Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Functional Understanding of Ti-Yong for Martial Arts and Wujifa

If you don’t understand how your martial arts or Wujifa practice is functionally represented in the Ti-Yong (体用) structure, then you may have what we would call a mindless, monkey-see, monkey-do practice.

If you go to class week after week without knowing the relation between Ti-Yong and what you are learning, then don't be surprised if you ‘wake up’ one day and realize you went through the motions for five or ten years and didn’t achieve your original objective! I should know! I've been there! And someone you know may also be in this same boat!

And so, the goal of this article is to show you how to gain control of your own practice and gain deeper insights through the functional application of the Ti-Yong structure.

Specifically, we will look at the art of Wujifa through Ti-Yong to not only give you more clarity about Wujifa but to also give you an example of how you can apply this structure to your own practice.

But we can’t accomplish this goal if you simply read this article and say, “Oh, how interesting.” and move on. No! This material is meant to be chewed on and thought through. Keep these questions in mind as you read:
  1. What are the elements of my martial arts practice?

  2. How do these elements fit in the Ti-Yong structure?
Before continuing, take a moment and make a mental note of your answers to question 1 above. Got a few? Good. Don't worry about question 2 yet, we'll get to it.

Ti-Yong: A Little Background

Before we go any further, what exactly is Ti-Yong? A literal translation of Ti (体) is “body; form; style; system” and Yong (用) is translated as “use”. When talking about Ti and Yong together, the interpretation for Ti becomes “Essence or Substance”, and Yong gets interpreted as “Function or Practical Use”.

And so, functionally speaking, Ti-Yong is a structure that can be used to discover the Essence and Function or Substance and Use of something.

If you've read other articles about Ti-Yong, then you know that no one else explains how to apply this ancient Chinese structure to your martial arts practice! And if you've never heard of Ti-Yong before, I've provided a sample reading list at the end of this article if you want some superfluous data.

Let's be clear that Ti - Yong (tǐ ; 体 - yòng 用) is not the same as Yin - Yang (yīn ; 阴 – yáng ; 阳). Whereas Yin-Yang describes paired “oppositional” elements, Ti-Yong may describe for example the essence of Yin and how Yin functions or the essence of Yang and how Yang functions.
While the primary purpose of the use of ti-yong is in making distinctions, such distinctions are always made within the framework of an overall unity, and are not oppositional or disjunctive in character. ... Another way of putting this is to say that the ti and yong aspects of anything must by definition, be mutually contained, or "interpenetrated."
In my understanding, “interpenetrate” means to mutually penetrate, where each element is either comprised of or composes the other and when seen together, you get a deeper understanding of the whole. Such a deeper understanding is not attained when exclusively examining oppositional pairs of elements from a Yin-Yang perspective.

Many people tend to view their practice through a Yin-Yang view. What does this mean? For example, consider the few elements you identified from question #1 above. If you see these as distinct and you cannot readily identify how these elements interpenetrate each other, then you might be trapped in a Yin-Yang perspective.

How do you begin to see your practice through a Ti-Yong view? Well, that's what we're going to discuss here; how various and apparently “distinct” elements can be placed in the Ti-Yong structure to clarify their functional interpenetration.

Once you grasp how Ti-Yong (体用) structure can be functionally applied, then you have a very effective tool to evaluate and monitor whether your martial arts training is in-sync with your personal goals or not.

Ti-Yong Applied to Wujifa

The following chart shows you one way Wujifa elements can be applied in Ti-Yong structure. In addition to gaining greater clarity on Wujifa, you also begin to see from this example where and how elements of your practice fit in a functional Ti-Yong structure.

The Four Most Common Wujifa Elements
Ti ; 体Yong ; 用
Personal Functional Application
原 则
(yuán zé)
规 则
(guī zé)
Principles can give rise to rules. A collection of rules “can” point to principles. (Not all rules will point you to principles but a principle will always point you to functional rules.)
Purpose 目 的
(mù dì)
Practice 实践
(shí jiàn)
The purpose determines the practice. The collection of exercises and methods aims to help you understand the practice.
(zhēn lǐ)
办 法
(bàn fǎ)
A functional method is a personally tailored exercise. The correct practice of the method can help reveal the essence that lies beyond the method. The truth is an “a-ha” moment. Something can be true at one level but not true at the next level.
感 觉
(gǎn jué)
训 练
(xùn liàn)
An exercise with a purpose employed to evoke a particular kinesthetic feeling or experience.

As you look at the chart above you see I've organized it by "layers"; Feeling-Exercise, Truth-Method, etc. In reality, each “layer” is also interpenetrated by any other “layer”. As you dig deeper into your own understanding, you begin to see how Principle and Purpose show up in Method and Exercise and vice-versa. The entire system functionally interpenetrates.

But for ease of explanation and to get you started, we will discuss each “layer” separately. Let's begin with the bottom “layer".

Ti-Yong: Feeling and Exercises

Beginners in Wujifa typically start with standard warm-up exercises. These exercises may look like commonly seen physical education exercises however in Wujifa, the exercises are performed to elicit a particular functional kinesthetic experience or feeling; a feeling of connectedness.

For example, the common “hip swivel” exercise when done as the Wujifa Hip Swivel exercise is done a particular way with the intention of noticing the feeling of connectedness from head to toe through fascial linking or what we call fascial stretch. The instructor looks for and points out breaks in that connection.

What are kinesthetic "breaks"?

Each individual has his/her own unique patterning of chronic muscular tension, muscular flaccidity, injury, scar tissue, etc. A “break” is a point or area of the body where one of these conditions prevents or disrupts the sense of connectedness. Some practitioners talk about “sticky points”. These begin as “breaks” that the practitioner is made aware of either through self-discovery or through the instructor pointing them out and the practitioner is working on resolving but does not yet feel a clear connection through.

As they continue practicing the same simple exercise, over time they become more conscious of the feeling of their patterns and their breaks and sticky points at deeper and finer levels.

Ti-Yong: Method and Truth

There are many different Wujifa exercises people can do. Even though beginners may each do the same exercises, for example, the Wujifa Hip Swivel exercise, any two bodies will not do the same exercise exactly the same way. The instructor will suggest ways for the practitioner to improve his/her performance of the exercise, hence, the exercise will become that individual’s personal method.

How are methods used?

Now, there are different ways that methods can be applied or used. A method can be used for discovering the feeling, or a method can be used for supporting and developing the feeling.

Some practitioners think that the feeling of connectedness will somehow spontaneously appear if they practice the method diligently enough and long enough. These people tend to “mindlessly” go through the motions of the method and don’t actively engage the method. As we talked about before, they turn the practice into the mindless monkey practice.

Other practitioners convince themselves that they are stuck. They will say, “What do I do next?” or “What should I do now?” These can be valid questions and the response may lead to further progress. However, sometimes their underlying or implied message is, “I don't really want to take ownership of my own training. Just tell me what to do.”

And even other practitioners encounter the intended feeling and then discard the feeling and fall back on and seek continued refuge in the method. This is not at all uncommon for people who may experience a new level of feeling for the first time which can sometimes feel uncomfortable, strange or different which they assume means “wrong” without getting verification.

Experiencing new levels of feeling can be intense and may threaten or in some way disrupt the practitioner’s usual level of feeling, which in fact may be more a level of lack-of-feeling. The challenge for the Wujifa teacher in this situation is to figure out how bring the practitioner back to the feeling in a way that allows integration of this kinesthetic feeling at a new level.

Because the new feeling has not become part of the repertoire of the daily kinesthetic experience, the newly discovered feeling tends to sporadically appear and disappear. The practitioner therefore can use the method to continually rediscover and help build-in the feeling. As the practitioner matures and grows in the practice, he/she learns how to use the method to help support and develop the feeling even further.

Through perseverance and practice, slowly the new feeling(s) gets built in. At some point, the practitioner will evoke or discover the feeling(s) on his/her own without the immediate assistance of a teacher. This “a-ha” moment reveals a deeper understanding of how one is able to find that feeling. This feeling-understanding becomes the Truth part of the Method-Truth "layer" in the chart above. The practitioner now has a deeper experiential and functional understanding of, “The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method.”
Success always makes obsolete the very behavior that achieved it. It always creates new realities. Peter Drucker
Once you "get it" and begin to nurture and grow the feeling, then in a reversal of the pattern of development so far, the feeling actually contributes to refining the method used to nurturing and growing itself.

As the essence of the feeling develops, this suggests or elicits a deeper practical application of a method to discover something deeper in the feeling, something more like the essence of feeling. Once you “get” the essence of feeling, you then leave that method and then your own personal deeper method may arise.

Advanced practitioners use the feeling to refine the feeling. If we break this down, the feeling refines the practitioner for the purpose of eliminating the method as a "separate" entity so there is only feeling refining feeling. A common Wujifa feeling that is refined is that of fascial connections and movement.

At this phase, the practitioner then develops a clearer understanding of what is involved in a practice and the purpose of their practice.

Ti-Yong: Purpose and Practice

In the beginning, the purpose determines the practice. With the guidance of an instructor, the collection of exercises and methods is your practice. As your understanding grows, your purpose changes and so does your practice.

A common question at Wujifa class is, “What is your purpose?” When asking this question to newcomers to Wujifa, the response is usually a dead silence. Sometimes re-asking the question as, “What do you want?” will then elicit a response such as, “I want to develop internal strength.”

I think there are a few reasons why “Purpose” is so hard to identify for so many people. For example, they’ve always been told what to do and rarely decide for themselves what to do. Another common reason is the fear of making mistakes or being wrong. In other cases, they feel a need to defend years of doing something differently and knowing they need to make a change deep inside. Sometimes people think they need a big, glorious purpose rather than having a more do-able purpose that is functional in the moment. These are just a few examples.

The question is not asking, “What is your overall purpose in life?” rather it is a way of asking, Why are you here in Wujifa class? What do you want to learn? What’s your reason for coming here, for training? What’s your purpose here and now?

Here’s a functional example of purpose and practice intertwining. Your purpose is to stand in zhan zhuang for 30 minutes. In your practice journal you record the results of your practice. When the results of your practice align with the intention of your purpose, then you know that your practice is on target.

Taking the same situation where your purpose is to stand in zhan zhuang for 30 minutes however, during your practice of standing 30 minutes you also practice getting the “burn” in your thighs. Is your practice in alignment with your purpose? No. Has your purpose changed? Yes. Now your purpose may be to feel the burn in your thighs for 15 minutes during a 30 minute stance practice session and you practice to achieve that purpose.

Defining or establishing a purpose helps you monitor if your practice is fulfilling your purpose. Now you are in the driver’s seat. You're not paying someone to take you on a carousel ride.

Ti-Yong: Principles and Rules

Principles can give rise to and point to “functional rules". By "functional rules" we mean rules that are well grounded in the principle of that method. We can say that a collection of functional rules can point to a principle. We need to remember that un-functional rules will not necessarily point to a principle. A good way of confirming the functionality of the rule you are using is to verify or test if it points to a principle.

An easy way to understand the functional relation between principles and rules could be borrowed from a concept in the martial arts regarding a collection of movements and forms. Some people may think of forms as simply a collection of various movements. Others may think of a form as a collection of techniques/applications. In Wujifa we look at forms as a function of intention and connection, dancing in harmony with the spirit of Ti-Yong.

You can spend years or decades learning various styles and forms and techniques and maybe even picking up a few black belts along the way. For some of these people, the rules become, "In this style we do things this way". However, underlying all these forms, techniques and applications are fundamental principles of movement and body mechanics. Some more advanced practitioners understand this.

When it comes to developing internal connectedness, the underlying principle is moving with a form of relaxed strength and being grounded. However, telling a beginner to do this may be far beyond his/her ability and so the beginner is given structurally based rules to follow, for example, stand in the Wujifa zhan zhuang alignment of 1,2,3,4 ;1,2,3,4.

Following these rules of structure over time will help the beginner notice the feeling of fascial pathways. Why? Because they arose from the principles of Wujifa Zhan Zhuang and point to the development of the principle of connection. The structure of the body in 1,2,3,4;1,2,3,4 when relaxed but not limp reveals the feeling of fascial stretch which the practitioner develops and links to help connect the body as a whole. At the point of developing full body connection, rules or methods like 1,2,3,4 can start to be bent to the extent of the skill of the practitioner, for example when pushing hands, as long as full body connection is maintained.


By looking at Wujifa through the eyes of the Ti-Yong structure as well as considering your own practice in this regard, hopefully you now have greater clarity into the whole Wujifa program as well as greater clarity into your own martial arts practice.

Here are some points to remember:

Once you experience the Ti (体) essence, you don't need to continue relying on a particular Yong (用) function that helped you notice the Ti (体).

Yong can be thought of as a necessary evil to help understand Ti. Think of Yong as a medicine that helps you get past an illness but if taken incorrectly can become a poison.

In reality, it’s better to not abuse Yong (用) and be very careful with its purpose. It’s too easy to develop a reliance or dependence on Yong as a medicine without seeking the underlying Ti (体).

Develop the Ti (体) that you experienced and it will continue to show up and begin to interpenetrate all your Yong (用).

Once you get the feeling, once you “get a feel for it”, then the methods that led you to that feeling are no longer needed. New and deeper truths and your own personal methods may be discovered.

As you develop a deeper understanding of your practice through a functional application of Ti-Yong, then you can begin to make real progress! I think this is what is meant by “taking ownership” or “taking responsibility” or “making it your own”. You evolve from a monkey-see, monkey-do, technical copy-cat into an artist.

You can take your practice to another level now. Learn and understand how your practice fits into a functional Ti-Yong (体用) structure. Stop feeding the mindless monkey!

Other Reading

Some of this stuff is pretty superficial and some gets pretty heady. None of it explains Ti-Yong in the functional way I presented it here for martial arts. This brief list should give you an idea of the range of what others write about Ti-Yong.

Tiyong, Interpenetration and Sincerity in the Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean
by Charles Muller. Paper Delivered at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Boston

Essence-Function and Interpenetration: Early Chinese Origins and Manifestations
by A. Charles Muller, Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University, vol. 7 (1999). This is the second in a series of articles on the role of the concepts of essence-function t'i-yung(體用) and interpenetration t'ung-ta (通達) in traditional East Asian religious and philosophical thought.

On The Metaphysical Significance of Ti (body-embodiment) in Chinese Philosophy: Benti (origin-substance) and Ti-Yong (substance and function) by Chung-ying Cheng, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 29, no2, pp. 145-161 2002.

Boundaries of the Ti Body by Deborah Sommer, Asia Major 3rd series, 21.1 (2008): 293-324. Special issue published as a festschrift for Nathan Sivin.

Martial Vocabulary: Yong and Ti by Plum Staff at KaiMen - Plum Publications

Ti and Yong 體用 by Bernard Kwan at Be Not Defeated By the Rain

The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan, book by Yang Cheng fu. Translated by Louis Swaim.

1 comment:

  1. Wow... This is pretty comprehensive. I'm really impressed by your breadth on this topic, Mike. Glad to call you a school brother!