Throughout the Tai Chi form, you need to change the intention in your palms from yin to yang and back again. Here’s how to do it.
First, a bit of theory. Tai Chi Chuan is made up of the 5 directions (forward, backward, left, right and center) and the 8 energies (ward off, roll back, press, push, split, shock, elbow and shoulder). Together they form the 13 postures, which is another name for the art.
You don’t need to know all this to simply do Tai Chi of course, but if you want to delve a little deeper then it helps to become familiar with what the 8 energies are.
In this article, we’re going to look at the energy called Split, and how it manifests itself in the hands.
It’s important to note that almost every technique you see in Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) uses Split energy, to a greater or lesser degree.
I’ve seen Split described by people as either spiral energy, a type of takedown or as a breaking force. All of those meanings are close, but they miss the point — they describe the effects of Split, not what it actually is.
Split is the energy of two things moving in opposite directions.
You can see how the confusion arises: All movements in Tai Chi Chuan are circular. If you move two things in a circle in opposite directions you create a spiral. When you do applications on somebody with spiral actions the result is usually a takedown of some sort. And you can’t break any joint without directing force in two different directions. For example, if you kick somebody’s leg it’s unlikely to break unless that leg is locked against something that doesn’t move, like say, the ground.
You can see the action of Split in nature all the time. Water going down a plug hole, tree branches growing in spirals, the formation of snail shells, the toppling action of a barrel wave, and the shape of distant galaxies, are all obvious examples.
This brings us on to how Split is applied in Tai Chi Chuan.
In Tai Chi you want your hands to be clearly differentiated from each other. One hand needs to be active, and the other passive. One empty, and the other solid. One yin, and one yang. Another way to say this would be that at all times you want your body weight to be in one hand and not the other. Which hand that is will constantly change throughout the form. You should be in a constant state of flux in Tai Chi Chuan. If you can’t manifest this then you enter a state known as double weightedness. As it says in the classics:
“Sinking to one side allows movement to flow;
being double-weighted is sluggish.
Anyone who has spent years of practice and still cannot neutralize,
and is always controlled by his opponent,
has not apprehended the fault of double-weightedness.”
To avoid the fault of double-weightedness, the hand that is yin and that hand that is the yang must interchange continually and ceaselessly as you go through the movements. Tai Chi Chuan should always be in a state of constant change, just like the Tai Chi symbol itself is:
The symbol represents perfectly balanced, continual change. If you’re not in a state of constant change then you’re stuck. Calling somebody “double-weighted” is another way of saying that they’re stuck.
Split is usually applied along with another one of the 8 energies, rather than on its own. One example of a good combination is Split and Rollback.
Rollback, or Lu energy, is the most yin of all Tai Chi’s 8 energies. It’s almost the absence of energy. When being confronted with active Yang energy, Lu is the energy of retreating or yielding. It’s fighting fire with water, rather than more fire. Its movement is usually backward and inward.
Confusingly there is also a posture called Rollback in the form. The posture called Rollback in the form obviously gets its name from Lu energy, but it also mixes in a bit of Split energy.
If you look at this picture of Yang Cheng Fu doing Rollback you can see what I mean:
His left hand is withdrawing and pulling, while his right hand is pressing downwards. The overall action is one of retreating and withdrawing (Lu) but within that, there’s a separation in what the hands are doing over the course of the movement (Split).
In the action of Rollback your rear-hand starts off as the active one with a guiding pull on the attacker’s wrist, but the front one then takes over as the active hand with a strong pressing down action onto the attacker’s elbow joint.
I found a really old video of me doing Rollback in push hands to illustrate what I mean:
As you can see, at the start of the motion my left hand is the active one, then the right hand takes over with the pressing down movement.
Throughout the whole Tai Chi form, you should be aware of this interplay of Split energy between not just the palms but the other parts of the body too. If you can notice it in the palms, with one hand being the active one and the other the passive one, and then exchanging positions, you can start to notice it in the feet, the legs and so on.
Once you can do this over the whole body then you can distinguish yin and yang throughout your form and you will no longer be at the risk of exhibiting the fault of double weighting.