Basics of Double Heavy in Taijiquan
by Steffan de Graffenried
No concept in Yang Taijiquan has more confusion surrounding it than the concept of Double-Heavy. Much can be read about Double-Heavy in the classic Taiji writings. Much can be read but little understood. As with all Taiji concepts and principles, one must understand it before reading about it in the Taiji classics. Reading the Taiji classics without prior understanding will lead you miles in the wrong direction.
Another reason for the confusion surrounding Double-Heavy is that the Yang family spread misinformation about Double-Heavy to the public students of Yang Cheng-Fu, one of the greatest Taiji practitioners of all time. Since Yang family Taijiquan was one of the most secretive styles of martial arts in Chinese history they needed a way to appear to be teaching Taiji to public students but still ensure that they couldn’t possibly attain any level of real skill. In 1915, China was in a very impoverished state and many were hungry, including Yang Cheng-Fu. When he decided to teach his family’s secret martial art to the general public, there should have been serious repercussions with the older members of the Yang family but there were none. Of course, the Yang family would not really teach their secret art to the public. Yang Cheng-Fu told his public students that Double-Heavy meant having the weight evenly distributed between the feet. In other words, he taught that being in Zhong Ding (central earth) is an error. It is true that he never used those exact words but that’s what it boils down to.
Double-Heavy is the key to understanding Taiji because you cannot truly understand what Taiji is without first understanding what Taiji is not. This is why the misinformation about Double-Heavy worked so well to hide the secrets of Yang family Taiji.
We know that the Taiji classics tell us that Double-Heavy is an error and in actuality, you would have to look pretty hard to find an error in Taiji that does not stem from or lead one to Double-Heavy. So what is it?
The answer lies in the Taiji symbol...
Those little dots in either side of the symbol not only denote that there should be some Yang within the Yin and vice versa but also that there is a chunk of Yang missing from the Yang side ensuring that one cannot go to the extreme (on either side). If we do violate the properties of the Taiji symbol and go all the way Yang or all the way Yin then our symbol looks like this...
If our Taiji symbol has changed then so has our Taiji. It is no longer Taiji but instead it is Double-Heavy. How do we go to the extremes? There is a classic writing called “The Method of Achieving Perfect Clarity in Taiji” which explains the concept of Double-Heavy.
The second stanza will be sufficient for our explanation.
Leaning away is not correct, Butting in is not correct, Not leaning away and not butting in is correct.
So “leaning away” and “butting in” are the two extremes (the errors) and not moving all the way to the rear or all the way to the front are correct.
Yang JianHou explained this with an illustration of a bell. When inside a large bell, you may not touch the inside of the bell (going all the way to the extreme).
Notice that the man in the bell drawing has his ear lined up behind his front heel.
The traditional Yang family method for describing this concept utilizes a number system. Imagine “1” is your front foot and “5” is your back foot and “2”, “3” and “4” are in between your feet as you stand in Brush Knee. “1” and “5” are considered Double-Heavy. Having the weight all the way back in “5” is “leaning back” and having the weight all the way in “1” is “butting in”... both are Double-Heavy.
Now this is simply the structural explanation of the simplest level of Double-Heavy. The next level will challenge you a little more.
If you place your hands on the rear end of a vehicle and push, something very natural happens… your body creates an energetic pathway from the ground (at your rear foot) to your hands on the car. This is called a groundpath. It is completely natural for your body to do this and external martial arts use this natural path to maximize physical power into their punches and strikes.
In Yang taiji, however, we do not utilize this path at all. This path from the rear foot (#5) to the hand is the error of Double-Heavy (remember #1 and #5 are bad). Similarly, placing the front foot firmly into the floor and pulling something is also the error of Double-Heavy because the path from the front foot to the hand is called #1. So we see that occupying the space or utilizing the path of #1 or #5 is the error of Double-Heavy.
The Five Loosening Exercises of GM Huang (as taught by Shifu Adam Mizner) teach the body how to occupy the space of #’s “2”, “3” and “4” and avoid the error of Double-Heavy (“1” and “5”).
If you read further in “The Method of Achieving Perfect Clarity in Taiji” you will find that fear, desire, anger and frustration also lead one to the error of Double-Heavy.