Palm Methods (Zhang Fa)

From Yang Zhenduo’s
1997 Zhong Guo Yang Shi Taiji, pp. 33-36
Translation by Louis Swaim

The palm methods are a sub-category of the hand methods. The palm methods can be broadly divided into two classes, comprising approximately nine types.

The first class, “seated wrist upright palm” (zuo wan li zhang xing) contains five types of palm methods:

  • standing palm (li zhang)
  • square palm (zheng zhang)
  • downward palm (fu zhang)
  • outward turned palm (fan zhang)
  • level palm (ping zhang)

The second class, “straight extended” (zhi shen xing), contains four types of palm methods:

  1. upward palm (yang zhang)
  2. inclined palm (ce zhang)
  3. downward hanging palm (chui zhang)
  4. straight palm (zhi zhang)

One: The special characteristics of “seated wrist upright palm” are that when the palm extends forth it must always have the wrist seated and the palm upright. As for its technique, above all, the wrist of the hand must sit solidly. Then, allow the palm of the hand to stand up; that is, lift it upwards, and gradually let the fingers point up and the heart of the palm face forward. When the standing up of the palm reaches a certain degree, it will then produce a kind of internal sensation (nei zai de ziwo ganjue). This type of sensation is called “energy sensation” (jin gan). If the practitioner’s physical training has a firm foundation, this type of “energy sensation” can immediately thread throughout the entire body. Beginning students, however, may manifest a local sensation of stiffness (the hands and arms ache or become numb).

The above two categories of sensation are entirely different. In light of this, beginning students should above all avoid raising the palm insufficiently, with the production of weak, hollow, and nebulous sensations. However, a stiffness or dullness produced by an excessive lifting upward is also not the goal of our pursuit. If you can only feel the sensation of energy, then if it is not right, you can correct it. But if you can’t sense it then it will be empty, and cannot be self-adjusted. This palm method controls, in a clearly established order, the containing of energy (jin), the expression of vital spirit (jingshen de biaoda), and the achievement of hardness [within] softness, with the result that it will penetrate [or 'thread'] from joint to joint (jie jie guan chuan), and the entire body will be coordinated. In order to train well in Yang Style Taijiquan, you must seek this “energy sensation” in the upright palm.

The following are a few methods of the “seated wrist upright palm”.

  1. Standing palm (li zhang) When the fingers point up, or incline upward, and the palm does not face squarely forward, but in another direction, this is called standing palm. An example is the upper palm in Brush Knee Twist Step, and Step Back Repulse Monkey; the lower palm of Jade Maiden Threads the Shuttles, etc.
  2. Square palm (zheng zhang) When the fingers point up, and the palm faces forward squarely, this is called square palm. Examples are the Push (An) in Grasp Swallow’s Tail, and in Like Sealing As if Closing, etc.
  3. Downward palm (fu zhang) When the heart of the palm faces down, or obliquely downward, no matter what direction the fingers point to, this is called downward palm. Examples are the lower palm in Brush Knee Twist Step, Wild Horse Parts its Mane, White Crane Displays Wings; the left palm in Punch Downward, and Punch to Groin, etc.
  4. Outward turned palm (fan zhang) When the fingertips point to the side, or obliquely to the side, and the palm faces outward, this is called outward turned palm. Examples are the upper palm in Jade Maiden Threads the Shuttles, White Crane Displays Wings; and the palm as it turns from Ward Off (Peng) to Pluck (Cai) in Cloud Hands.
  5. Level palm (ping zhang) Regardless of the direction the fingers point, the palm faces down or circles levelly to the left or right. Examples are the transitions to Single Whip, or Observe Fist Under Elbow.

The above palm methods are all based on the seated wrist and upright palm form. If, when performing these postures, one does not seat the wrists and make the palm upright, there will appear in the body a looseness and softness, a nebulous emptiness. Experiment with this, then you will be able to make an appraisal.

Two: The special characteristics of “straight extended” and its techniques are: You only need to have the palm extended straight (not rigidly stiff) — let it be level, let it be expanded and drawn out, then you will have it. This does not require that the wrist be seated and the palm upright, but it also has the self-sensation of internal energy (nei jin de ziwo ganjue), and a penetration throughout the entire body. Although there are differences with the seated wrist upright palm in the expression in shape and form, as well as in methodology, the action and results produced are the same. The two are interdependent and work in mutual coordination. One should regard them equally.

The following are a few methods of the “straight extended” palm:

  1. Upward palm (yang zhang) In cases where the heart of the palm is up, or obliquely upward, and the fingers point forward or incline forward, this is upward palm. Examples are the lower palm in Step Back Dispatch Monkey, and High Pat on Horse; or the upper palm in Oblique Flying, or Piercing Palm [of High Pat on Horse with Piercing Palm].
  2. Inclined palm (ce zhang) When the palm is toward the inside or inclined to the inside, regardless of what direction the fingers point, this is called inclined palm. Examples are Left and Right Ward Off in Grasp Swallow’s Tail, and Ward Off in Cloud Hands, etc.
  3. Downward hanging palm (chui zhang) When the palm is facing in or inclined toward the inside, and the fingertips point down or incline downward, this is called downward hanging palm. Examples are the two arms hanging down in the Preparation Posture, or when the arms orbit down in rounded arcs, etc.
  4. Straight palm (zhi zhang) When the palms are down or inclined downward, regardless of the direction the fingers point, this is called straight palm. Examples are the turning transition from Push (an) to Single Whip, the two arms rising upwards in the Beginning Posture, etc.

When the Taijiquan postures are in the process of circling, there emerges a reciprocal alternating and advancing of the various palm methods. For example, in transitioning from White Crane Displays Wings to Brush Knee Twist Step, the right arm circles down from above to in front of the thigh (kua). The palm is up, the fingers toward the front, forming an upward palm. Continuing down in a circular arc, the palm turns toward the outside, the fingers pointing down, forming a downward hanging palm. Now again the arm bends upward, turning the fingers to point up, the palm facing obliquely outward, forming a standing palm.

Regarding whether in the above discussion there is a relationship between the palm methods (zhang fa) and the proper hand shape (shou xing), they both have an indivisible relationship. As to hand shape, it has already been explained in the “Ten Essential of the Art of Taijiquan”: “The palm should slightly extend (zhang yi wei shen), the fingers should slightly bend (zhi yi wei qu)”.* However, in actual practice, there is still another requirement: “The spaces between the fingers should be slightly open “. This is also important, and requires that the fingers not be gathered together, and also that they not stretch wide apart. In this way the outer shape and appearance of the palm of the hand will increasingly tend toward perfection, there will be hardness contained within, and it will still have a pliable outward appearance, natural — refined and elegant — one could say that form and spirit are complete and prepared (xing shen ju bei). It is hoped that students will memorize (mo shi), comprehend (ti wu), and ponder (chuai mo).

One’s ability to accomplish each of the palm methods rests entirely on the foundation of “fang song” (relaxing, loosening). If you are able to properly understand the significance of “fang song”, and your practice is correct, there is sure to be a good result. Because of this, one must have proper guidance in one’s training — only then will you be able to utilize each type of palm method correctly, and gain the result of one palm representing the entire body.


Translator’s Note:

[*] I looked for this sentence in Yang Chengfu’s “Ten Essentials of the Art of Taijiquan” (Taijiquan Shu Shi Yao), but it does not appear there. It does appear in Yang’s “A Discussion of Taijiquan Practice” (Taijiquan zhi Lianxi Tan).

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