean a smaller body spins faster, nor that a larger body spins slower, it does however demonstrate that in the action of spinning a contraction towards the fulcrum increases the rate of spin, and the reverse slows it. As you well know this has applications in taiji and many other martial arts, most notably Judo, and it a matter of leverage and torque. The action of altering the diameter of the spinning body has a direct impact on the rate of spin there is no doubt, this dynamic example does not however illustrate that a smaller circle spins faster, but in general a smaller circle has greater torque as is well known in regard to how to deflect using a sword, employing the third near the guard as opposed to the portion near the tip, because of the leverage aspects.
Very well put. I learned something today!
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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by Dan Pasek » Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:44 pm

J HepworthYoung wrote:I was taught very strict information...
Josh,

I am not so certain that your analogies about numbers or colors are appropriate since the Wuxing is essentially illustrating relationships between the five phases – and when arranged in a star shape the relationships would still apply whichever star-point is pointing to a particular direction [and this relationship aspect would still hold true if the wuxing was arranged in a cross shape].

Were you taught any specifics as to why each ‘direction’ is associated with a specific phase of the wuxing? While I was taught the same correspondences that you were, and I was taught the interactions with the other phases of the wuxing (the other ‘directions’ in Taijiquan), I was never given the rationale behind the correspondences (i.e. why forward=metal rather than, for example, fire; backward=wood; left=water; right=fire; center=earth).

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Re: What is distinctive about Taijiquan?

Post by J HepworthYoung » Thu Jun 16, 2011 5:18 pm

Michael wrote: I'd be interested in understanding the rationale behind your side. Are you suggesting that, because the body operates using joints which only operated in hinged and circular motions, all straight body motions are therefore a product of this curved motion of the joints? If you elaborate a little more, I can actually go ask that former teacher and see how these ideas might be reconciled.
Yes you seem to understand what I am saying. No joint operates in a linear manner, they are all arcing.
A straight line motion takes more articulation than an arcing motion in terms of physiology.
for example hold your hand about a fists with distance from your solar plexus and push it forward in a straight linear line keeping it on the same plane. I am doing this with no shirt right now and can see my shoulder rotating, the wrist in relation to the shoulder makes an angle at the elbow, this angle changes and opens as the hand moves outward. Now hold the elbow in the same place and do not rotate the shoulder and let the forearm descend downward and you can see how the joint of the elbow arcs in a semi-circular manner, of course it does this even when the shoulder rotates and the elbow rises, it must always use the angles it operates at and does so in a circular manner. No motion of the hand for example, be it lifting, sinking extending or retracting, or any combination of them, is linear, rather the circular motions of the joints move in a piston like manner to combine in a linear pathway of motion at the end of the hand.
In nature straight lines do not really exist, when they appear to they are always formed by circles or arcs. About the only exception to this is an object falling towards the attracting body exerting gravity upon it, or an object moving in absence of gravity. A bullet fired in space for example would have a linear pathway.


Dan Pasek wrote: Were you taught any specifics as to why each ‘direction’ is associated with a specific phase of the wuxing?
I was taught that it is their relationship(s) that mattered.
The taiji method is not a 5 pointed star, it is a cross.
Metal defeats wood, so to speak, and is defeated by fire, in terms of motion energies this is key.
If one makes forward fire, then has right been made metal? But in response to backward motion right is not right, so to speak. Forward is right. Now fire controls/defeats metal, does forward defeat right? No, actually right defeats forward. But this is about the relationship of energy and momentum, it is not about a specific plane of directions, so it is the same up or down on any plane of motion. This is a teaching about how the energy of a duifang is defeated. No part of it was made haphazardly or ambiguously. This is hard to understand from abstract concepts but rather easy to demonstrate in person how energies relate to each other in this manner. For the same reason one would not switch the 8 trigrams around in regard to the energies, but there are also poetic aspects in these uses as well, heaven and earth and all that, to change the arrangements would undermine their aptitude and significance, making them arbitrary.

Consider piercing and an association with metal, moving to the side and flowing like water or fire, moving backwards like closing a door and center like solid earth. Earth makes no sense as forward or left, or backwards or right. etc

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