Learning the Apps

I first started formally learning taiji through a university setting. As such, the program was provided as a ‘physical education elective’ with a high emphasis on doing taiji for health. The class primarily focused on learning the forms. You learned the 24 form, then proceeded to the 48 form, eventually learning the 32 sword. Some times, I would stick around after class and ask the instructor about various applications and how they applied, and he would show some high level ones. Not too much formal training in applications but a little taste.

During this time, I would often head back to my hometown over summers to train with my wushu instructor. He tried to teach me taiji before, but I wouldn’t have it as I felt it was too boring compared to all the wushu stuff I was learning. But this summer, it was different as he knew I was training in taiji.

In between class, my wushu instructor saw I was working on the last section of the 48 form. He came over and said, “Not bad, now punch.” So I proceeded to punch him. Let me sidetrack a bit, in my wushu training, my instructor believed we would not truly learn to block unless we knew we could get hurt. So when he said punch, this really meant to punch. Of course, I don’t attack with 100% power but probably around 65% or so, enough that if you get hit, you’re gonna feel it. Ok.. so I punched and then he said, “attack, again, again”. Basically, he was telling me to just attack him with whatever I felt was good at the time, whether it be a kick, punch, backfist, whatever.

This went on for a bit until I realized he was doing the movements from the third section of the 48 form to counter my attacks! Since I knew the form, I tried to attack in such a way that it would be impossible for him to get off the next move, but for some reason, it didn’t work! I knew ‘snake creeps down’ was often done as a sweep under to someone kicks so I punched when I knew that move was next. He just stepped to the side and did a shoulder bump, still following the sequence of the movement!  Later, during the formal taiji class, he had us work on various applications for part wild horses mane. He showed how it could be used as an arm bar, shoulder bump, striking attack, etc etc.

Fast forward a bit and I’m at a new school. This new school offered various styles of instruction (taiji, xingyi, bagua, liuhebafa, mantis, etc).  After some time at the new school, I noticed one thing in common. After learning the choreography of the form, they would then break each form down and train the apps via 2-person drills! The taiji style had a whole separate class for push hands training and 2 person sanshou form.

For example, in the liuhebafa class, each student would learn the choreography to the 12 animals of liuhebafa. After that, each animal would then be trained with their applications. Perhaps a class spent on the application for each animal. We’d try to see how the application worked given the choreography of the form. This was quite an eye opener as it really demonstrated where various ‘sinking’ energies were required and the role of unified body movement came into play to effectively pull off the app. For example, in the Dragon form, there’s a downward sinking action done. If the application for this movement was attempted using isolated arm movement, it was almost impossible to pull off on a semi-resistant opponent. However, if the whole body sunk in conjunction with the ‘closing’ of the back, this was quite easy to do and required very little effort in terms of arm movement.

A similar thing was done in the Swimming Dragon Bagua class. After learning the form, each movement would be trained with their martial applications. We were exposed to all the qinna and throws found within the form. Again, quite eye opening and very enlightening.

Even to this day, when I practice the sets where I trained the apps, I notice a distinctly different ‘vibe’ while doing the form. We’ve often heard that when doing the form we should imagine and opponent, yet when fighting we should imagine we’re playing the form. How is this possible if a simple application is not shown for a particular movement?

Perhaps we should just ignore applications all together an just train the energies, right?  I’ve been doing this method for a bit of time and I admit there are still some movements in the form that I have no idea what they are for. I just kinda do the movement thinking about my qi path. Is this building the correct intention?

For me, I happen to believe there’s something special about the forms. They were developed in a particular ordering and sequence for a reason. They are not just one-off applications here or there that just-so-happen to flow into this next move that may or may not having a ‘linking’ application.

This idea of linking applications is what really impressed me when I first saw form application clips provided by Chen Zhonghua. It impressed me enough that I tested it out and was able to successfully pull off the application with little to no effort (Experience with 6 Sealings 4 Closing Application)!  I noticed a similar coverage of linking applications in my review of the Yang Long Form DVD.  This coverage of linking applications within forms gives me hope and belief about the ‘genius’ of the set. Much thought went into the development of the set, not just from an aesthetic, beautiful choreography perspective but from a martial effectiveness mindset. After all, we’ve all read stories about how taiji was developed after observing a fight between a snake and a crane.

Another legend states that Zhang Sanfeng watched a crane fighting a snake. Even though the crane tried to spear the snake with its beak, the snake was so flexible that it could not be speared. From this, Zhang realized that softness and flexibility can overcome strength and created a martial art.

— Source: http://members.fortunecity.com/chentaiji8/history.html

Also, in Hong Junsheng’s book, he notes Chen Fake telling him that all movements in the form serve a purpose and no movement is wasted.  If we consider taiji to be a martial art, I would expect each movement to have a martial function and relevance. Is this asking for too much?

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About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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9 Responses to Learning the Apps

  1. chenquestion says:

    My attitude as a beginner is: know about the apps, but don’t try to manifest them. Not knowing them is not good; but trying to “play fighting” works against good form (for me at least). But then, to pursue Chen I’ve had to tone down or remove anything that smacks of fa-jing, leaping into the air, or even too-low stance and too-long step. In other words, to avoid breaking the thread, I made my Chen more resemble Yang.

    I don’t know much about Yang apps, mostly thru Doc Fai-Wong and I consider that a bit questionable. But what with the increased emphasis on the mental/energetic side of things, Yang fighting seems pretty fascinating. Thanks for more good writings on your broad experience in Taiji!

  2. wujimon says:

    Hi CQ:
    I agree with your thoughts about having an understanding of the apps. However, what’s a better way to test ‘body connection’ than trying to do the app with whole body movement?? πŸ™‚

  3. chenquestion says:

    That’s a good point, WM! I can’t say I’ve never tried to do applications-related moves; and they are kind of an acid test, right? But like the jungle-cat leap turns, I know what happens next when I try to continue with the next form!

    Still it’s good to know about lots of applications so that as the hands (especially) go here and there, one has a notion of what they could do application-wise.

    I’m always glad when applications info/discussion appears on the Web – ’cause it seems to be one of the secret-er sides of TJQ sometimes…

  4. zenmindsword says:

    you can breakdown a movement and say well that’s an application. in yang style you know what single whip is used for and what lift hands is used for. its obvious. but why is the transition from single whip to lift hands performed the way it is? what is its application?

    the problem i see in learning single applications is you get a snapshot of a particular section of the picture. the beauty in learning applications within push hands is you get a panoramic view. maybe the single whip application is not what you think after all. but then maybe it is. but then within the dynamics of a live exchange you start to gain an insight into what the transition between single whip and lift hands is used for.

    so maybe things don’t look so straight forward after all. it just appears to be. that’s why depending on how one performs the form different applications can come out. my student does the transition from lift hands to white crane spreads wings with an obvious shoulder stroke and i always say wrong! he would say but should not there be an obvious “shoulder” stroke? and i would say since when does the term “kao” means “shoulder”? so he has an application in mind based on his understanding of what he thought “kao” means. i brought up an entire range of possible applications based on the fact that “kao” does not necessarily mean “shoulder stroke” and the funny thing is his grasp of Chinese is better than mine πŸ™‚ could it be a case of us being mislead by the bad English translations that have been floating around that we failed to see the meaning of the original Chinese term as it is?

    anyway some food for thought…………..

  5. wujimon says:

    @CQ:
    I think knowing *some* applications is good to get an *idea* for a particular move. As I outlined, I think it could help to build some intent for an otherwise, pretty-looking-what-am-I-doing movement.

    @ZMS:
    What you bring up is what I really like about looking at these kind of things. Where’s the application in the transition? I’ve often been told the *real* applications happen within the transitions between postures. This is why practicing transitions between movements is so crucial instead of primarily training fixed posture holding.

    I agree that learning applications within the context of push hands would be a better way to train than just training the fixed ‘one-step-punch’ apps. This is how we did it back in my wushu days. We’d learn the fixed app and then the teacher would have us try to incorporate that app within a ‘wushu push hands drill’ that we did. This was very difficult, but at the same time very eye-opening.

    This type of training teaches one how to link techniques. Being nimble, flexible and able to adapt to constantly changing situations.

    I admit that I also fall victim to performing the transition between lift hands and crane spreads wings with the shoulder stroke application. This was brought out when I trained in Yang under the TT Liang camp as they emphasize this in their form execution. Ever since then, it has stuck with me.

    But you’re right, I can think of this transition to include a possible block and throw (with the right hand) or even block transitioning to an armbar, or even a sweeping leg technique. This is by breaking the transition down into it’s components. We can begin the transition with a downward energy that changes to a sweeping or overhead energy. Many applications can be brought out if we consider it from an energetic perspective.

    Wow.. thanks for sparking the thought! I don’t know if I’m right but it’s caused the wheels to turn πŸ™‚

  6. zenmindsword says:

    hey wujimon, this XP and Explorer is making me mad. i typed a comment, hit the button and ERROR. now i have forgotten what i typed. think i’ll have to ask you about resolving my internet problem.

    anyway, the way i see it is that fixed posture is the end of the application. the transition are the movements that gets you to the fixed posture. so in that sense the transition is more important than the fixed pose. in that sense i never believe is training zhanzhuang because zhanzhuang can give you strength but its a static type of strength. what you really want is a dynamic strength – one that is there during applications – so form is a good way to learn how to move the strength throughout – storing, releasing, storing, releasing. borrowing, giving back, borrowing, giving back.

    drills is to bring the lessons of the form to a dynamic but controlled situation. can you translate the lessons of the transitions to a dynamic exchange? what are the obvious lessons, the implied lessons, the hidden lessons?

    like i pointed out in my post its ironic that even CMC does not pose the shoulder stroke. i’ll have to check out his video to see if he actually does it.

    and of course kao has certain important strategic lessons in applying techniques and overcoming a stronger force. i’ll leave this to when i get continue writing the other parts on this topic.

  7. wujimon says:

    Hey ZMS. Great point on form training dynamic strength! This is something I’ve questioned from time to time. More specifically, I’ve often questioned why so much attention is paid to correcting static postures in chen, at least from my experience.

    While correcting static posture is good, I’ve only received corrections on transitions a handful of times and of these times, they’ve come out of a different chen line than I currently focus on.

  8. Taijiquan in Tampa says:

    I really enjoyed the article and the comments here. I’m coming back from a four year hiatus from training, and teaching a small class of beginners as I work on my own basics and try to heal a leg injury. My teacher always showed the applications and had us do push hands, although maybe not as much as some of you here have.

    For beginners, I have been thinking that push hands should wait until they atleast have 24-step in reasonable shape. Do you agree?

    Thanks from Tampa

  9. wujimon says:

    Hi Taiji@Tampa:
    There are 2 schools of thought on the topic of push hands. Either start it right away from the get go (ala Dong Family Taiji) or train it as a more ‘advanced’ topic.

    Personally, for me, I think it’s best to cater to the individual instead of trying to please the group. In a more learning and informal environment, I’d probably wait until at least half of the 24 step is done and show the basic push hands pattern to get a feel for how the class likes it. Then just take it by ear. Maybe do forms with 5 mins of push hands at the end ‘for fun’ πŸ™‚ That’s probably how I would do it.

    Welcome back to taiji πŸ™‚

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