I really liked this video by The Wandering Warrior on Instagram:
True or not, he makes a good case for the move not being the backfist or punch it is usually shown as, and being a throw instead. In a way, there’s no right answer – the move is whatever you use it for.
But it made me think a lot about how Kung Fu postures are repurposed and reused through the years.
If we go back to one of the earliest written descriptions of Kung Fu by General Qi Jinguang in his “Boxing Classic” of 1560 we can see that all he’s showing are a series of still postures with written verse about the move in question.
You can see that the first posture shown, “Lazily pulling back the robe” shares some similarties with the posture discussed above.
A Confucian cuture of respect for tradition and elders would naturally lead to respect for older kung fu postures, and you can see how they would get reused and repurposed to fit new needs over the generations.
I bet the current Yang style Single Whip posture is not chosen because it’s the optimal way of pushing forward with a single palm. Instead, it’s more likely a posture that has been passed down from older generations. Maybe it’s original meaning (if it had one) has been lost, over the years. Maybe it was once a Suai Jiao throw? Maybe it was once a posture from Chinese theatre or religious ritual? Who knows.
The important thing is, as always, what can you do with it now?