Shi San Shi – Thirteen Methods
I have been sharing my ideas about applications and their role in the enlightening aspects of Tai Chi Chuan for the last few weeks. Understanding applications requires an understanding of the underlying principles that are the basis for our beloved art. This week and next I want to share information about Shi San Shi – the Thirteen Methods of Tai Chi Chuan. It is also sometimes referred to as the Thirteen Postures, but that name seems too static. This is all about how one uses the body, the entire body, in Tai Chi Chuan. Having an understanding of these concepts will aid greatly in your enjoyment of Tai Chi and other internal arts.
Shi San Shi is divided into thirteen methods or skills – eight hand or upper body techniques and five lower body or leg techniques. It is certainly not imperative to have this information. Most people don’t, but it sure adds a great deal of “flavor” to what we cook up with our practice. This week we’ll examine the leg techniques since the legs are the foundation of all Tai Chi skills. Next week we’ll look at the torso and arm skills. I hope you will contemplate this information, and I also hope it will stimulate you to research more about the Shi San Shi.
Note: Tai Chi Chuan was developed as a martial art. It just so happens that it is also a very healthful exercise system. All this information I am sharing this week and next is much more pertinent to Tai Chi Chuan than the exercises that are called Tai Chi, but are really Chi Kung (QiGong) exercises.
Wu means five and bu means step, thus wubu means the five basic stepping techniques. The terms describe techniques as they would relate to an opponent or partner, not just random steps in a solo form. The five methods are: Jin or step forward; Tui or step backward; Gu or gaze (or look) left; Pan or look right; and Ding or central equilibrium.
I compare the Tai Chi body is to a horse and a rider. The lower body is the horse and the upper body is the rider. The horse moves the rider from place to place so the rider can perform tasks or techniques that are necessary to maintain harmony. The horse must be firm, supportive, balanced, and responsive to the wishes of the rider. There are many more techniques done with the legs besides the stepping: sweeps, kicks, stomps, trips, knee techniques, etc. But we are examining the wubu or stepping in this discussion. Remember, you only move the body in Tai Chi to get into a more favorable position in relation to the partner.
Another analogy that works for our discussion is the concept of doors and windows. When working with a partner, or using your mind to imagine a partner, we use the idea of keeping the partner out of our space, and when he is open, we move in to control and counter-attack. The lower body is considered the “doors” and the upper body the “windows”. Most people keep their front door locked and well guarded. Tai Chi contains many techniques to get the partner to open the doors for us so we can easily step in. The front of the body is the main door, What most people don’t realize is that there are also doors on the sides of the “house”, that usually aren’t well guarded. So following with this idea, we use Jin and Tui for the front door, and Gu and Pan for the side doors. Ding is waiting for the partner to open the door by himself – coming out to look for us.
Jin– Step Forward. Yang or advance and attack
This is the most common step. Jin means straight forward and is most commonly be done by shifting straight ahead from Sit Stance to Bow Stance. Another way Jin is used is called Stepping Up. Say the right foot is forward. The left foot is picked up and placed forward of where it was, but still behind the right foot. The weight shifts to the left foot, allowing the right foot now to step forward. Step up is used for keeping the strong side mostly in front for attacking, or mostly in the rear to reserve one’s strength for later use. Examples would be Push or Play the Fiddle.
The Forward Step is performed by changing the forward foot – like in walking. The Brush Knee section is a good example.
Jin is used frequently in Tai Chi, as we want to step in, get our center of gravity under that of our opponent, upset his root, and throw him away. Also remember that first we neutralize (yin) then change to attack (yang). Jin is sometimes compared to the incoming ocean tide.
Tui– Step Backward. Yin or evade and retreat
This is the opposite of Jin. When the partner moves in too close, we move back to keep our distance. If the partner uses Step Forward, we use Step Backward. If he uses Step Up, we use Step Back. Commonly, Tui refers to shifting the body from Bow to Sit Stance. One can also use Tui by stepping back (the opposite of stepping up) – the same foot remains forward. An example would be Raise Hands. Or, one can take a step backward by changing which foot is in front. The forward foot can step back behind the rear foot. An example would be Repulse the Monkey. When the tide pushes in, we retreat back to higher ground.
Note: Both Jin and Tui refer to the central axis (the spine down to the ground) moving in a straight forward or backward direction.
Gu– Gaze (or Look) Left. More Yang than Yin
We pick up movement much better with peripheral vision then by trying to focus on something straight ahead. Since most people are right handed, the right side is usually the stronger side, and able to do more complex movements. Tai Chi movements contain three phases – neutralize, control, and attack. Since a force is headed towards our body, we can pick up the movement more easily by having the head turned slightly to one side and using the peripheral vision to see. Gu also contains a rotation of the body, usually to the right side, gazing left for the initial neutralization, and stepping in a diagonal direction forward to set up the return of the energy.
Gu also refers to pivoting the waist to the left by having the weight on either leg and gazing to the left which turns the waist to the left. Good for neutralize and attack at the same time.
Pan- Look Right. More Yin than Yang
This is the opposite of Gu in that the body pivots to the right. Usually Pan has a retreating quality where Gu has an advancing nature.
Note: Gu and Pan imply stepping sideways and attacking from the flanks. Examples of both are Partition of the Wild Horse’s Mane and Fair Lady Works at Shuttles. Also, in Tai Chi, we are trained to move the body as one unit. For instance, in Look and Gaze, if we need to turn the head, we should not just turn the head. The whole body turns, under the direction of the head (mind). Notice in the Tai Chi expert, the head never moves independently from the body.
Ding– Central Equilibrium. Yin and Yang Balanced
This is the mother of all movement – a stable, balanced stance with the potential to move in any direction quickly and easily for neutralize, or more solidly for attacks. This is a very meditative stance, requiring our “listening skills”, but the root is not sunken deeply into the ground which would interfere with the quick, nimble movements that are required in Tai Chi Chuan. Examples are Commencement, Cross Hands, Conclusion.
It is my desire that the above discussion will get you thinking and integrating these concepts into your practice. Next week we will look at the eight cardinal energies, the “windows”, and how they are different and complimentary.
Note: Please feel free to share these Training Tips in any way that you would like. I just want to get the information out to people who are interested.