Tai Chi Chuan--Five Steps and Stepping/Positioning in General

Tim's Discussion Board: Tai Ji Quan : Tai Chi Chuan--Five Steps and Stepping/Positioning in General
   By internalenthusiast on Monday, September 23, 2002 - 04:59 am: Edit Post

Hi, Tim. I've been engaging in an interesting conversation on another forum about TCC's five steps: i.e., central equilibrium, advance, retreat, and left/right (the last in their various translations).

Other than the bare statements in the classics, I've found very little referring to what these might be, concretely. Left to my own devices, I've sort of evolved a basis which seems to have helped thus far: advance/retreat/left/right using the bagua diagram as a floor plan schematic (which includes, if I place myself at the center, eight directions as a starter)--and deducing spatial principles from techniques I've been taught which seem to be good techniques, and angles which seem to try to follow the principle of "hit without being hit" as best I could. (I would add to this the limited amount of "bagua" or circular cross stepping I've been able to integrate.)

I am talking about obtaining position, at least as I would put it. I would define position and angulation as pretty much the same, whether it's hitting or throwing (which I've had very little experience with.)

It has always struck me that the five steps are less clear in the classics than the other elements of TCC (the 8 energies or techniques) and less discussed. To my mind, in/out, side/side, and 45 degree advance/retreat provide a basis for stepping vis a vis a vector of attack--with adaptations, (consider a compass as a groundplan) which, like "north by northwest" allow for variations off 90 or 45 degrees.

Do you, in your inimitable and down to earth style, have (a) a definition of TCC's five steps;
and (b) have advice for those of us who have worked a lot on body structure, and wish to understand strategic stepping in the most practically useful way (including both striking and throwing applications)?

I imagine such a question has to do with arts than other than TCC as well, and might be common to all concerns of stepping vs. line of attack in general. I realize when things go spiral it gets more complicated. But you've got to step somewhere!

Basically, Tim, I think my question is this: what are the five steps, how to they help you gain position, and what is the best way to train them. I'm taking for granted all the other issues: listening, alignment, discharge, etc.

Of course I'd be most grateful for all responses; I'm asking Tim...'cause, well, I'm asking Tim.

many thanks...

   By internalenthusiast (Unregistered Guest) on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 10:57 pm: Edit Post

hi, tim (and others),

please forgive the resurrection of a post of almost a year ago.

i've done a lot of work over the past year; but still think the above post makes a certain amount of sense. i still follow the scheme of it.

tim, do you have an interpretation of the five steps which relates to position vs. opponent, in terms of movement which is practically/strategically apprehensible?

this does seem the part of tcc theory/classics which people are most reluctant to put into practical/immediate format. i still think in the end it has to do with adaptive footwork which places you at a beneficial angle/position, or gets you to their back.

tim, do you (or others) have an interpretation of this?

all best...

   By internalenthusiast (Unregistered Guest) on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 11:05 pm: Edit Post

or, put in essence: what do the five steps have to do with gaining position, and how do you approach that in your training?

   By Shane on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 09:23 am: Edit Post

internalenthusiast- I've noticed that you regularly post twice on a given thread in a span of a few minutes. If you "register" as a user you can go back in and edit your posts rather always having to post amendments to your own posts.

   By Alex Hanning on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 10:15 am: Edit Post

Well, looks like no bites in a year. So I'll take pity & chime in. We had a discussion about this some time back on Empty Flower, but for the life of me I can't remember what came from it.
So, here's my view from looking at the system. Keep in mind, I'm not big into Tai Chi but I've read around it and seen it performed functionally. So, an educated stab in the dark -
IMO, the 5 steps aren't necesarily steps, they are directions of body movement. Forward/backward is shifting your weight between front leg and back. Turn left/right would be rotating the torso. Note how often they are phrased differently which would come from the front gua already being partly closed with the starting position of that leg being forward. Central equ. = not shifting the weight.
So, how would this help? Combine the 8 techniques with 5 directions. EG usually people may do roll back combined with shifting backwards or turning one way. Surely it can also be done in each of the other directions too?

   By Tim on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 02:18 pm: Edit Post

Sorry, I missed your original post.

As I was taught, the Five Steps are the primary patters the body follows when moving through space. As Alex pointed out, they are not specific techniques of stepping (although variations of footwork methods are included), they are directions.

Qian Jin (forward advance)refers to either stepping or transfering the weight directly forward.

Hou Tui (rearward retreat) refers to stepping or shifting your weight backward.

Zuo Gu You Pan (gaze left, look right) refers to stepping or shifting the weight toward your right or left side (usually at an angle).

Zhong Ding (central stability) refers to keeping the centerline of your body stable as you rotate around the central axis.

Strategically, the steps are oriented on an eight point compass (with the cardinal directions and "corners"), or with the eight points of the Ba Gua diagram. The steps can be combined so that you can move in one of eight directions. For example, when facing off with an opponent, he is standing directly N of you. If you move directly forward toward the N, it is "Forward Advance," moving directly to the rear is "Rearward Retreat"... Moving to the "corners" (NE, NW, SE, SW) at a 45 degree angle is a combination of either Forward Advance/Rearward Retreat and Gaze Left/Look Right.

Turning around your central axis occurs no matter where you step or how you shift your weight, so Zhong Ding is a constant. When the steps are combined, you can step or shift the weight in any direction and maintain stability.

The importance of understanding the Five Steps and their directions is that the directional strategy of technique is "encoded" in the solo forms. All of the traditional Taijiquan forms are constructed around the Bagua or eight points pattern. Every step in the form follows either the cardinal points or one of the corners. The direction the body moves in the form tells the practitioner from which angle that particular technique is to be applied in a fight.

   By internalenthusiast on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 03:07 pm: Edit Post

hi, tim, and thanks for your great and complete response. it makes sense to me; and i've never come across an explanation that complete. much appreciated! your explanation of the corners being a combination cleared up something i'd been puzzling over, but didn't know how to articulate.

alex, thanks for your response, too. i'd originally, in my thinking, thought very much what you said, and then extended it into stepping per se rather than simply shifting, with the idea that you carry "central equilibrium" with you where ever you go (hopefully!).

shane, thanks for the suggestion; it's a good one.

so thanks, everyone--internalenthusiast

   By Alex Hanning on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 03:32 pm: Edit Post

group hug!

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