More thoughts on elbows and the classics of Tai Chi and Xing Yi

From we find this nice quote about Chen Taijiquan:

“The, at first sight, seemingly humorous Chenjiagou saying to “always keep an egg under your armpit” reflects the importance of not allowing the upper arms to become stuck to the side of the body.

This idea of always keeping a space under the armpit is something I’ve heard said in other styles of Tai Chi as well, and it fits in very well with the idea of “Peng all over the body” that you’re aiming for in Taijiquan, that kind of “inflated like a balloon, but also soft, springy and heavy” feeling. 

Taijiquan, with armpit gaps. Photo by Stephen on

But how does that relate to the question I was looking at recently about the issue of where the elbows should be in Xing Yi? “The elbows never leave the ribs” is a line from the Xing Yi classics* (more of that later) that has caused a lot of arguments between practitioners on its interpretation and meaning. 

And when you compare it to the previous saying about the armpit from Chen Village, it’s basically the complete opposite advice! And yet, both Taijiquan and Xingyiquan are said to be internal arts, and part of the same family. So, is the advice about the elbow a crucial element, as fundamental as, say, aligning the Bai Hui point (the crown) with the spine? Or is this more of a piece of strategic advice to do with the fighting style of Xingyiquan, and not anything to do with its fundamental body method?

Let me throw in a curve ball here and switch arts to BJJ. “Glue your elbows to your ribs” is something I say to my students in BJJ all the time when they are on the bottom defending a position like side control, knee on belly or mount.

Knee on Belly in BJJ. Photo by RDNE Stock project on

If you let your opponent separate your elbows from your ribs in that position then only bad things can happen, so it’s great advice. Normally after I submit somebody new in BJJ I stop to explain to them how I did it, so we can turn it into a learning moment. 9 times out of 10 my explanation starts with “it started when you let me into the space under your armpit”. However, it would be ludicrous to make it into a hard and fast rule, to suggest that you should never let the ribs leave the armpit at any moment in BJJ. There are plenty of other times in BJJ where you need to pull with your arm, and you can’t do that fully without separating your elbow from your ribs.

* And let’s also decide on what constitutes a “classic” in Xing Yi. My own teacher only considered the 10 Thesis of Yue Fei  to be the classic writings in Xing Yi. Most of what people call the Xing Yi classics today are, in fact, writings created in the early 20th century when there was a publishing boom in martial arts manuals (See Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey by Kennedy and Gau), and are based on the original Yue Fei writings anyway. For Xing Yi it started with Sun Lu Tang’s 1915 A Study of Xing Yi Boxing.

In the preface to his manual Sun says (Translation by Brennan), “While once at Bai Xiyuan’s home in Beijing, I got to see one of the Yue Fei manuals, not an original copy of course, but a handwritten copy made by someone in a later generation. It was not very detailed and unfortunately contained no explanations of its terminology, only the barest of text from beginning to end. I was suddenly inspired by this, immediately wishing to provide more complete information, even though I was fully aware that my level of learning and skill was superficial, and without being tempted to make anything up [in order to fill information gaps]. I secretly made my own copy and then deeply studied it, going through it posture by posture until bit by bit I had built up the material to make this book. There is no decorative language in it at all, for in my studies I have not dared to hold on to even the slightest exaggerations. Wherever flaws are found within my work, I hope my comrades will correct me, for which I would be very appreciative.

  – sincerely written by Sun Fuquan [Lutang] of Wan County, Baoding, 1915, 1st month, 15th day”

In his manual Sun has a chapter called “The Essentials of Practice” in which we find the advice about elbows and ribs. (Translation by Brennan)

The essentials of practice in Xingyi Boxing: 1. Sink your waist. 2. Shrink your shoulders. 3. Hollow your chest. 4. Press. 5. Lift. 6. Horizontal and vertical should be clearly understood. 7. Lifting, drilling, dropping, and overturning should be clearly distinguished.
  Your head presses up during drilling, then shrinks back during overturning. Your hands lift during drilling, then drop during overturning. Your foot lifts during drilling, then drops during overturning. Your waist lifts during drilling, then drops during overturning. [from the Xingyi Boxing Classics:] “In lifting there is a horizontal aspect, but it is invisible [because it appears to be only upward]. In dropping there is a vertical aspect, but it is invisible [because it appears to be only forward].”
  Lifting is going out and dropping is striking, but when lifting is also striking, dropping is still striking. Strike with lifting and dropping, like the overturning waves of water, which are lifting and dropping. Regardless of lifting and dropping, drilling and overturning, going and coming, it should always be that your elbow does not leave your ribs and your hand does not veer off from your centerline.
  These are considered to be the essentials in Xingyi Boxing. Knowing these, the right path in the art will be obtained.“

But you can see that even in this passage, Sun is quoting the older “Xing Yi Boxing Classics”. So, you have to start to wonder, how old is the advice that the elbows do not leave the ribs, really? I know some styles maintain that their “quan pu”, ancient collection of classic handwritten writings their family possesses has this advice in. At least with Sun’s work we have a published date we can be sure of. 

Photo by George Sharvashidze on

But this also brings up the question of how much we dedicate ourselves to following the literal words of “the classics” to the letter. How much freedom are we allowed in our martial art? Were the classics intended to be a kind of set in stone, unwavering, set of rules to be followed on pain of death? The ancient writings of the founders always tend to take on this weight that gets heavier over time. If they’d been written a year ago, would we treat them with the same reverence? There are hard line Christians who treat every word of the Bible as the word of God, never to be questioned, and there are more modern progressive Christians who interpret the words in the Bible into a modern context, or see them as simply stories designed to teach an idea, and not to be taken literally.

So, the question still lingers, like a bad smell. 

Where do you put your elbows in Xing Yi? 

I think the best answer I’ve found so far is…..

“in between your shoulders and your wrists”.

The power of connection, with Henry Akins

I like it when you can find those rare moments where martial arts seem to cross boundaries and blend into each other. I came across this video recently of Henry Akins explaining the concept of connection in BJJ, as taught to him by Rickson Gracie, and it doesn’t half remind me of Tai Chi…

There’s a lot of talking at the start, but he gets down to action at around the 4 minute mark and starts demonstrating rooting – something that you’ll find being practiced in most Tai Chi classes. These are what you’d see described as ‘simple jin skills’ or ‘jin tricks’ by a lot of Tai Chi experts. And they are what you are supposed to be doing in Tai Chi all the time, when you practice the form and when you do push hands. They’re the root (ha!) of classic phrases from the Tai Chi classics like, “4oz defeats a thousand pounds”.

In fact, a lot of people seem to think that these jin skills alone qualify something as being internal, which is why you see the descriptor, “internal”, being added to the name of a lot of martial arts, like ‘internal Wing Chun’ or ‘internal Karate’.

My take would be that, sure, these are an essential part of the internal package, but they’re not the whole enchilada. For instance, Henry is not doing anything particular with his dantien, and indeed, you don’t need to do anything in particular with your dantien to do these things. But these are still the first few steps to being an internal art.

As you know if you’ve read my blog for a while, I’m a BJJ practitioner myself, so it’s great to see somebody like Henry applying these principles to BJJ. I see it as a path to a version of the art that you can still do as you get older. I don’t think you’re going to be winning any competitions if you dedicate yourself to practicing these jin skills (the power and aggression of youth is pretty darn overwhelming to fight against in competition, particularly if it’s being done by dedicated athletes who train to a level the average guy with a job and two kids can only dream of). All I’m after is something that gives me the edge in friendly, hobbyist rolling and enables me to stay in the game and on the mat for as long as possible. “Do not go gentle into that good night”, as Dylan Thomas put it.

Push it, push it real good

In particular, Henry deals with one of the favourite subjects of Tai Chi – pushing. Henry pushes Bernardo, using power from his legs, not his arms – this is Tai Chi 101 – and then shows how to receive a push by aligning his body so that the push goes into the ground. He, (dare I say it?) tucks his butt, so that the force goes down his legs to the ground, rather than knocking him backwards. This is what you need to be working on in push hands when people push you. N.B. Tucking your butt does not mean adopting a forced and unnatural posture, it just means flattening the lower back and aligning the lower part of your spine with the upper, so that your bum doesn’t stick out.

What I like about this clip is that Henry, coming from a non-Chinese marital art, doesn’t use words like Jin and Qi – he just talks about alignment, relaxing and using the legs and ‘using the ground for support’. It seems much less mystical than the way it is typically presented in Tai Chi, and it goes to show that you can explain a lot of Tai Chi things without having to use words that are nebulous or hard to grasp for the Western mind.

But it’s really the concept of connection that Henry is teaching. As he says, a lot of the time in grappling what you want to do is connect to your opponent to use your techniques, and then learn how to disconnect from them when they try their techniques on you. He sees connection working in three main ways – and this is where I think Tai Chi teachers can benefit from his teaching –

  • Connecting within yourself,
  • Connecting to the opponent
  • Connecting to the ground.

That’s not a bad way to look at grappling at all, and I think it is a good way to help people understand that, when doing push hands, you can’t apply no force at all to the other person in a sort of noodle arms-display of rooting into the ground, because then you have no connection to them. If you move, they don’t move. Instead, you need to apply enough force at all times so that you are connected to their body and through listening (ting) you can feel when it’s time to break this connection too. Think of it a bit like an insect using the surface tension of the water to stay afloat.

Great work Henry, I would buy your instructional on Connection, if only it wasn’t almost $300. 🙂 But thanks for sharing that video above for free. I’ll have to wait for it to come into the ‘daily deal’ section of Fanatics, where they reduce the price. Osss!

If you haven’t already, check out my post on Jin Tricks and Mike Sigman explaining Jin. Both worth a watch.

If you haven’t checked us out on Facebook then please do, and why not give our Instagram page a look too, and our YouTube channel?

Should you focus more on external arts as you get older?

Seeing these old masters from Taiwan looking so good while practicing their external arts has made me wonder about switching my priorities.

I’ve been enjoying the recent series of videos from Will on his Monkey Steals Peach YouTube Channel of his tour of Taiwan Kung Fu schools. The latest one features Long Fist. It’s been great to see so much good technique demonstrated and also a few of the younger students, proving the arts have a future. 

But of course, a lot of the practitioners Will has featured are older, but that doesn’t stop them being proficient in dealing out the ass whoppings. This has made me reflect on my own training priorities. A lot of these fit-looking older men are training in arts that would be classified as ‘external’ like Long Fist and Mantis, rather than the so-called ‘internal’ arts like Tai Chi or Xing Yi, which are more normally associated with older people. 

Perhaps shifting focus to these external arts, which have longer postures with more twisting and stretching, and are practiced more vigorously is a good idea as you get older?

I’ve got to admit, that while I do feel good after a few run throughs of the Tai Chi form, I probably feel more energised and exercised after a few runs through of a Choy Li Fut form. My cardiovascular system is placed under more stressed for one thing, and my joints get moved through a larger range of motion.

“When you practice the form, the slower the better!” – Yang Cheng-Fu

Of course, Yang Cheng-Fu in his 10 Important Points, famously used this distinction between internal and external to explain that external arts were “harmful” for you, and the fact that you don’t get out of breath doing Tai Chi proved its superiority! He wrote (recorded by Chen Weiming, and translated by Jerry Karrin):

“External martial artists prize leaping and stomping, and they do this until breath (chi) and strength are exhausted, so that after practicing they are all out of breath. In Tai Chi Chuan we use quiescence to overcome movement, and even in movement, still have quiescence. So when you practice the form, the slower the better! When you do it slowly your breath becomes deep and long, the chi sinks to the dantian, and naturally there is no harmful constriction or enlargement of the blood vessels. If the student tries carefully they may be able to comprehend the meaning behind these words.”

Yang Cheng Fu

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to make an observation that Yang Cheng-Fu could have done with losing a few pounds himself, and that since he died relatively young his thoughts on longevity should be taken with a pinch of salt. Frankly, I think he could have done with getting a bit out of breath now and again!

It’s also fairly obvious to anybody who has seen Chen style Taijiquan that ‘leaping and stomping’ can be a part of Taijiquan too.

However, I do think there’s something to what he’s saying. When moving slowly and achieving a mediative state of mind you can experience profound levels of relaxation that do feel different to other types of exercise. When you “slow your breath” and it becomes “deep and long” it can feel wonderful. However, is that enough? I think it’s a mistake to use this type of exercise to replace more traditional cardiovascular exercise, and your body will not thank you in the long run.

Why not do both? Tai Chi has its place, but so do external arts of the Shaolin variety. Perhaps the best approach is to not skew too heavily in favour of either, but to adopt a balanced approach where you train both equally? Let me know what you think.

4oz deflects 1000lbs

The Yang Family Secret Transmissions book contains a number of writings that are seen as additions to the main Tai Chi Classics documents.

Amongst the documents is “The Song of Pull down”. “Pull down” is the name of one of the ‘8 energies of Tai Chi’, there’s a song, meaning verse, for each of the energies in the book. Here’s the Pull Down song:

The Song of Pull-Down

How can we explain the energy of Pull-down?
Like weighing something on a balance scale,
We give free play to the opponent’s force
whether great or small.
After weighing it we know its lightness
or heaviness .
Turning on only four ounces,
We can weigh a thousand pounds .
If we ask what is the principle behind this,
We discover it is the function of the lever.

The verse is not talking about something mystical, it’s quite clearly talking about the principle of leverage. A lot of Tai Chi people don’t like the idea that ‘Pull down’ might be about something as mundane as leverage, which is found in all other martial arts. Well, tough! The verse is clearly talking about leverage.

You’ll see the reference to four ounces moving a thousand pounds in this verse. This also appears in the ‘Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan’, one of the main Tai Chi classics, where it says:

“From the sentence “A force of four ounces deflects a thousand pounds”
we know that the technique is not accomplished with strength. “

Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan

Leverage, of course, is different to pure strength. As Archimedes said about leverage:

“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth.”
(quoted by Pappus of Alexandria in Synagoge, Book VIII, c. AD 340)

By using leverage you can significantly increase the amount of power you can generate. The martial arts that will teach you the most about leverage are all grappling arts – Shuai Jiao, Judo, BJJ, etc..

For an example of leverage in marital arts – look how much pressure is required to break the elbow at the end position of an armbar in BJJ – you could say that it’s about….. 4 oz.

When looking for the energy of Pull Down in the Tai Chi form you find it all over the place. A classic posture its used in is the Raise hands/ Play Guitar type of movements. Here you hold the wrist and elbow of the attacker, and apply pressure to hyperextend the arm. Again, this is another example of leverage.

Raise Hands, Yang Cheng-Fu

My Tai Chi teacher tends to call the energy “shock” rather than “Pull down”, but its application is the same. It’s a short sharp jolt to the system that usually has the effect of getting you up on your toes, or moving forward or backwards whether you want to or not. And the only way to do that to somebody, without being significantly stronger than them, is through the use of leverage.

Look out for the movement in the video where he pulls the attacker’s arm down to uproot him and says “this is shock” (around the 1 minute mark).

Now, all these different applications of ‘pull down’ or ‘shock’ energy looked very different to each other, however, they’re all applications of the same principle – leverage. The technique can look very different, but the principle (or as Led Zeppelin would say, the song) remains the same.

Feet-together postures in Taiji (Tai Chi) and Xing Yi

I’ve always been curious about the postures in martial arts forms where both feet are together, because these postures don’t look very martial at all. In fact, it’s hard to imagine why you would want to use a stance like that in a fight, and yet we find them in a lot of Tai Chi forms:

From: Sun Lu Tang, A Study of Taiji boxing, 1921

From: Long ZiXiang, A study of Taiji boxing 1952

Here’s an example of the posture in application in Taiji performed by my teacher Sifu Raymond Rand:

Sifu Rang, Brush Knee, Twist Step.

It seems to be mainly Taiji lineages that have some influence from Sun Lu Tang that do this the most. A lot of people attribute the distinctive ‘feet together’ postures he used to his prior training in Xing Yi, and there could be some truth to this. Xing Yi does have ‘feet together’ postures quite a lot.

Sun Lu Tang showing a selection of postures from , A Study of Xing Yi Boxing, 1915

Of course, the root of Xing Yi is spear fighting, but the modern interpretation of the art is heavily biased towards bare hand training, and this creates a misleading impression. Think about it – if you were at at least one spear length away from your opponent the risk of being tackled to the ground because your feet are together would be greatly reduced. You’re now free to use the power generation advantages that can be gained by letting both feet come together, which is handy when you are holding a heavy object, like a spear.

If you watch this excellent video of Xing Yi spear technique by Byron Jacobs you’ll see that he doesn’t hang out with his feet together all the time, but occasionally he uses the feet together moments for power generation (and of course, also standing on one leg for range advantage and manoeuvrability in a way that makes sense with weapons).


Example feet together transitional posture:

Byron Jacobs of Mushin Martial Culture

In Xing Yi the most famous example of the ‘feet together’ posture is the Half-Step Beng Quan. Here the back foot stepping up to meet the front foot in place creates a powerful closing action of the body, kind of like a door slamming.

From: Selected subtleties of the Xing Yi Boxing art, by Liu Dianchen [1921]

So, is this the origin of ‘feet together’ postures in Taiji forms? Quite possibly. However, there is one more thing to consider. After first learning Xing Yi, Sun Lu Tang learned his Taiji from Hao Weizhen 1849–1920, who learned from Li Yiyu 1832–1892, who learned from one of the Wu brothers, Wu Yuxiang 1812–1880 who had learned directly from Yang Luchan 1799–1872 and also sought out Chen Qingping 1795–1868 who he learned from in Zhaoboa village.

It’s often thought that the distinctive stepping seen in Sun style Taiji, where the back foot is often lifted and brought up close to the front foot, is a consequence of Sun’s prior Xing Yi training. This makes sense as part of the narrative created as part of the Sun Style Taiji brand, which is that he incorporated his earlier Xing Yi and Bagua training into his Taiji style. However, if you look at the Wu (Hou) style he learned, it already had this distinctive stepping in it.

For example:

From: Wu Yuxiang style Taiji Boxing by Hao Shaoru

While the feet don’t go completely together as much, if at all, in Wu(Hao) style, they are very close together for a lot of the time. Watch this video for an example of the form in action:

One theory about why this is is that Wu Yuxiang was a member of the Imperial Court at the end of the Ching Dynasty, and was therefore expected to wear traditional court dress, which restricted the stepping.

I think you can see that influence extending into Sun Lu Tang’s Taiji, which makes sense since he learned from this lineage.

Finally, I should note that thought this post I don’t want to create the impression that all the steps in either Xing Yi or Taiji performed by Sun Lu Tang are small or restricted. He also had plenty of wider postures in his arts too, for example.

Xing Yi:


However, compare it to postures found in other styles of Taiji whose practitioners didn’t have to wear court dress:

Chen Ziming for example:

From: The inherited Chen family boxing art, Chen Ziming

My Drunken Boxing interview with Byron Jacobs

I appeared on the Drunken Boxing podcast run by my friend Byron Jacobs yesterday where we dived into the story behind all the martial arts I practice, who my teachers are and how I discovered them.

I’m usually the one interviewing other people on my podcast (I interviewed Byron back in episode 2) so this was a bit different. To be honest it feels a bit cringe listening to yourself talk about yourself, but hopefully there’s some interesting stories here to entertain people.

Drunken Boxing #042 Graham Barlow

Here’s a few links to some of the many and varied things I talk about:

Master Lam and Sifu Raymond Rand on the cover of Fighters magazine 1983:

Sifu Raymond Rand, Tai Chi Chuan applications 2022:

Stand Still Be Fit, Day 1: Master Lam Kam Chuen’s original Channel 4 TV series.

Graham in a BJJ sub-only competition 2013, blue belt

Woven Energy podcast episode 1

Graham Tiger Shape Xing Yi

What is the point of Tai Chi applications?

Yang Cheng-Fu showing Tai Chi applications from his book.

In the comments section Richard asked a good question in response to my last post. I wrote a brief reply in the comments, but I thought I’d flesh it out a bit as a blog post, because it’s an interesting topic.

The question is, ‘what’s the point of Tai Chi applications?’ Actually, to be fair, he was talking specifically about the one application video in my last post, not about Tai Chi in general. But personally I think you can extrapolate the question to include the wider Tai Chi universe, and that would be where I’d look for my answer.

There are plenty of videos of respected masters of various styles of Tai Chi running though the applications of their form movements and producing a series of very questionable applications that would require a perfect storm of events to happen for them to work. I don’t want to post them here because I think it would distract from the point I’m making, but look up ‘Name of famous master’ and ‘applications’ on YouTube and you’ll find them.

I really like the phrase “a perfect storm” to describe Tai Chi applications because as far as I can see, most (if not all) Tai Chi applications one would require a ‘perfect storm’ of attacker, positioning and timing for the application work. Therefore the one application video I posted previously is not particularly different to any other Tai Chi application video, at least to me.

That might not be a popular opinion, but I think it’s true.

Contrast this with a martial art like Choy Li Fut. I’ll choose CLF because it’s a kind of a typical Chinese Kung Fu style. It’s has some key techniques like Sao Choy – sweeping fist and Charp Choy – leopard fist and Pao Choy, a kind of big uppercut, Gwa Choy, a backlist, for example.

Here’s 10 of the ‘basic’ techniques that you find in CLF:

I wonder – does the man in the mirror ever punch him back?

If you watch a Choy Li Fut form then you’ll see these 10 techniques crop up again and again, but each form enables you to practice them in different combinations:

A great title for a video “Killer Choy Li Fut form!” It’s actually a great performance, especially with the drumming in the background.

Or check out the famous first form of Wing Chun – Siu Lim Tao, it’s a series of techniques performed very, very accurately so you can refine and practice them:

Now when you do those techniques in a form, you are performing a technique that would work exactly as shown. The only thing you need for success is to actually contact with an opponent and do the move correctly at the right time. 

Tai Chi as a marital art just doesn’t work in the same way. We don’t have a toolbag of techniques designed to be pull out and used ‘as is’. Ward off is not a fundamental technique of Tai Chi – instead Peng, the ‘energy’ you use in performing ward-off, is the important thing. And I think this leads to a lot of confusion about what Tai Chi forms are.

So, if we don’t have techniques that exist in the same way as other marital arts, how are you supposed to fight with Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is a set of principles and a strategy that together make it a martial art. In a nutshell the strategy part can be summed up with the 5 keywords of push hands – listen, stick, yield, neutralise and attack. The principles cover how the body is used, resulting natural power derived from relaxation, ground force and a series of openings and closings expressed in the 8 energies. When the principles of Tai Chi are properly internalised you become something like a sphere, which can redirect force applied to you with ease and respond as appropriate. All these things are elucidated in the Tai Chi Classics.

Now that short description probably leaves a lot out, of what Tai Chi is, but at least it’s a starting point.

If that’s your goal, then putting emphasis on individual techniques doesn’t make much sense. Everything you do now exists in relation to an opponent, rather than existing on its own terms. The Tai Chi form then becomes a series of examples of how you might respond to specific attacks. In essence, it is a series of perfect storms, one after the other, put in a sequence that is long enough that you start to internalise the principles of movement and energy use. And obviously the strategy part requires a partner, hence why push hands exists.

I think that’s also the reason why Tai Chi forms are so long and slow, btw, so you internalise things.

As a final note, I’d say the jury is still out as to whether the Tai Chi way is the best approach to teaching people to fight. It’s interesting to note that a lot of martial arts innovators tend towards this same nebulous ‘technique-free’ style of training the further they get into their research into martial arts. Bruce Lee for example, was moving towards freedom and the technique of no technique in his later years – see his 1971 manifesto ‘Liberate yourself from Classical Karate’ for example. Then there’s Wang Xiang Zhai who created Yi Quan by removing fixed forms and routines from Xing Yi Quan and mixing it with whatever else he had studied. See his criticisms of other Kung Fu styles in his 1940 interview, for example.

Photo by Thao LEE on Unsplash

In contrast a lot of the martial arts that have actually proven effective in modern combat events have turned out to be very, very technique based. Brazilian Jiujitsu, for example, is taught through very specific techniques. So is MMA. Karate, for all of Bruce Lee’s criticisms often does very well in competition against other more esoteric styles because it contains some no nonsense techniques.

Another factor to think of is that while Tai Chi may have those lofty goals of producing a formless fighter in its classical writing, it often isn’t taught like that in reality. One of the martial arts that Wang Xiang Zhai is criticising as having lost its way and become a parody of itself in that 1940 essay linked to above, is, in fact, Tai Chi Chuan!

So, as ever with marital arts, I think the answer is: it’s complicated.

The hidden takedown in Ward Off

Tai Chi Ward Off

Most people who do Tai Chi are familiar with the idea of Ward Off as being a block/deflection of an incoming strike, but there’s also a takedown application inherent in the movement.

As luck would have it there is a new series of videos being posted online of my Tai Chi teacher, Sifu Rand, showing various Tai Chi applications. Here’s a video of him demonstrating the takedown contained in Ward Off.

Check out the YouTube channel Spinning Dragon Tao as it looks like there will be more applications posted there soon.

Ji – To press or crowd in

I was reading through my latest purchase, Chen Style Illustrated, again recently and I got to something that piqued my interest – it’s the section where they are describing the 8 energies and we get to Press (Ji)

“When in contact the aim of this gradual rolling move is is to unsettle the balance of he opponent.”

It’s not a bad description at all, but I don’t resonate with the word “gradual” there. The most common application you tend to see for Press is of a kind of “bump” that puts the person off balance, but my experience of Ji has been that there’s nothing particularly gradual about it. That bump can be applied in a hard sharp way. Jin done in a forward direction (which is Press) can often be quite jolting and it hurts inside.

The 8 energies are:

掤 peng, 捋 lu, 挤 ji, 按 an, 採 cai, 挒 lie, 肘 zhou, 靠 kao

Google translates 挤 as “press” or “crowd in”. (I’m not sure that another translation you often see of “squeeze” is helpful. I’ve read people writing about squeezing the hands together – that’s not it at all. ) From that you get the sense of a situation where you are already in contact with the person and, perceiving a point of weakness in their defence you press them further on the point. It reminds me a lot of the strategy of Horse in Xing Yi, which is to attack a point of defence that is already defended but has a weakness you can exploit.

Cheng Man Ching doing Press

In the Tai Chi form Ji is usually done with the back of the hand in the typical Grasp Bird’s Tail sequence (presumably because it the easiest way to capitalise on a good position you’ve already achieved), but there’s nothing about the energy you’re using that means it has to be done with the back of the hand. It can be done with a fist or palm too.

And this is where the Tai Chi waters get a bit murky. There is the martial technique Press, which is to do with pressing further forward into an opponent you are already contacted with, and then there is the abstract concept of “jin in a forward direction”. Anytime you express jin (strength derived from the ground through a relaxed body) in a forward direction you could be said to be doing 挤, but when you put it into a Tai Chi context it takes on this quality of crowding in and pressing that attack.

The head kick from hell! Leon Edwards UFC 278

Congratulations to the UK’s Leon Edwards for becoming the new UFC Middleweight Champion of the world with his stunning head kick victory over Kamaru Usman. After a great first round Edwards was clearly losing on points having been dominated by the champion in each round since, but in the fifth and final he pulled off a near perfect head kick as you’re ever going to see, sending Usman crashing to the canvas and making him the new champion.

As the photos show, he set it up with a left that tells Usman to dip his head to the right, but that kick is already coming and it’s all over.

1. Feint the left.
2. Usman dips his head.
3. Kick connects!