What’s In A Move?

Posted by Stuart Herbert on March 19th, 2008 in Teaching.

In the Ng Family Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan that I practise, we have the following sequence of moves:

  • Squatting single whip
  • Snake creeps down
  • Golden pheasant stands on one leg left

I’ve been preparing written notes for my students this week, and two questions have been on my mind as a result. Where do each of these moves end (and the next one start), and why does it matter?

It matters to me because I don’t want to be the latest in a lengthening line of instructors who leaves the art in a worse state than I found it. Yang Luchan, the founder of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, seems also to have been its greatest practitioner. Those who have come after him have passed on a lesser art each and every time, and it has gotten to the point that much of what is taught as Tai Chi today does not stand up to scrutiny against the Tai Chi classics. (Pick up any modern book on Tai Chi, look at the photos, and tell me whether or not you’re seeing fundamentals like single weight being evidenced).

The thing that always impresses me about my teacher is that he’s always insisted on trying to get down to the core of the art as we understand it, to improve on the information we have. Something is the way it is until new information comes along. In light of new information, things must change. We don’t own the art – it is our duty to hold it in trust for the next generation. Whilst it’s in our care, we should not make it worse!

In classical Yang style, squatting single whip seems to be nothing more than another name for snake creeps down; two names describing the very same move. We break the move into two parts – squatting single whip where we lower our stance by pivoting on alternate heels and toes, and snake creeps down where we use the left arm to defend against a kick. Should we use the one name for both parts? And where exactly does golden pheasant start?

However we decide, we have to start with the questions.