Please Keep the Elbows In

by pingwei on 2013/06/24

After came back from DaQingShan, I resumed Practical Method Foundation classes every Wednesday for one hour. In one of the classes recently, when we were practicing “twisting the towel”, I saw one student’s elbows were away from his body. In that position, his elbows are out.  In order to let him understand what is “in”, what is “out”, I used a short stick to demonstrate for him. I let myself ready in the “twisting the towel” position, put one end of the stick against my rib and rest my middle finger on the stick. Then I showed him clearly when the elbow is out and when the elbow is in. To my surprise, I realized my elbows have never been truly “IN” before.

In order to put the elbow in, you have to rotate the elbow inward. Use the right elbow as an example, if you extent the arm out, the natural extended shape of the arm is “)”. In this case, the right elbow is “out”. Keep the hand not moving, rotate the elbow inward, the shape of the arm becomes “(“.  So the elbow is “in”. When the elbow is in, the shoulder will follow downward sinking. When you do “twisting towel” now, your hand will not move. Use your leg/foot push against the ground, sink the shoulder, at the same time, rotate the hip, the arm is pushed out as if the toothpaste is squeezed out from the tube.

Always keep the elbows in throughout the whole Yilu practice. I feel I have made another step forward. The improvement is obvious for me and my students. As an example, in the last move of “Block Touching Coat”,  when I truly keep the elbow in and don’t move while extend the hand out, I can move the opponent without fighting against him. In this case, I can say the elbow and the hand are separated. I believe we all tried that application and most of us are all very frustrated that we wouldn’t be able to do it. The problem is in elbow/hand not separated. Anytime when we move the hand out, the elbow is also moving out. So, keep the elbow in, you will achieve the elbow and hand separation.

I hope you can find a stick and try it for yourself. Don’t believe that your elbow is in (as I did in the past 10 years I believed that my elbows were always in). After all, this is the “Practical Method.” You have to put everything into practical test.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

bruce.schaub June 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Thank you Ping, for the insight and reminder…. always TEST EVERYTHING !!!!! This is a key to Master Chen’s transmission that was originally, heavily, emphasized in Taijiquan, but has been lost in many schools transmissions. One way I found to work on the elbow when no training partner is available is to use a stick about the size of a broom handle. In “twisting towel” foundation. Place one end of stick against against your solar plexus, and the other end against a wall. Then use the stick as a “track” to slide hand and elbow against as you talk about. Maintaining pressure on the stick, between the body and wall, without letting it slip or fall, helps you to train you center from tossing, giving a your body a physical reference as well as your hand and elbow. Once your more used to it try to keep the line perfectly, without letting the stick move side to side, or up and down at all……very difficult, but very good if training by yourself.


James Tam June 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm

It is a very good idea to use a rod to guide the hands and elbows. However, would maintaining the stick between the body and wall lead to a tendency to press the chest forward? I believe that we were taught to concave the chest.


bruce.schaub June 28, 2013 at 2:43 am

I think you are right James, concave the chest, and arching the back, (sometimes you hear people say “han shun, ba bei”) creates more Peng in the torso, and allows the head to be isolated. I believe if you adjust your distance correctly when setting up, with chest empty as you set the stick, you can maintain a hollow chest while doing the exercise. I got the idea from a video last October:

Roughly 39 minutes in, Master Chen gives many important details about “twisting towel” foundation, and talks about how to use a stick, to train the alignment. I came up with this way of doing it mainly out of necessity, (usually don’t have anyone else to hold the stick)….. but after trying it for a while, I realized, I could use it to train “don’t move” as well, because the dot that’s touching the wall doesn’t move, the stick becomes a very clear indicator of how much your body is moving, up and down, or side to side….. it doesn’t take very much forward pressure to hold the stick against the wall…..It seemes like it’s mainly a method to become more aware of the line?


bruce.schaub June 28, 2013 at 2:51 am

…..and of course, how much of your body, you are actually physically putting on or squeezing toward the line….. ” the line IS the power ” — CZH


pingwei June 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Thanks, Bruce.
People tend to believe what they do is right. Take my own example, I always thought I didn’t move my hand when I draw my elbow in. Yet, every time when Master Chen saw me, he immediately pointed out to me that I still moved my hand. How frustrated it could be! So, I needed to find a way to train hands not moving. To truly achieve “not moving the hand” when pull the elbow in, we have to achieve hand and elbow separation. Fingers need to stretch outward while elbows rotate down- and in-ward. These are the actions, not imagination. In Yilu choreograph, we need to “move” hands to different positions with steps in different directions, but always keep Master Chen’s teaching in mind, things belong outside remain outside; things belong inside remain inside. Never move hands in, never move elbows out. Keep hands out; keep elbows in.
Have fun in Yilu practice.


pingwei June 28, 2013 at 7:51 am

Teaching/training prop use should be temporary. You use the prop to help you establish a physical reference point or mental calibration (what you see is really not what you think you see), and give you some feedback. Usually one prop training is for one purpose only, can’t expands to other parts. After you gain muscle memory, you eventually don’t need to rely on props to do the same training.
As an example, I used a yoga block only a few weeks in order to fix my knee. After that, I only use a yoga block to demonstrate to new students, never again used in my regular training. The same as the stick calibration, it took me less than two weeks of “playing” with this stick to help me realize the significance of “elbow in” in my yilu training. I really don’t need it now.
About concave the chest, I only lower my shoulders down and forward (slightly) to achieve the concaved chest. I don’t move the chest. In other schools, “concaving” quite often becomes “hollowing”.
Master Chen said in numerous times that you don’t move any contact point, yet the contact point need to be “full”. In one example, someone pushes his chest, what we see is that he concaved his chest, but that’s the illusion. In reality, the contact point is full, his chest doesn’t move, he only extends his arm/s forward. Now, the question becomes “what is full.” When someone pushes on your chest, you need to respond to the push by equalizing that push, yet not moving forward or back. Roughly to say, you need to push your chest “forward” but not moving forward to achieve the fullness. By saying all these, I like Bruce’s broom prop training method.


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