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How To #6

Pushing: Front Leg and Back Leg

by Mike Sigman

The past three articles have explored the basic "push" (forward-directed force) of the internal martial arts. Readers have sent questions that will have to be faced in practice sooner or later, if we want to develop from the static to the dynamic using this type of force. One of the better letters, in that it combined many of the questions (plus asking a few more), came from Dr. L. S. Shu in Massachusetts… we'll use his questions as guidelines.

"In resisting a push with "peng" and "body connection," your drawings and video demonstration indicate that the upper body seems to lean forward to affect a longer distance between the arm and the rear foot in order to transmit the force more efficiently. This seems to fit better with the Wu Chien-chuan style… a relatively upright posture is practiced in the other styles."

In learning to propagate the ground strength to the arms and to do so with a relaxed body, it's better for a beginner to allow the body to lean toward the push. In doing so, an incoming push can be aligned toward the back foot fairly easily (allow your body to "sink" and "compress" into the back foot; don't extend toward the push). As you acquire skill in directing the ground force in and out, you will become more and more upright.

Ultimately, you should only use the musculature that is required to keep the "peng" strength aimed at its target from a relatively upright body. The Wu style's use of a forward lean is mechanically more efficient at times, for the above reasons.

[cmc 1]"In pushing with "peng" and "body connection," with a foot forward and the other one back, what are the guidelines so that we don't lose our balance and topple over? Is it sufficient to limit the displacement of the center of mass such that it does not pass the front foot? Should we also have to relax back to the original weight-on-back-leg position immediately after the push?"

Well said and correct. Bringing the weight again to the back leg is standard in the internal martial arts.

"In the movement of "An" (push), is the mechanics of the body movement the same in pushing (longer duration of body contact) and in fa-jing (shorter duration of contact)?"

Basically, yes, but with some additions. What you are talking about is often referred to as the difference between the long jing and the short jing.

The ability to use really good short power along the "peng" path involves more training, but, generally speaking, the additions could be summarized as (1) more powerful use of the back and leg bows, (2) the contributive use of the torso and thoracic musculature on exhale, and (3) the use of "bounce jing" from either the front or back leg (see below).

"When you explain pushing with "peng" and "body connection," you always mention that the force originates from the ground and is initiated by straightening the bent rear leg (or unbending the bent knee). But can the force be initiated by a sudden unbending of the already-bent lower back, sending a force to the arms and simultaneously sending a force down the rear leg to the ground. Then the reaction from the ground comes back up the leg, the trunk, etc., to the arms, adding to the strength of the force already there. Is this correct? I.e., which is the initiating motor, the back leg or the middle of the body?"

The relaxed ground strength extends up from the feet, through the body, and to the hands. Because this "ribbon" of strength goes through the whole body, it is best manipulated by the waist in conjunction with leg strength. You can picture and utilize this ribbon of strength as something that starts at the legs and goes up from there; that has been the approach in this magazine.

However, the traditional view is that this ribbon comes from the middle of the waist, with one end going down to the foot and the other end going up to the arm doing an application; manipulation is by the waist in this viewpoint. Mechanically, both of these views work the same, so they merely differ in terminology.

To release short jing, you're right, there is a store-and-release to the ground which hits the ground just as your forward release starts. It is a vector addition to your push and, depending upon how strong your waist is, can be very powerful. As a further addition, the weight is also dropped onto the same foot at the same time. With practice, you can do this from the front or the rear leg.

Long jing, on the other hand, starts from the leg and goes up without the sharpness added.

"When performing the Taiji form, if one is transferring one's weight from rear to front, should one (1) straighten the rear leg to effect a change of position or (2) intentionally "move" the center of mass first, thus allowing the rear leg to be straightened as a natural consequence?"

That's a very important question, because it marks one of the main areas where people go astray in their practice. When you do the opening of whatever practice you do, Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Aikido, Liu Ho Ba Fa, etc., you "connect" your body fully with "peng strength" and the very tenuous "whole-body connection." Movement should be driven by "peng" and the body "length strength" or ribbon of ground strength should never be broken (except in occasional fa-jing).

[cmc 2]I think that if you just maintain the "ribbon" of ground strength constantly, manipulating real or imagined things with the ground strength, that your movements can only become correct. One leg is a "feed" for the ground strength until the "feed" naturally changes to the other foot. The leg with the "peng" feed is the one referred to as "substantial" in the Yang-derived "classics."

Just maintain the continuity and "fullness" in your movements and they will correct themselves, for the most part.

"When one is in a low standing-posture with the feet parallel and shoulder-width apart and wants to raise his body, should he (1) think of straightening his legs or (2) concentrate on moving his center of mass up, thus letting one's legs be straightened? It seems that in (1) ground force is more felt from the ground up the body while in (2) the ground force is felt less."

The most important thing is to connect the "ground force" through the body and not let it be broken. In this case, picture someone pushing very lightly down on the top of your head. Maintain a very relaxed "ground force" (peng) connection from foot to the top of the head, and straighten up into the "hand."

The important thing in all of these "internal" exercises, forms, drills, etc., is learning to manipulate the ground force with such facility that it becomes a part of all your movements in all directions.

Of course, as you learn, muscle tone and condition will improve and assist in your movements. For instance, in your "raising up" example, as the quadriceps, hip muscles, and lower back become used to this and strengthen your ability to maintain peng, you will become not only correct in your movement, but also strong in your movement.

"I read about an exercise. As I slowly push out my palms to the front while standing erect, I should imagine (no movement) the base of my neck (the last cervical vertebra) going backward in sync with the palms' forward movement. After reading the descriptions in "Internal Strength," I wondered if I should change that exercise to imagining my lower back going backward in sync with the palms' forward movement. I think this may create a more effective "peng" and body connection."

If you concentrate on maintaining the ribbon, path, etc., of the "ground strength" from your foot, up to the middle of your back, and out to your palms, it should help. Not only should the body constantly maintain this connected alignment, it should also power all movements by "driving" the ground strength… in all of the internal martial arts.

In this instance, form a complete path through your body and then sink down (bending knees) slightly. Without raising up much, straighten your legs, driving the ground force into your back (the pelvis will naturally tuck slightly as you do this; don't force the tuck). Let the driven force stay in the ground path through the back, out the arms, and to the palms. You should feel the base of the neck, back, etc., react to driving the force through in this manner.

In other words, the initial exercise was fine, but understanding the related body mechanics in terms of the whole "path" helps quite a bit.

Places to go from here:

bulletTable of Contents for this issue
bulletPeng Article Index

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Page maintained by Ian Young; last change June 11, 2000.