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Part 1 of 3: Drop the Elbows on the Knees

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Where does our Tai Chi power come from? It is natural for us to focus on our hands and arms during Tai Chi movements. After all, when people reach for the doorknob to open a door, it is the arm that goes out first. Turning the doorknob needs only a small amount of power which we can generate from the shoulder. The rest of the body is not involved. This is how we interact with the world most of the time…..reach, grab,…move the arm/hand.

But, what if the doorknob, or object we are attempting to move has high resistance? To overcome higher resistance we need a lot more power than the shoulder or arm alone. For that kind of power, you have to call on the rest of the body; your feet, your legs and back. The combined power of these parts of the body interacting with the ground, give us the power we need, while still remaining relaxed. Taiji power, then, is a relaxed power that uses the whole body, especially the legs.

To put power in our arms we need to connect our arms to our legs so that the legs can deliver the power to the arms. More specifically, we need to connect our elbows with our feet/legs in order to generate this power.

In previous posts we explored the relationship of the elbow and the shoulder.[1] We learned[1] how raising the elbows too high, or if our elbow is pointing outward it tightens[2] the shoulders. A tight or tense shoulder means that the arm loses its connection to the rest of the body and it has no power. Similarly, we looked at bringing the elbow too far back past the body’s midline, and how that also compromises the relationship between the shoulder and the rest of the body. [2]

Around 1995, when I first met my teacher, Master William Ting (, he constantly admonished me to drop my elbows. Mind you, I was not a beginner; I had 15 years experience in the Yang and Wu styles. In my mind my elbows were dropped so obviously he was talking to the rest of the class and not me. Then one day while practicing, it dawned on me, “Oh, my elbows really are too high.”

I came to the next class feeling happy and confident because I was going to show him that I understood what he was trying to teach me. We were doing a qigong similar to the posture called “Box The Ears,” and as I was proudly showing off my newly dropped elbows, when he said, “Drop your elbows.” What? Wait! They were dropped! A look of utter bewilderment and disappointment must have registered on my face because he walked over, took my elbows and lowered them at least six inches more. I realized at that moment what dropped elbows meant, and I have been working on them ever since.

But that’s not the end of the story. Master ting would tell the class (as he still does today at every lesson), “Your elbows are resting on your knees, and your knees are supporting your elbows.” I used to wonder, “What does that mean? He must surely mean it as a metaphor for something else, because how can the knees support the elbows? How can the elbows reach the knees? “

It took me a while and a lot of practice to realize what Master Ting was saying. It was exactly what he meant, because that is exactly what he is doing and what he feels. So, in this article, we will talk about how to rest the elbows on the knees, and how to feel your knees supporting your elbow. To be clear, the elbows do not touch your knees. But, when done right, it FEELS as if they do, and that feeling is very real. To get this feeling, there are actual physical changes that need to be done which will bring on this feeling.

Put your seat belt on, it’s going to be a slightly bumpy, but very interesting ride!

Please continue reading Part 2 - Resting Elbows on Knees where we will explore how to relax the arms and shoulders by having them feel as if they are supported, so they can let go.

In the final article: Part 3Connectedness – We will connect all the parts so you can experience how to use this letting go to connect your elbows to your knees to create internal power.

Written By: Joseph Eber

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