Jou and Kao (Elbow and Shoulder)
This weeks Tip covers the last of the Bafa (Eight Energies). We started this study of the Shi San Shi (Thirteen Methods) by examining the Wubu or Five Steps, then moving to the Bafa. I know it is on the technical side, but, if you have read it all, and given it some consideration, I’m sure it will improve your performance and enjoyment of your Tai Chi practice. If you are just now joining us for the Training Tips, the older ones are posted at my web site – Just click on Training Tips.
Elbow (Jou) and shoulder (Kao) are quite specialized methods, used sparingly in the form. Used at the proper time, they can be quite effective, yet most Tai Chi players don’t put the stances correctly with the torso and arm techniques. Let’s look at this important aspect.
In a previous post, I talked about the Six Harmonies – one of the most import aspects of practice, not given enough attention. The Harmonies are: foot and hand, knee and elbow, hip and shoulder. Why are these called Harmonies?
The Harmonies are based on the idea that the distance between the players always changes and at each distance there is a proper tool to use. For instance, if you want to reach something just out of your reach on a shelf, a step stool would be a better choice than an orchard ladder. And vice-a-versa. Every job has a tool that is optimum. And distance is one of the most important determining factors for a Tai Chi Chuan player.
The first Harmony is foot and hand. This means that you are working at the edge of your physical ability to encounter and effectively work with the partner. The leg is the longest limb, followed by the arm. The foot is at the end of the leg, the hand is at the end of the arm. These are furthest from the center of the body, and are the most used tools in the Tai Chi arsenal, as most people want to keep any threat to our well being as far away from our body as possible. The kicks and punches are the examples of this Harmony. When playing Tui Shou or Push Hands, the toes of each players feet are on the same line, fairly close together. This puts the players too far away to use elbow or shoulder. This is important. I’ll explain later.
The second Harmony, knee and elbow, is one of the least understood aspects of most players understanding, and therefore, form practice. The elbow can be a very devastating tool. It is called mid-range and requires that, when both players are forward in Bow Stance, the knees are on the same plane and could touch. So instead of the toes being on the same line as in the first Harmony, the use of the elbow requires the whole foot to be on the same plane. The knee is used to press against the partner’s knee to upset his root and balance. But you have to be close enough for this to work.
In order to use Jou (elbow), you stand knee to knee, keeping the back straight. The arm is folded with a fist placed at center of the body level, elbow extended to the side, then Jou is applied with a sharp thrust to the side. Jou energy is very quick and sharp, usually aimed at the center of the opponent, usually the ribs. Now, what is important is that the stance is established before the elbow is launched. The elbow strike happens by the waist shaking, as if pulling something quickly towards the elbow. The main fault for most players is that the elbow takes its shape and then the body moves towards the partner, sit to bow, like a push energy, slow and steady. Jou is much more like a punch than a push.
The second major fault is the player being too far away from the opponent so he has to lean to get close enough. This causes many problems, making it easy to lose one’s balance. Another fault is getting too close. The elbow can’t build up enough striking momentum to be effective if too close.
In the form, I can’t think of any movements that have elbow as the final energy. I can use Jou in the first Clouds Hands, and as the transition into Single Whip that follows. I also use it in Turn and Chop Opponent with Fist, possible use in Parting the Wild Horses Man, and Slanting Flying (in transitions). Explore your form and see where this energy would possibly be used.
The third Harmony is hip and shoulder. The Wubu requires you to step your foot all the way into partner’s base, and then shift the weight forward, displacing the partner with yourself. It is said that this energy is the most powerful, as it comes from and is expressed close to the center. Kao is also sometimes translated as Bump. Think about knocking something out of the way with your hip and/or shoulder. Most players find it difficult to understand and put into practice. It is a very short, and mostly quick release. Usually it is used following a neutralize upward of the opponent’s punch, leaving his underarm vulnerable to shoulder strike. The major fault is being too far away and leaning. You should be right next to the partner, keeping the back straight, to make this effective.
I hope this discussion helps you visualize what you are doing and why in your forms. I recommend looking at, and reading about San Shou (Partner Form). The use of these energies is much clearer in this form than in the solo form. You don’t have to even put much effort into learning this two person form, but just viewing it will help you to visualize what you are doing. I have, I believe, a very good rendition on YouTube. This is a four part, four hour lesson. Enjoy.
First Saturday Workshop – June 1, 1 to 4 PM Push Hands