by Dr. Mei Ying Sheng, Si Chuan Province, China Translated by Ted W. Knecht, Shen Zhen, China
The Single Whip posture of Yang style Taijiquan has a historical record of three generations. Among the large frame postures as standardized by the late Yang Cheng Fu, Single Whip is one of the most precious postures characterizing the basics of Yang style Taijiquan. Because of Single Whip importance within the Yang style, it appears numerous times within the traditional 108 posture routine.
The 37 postures of Yang style Taijiquan, including the Single Whip posture, have their own applicable fighting techniques and artistic structure. To illustrated this point, an example of Single Whip’s martial application is as follows: Should an opponent use a palm or fist to attach toward my face, a hook hand can be used to counter by dissolving the strike to the right side. At the same time, I would advance a step forward allowing the internal energy (jin), generated by the stance, to issue from the right heel through the right leg, up the spine into the left arm and finally out the palm in a relaxed, flexible whipping motion to strike the opponent. This exemplifies the physiological phenomena in which the root is in the heel, the power is issued through the legs, generated in the waist, and shaped in the hands. From the view point of the overall mechanics of the posture, one can see how the origin of the name, Single Whip, was created.
The Single Whip posture as illustrated in figure 22 has been copied from Master Fu Zhong Wen book entitled Yang style Taijiquan which was originally extracted from the drawings of Yang Cheng Fu in the book, Comprehensive Volume of Taijiquan Uses. As shown in the drawing, the toes of the left foot point to the east with the lower part of the leg vertical to the ground (knee above the heel). The right leg is naturally straight. The toes of the right foot point to the south with the foot turned in ten degrees (both feet form an 80 degree angle). The upper body faces due south. The feet are planted flat on the ground to allow the internal energy to spiral into the ground. The hips are relaxed and the groin is rounded to form a left side bow stance. Using this correct tance as a basis of the Single Whip posture, the left wrist is dropped at shoulder height with an erect palm. The right wrist is curved upward slightly higher than the shoulders with the hand forming a hook. Both elbows are sunk downward with the joints relaxed and open. The arms are outspread to the left and right. Looking from the front view, the hands are equal distance from the center line of the body.
Because of the balanced nature of the entire posture, structurally, it is very stable and firm; and artistically, it is very beautiful and appealing to the eyes. If force was applied to the left palm of the Single Whip posture of Yang Cheng Fu, the route in which the force travels is from the left arm and shoulder down the spine into the right leg and into the heel of the right foot. If one were to look from above, the force would travel through the body in a straight line. A Chinese proverb states that a thousand pounds can not break a straight piece of wood. This suggests the stability and strength of the Single Whip posture.
The following discussion will examine the “Single Whip” posture performed by Yang Cheng Fu as compared to the various stationary postures of more recently developed Taijiquan routines (refer to the following drawings as examples of these recently developed Yang style Single Whip postures). There are three apparent differences between the “Single Whip” of the more recently developed routines and that of Yang Cheng Fu:
1) The toes of the right foot are turned in too much of an angle causing tension in the muscles of the groin and hip areas. This will subsequently cause the muscles, joints, and tendons of the lower body to loose it’s relaxed and natural state.
2) The directions of the left arm and left leg as compared to the right arm and right leg are quite different; and the upper and lower relationship of the arms and legs are not uniform. The stationary Single Whip posture must conform to the six harmony relationship in which the hands and feet, elbows and knees, and shoulders and hips must be vertically in line with each other; if this relationship does not exist, there will be a lose in the balance of the left and right sides of the body.
In Yang Cheng Fu’s Single Whip posture there is also an alignment with the left fingers, the toes of the left foot, and the nose to form a triangle pattern. This conforms to the basic requirements of the methods of the hands, eyes, body, and legs. Throughout the history of Yang style, those who have studied Yang style Taijiquan have followed these basic essentials.
3) Due to the turn to the left in the upper body, the line between the left palm and the right foot is off-set. Consequently, if pressure is applied to the left palm, the energy will be directed to the left rear, not to the right heel. As one can see, any power issued from the right heel would never reach the left palm. Under the situation in which the components of a straight line are of equal length and when the distance between the ends of a bent line are shorter than when straight, then the Taiji requirement of “extending long and attacking far” (fang chang ji yuan) is not satisfied.
The following discusses more minute details of the Single Whip posture. If the thumb of the left palm is bent inwards, the face and/or point of the palm can not be used as the striking surface. The thumb interferes with the surface. By allowing this, the edge of the palm is the only area that can be used for striking. This does not conform to the requirements of sinking the wrist and relaxing the fingers. If the left wrist is higher than the left shoulder there will be insufficient force for striking. The wrist must be in direct alignment and at the same height as the shoulder in order to deliever sufficent force in this technique.
Every posture in Taijiquan is intimately composed of four tightly related components which consist of a start, a rise, a turn, and a close. Each component is mutually related to each other and appears in every movement within Taijiquan. Consequently, in order for a posture to close, it must also have a beginning, a rising and a turning motion. The closing component is the stationary posture and is also the goal of each movement. The closing component of a posture is the end result of properly performing the beginning, rising, and turning component of a movement.
The stationary posture of a routine is the end point/result of a technique and the starting point for the next technique. Therefore, if the starting point has a fault, the beginning, rising, and turning components of the next movement will go a stray.
If one looks in detail at the recently developed Yang style Taijiquan routines and the various video tapes produced in China and abroad, one can see that there are very few that resemble the stationary/ending postures of Grandmaster Yang Cheng Fu.
Yang Lu Chan learned Taijiquan from Chen Chang Xing. Afterwards, the Yang style was passed down through the generations to Yang Jian Hou and Yang Cheng Fu. Through these generations of study, the masters changed some of the founding principles of Taijiquan while at the same time also maintaining many of the theories and principles to further the development of the art. Taijiquan gradually advanced to high levels after many years of research and practice. Through this evolved a brilliant radiance of energy from the county of Yong Nian in Hebei Province.
The practitioners of this generation have varying differences in the way the Yang style is performed. This occurs due to many reasons such as differences in teachers, one’s physical condition, differences in the level of education and various other attributes; therefore, it does not really matter if the postures are slightly higher or lower, faster or slower, more or less; what really matters is to preserve the tradition teachings of the founding fathers of Taijiquan which would include the theories and methods of training. These should be strictly followed without deviation.
The author does not necessarily suggest that the older a style is, the better it is; but one must continue to maintain strict attention to the philosophy and tradition of the style in order to continue to improve the art for future generations.