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In push hands, in certain schools, it is not uncommon for a player to collapse their arm into a folded position, such that the elbow extends forward for a strike.

(This is typically not a finishing move, unless applied in free-sparring from body to body contact, but it hurts in push hands, disrupts the attention, and can do damage if the partner's chest is not properly empty.)

My understanding of this strike is that it derives from hsingyi, but I've also seen it in taiji/bagua hybrids.

  • How to defend against the linear elbow strike in taiji push hands?
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  • Can you collapse the wrist? This sounds like the perfect opportunity to lock up the your partners wrist for a takedown.
    – Huw Evans
    Aug 11, 2021 at 14:14
  • @HuwEvans Not when you also know bagua—there I can just coil out of your attempt to lock, and I'm even more inside, probably with my hands on your body. (I learned this is the Fu taiji system. In my school it's taught as part of the most basic one-handed push hands exercise, and every student is expected to be able to counter it.)
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 11, 2021 at 17:22
  • If you can coil out of it they are not doing the lock properly in the first place.
    – Huw Evans
    Aug 12, 2021 at 12:32
  • @Huw I do not think you can make that lock if the partner can coil, vetted against practitioners with high Chin Na expertise. My experience is that people can't even react at all unless they've been tagged in the chest with it numerous times, such that they're always aware of the possibility. One of the reasons I was taught to push with forearms, not hands, is so that the hands are always free for this and other counters. (It also puts the hands more inside the partners guard, such that you can sometimes uproot with the fingers if you have a little snake.)
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 13, 2021 at 22:26
  • @HuwEvans Consider that coiling forms the basis for some fundamental counters, such as the basic drag from grasping birds tail. There, the most basic counter is to sink the shoulder and elbow, and use the waist to uncoil into the partner, and unbalance them with one's shoulder. It is very difficult to lock the arms of bagua practitioners.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 13, 2021 at 22:33

2 Answers 2

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One of the guiding principles in Taiji is to make sure each joint is able to move in any direction. In other words, in a neutral position. If a joint is too far extended outward, it won't be able to adapt to forces that cause it to extend further. And that causes your body's structure to fail. The same thing is true for when the joint is too far retracted. Remaining somewhere in the middle of the range of motion that a joint permits means that you are able to adapt to forces from any direction without jeopardizing your structure.

That's a very fundamental principle in Taiji.

If you look at the elbow joint, for example, it should remind you of a hinge on a door. When a door is fully open or fully closed, it has no more room to move. It's stuck there.

For the elbow to perform a direct / linear strike, that means the lower arm must be folded inward close to the bicep of the upper arm. That violates this principle in Taiji that you should have all joints neutral. When a joint is not neutral, then it can't react to oncoming force. You can get lock-ups.

So in practical terms, this means maintaining connection and following his wrist. Step inward while turning slightly to avoid the elbow, forming like a triangle wedge, placing your body weight against his wrist. That will deflect the elbow strike. And it locks his elbow temporarily. Then from there, circle step one of your feet around his legs and plant it down behind him. Make sure your knees are bent, not extended. Push diagonally against his sternum or opposite shoulder with either your palm, your elbow, or your shoulder. He will trip over your leg. If he lifts his leg out of the way, quickly step behind his other leg and push forward again for a sweep.

The key is: With that wrist trapped and his elbow therefore locked, it means his arm is now in a bad position. He can't use it to react to your oncoming force. It makes him vulnerable. At least until he wiggles it out.

Drill this a bunch of times to get the feel of it.

Hope that helps.

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  • This is good if the practitioner only has taiji, but if they have bagua also, they can just coil out of this defense into a different kind of strike. Since one expects the elbow strike to be countered, it's often a setup to something else.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 11, 2021 at 17:20
  • @DukeZhou That would be my reaction as well, to just coil out of that trap. But, temporarily it can trap that wrist and permits an opening. Even if they coil out, they may not be able to do so quick enough to deal with the force that's coming in directly to their center. Stepping into their center puts them in danger. Of course they can just step back or out or whatever, so that's why you trap their leg with a circle step behind. Every theory works, of course, in theory. Gotta put it to the test! Aug 11, 2021 at 17:28
  • I should reinforce that this technique comes from Fu school, so it's an integration of bagua/hsingyi into taiji. You can't trap the wrist against the body because the defender can either empty and go into big coil, such that the hand can come up behind the other player's arm or shoulder, or sink the elbow into small coil (spitting pearl), which develops into a finger strike, palm upward, into the throat, although sometimes they strike with the butt of the palm. It's all over before you'd have time to step around. You need superior leverage from the get go to counter productively.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 17, 2021 at 3:50
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    I see this as more of a slip than anything. You follow that wrist inward, and slip, rotating your upper body to avoid the elbow and get in. If you can do that without him feeling it, you can get your foot behind his and then do a push to his shoulder. Yes, he's coiling, but maybe you can get the sweep in time. I think the key is to be so soft as to not be felt. Tricky to do in real life. You'll probably eat his elbow. Haha. Aug 17, 2021 at 4:05
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    I'm starting to see what you mean. The step around could be quite quick, especially if you have superior leverage chest to chest (never mind the arms at that point.) So I think you could make this work for sure, just that I think it could probably still be countered if the defender can step around your hook. It's possible the Fu counter I describe was so show a "gentle" counter that can trap, but has a way out, and continues fluidly back into push hands. I could see your counter also returning to push hands if countered. Fu style also loves hooking the leg.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 17, 2021 at 4:18
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This is a very basic strike/counter combination in the Fu taiji system. You see it there because Fu taiji developed out of bagua, via Fu Zhensong, who was reputed to be the only internal master who could rival Yang Chengfu at push hands. (They were great friends:)

Fu's son, Fu Wing Fay, a contemporary of Cheng Man-ch'ing, specialized in taiji and leungyi, which is a hybrid taichi/bagua forms. This is likely why you see this elbow strike/counter in Fu taiji.

The counter is simple, but it requires bagua coiling hands.

  • Use the forearm for pushing

Hand and wrist must be free. Ideally, you maintain contact forearm to forearm, because if you let your partner contact closer to their wrist, they will be able to get a little more distance in that elbow strike before you counter.

  • When the elbow comes, coil the fingers downward around the back of the elbow

This would be right arm to right arm, or left to left.

  • Turn the waist outward and empty

Outward refers to the side of the hand being used. If right hand, waist turns right. You need to be able to empty the chest in conjunction with the counter, to get sufficient leverage against a skilled partner, and the feeling should be that the movement here derives from the base of the spine.

  • If the opponent's body is turned by the counter, continue coiling the countering hand under their arm until your fingers can grasp the partner's throat.

Be gentle! This is not a brute force application! Anyone can squeeze the trachea, but can you apply and maintain this with only the minimum required pressure?

The off-hand controls the base of their spine.

Using this hold, you can gently keep the partner at the edge of imbalance indefinitely, such that they cannot strike or employ their body in any useful way. It requires some feeling, b/c then the partner tries to move, you must adjust to keep them from achieving any root.

  • The counter to the counter is to roll out

Direction of the roll is the same direction the partners body moved when they were turned around. I use "roll" here because, while it can look like a bagua spin-turn, it's really more of a body turnover.

(Spin turn is difficult/impossible when you have no root, but body roll is natural from the edge of balance, of when off balance, and this is a basic principle of bagua.)

When the counter and the counter-counter are employed correctly, the players return naturally to push hands, with no break in continuity.

  • I think the reason it's considered optimal in the Fu system is it establishes superior leverage from from the beginning of the strike, not waiting for it to develop, but deflecting and and using the force of the opponents body to turn it and step behind to grapple, controlling the neck and spine.

It's elegant and it works. Caveat is that Fu system teaches a core curriculum of taiji/bagua/hsingyi where possible, so it may be difficult to use without that base.

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