April Theme: Pauses in Four Energies and Laojia Yilu

"I handle notes no better than many others. But the pauses - that's where the art resides." - Arthur Rubinstein

April theme is - pauses.

We work on pauses in the beginner class with the Four Cardinal Energies, and in the advanced class with Laojia Yilu postures.

Four Cardinal Energies Q&A:

1. What are the Four Cardinal Energies?

There are eight primary "hand methods" (手法, pinyin: shou fa) in Taijiquan, and often these are referred to as "Eight Energies" in English. Another English translation is "Eight Gates", from the Chinese alternative title 八門. They refer to the primary ways of deploying energy though the upper limbs (hands and arms).

The first four energies are also called Four Cardinal Energies (四正手法), and they are:

  • peng -- to expand; to ward off
  • lu -- to divert; to roll back/away
  • ji -- to press (against)
  • an -- to push

It's helpful to know these "hand methods" describe the quality and function, but not necessarily the expression of types of energy movement. In effect, each "hand method" can take a variety of forms and directions, hence the intricate and complex long form sequences like the 74-posture Chen Family Lao Jia Yi Lu, or 108-posture Yang Style Long Form -- the postures in these forms are composed of any combination of the 8 "hand methods", their derivatives, and the 5 "stepping methods" (步法).

2. Why are they called "cardinal" energies?

The Chinese word 正 (pinyin: zheng) means straight or square (not slanted, tilted, or diagonal, just as the character's strokes suggest!), and 四正 here refers to the four straight directions on the I-ching trigram chart (see below): south, north, east and west.

Eight Energies in Taijiquan (from Master Tony Wong's 2018 Workshop)Bagua Chart of Eight Energies in Taijiquan (from Master Tony Wong's 2018 Workshop)

In application, these are comprised of moves when the opponent is at arms-length distance from oneself, so one can use the hands and forearms to defend oneself most effectively. In contrast, the Four Corner Energies (四隅手法) - cai, lie, zhou, kao - are comprised of moves when the opponent is within much closer range (than arms-length), and using elbow, shoulders (and even hips) would be more effective.

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