Three Dimensional Turning in the Return to Wuji System

A synopsis by Todd Plager

On November 11th and 12th of 2006 Mr. Yan hosted a seminar in Dania, FL. The subject was “Three Dimensional Turning in the Return to Wuji System”. This title describes “universal silk-reeling” – essentially the ability to move in any direction around a given force in order to avoid “double weighting”. This review will attempt to describe in words, an experience that you may be hard pressed to describe even while participating in it.

The exercises presented in the seminar aimed at breaking the pattern of “flat movement” or movement within only one or two planes. While the seminar focused primarily on the silk reeling of the arms, strong emphasis was placed on internal relaxation beginning at the top of the body and progressing downward, hence the “return to wuji” aspect of the seminar.

We began with a look at both the “rolling arm backwards” and “cloud hands” movements. The exercises started in the vertical circle and progressed towards three dimensional movement. We were asked to imagine a force being applied to our arm and change the direction of movement while still maintaining the same circular direction. After working with single arm movement we then progressed to two arm movement using the “12 patterns” of circular movement.

We then took these same solo-exercises and performed them with a partner. The helper would apply force in order to provide a potential double weighting situation and an opportunity to change from two dimensional to three dimensional turning. This is an important distinction – the natural inclination when force was applied was to change the direction of the circle (thereby producing evidence of the two-dimensional nature of the movement). Finding a way to continue the same direction of the circle (rolling arm backwards or cloud hands) was a mind-bending exercise that required the participants to find a multidirectional approach to their movement. Maintaining wuji alignment and avoiding double weighting as much as possible made the exercise even more challenging.

The exercises progressed from a fixed position with a partner to a moving step with a partner. The helper would provide force – changing the point of contact as each circle around the point was completed. It is important to note that 180 degrees of movement was our starting point and that eventually we experienced movement through 720 degrees and more.

Mr. Yan demonstrated that all of the solo exercises of the 12 patterns could be mixed with footwork in any direction to provide an unlimited range of possible scenarios.

Up to this point in the seminar we had been free to choose the three dimensional direction of our movement. Mr. Yan then placed a limitation on this in that we were now required to take a contact point and provide three dimensional turning in at least 8 different directions while still maintaining the overall same circular direction. This was an exercise in creating different fulcrum points for our movement. It also forced us to move in directions that we might not naturally have taken – in turn opening up the possibility of even more varied movement. We spent a great deal of time exploring the multitude of various fulcrum points and the pathways needed to achieve directional movement that touched those points.

Mr. Yan employed a number of tools to help us experience this type of movement. At one point he used an improvised “double weighting indicator” (a light piece of grass). The end of the grass was used as the contact point and the participant had to move around this point in a variety of directions without bending the grass. Additionally, Mr. Yan drew arrows on the arms of a few participants to show them how they could maintain an overall circular direction while using three dimensional movements to go around the point of contact.

On a personal note, these arrows and their movement played out in my mind for the next week. At one point I had a minor “a-ha” moment when I realized that we are not bound to find three dimension movement only from our own perspective. I will attempt to describe what I experienced. I made this “discovery” through this example (direction given from my perspective):

The helper grabs my right wrist with his left hand. He twists my arm in counter clockwise motion. Picture an arrow on his arm pointing left.

I am required (for the sake of the exercise) to rotate my arm in a clockwise motion. Picture an arrow on my arm pointing to the right. I am also required to perform this movement within the context of a cloud hands overall circle.

At first glance this seems like a double weighting puzzle without a way around the force. However (and I am describing only one of many unlimited possibilities in a purely mechanical way for the sake of the example) if I drop my elbow down and move it closer to the helper and change my fulcrum point from my wrist to my knuckles, my arm will start to move in the same direction of my helper as my elbow describes an arc that takes it from “my side” over to “his side”.

Essentially I have moved out of my own two dimensional half sphere into a three dimensional full sphere where movement can play out from any direction.

By the end of the seminar we had all experienced movement in a way that might not have occurred to us before. This three dimensional movement is essential for the deeper understanding and experience of taiji. Many thanks to Mr. Yan and all who participated for a successful seminar experience.