Peng and Lu
Even though the legs are the most important aspect of Tai Chi practice and excellence, most players seem to be more familiar with the upper body or torso terms and usage. I received quite a few comments from last weeks post saying the information was quite complex. Yes, of course. Tai Chi Chuan is taking the complex and making it simple in the body and mind. So, take what you can from this discussion, and don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. People spend their whole lives integrating the theory into body movements.
Before I continue with the physical aspects of Peng and Lu, I want to share with you a couple of thoughts that occurred to me about Peng and Lu (Daoist philosophy in action) on the emotional plane.
I just recently lost a very important person in my life. I have, and am, experiencing great sadness. My Tai Chi mind recognizes this as extreme yin – a moving into the safety of the center. Breath shallow with occasional gasps of air. My mind moves to all that I will be missing with this person gone.
At some point recently I realized I needed to change how I viewed and interacted with my feelings. I decided to move from yin to yang. Instead of the yin feelings of sadness, I decided to celebrate all the wonderful years, all the important and meaningful experiences we shared together. This thinking brought me happiness – yang. I smiled and was able to take deep breaths.
So the bottom line is: I couldn’t change the situation, my loss, but I could change how I thought about it, and my thoughts influenced my energy, my ability to interact with the world around me. I offer thanks to Tai Chi and Daoist philosophy, and to all of you, who join with me in celebrating Tai Chi by taking classes, watching the YouTube videos, and reading these tips. It makes my life so rich with purpose. Thank you so much.
Another Peng and Lu example. I was on the wharf, and the tide was in – the bay filled with water. Yang. At some point, the tide will change direction and head back out until it is all the way out – Yin. This is a never ending natural expression of Peng to Lu, Lu to Peng. If we keep our minds open, we will see expressions of this cycle everywhere. Wonder – Full.
Ba means eight and fa means methods – so bafa means the eight skills or techniques of Tai Chi Chuan. They are: Peng (Ward Off) , Lu (Roll Back), Ji (Press), An (Push), Cai (Pull Down), Lieh (Split), Zhou (Elbow), and Kao (Shoulder). Most of you will be familiar with the first four as they comprise the basic sequence known as Grasp the Bird’s Tail. This is fundamental, and that is why this sequence is repeated so often throughout the Long Form. These four are also the building blocks of Push Hands practice and competition. This is a big study, with much that most people aren’t interested in learning. For instance, here are some of the ways to look at Peng.
Method – Peng. Trigram Name – Kan. Direction – North. Attribute – Water. Key Acupoint – Mingmen. Map to Five Elements – Water.
One can make a chart for all the Eight Methods like this if you are interested. For some reason, it isn’t an area that I have devoted much time of study. Some Tai Chi experts say Peng is North, some say South. I don’t know how they figure out which is which, and that is why I leave it to others. Stephanie, one of the Studio instructors loves this area, and she has become quite knowledgeable.
As I started working on the Bafa, I realized how much there is to share, so this week, as I started to write about the Four Cardinal Directions – Peng – (North), Lu – (South), Ji – (East), and An – (West), I realized even this required more space that I had thought, so I’ll share some about Peng and Lu and continue on next week. For this Training Tip, I will do my best to turn you on to some of my thoughts on this most basic material.
I would say that Peng is the most important and basic building block of Tai Chi. Peng is expansive and tends to use this expansion in an upward direction. Pang is a yang energy that contains some yin. To demonstrate this energy, have someone grab you, using their whole arms, from the rear, with your arms enclosed in the hug. First exhale, drawing your mind and chi into your lower belly. Now inhale and allow your mind and body to expand in all directions like a ball being blown up. Don’t fight, or try too hard. Just allow the expansion. See how easily the partner’s arms are opened. This outward directed chi force is called Peng. It is a noun and a verb. It is an action as well as how it is done.
Another example of Peng doesn’t require a partner. Stand with your feet about shoulder width and parallel to each other. Bend your knees, keeping your back straight and the head up. Next, press down into your legs and feet as if pushing the floor away and see what happens? Your head is lifted as your legs push your body upward. This upward expansion is Peng. Now squat down again, slowly. This is Lu. Chi moving downward.
Another example of how the mind controls the flow of chi. Doing the squatting exercise from above, squat down. Imagine you have 100 pounds of weight resting on your shoulders. Really try to imagine this. Now slowly stand up. Notice how much effort you must put into the pressing down into the feet– yin (downward energy) which increases the yang (upward result).
Now, take the weight off, assume the squat, and press into your legs and feet in a very fast, light fashion. What happened? You probably jumped. What did we learn from this exercise? That the mind – what you imagine – controls the chi. And that the more peng you desire, the more yin or lu you must issue for that result. If you stand up straight and try to jump – not much, if anything. The deeper the squat (increase yin), the higher the jump (resulting yang).
Another exercise example. Stand with your arms at your sides. Now bring the arms up to the sides to end about shoulder height. Just do it naturally. That expansion demonstrates peng. It is always there in your body. It gives every cell, every part of the body the expansive quality that allows life to exist. Remember: in proportion, there is more space between each cell of the body than there is between each star in the galaxy. We are mostly space. And this space is composed of peng chi.
Now imagine you have pulleys attached to your wrists from above. Let the pulleys raise your arms. No effort – it just happens. Feel the result. Now attach weights to the bottoms of the wrists – enough to make you work to raise the arms. Any difference? Another example of the mind influencing the chi which controls the internal movement.
Peng is there in every movement. Even when doing a yin move, like Lu (Roll Back) you must have Peng to maintain the shape of the torso and arms so the partner can’t force his way into your center. Also, you need to connect with the partner, which requires meeting his force with peng energy so he can’t escape the connection. Using the ball analogy, when you push on a deflated ball you can control it easily, but if the ball is inflated, it is hard to stop its movement when pushed. It will just roll away. So even though we retreat (yin) we maintain a certain amount of yang (peng) to keep the shape.
Lu has the quality of withdrawing back to the safety of one’s center. We want to keep the partner away from our center so, as they attack our center, we retreat and turn, and at the same time, we out reach in order to join with the incoming energy, listen to its intensity and direction, and lead it into emptiness. Virtually all Tai Chi movements contain first a yin or retreat followed by a yang or advance. There is no movement in Tai Chi Chuan that I can think of that doesn’t first have a yin aspect followed by a yang.
Yet, even this yin retreat, starts with a yang outreach for initial connection. This outreach is what I call “small yang”, just enough to get the hand up, join with the partner, sense the amount of force, and decide what to do.
There are three possible yin reactions to a yang force headed our way if we are standing with a natural stance with the feet shoulder width apart and parallel. First, when the energy heads our way we, due to the fact that we have superior strength and technique, just smash ahead first and over power his attack. Not a great Tai Chi move.
The second, if the partner strikes or pushes towards our center with his hand, either right or left, we out reach and neutralize. This is done in one of two ways. As the energy comes in, I can shift the weight to the right foot, pivoting to the right heel, turning the waist to the right and step forward with the left foot, sealing his retreat or setting up a trap for his probable withdraw. This is yang following yin. Yielding right – yin. Advance left – yang.
The third way is, when the incoming energy moves towards my center, I shift the weight to the left leg, allow my right foot to step backward, and neutralize his energy to the right side. This is yin follows yin. We can add yang by adding to the retreat with a throwing technique. This example is true for both sides of the body.
This illustrates the three central axis of torso turning. One is central. With the weight on both feet, as the force come in, just turn with it while keeping the weight on both feet. Generally speaking, if the push comes from the partner’s right arm, we turn to our right, and if he uses his left arm, we turn to the left. This is so we can keep him closed up while we are open to counter attack. The central axis goes from the top of the head down the spine, and to the ground between the two legs.
Two, when the force comes in, we shift the weight to the right foot pivoting on the heel, and turn right. This is right axis. Right axis is from the top of the head, thorough the torso, down the right leg, to the ground. And third, as the force comes in, we shift to the left foot, creating the left axis from the top of the head down the left leg to the ground, turn the torso the the right, and step back with the right foot. We have all three examples of axis in our Yang Style form. See if you can discover them during a practice session.
Note: If I were a student of Tai Chi, I would create a folder on my computer and move all these tips into them each week. You will end up with a very interesting, and I hope, insightful book of ideas and training tips about Tai Chi Chuan. I do have all the past posts up on my web site, but you never know when they might disappear.
First Saturday Workshop – May 4, 1 to 4 PM – Studio Push Hands – $30
This workshop will focus on what I call “Studio Push Hands”. We will work on simple partner energy exchange exercises that illustrate Peng, Lu, Ji, and An. Depending upon time, we will start with single hand (each person uses one hand), and move into four hands (each person uses two hands). If you haven’t had push hands experience, this will change your solo form, bringing inner reality. If all goes according to plans, we will continue this study for several months. See you there. One needs some Tai Chi experience. You don’t need to have finished the form. Any style is fine.