I was looking over the Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan text translated by Louis Swaim, when I ran across the following passage covering the ‘Beginning Form’ posture of the Yang long form:
Movement Two: The two elbows sink down and naturally lead the two hands slowly and steadily pushing down until they are near the thigh (page 27)
This describes the sequence after raising the hands to shoulder height in the beginning of the form. What really caught my attention was the whole notion and emphasis of the elbows leading the hands. After reading this, I realized I often focus on my hands instead of thinking about the elbows in a transition.
It’s easy to focus on the hands, but if we truly consider the 6-joint harmony, more attention needs to be paid to the elbows. Ideally, when we move, the hands should be connected to the feet (joint 1-2), the elbows connected to the knees (joint 3-4) and the hips connected to the shoulders (joint 5-6).
Let us go back to the second movement in beginning form. After reading this, I tried doing the move, this time, focusing on the role of my elbows. Right off the bat, I felt a distinct difference in execution. My arms felt more relaxed when I focused on the elbows leading the hands in the downward path! Doh!
To test this out some more, I tried a couple of others moves that had downward components. Repulse Monkey – yup.. felt much better when the elbows lead the hands. In executing brush knee and push while focusing on the elbow of the brushing hand, the movement took on a totally different quality. Focusing on the elbow, resulted in a feeling as if my brushing arm was more ’rounded’, expanding beyond the physical structure of my body.
Okay, what about the flip side. What does focusing on the elbow leading the hands do in upward and forward components? In raise hands, focusing on the elbow resulted in my forearms feeling less tense. Much more relaxed. In repulse monkey, when the rear hand came near my ear, I focused on getting the elbow ‘into position’ before thinking about extending the hand to do the push. Whoa… much different. Not only was the section from the elbow to fingertips more relaxed, the movement also felt more powerful when connected to the knee in the rear weight shift.
Wow.. crazy how one sentence made such a difference.