PART NINE of Taiji Compiled: The Boxing, Saber, Sword, Pole, and Sparring
by Chen Yanlin
[published June, 1943]
[translation by Paul Brennan, June, 2013]
TAIJI THRUSTING POLE
[While in Yang Chengfu’s 1931 manual such exercises are explicitly termed as “spear” (鎗) techniques, the word chosen in this book (桿) instead represents the unbladed spear-shaft, and as it is also a different character from the usual word for “staff” (棍), hence “pole”.]
Taiji Boxing’s “Thrusting Pole” is also known as “Stick & Adhere Pole”, or “Thirteen Dynamics Pole”, the thirteen being spreading, covering, flicking, chopping, tapping, thrusting, deflecting, raising, coiling, leading, sliding, and severing [although there are only twelve in this list]. As one of the major practices in Taiji Boxing, its energies of sticking, adhering, neutralizing, seizing, drawing in, and issuing are the same as with the bare-handed postures, it is likewise extremely subtle, and the practice method also divides into solo practice and partner practice.
Once your skill is deep, the pole is just like a hand, and the power of your whole body can reach straight to the tip, just as though mercury is being sent through a tube. When issuing, it reaches the tip, and when withdrawing, it reaches the tail.
These thrusting pole exercises, in practice and application, contain the methods of both the halberd and long spear. Those who nowadays treat it as though it is entirely based on the long spear are actually incorrect, indicating a lack of understanding as to the effectiveness of Taiji Boxing’s thrusting pole. The Yang family’s thrusting pole is very famous, Yang Luchan having even used it to help put out a fire, which is a truly remarkable thing to hear of. (See Part One, Chapter Two: Brief Yang Family Biographies.)
When you and an opponent face off with poles, whether seizing him or sending him away, it is all the same as using hands. Once an opponent connects with your pole, he immediately loses his initiative and has been hit just as if you were issuing with your hand, and he will typically not understand how it happened.
Alas, this depth of skill is already lost these days, but to consider the practice methods, there are several, which divide into the Solo Thrusting Pole Method, Two-Person Level-Circle Stick & Adhere Thrusting Pole Method, Two-Person Vertical-Circle Stick & Adhere Thrusting Pole Method, and the Two-Person Moving-Step Four Stabs to the Solar Plexus, Leg, Shoulder, and Throat. These are each described below so that connoisseurs of martial arts will be able to preserve them, preventing them from being lost all over again.
It is recommended that you use poles made of waxwood, related to rattan, which are produced in Henan or Shandong. They have a flexible hardness as well as a hardness of substance and are not easy to break.
They were long ago used as the handles for spears and halberds. They were of two types, a greenish black and a white. The best was the white variety and with its outer skin left on. The highest quality came from choosing from stalks more than thirteen feet high, rooted as a pair, in which the lower three feet was without sections [of slight coloration], and upward from that point were sections evenly spaced. To cut a pole from such a stalk was considered a ready-made pole, and if such a pole was used regularly and stored properly, then after many years, it would redden in color. Adorers of such things often treat them as antiques, for unfortunately these kinds of poles are rarely seen nowadays.
SOLO THRUSTING POLE METHOD
Taiji Boxing’s solo thrusting pole exercise is very simple. There are only three parts to it: spreading aside (or “deflecting”), covering (or “urging away”), and issuing (or “thrusting” / “stabbing”). When practicing with your left foot forward, your right hand holds the tail end of the pole and your left hand holds the middle. Your feet are spread apart, making a posture between a bow stance and a horse-riding stance. Your whole body is relaxed and your headtop is pressing up forcelessly. This is the starting posture.
Your right hand sinks down as your left hand shifts up, the pole tip going to the upper left. The weight of your body is shifted to your right leg. Your eyes are looking toward the pole tip. See drawing 1:
Its application is to deflect aside an opponent’s weapon as it approaches your body.
Both hands, dependent on your waist and thighs, cover downward. This action contains a small circle due to the turning upward of the back of your left hand and your right palm, the reverse of the spreading posture [in which the back of your left hand and your right palm turn downward]. The weight is evenly spread over both legs. Your eyes are looking toward the pole tip. See drawing 2:
Its application is to urge away an opponent’s weapon as it approaches your body.
Continuing from the covering posture, your right hand, going along with your waist and thighs, shoots the pole forward. The tiger’s mouth of your right hand is now upward. Your left hand makes no action, the pole sliding out within the palm. In other words, as your right hand issues the pole, your left hand is used only to prop the pole up. Most of the weight is shifted to your left leg, but not all of it, for fear that it will not be easy to switch to withdrawing, and also that you may overcommit forward. Your eyes are looking toward the pole tip. See drawing 3:
Its application is to stab to an opponent’s solar plexus, throat, or shoulder.
When issuing, your headtop must be suspended and your body must be upright, your chest must be contained and your back must be plucked up, your shoulders must sink and your elbows must hang, your waist must lower and your hips must loosen, your tailbone must be centered, and energy must sink to your elixir field.
It is entirely a matter using the power of your waist and thighs rather than your hands. (If you only use your hands, the pole will not be able to exhibit any shaking.) Make sure to use the power of your whole body, from foot, to leg, to waist, to spine, to shoulder, to hand, all the way to the pole tip. When issuing power, it starts from the tail end of the pole and shakes straight to the tip, as though there is quicksilver coursing through it.
After issuing, withdraw to again be spreading, thereby returning to your original condition, then after spreading, again cover. These three postures can therefore be practiced in a cycle.
This type of solo thrusting pole exercise is the easiest way to develop internal power. While it is nothing like the endless flourishing postures of Shaolin, it is nevertheless not an easy task to become skillful at it, and so you must be sure not to look upon it lightly.
When your right foot is forward, use your left hand to thrust the pole, just as when your left foot is forward it is your right hand that does the issuing. It is good for your hands to be alternated with each other. Both sides must be practiced, otherwise your left hand will have no power and you will be unable to have a rounded fullness.
You must understand that within the art it is the bare-handed practice that will develop the musculature while it is the weapons training that will strengthen the sinews and bones. Therefore in the practice of Taiji Boxing, once you have reached a competent level in the bare-handed training, the weapons training (such as the saber, sword, pole, etc.) then has to be learned.
Note: Due to the space on the page, the pole in the drawings is shorter than it would actually be.
TWO-PERSON LEVEL-CIRCLE STICK & ADHERE THRUSTING POLE METHOD
This exercise trains sticking and adhering, as well as the fundamental skill of thrusting, and contains the three energies of spreading, covering, and issuing. Its practical functions are vast, and it can assist the development of power in the lower back, having the same effects as in the level-circle stick & adhere pushing hands exercise. The techniques divide into four postures: stabbing to the shoulder, to the throat, to the solar plexus, and to the leg.
The shoulder-stabbing posture:
Two people stand facing each other (A, dressed in grey, and B, dressed in white),
each holding a pole, each stepping out with his left foot, each using his right hand to send out the pole.
A uses his pole to stab to B’s left shoulder. B goes along with the incoming momentum, sends his pole upward to deflect until A’s power has been spent, then changes to covering. See drawing 1:
After covering, he returns a stab to A’s left shoulder. A, now being stabbed, changes to spreading outward (i.e. deflecting), then changes to covering, then changes again to issuing (i.e. stabbing).
Both people spread, cover, and issue, alternating back and forth, recycling the exercise indefinitely. It is the same if the right foot is forward and the left hand is sending out the pole, except the stab will then be to the right shoulder.
The throat-stabbing posture or plexus-stabbing posture can also be done like this, except the hands will have to deal with the whole square, and so it is slightly different. [To clarify, when dealing with a stab to a shoulder, it needs only be deflected to the upper left or upper right, but in the case of the throat or solar plexus, being more central targets and of slightly differing heights, more attention must be given to all quadrants: upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right.]
As for the leg-stabbing posture, it can be separated into fixed-step and moving-step.
The fixed-step method:
Both people stand facing each other, each stepping out with his left foot. A uses his pole to stab to B’s left knee. B goes along with the incoming momentum and sends his pole to the lower left to deflect. At the same time, he lifts his left foot at an angle [i.e. to the upper right] to evade A’s stabbing tip. Once A’s power has been spent, B returns a stab to A’s left knee. See drawing 2:
A, now being stabbed, sends his pole to the lower left to deflect. At the same time, he lifts his left foot at an angle to evade B’s stabbing tip. Both people practice deflecting and stabbing to each other, stabbing and deflecting.
The moving-step method accords with the above. When B, being stabbed, deflects with his pole and lifts his left foot at an angle, he then takes a half step across to the right side. At the same time, he advances a half step with his right foot and stabs to A’s knee.
Then A, now being stabbed, deflects with his pole, also lifting his left foot at an angle, and then takes a half step across to the right side. At the same time, he advances a half step with his right foot and stabs to B’s knee.
Both people are rotating in a circle. They turn and deflect, deflect and stab, recycling indefinitely. It is the same with the left foot forward and the left hand sending out the stab.
While the poles are winding in a circle around each other, so too are both people spinning around each other on opposite sides of a circle. When these exercises of stabbing to the shoulder or to the leg are able to be done with increasing depth of training, then the circling [of the poles] can shrink and the poles can touch without making a sound. Otherwise the skill will become shallower, their circle will become larger and start to develop corners, resulting in the poles constantly smacking into each other noisily.
TWO-PERSON VERTICAL-CIRCLE STICK & ADHERE THRUSTING POLE METHOD
This exercise compensates for the insufficiencies of the level-circle method, which can only make a horizontal circle and not a vertical one, and is thus sometimes not adequately applicable and may be easy for an opponent to take advantage of.
Both people stand facing each other, each stepping out with his left foot. A uses his spear to stab, right-handed, to B’s left knee. B goes along with the incoming momentum, lifting his left foot and sending his pole to the lower left to deflect. See drawing 1:
B waits for A’s power to be spent, then sends his pole coiling upward [and over] to make the covering posture. See drawing 2:
Upon being covered, A takes advantage of the momentum and withdraws his pole, coils a circle, then stabs again to B’s knee. B, again being stabbed, lifts his left foot, again deflecting to the left and coiling upward, and again covers downward.
To sum up both roles, A focuses on stabbing or issuing, while B focuses on neutralizing and covering. If A wants to neutralize and cover, he can take advantage of the finishing of B’s covering energy by sending his pole upward and coiling it around to cover B’s pole. B, now being covered, accordingly uses his pole to stab to A’s left knee. Now A is in the role of neutralizing and covering, while B is in the role of issuing with the stab.
If the right foot is forward, the left hand will stab in the same manner, except the stab will be to the right knee, and both people will do the coiling in the reverse direction.
One who has reached a high level in this thrusting pole exercise can, in the moment of coiling and covering, cause the opponent to be guided rearward by his connection to his own pole, leaving the ground and soaring away. It is the same trick as issuing with severing energy in the pushing hands.
TWO-PERSON MOVING-STEP FOUR STABS TO THE SOLAR PLEXUS, LEG, SHOULDER, AND THROAT
These four pole techniques share the same aim as the moving-step pushing hands, that your upper body and lower, while neutralizing or issuing, are to move as a single unit. Since the hand methods, body methods, and stepping methods are all crucial, to train to the point of skillfulness is not an easy task. Yet if you do wish for depth of skill in the thrusting pole techniques, it cannot be attained without deeply studying this four-part exercise.
Both people stand facing each other, each stepping out with his left foot. A sends his left foot out another half step, his right foot following forward, as he uses his pole to stab to B’s solar plexus.
B at the same time retreats his right foot a half step, his left foot also withdrawing a half step, as he uses his pole to cover and urge away A’s pole. See drawing 1:
A, now being covered, steps his right foot forward to the right side, his left foot then stepping forward, making a side-angled posture (i.e. A inclined toward B’s left side), while withdrawing his pole, coiling it around, and stabbing to B’s [left] leg.
B at the same time retreats his right foot, withdrawing his left foot, as he sends his pole to the lower right to lift away A’s pole. See drawing 2:
A, now being lifted, steps his left foot forward, his right foot following, to be directly facing B, while sending his pole coiling to the upper left and stabbing to B’s [left] shoulder.
When B is about to be stabbed, he retreats his right foot, his left foot withdrawing, while sending his pole coiling upward to cover and urge away A’s pole. See drawing 3:
A, now being covered, again steps his left foot forward, his right foot following, while coiling his pole to the right rear to neutralize and spread away B’s pole, then stabs to his throat.
When B is about to be stabbed, he retreats his right foot, his left foot withdrawing, while coiling his pole to cover and urge away A’s pole. See drawing 4:
When A completes his four stabs, he then switches to retreating and B switches to advancing. After B has neutralized A’s stab to the throat, he steps his left foot forward, his right foot following, while coiling his pole upward and stabbing to A’s solar plexus.
A at the same time retreats his right foot, his left foot withdrawing, while sending his pole coiling upward to cover and urge away B’s pole. The rest of the postures are the same as above, except A is to be read as B, and B to be read as A. Once B has completed his four stabs, he then switches to again be neutralizing and retreating, and A switches to again be advancing and stabbing. Both people do their four actions, advancing and retreating, recycling the exercise over and over.
It must be drilled until waist and thigh, hand and foot, advance and retreat, and attack and neutralize are unified. And when both poles are making contact without the slightest sound or pause, that is best. When practicing, you must pay attention that your internal power does not get interrupted, your spirit expresses with potency, your movement is nimble, and your posture is without any awkward sluggishness. Your body is to be balanced upright, your chest contained and back plucked up, and your headtop pressing up forcelessly. Energy ascends and descends, one moment sticking to your spine, one moment sinking to your elixir field. These are the crucial factors.
This is the beginning method of practicing these four techniques. When skill has deepened, then you no longer need to be particular about the sequence. Whether to the solar plexus, leg, shoulder, or throat, the stab can be issued to wherever you please, and the one who is neutralizing can do so according to the stab. Ultimately, whether attacking or neutralizing, advancing or retreating, all can be done without a set pattern.