Don’t Forget about the Elbows

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.


About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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6 Responses to Don’t Forget about the Elbows

  1. Rick Matz says:

    In my first Wu style class, in the opening movement, I was told that the elbows sinking will draw my hands back to my body, so there is corroboration there.

  2. wujimon says:

    Hey Rick. Thanks for finding supporting evidence. I’ve heard it all before, but never really paid much attention to the elbows until now 🙂

  3. puredoxyk says:

    Wow, that’s a new one on me, but even just doing the motions once or twice, I can see the difference you’re referring to. Wonderful! Thanks!

  4. wujimon says:

    Hey PD, Glad you were able to notice a difference right away! Its these little details that really define taiji, IMO 🙂

  5. taijiquestion says:

    Thanks for this info, WM. Getting some kind of good feeling (MA wise that is) out of the beginning movements of the Yang form, is very much on my mind these days.

    One of Hong Junsheng’s key rules helped me a lot in my simplified Chen practice, but I’m not sure yet if or how it belongs with Yang style. “Hands lead the arms out away from the body; elbows lead the arms back towards the body”. What you say here reminded me of all that.

    One thing that seems clear is that the forearms are critical in taijiquan; and that they’re bounded (is that a word?) by the wrist and the elbow. 🙂


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