“Seek the Straight From the Curve”
Seeking the straight from the curve is contained in two verses in the Taiji Classics.1 This motto can be interpreted martially as meaning that the rotation of the body builds up angular (rotational) momentum (the curved), which then is converted into linear momentum (the straight), for striking the opponent. In the Taiji empty-hand form that I learned from Cheng Man-ch’ing, most movements end by shifting the weight and then turning. Shifting adds even more linear momentum (watch this video of the discus throw, starting at the 3:40 point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAuHp6K-IL0, and this teaching video of the shot put: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MrNxeVvp84).
The shifting and turning in the form, if done with the optimal timing relative to the circular motion of the striking arm, is the precursor to learning fajin, the explosive energy release, which involves internal turning, “spiraling” up from the feet, through the body, to the striking arm. That is why it is so important to understand the principle of Dòng and Dàng (move and swing). See my article on this principle.
Professor Cheng is said to have considered “Single Whip” to be one of the most important movements to practice and cited seeking the straight from the curve when describing this movement.2
In the martial application of “Single Whip,” your right wrist contacts the outside of the opponent’s incoming striking left wrist. Your hand drapes over his left wrist, circles his incoming arm out to his left, and then strikes him in a straight-line motion (the straight from the curve). I can’t think of any other movement in the form that does that. “Single Whip” is truly unique and whip-like when done as a fajin. Parting the “Wild Horse’s Mane” is somewhat similar when done as I was taught by Sam Chin Fan-siong.
I certainly have practiced “Single Whip” more than any other, and it is my favorite. The transition from “Push” into “Single Whip” involves simultaneous circular movement of the right arm in the horizontal plane and of the left arm in the frontal plane. “Single Whip” is repeated five times in the short form and ten times in the long form—more than any movement other than than “Push.”
1The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, The Literary Tradition, Translated by Benjamin Pang Jen Lo, Martin Inn et al., North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1985, pp. 53 and 76.
2Cheng Man-ch’ing, Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Translated by Benjamin Pang Jen Lo, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1985, p. 128.
©Copyright 2022 by Robert Chuckrow
This page was updated on April 21, 2022.
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