Today's post is about a movement that is as identifiable with Taijiquan as the Age Uke is with Karate.
Nowadays I find a lot of DVD's and literature on Taijiquan that go into detail about movements, but do not bother to give any explanation of the martial application of these movements.
My first book on Taijiquan did just that.
My teacher before then did not want to teach me the fighting applications in the hope of curing my anger issues.
After 5 years or so from learning Taijiquan for the first time I got this book by David Gaffney and Davidine Sim on Chen Style Taijiquan. The book itself is a valuable source of information on Taijiquan technique while it does not do anything to teach a form to beginners.
The book had this to say about the Single Whip:
What is described in this poem is a posture akin to Happo Biraki in Japanese martial arts. This posture keeps the stance relaxed, but firmly rooted while the arms are spread wide open. The purpose of this posture is readiness for an attack from any direction and the posture is designed for use in situations where the user has to fight against multiple adversaries.
What might not satisfy many of us from the happo biraki or even kamae application of this movement is that neither happo biraki nor a simple kamae need any one of the hands to form that bird's beak to make them work.
In all the forms I have seen this movement also does not consist of merely raising the arms in anticipation of an imaginary attack, but consist of elaborate arm movement and shifting of weight.
I have found a Youtube link in which a typical execution of this movement is explained.
The execution is usually as follow:
Weight shifts onto the the back leg while the rear hand travels from the front of the body to the back while forming the bird's beak. The lead hand joins the rear hand in this movement. Then, when weight gets shifted onto the leading foot, the leading hand leaves the bird's beak hand behind and pushes out to the front. The arms never fully straighten, so it is hard to tell whether it is meant to be a thrust, a strike or a blocking movement.
This guy shares my view that the bird's beak indicates a grab. I apply Single Whip in a matter similar to the photo below.
Sifu Mantak Chia is a master of the very strange and unusual Wu Style of which I like the internal aspects much more than the technical applications. He does not feel the need to grab the opponent's hand, but uses the bird's beak in a manner similar to Shaolin's Monkey Paw. The Monkey Paw can be used to hook an attacking arm to the side. We see Master Chia in the photo below guiding an attacking arm to the side with the bird's beak while intercepting a punch from the other side with a shuto uke. Yes- there is a lot of similarities with karate if you know where to look...
Thing is: I can guide pushing attacks to my side in more efficient ways that do not involve unnecessarily deforming my hand and I trust that you will say the same.
Another thing is- in Karate we learn that pulling someone is much more effective when you keep the arms close to your body and pull the opponent towards you instead of away from you.
So- why would you need to take someone so far to your side?
To me the answer lies in the lateral weakness all fighting stances have.
This weakness lies across the line between a person's feet. Where an opponent stands in a front stance, for instance, the lateral weakness will be from a 45 degree angle from his front.
Now- taking this opponent's arm and just pulling it towards you is not going to unbalance him. His shoulder may turn, but he will remain standing.
Pull a bit to your side though he will find his footing being challenged, though. Once this imbalance is created it is necessary to exploit it immediately with a slight push with the free hand.
If you successfully applied this move against a lead hand punch you can find the opponent turning his shoulder away from you and landing on his butt. Against a reverse punch the opponent may remain standing, but striking at the right spot can dislocate his shoulder or dislodge his collarbone. For friendly sparring I like to counter a reverse punch with Snake Creeps Down, which is actually a variation of the Single Whip that attacks the lower body and that, as we have seen in an earlier post, can be quite an effective throw.
That concludes today's post.
Next post shall be about a move called "Parting Wild Horse Mane".