Hot. Dusty. Smelly.
That was me last week, in a place where rubbish is sent to be burned, causing me to miss a lesson with someone who came in from a country that a Wiki entry described as “Situated on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, it shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast.”
Yeah, I forgot to mention the noise. Droning on and on. Not a way I would want to spend an afternoon except I’m caught in this rat race I don’t want to be in but am.
Despite the personal discomfort the work has indirect bearing on what I do in Tai Chi. You see machines are subject to the laws of mechanics. Mechanics have an impact on what we do in Tai Chi. How so?
Basically, if you do Tai Chi properly you will fulfill the laws of mechanics. Its a no-brainer, really. Except the average Tai Chi player does not really understand how the laws of mechanics, you know, stuff about velocity, kinetic chain, momentum, gravitational force, etc are important, nay essential to their Tai Chi, that is if they want to practice in a manner that is not only good for health but cultivates the ability to apply the techniques for the purpose of combat.
So a new student, someone motivated enough to study from videos and briefly with an actual master, had a day before reluctantly showed me what she had. I have to say I was impressed. Natural talent too I must say to be able to demonstrate reasonably looking movements. Except.
Except, it was to my assessment not in compliance with the principles of the Tai Chi Classics, proper actualization of the laws of mechanics and efficient anatomical motions.
Simple case in point – elbow up and away from the body. Too high, too far away from the body. Most students would just nod and accept what I say. Not her. She wanted to know why especially considering that this is how many teachers teach it.
Good. Thank God. A student that questioned back. I love a thinking student. It made teaching more challenging. You see, if my argument, demonstration, testing are not convincing then no one would buy it. Hell, I would not buy it myself.
One of Yang Chengfu’s Ten Important Points calls for the shoulders to be sunk and the elbows dropped. Yang’s argument is that if the elbows are raised the shoulders would not sink and the power generated will be weak.
But why should we believe what Yang Chengfu said?
If you examine the elbow joint from an anatomy point of view you would realize a basic truth which is the olecranon is the weight bearing point of the elbow. So if you leave it hanging up as most Tai Chi players do then you are not positioning the olecranon efficiently vis~ a~vis the opponent when making contact.
Besides, having your elbow too far in the air is not natural. Take a look at this picture of a baby crawling. Examine the elbow position.
Notice how the olecranon is positioned down?
Now, how would a sports in which an athlete has to be in a position which requires the arms to bear their body weight efficiently place the elbows? Take a look at this picture which I came across from a Parkour website :-
Whilst I was looking for more pictures of people crawling I saw this picture of a handicapped girl in China. I remember reading about her. Oh, and look at her the placement of her elbows. Her story can be read here. Video here.
I am not going to attempt using physics to explain the mechanics behind the elbow position but if you do a simple pressure test you would find out that positioning your elbow this way will enable you to tap into ground force efficiently with minimum effort.
From a combat point of view the elbow position will close off a certain weak point in your body’s anatomy from attack. For some reason most Tai Chi players fail to see that their elbow position make them vulnerable to such an attack. But talk to a Southern Shaolin stylist and he will be able to explain to you the benefits of keeping the elbows down during close combat.
This is one of many details I taught during the crash course. To me the details are necessary to learn Tai Chi properly. To someone who is learning Tai Chi this way for the first time the amount of details can be overwhelming.
This is why Tai Chi is not a topic you would want to study unless you really have the time and patience for it. But once you learn it this way you understand what the Tai Chi Classics are saying much better. To me this is the satisfying part of the learning, to be able to connect to the writings in the past by physically understanding it and not just reading a bunch of words.