Updated: Oct 12, 2022
In Part 1 Drop the Elbows on the Knees we looked at the importance of sinking the elbows. In a Part 2 - Resting Elbows on Knees, we explore how we relax the arms and shoulders by having them feel as if they are supported, so they can let go. In this final chapter, we will put it all together by having you experience the feelings of connectivity, connecting the elbows and knees and the rest of the body. We will also relate this connectivity to doing some postures, doing push hands, and when holding a weapon, such as a sword.
Please take the time to do the activities below. The only way to understand this concept is to FEEL the resting of the elbows on the knees and lifting the knees to support the elbows. You cannot learn this by sitting down, so please, get up, NOW, and try these activities. You may surprise yourself!
Activity 1: Opening posture - solo
You can easily try this yourself to see if what we have described actually works. Raise your arms up as if doing the opening movement of your form. As you begin to lift your arms, make a connection between your elbows and knees by sinking your elbows to your knees and feeling as if your knees are coming up to your sinking elbows. Maintain this feeling as your arms rise and keep it all the way to the top of the movement.
If your next movement is to bring the arms down, then keep that connection while bring the arms down. Pay attention to the feelings. Do it a few times to really feel it. Now, do it again without these connections. Notice what changes between the two ways of doing the move. Which way feels more powerful; more connected to your feet; more connected to the rest of your body? In which way do you feel yourself getting taller because your spine has lengthened?
Activity 2: Opening posture – with partner
Take this to the next level and have a partner give you some resistance as you bring your arms up and as they go down. Do it with the elbow-knee connections, and without.
Notice the differences in the ability to move against resistance. Pay attention to whether the power to lift your arms is coming from your shoulders or from your feet. You will notice that when you establish the elbow-knee connection, you lift your arms by connecting the whole body and using the power from the ground, through your back. When you do not have the elbow-knee connection you are only using your shoulder muscles to lift your arms. It feels as if the arms are not really connected to the body.
Activity 3: Heavy Elbows– with partner
Another way to test whether your arms and elbows are correct is by having someone try to stop you from bringing your elbows down. When done correctly, and your elbows are sunk and connected, they will feel very heavy and unstoppable. There is power in them even though your arms are relaxed and you’re not using muscular force.
If you want to take your taiji to a higher level, then try these suggestions using different postures from your form to figure out if you’re sinking your elbows and lifting your knees correctly. Try feeling the connection of the elbow-knee in “Part the Horse’s Mane”. Try it in “White Crane” or “Fair Lady”.
Applying with Brush Knee
An interesting posture to feel this is “Brush Knee”. It is easy to feel the connection in your lower arm. Try feeling the connection in your upper arm. Most players neglect this connection, and their posture is unstable and lacks power. If you cannot feel this connection, sink your elbow a little more and lift your knee a little more. I guarantee it will give new life to your “Brush Knee”, as well as all your postures.
During Push Hands
If you push hands, sinking your elbows to your knees and lifting the knees will make a tremendous difference in how you move. Without this connection your upper body and lower body are not connected and move as separate entities. As happens in most push hands, you wind up using your arms without your body and trying to muscle your way. When you are connected, your entire body moves as one and you are connected to the ground for stability and power. It makes a huge difference.
With a Weapon or Sword
This also applies to holding a weapon, like a sword. Holding a sword without supporting your arms with your knees means using your arm muscles to do it. That makes the movement erratic, stiff, and lacking power. However, when you rest your elbow on your knee, the knee supports your arm, and you can relax your muscles. Wielding the sword becomes agile and effortless.
Most teachers tell their students to relax, to drop their shoulders, to bend their knees. The knowledgeable ones will tell you to sink and root. What we detailed in these articles is HOW to do it. How to sink your body how to connect your body, how to get power into your arms by connecting your elbows to your knees. Please try what we have described; try to feel your elbows resting on your knees; try to feel your knees supporting your elbows. This doesn’t happen overnight and may take a few tries to learn, but it is well worth it.
Written By: Joseph Eber