That Deadly Double Weighting

There exists a small batch of pages know as the Tai Chi Classics. It is famous not only among Tai Chi people but Chinese martial arts in general, being one of the only books written on CMA before 1850.

Many of its lessons apply to any style of CMA. One of the reasons for the TCC fame is that many teachers use it as a guide in their non-TC styles.

Among the many telegraphic passages there is a caution against “Double Weighting,” a term most people take to mean even distribution of weight, as in the horse stance.

But I find the “double weight problem” to be considerably more interesting and definitively more useful than most people make it out to be. In fact, I discover this to be one of those ingrained problems so doggedly, persistently and continually reincarnated.

I am in complete agreement that Double Weighting is a pernicious problem and not a negligible mistake. But what does it all mean? Where does it show up? And how can it be avoided?

The most basic meaning of the term is simply the act of weighting each foot with 50% body weight. That automatically throws the Horse stance into question, doesn’t it?

Or does it?

A Hung Gar stylist once asked me this: “If double weighting is so bad, why do we fight in a horse?” It took a moment to realize the answer, “You may stand in a horse when you fight, but you don’t move with 50—50 weighting, do you?”

So why do we train, even in Tai Chi, with a doubled weighted stance? Because standing practice is just that, weight evenly and perfectly balanced so we can easily recognize the difference between static and mobile.

Not everyone is able to do this. Some people are so habitually front-loaded that the movement of an inch tilts their Tower of Pisa. So we see that double weighting can be used as a training device. And its persistence in Kung Fu classes is that old story that sometimes the beginner’s techniques displayed an unfortunate and persistent influence on advanced thinking. It’s like physics; you don’t graduate from Newtonian mechanics to higher level concepts without some headaches.

Double Hands

But Double Weighting pops up in other ways. There are many symmetrical movements in Kung Fu such as Butterfly Hands, Oxhorn Punches, Monkey Hands and Double Willow Palms.

And despite the visual evidence of forms I would say that 90% or more of these so-called double strikes are nothing of the kind. When you see two Butterfly Hands speeding out, for instance, one of those hands is supposed to be a control clearing the field for the other to strike. After all, how many times have you executed a double strike with both hands falling at the same instant? This is like Jackie Chan leaping in the air and delivering a split double kick to two guys who happen to be standing just in the right spots.

I know that Double Oxhorn Punch to the temple would cause instant unconsciousness if it landed right, but that has about the odds of winning the Mongolian lottery. No, Double Weighted hands are more formal actions than useful attacks.

More important than limited usage is the energetic lock they apply to your movement. If you shoot out your deadly Double Ram’s Head Fists with equal force on each hand, and I happen to block one arm, then I automatically block both arms. Your two arms are welded to one another, and not to your benefit.

This mutual rigidity appears a lot in Chin Na where beginners struggle with locks and throws aborted not by the opponent’s sly counter or frantic resistance but by the self-contradiction of his or her own double-locked strength. I often see someone grunting to apply an arm lock that he is simultaneously countering with his other hand. Sometimes a light slap in one direction or the other can launch the student in the correct direction and his opponent to the mat.

The most serious of double weighting problems, though, is mostly invisible. Like a busload of demons it looks innocent at first. Here is Daniel about to spring forward with his front hand punch but, as his hips clearly testify, he is equally poised to retreat. Here’s Julie trying to sweep Sam while simultaneously holding him in place so he can’t be swept. There’s poor Carl trying to make the next move in the form, while his legs want to move one way and his hands are in direct opposition.

People don’t want to double weight. But often they have the mistaken idea that each movement in martial arts should be in perfect equilibrium. Nothing could be further from the truth. As in dance, the martial artist should fall from move to move, though by this I mean controlled falling. The equilibrium demonstrated in martial movement is a dynamic one. Every post should resemble a piece by the sculptor Giacometti , stationary but only for an instant, on the verge of movement.

I have hundreds of photos in my files of people blocking kicks or punches. Here is the faded, dark background, soft focus, spot lighted shadows. Joe is punching, his aggressive concentration coupled with his thrusting momentum, caught in digital eternity. Here is Mo, face and most of his body turned away in recognition if not expectation of Joe’s thrust. Mo leans away from the punch, the sweat exploding off his evading skin. At the same moment, undeniable in its photographic facticity, is Mo’s hand reaching back to block. Had he blocked, or had Mo dodged—either one without the other—he would have successfully neutralized the blow. Instead he is caught here, pummeled forever by a single strike crashing through his double intention; fight and flight so entwined that they are self-effaced. Caught double weighting frantically, but static nonetheless.

2 Responses to “That Deadly Double Weighting”

  1. Andrew Shinn says:

    Serendipity strikes again!

    On my way to work this morning I was engaged in one of my periodic re-reads of the Tai Chi Classics. I fall into the category of a taiji player who also thinks of the Tai Chi Classics in relation to my “external” styles.

    Double-weightedness has long been a nagging question in my research. And while we never move with 50-50 weighting, as you say, there are movements (especially takedowns) that ARE executed with a 50 – 50 weighting. I’m thinking of moves that drop someone over one of your legs in a horse stance, for example.

    It was a YouTube video by my Chen style taijiquan teacher’s teacher that changed my thinking on double weighting. I’m still working out all the implications, but I think it’s a nice injection to the discussion. The video can be found here:

    It’s best to look at the video and listen to or read the explanations (it’s subtitled). But in synopsis, Chen Xiaowang explains that every shift of weight in any direction necessitates a moment of double-weightedness (if we were to accept the definition that it simply refers to having an equal weight distribution between the feet). His answer is that double weighting really refers to being in a structurally trapped position that precludes movement (changing, opening/closing). This problem can be caused by the individual practitioner’s own structural and movement errors, or by interference from an opponent.

    I think this perspective actually fits in well with your own examples.

  2. Jeff says:

    Resisting the urge to block even as you avoid is difficult to overcome. However, in tournament sparring, if you don’t block as you avoid, you will get points called against you.

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