July - September 2010

Illusive Pugilism: Merging the 13 Postures
of Tai Chi Ch’uan with Western Methods of Fighting (Part 5: Elbow- and Shoulder-Striking Strategies)


In our fifth article in the series, Illusive Pugilism: Merging the 13 Postures of Tai Chi Ch'uan with Western Methods of Fighting, we briefly explore the body-mechanics that make elbow- and shoulder-striking strategies effective with proper placement. In earlier articles, we discussed many of the body-mechanics of Taiji as they pertain to the training of an illusive pugilist.

In recent critiques of Western Tai Chi Ch’uan, the art is being defined as a pugilistic style of internal martial arts form and function. This internally-generated pugilism is illusive only if the practitioner’s understanding of the 5 Character Secret is cultivated through three important exercises:

  • Pranayama for cultivating mental calm and breathing
  • Qigong for cultivating mental focus and structure
  • Silk-reeling for cultivating agility or the gathering of energy before elemental, step movement

A regular practice of Pranayama, Qigong, and Silk-reeling regimens reinforce the illusive strength generated from striking with the elbow (Chou) and the shoulder (Kao). With these considerations, the strategies of elbow- and shoulder-striking make the adept an irresistible force when breathing, structure, and rotation are executed in tandem with gathering and emiting energy. The eleven previous strategies prepare the Taiji adept to act as an immovable object that unbalances the opponent when proper body mechanics are implemented.

After unbalancing an opponent, the time for striking them is made possible. For an aggressive opponent using the Metal (forward movement) or Fire (strong-side pivot) step to attack, the opportunity to strike with the hand, knee, or foot between step-transition causes a loss in an opponent’s structural soundness. This makes the opponent lose intrinsic strength, allowing for finishing strikes found in the elbow and shoulder strategies. However, the adept’s manipulation of air, structure, and focus is crucial to success.

The Pranayama exercises for power and strength are many, but the most basic are those involving the intake of breath while extending appendages during form training and the mouth-intake (Puraka), body-retention (Kumbhaka) and nose-expulsion (Rechaka) of air.

The proper posture found in the training of Qigong ensures that the body is correctly aligned along the axis of the five elemental-step movements (Metal, Earth, Fire, Water, and Wood).

The idea and practice of silk-reeling is important to practice in Qigong training while in the Earth step (Centered). While maintaining Sung (Sinking) at the balls of feet, Tan Tien (below the navel accupuncture point), buttucks tucked, chest indented, hips turned through the power-line, the adept learns to whip strikes.  The elbow strike (Chou) or a shoulder strike (K’ao) are utterly devestating when these considerations are honed to effectiveness.  

The Song of Chou & K'ao

Tai Chi Form- Cross HandsTai Chi Form- Shoulder Stroke

Its method relates to the Five Elements.
Yin and Yang are divided above and below.
Emptiness and substantiality must be clearly distinguished.
Joined in unbroken continuity,
the opponent cannot resist the posture.
Its explosive pounding is especially fearsome.
When one has mastered the six kinds of energy,
the applications become unlimited.

Its method is divided into the shoulder and back technique.
In Diagonal Flying Posture use shoulder,
but within the shoulder technique
there is also some use of the back.
Once you have the opportunity and can take advantage of the posture,
the technique explodes like pounding a pestle.
Carefully maintain your own center of gravity.
Those who lose it will have no achievement.

The Western Tai Chi Ch’uan Combat (Long and Short) and Dance of Life forms provide the foundation for these strategies. Chou means to strike or push with the elbow. It is said that nothing can stop its completed form if the movement is uninterrupted. The hand, knee, or foot acting as striking weapons can lead the angle of the elbow or shoulder strategy.  Sifu Emin Boztepe, an expert at Wing Tsun Chi Sao (push-hands), demonstrates close-quarters use of Chou.

The word K’ao implies leaning or inclining. The term is usually translated Shoulder Strike, Shoulder Stroke, or Shoulder. The technique can be effective off the push, roll-back, or ward-off if the opponent is attacking from above towards your head or to control the head of the opponent during grappling encounters (standing or prone). It can also be used in choking the opponent.

Shoulder and elbow strikes are demonstrated during push-hands training in the video Western Tai Chi Ch’uan Combat Short Form with Traditional Pushhands Applications.  These strikes used in combination with splitting and twisting, grasping and plucking is very lethal as the opponent can be pummeled, pounded, cut, and broken if he is not properly structured. In the mount or the guard ground positions, these techniques really don’t need a lot of imagination to employ as long as the practitioner is sunk, relaxed, and relentless.

The following areas are the striking areas for Chou and K’ao:

  • Side of the Neck: The length of the Sternocleidomastoid muscle covered by the Platysma. Cause of loss of consciousness is trauma to the carotid artery and the Pneumogastric nerve, leading to shock and to loss of sensory and motor functions.
  • Supraclavicular Fossa: Front portion of the throat on either side, just above the collar bone at the origin of the lateral head of the Sternocleidomastoid muscle. The cause of consciousness is trauma to the artery located below the collar bone and to the sublingual nerve, producing shock and loss of motor functions.
  • Suprasternal Notch: The concavity on the ventral surface of the neck between the Sternum below and the hyoid bone above. The cause of loss of consciousness is caused by the blockage of the windpipe.
  • Sternal Angle: Just below the juncture of the Manubrium and the Sternum. The cause of loss of consciousness is trauma to the heart, bronchus, and arteries, supplying the upper part of the body and the pulmonary artery, leading to the malfunction of the respiratory system and shock.
  • Xiphoid Process: Lowest part of the Sternum. The cause of loss of consciousness is severe trauma to the liver, stomach, and heart, leading to shock and to disturbance of the nervous system, followed by the loss of motor functions.
  • Solar Plexus: Concavity just below the Sternum. The loss of consciousness is caused by trauma to the stomach and liver, leading to damage to adjacent regions above and below, and in turn will affect the nerves and produce a loss of function of the internal organs.

Our next discussion will be on how to teach these striking skills so that a fighter can utilize them in boxing, kickboxing, and Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) scenarios.

Visit earlier articles in this series:

  1. Illusive Pugilism, Part 1: Elemental Steps of Metal, Wood, Fire, Water and Earth
  2. Illusive Pugilism, Part 2: Ward-off and Roll-back
  3. Illusive Pugilism, Part 3: Press and Push
  4. Illusive Pugilism, Part 4: The Splitting-Twist and Grasping-Pluck

The Art of Western Tai Chi Ch'uan

Master Singh

Master Gurjot K. Singh’s recent work, Western Tai Chi Ch’uan: The Supreme Ultimate & Sweet Science of Boxing with 10 Limbs, was published with Strategic Book Publishers in the spring of 2010.

This article series was launched to introduce the fighters of Angels Gym and the above training guide. Two technical knockout (TKO) wins in Mixed Martial Arts competition were awarded to Angels Gym Shawn Boyd and James Watts in PYAAAT Promotional and Carolina Fight Promotional events in June 2010. (These wins will be posted at the Angels Gym Youtube channel.)

The book has received great reviews by a Martial Arts author and academician, two Martial Art Grandmasters and the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association.

The book is available at this link. The book has received great reviews by two martial art Grandmasters and the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association.

Master Gurjot K. Singh, the author of the above book, writes articles for the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association (ATCQA) and holds graduate degrees from Troy University in Education and International Relations.  He is certified by the ATCQA as a Professional Tai Chi Instructor (Level II of III). Western Tai Chi Ch’uan is a recognized style of Tai Chi by the ATCQA. Most of his martial arts skills in grappling, Tai Chi, boxing and kickboxing were acquired during his 20 (+) years of government service. Singh recently received his status as a Master of Kickboxing from Grandmaster Dr. Ibraham Ahmed, founder of the World Martial Arts College, on the three-year anniversary of the re-opening of Angel’s Gym.  The style has been recognized in MMA circles as Master Singh’s gym was invited by Jeremy Ridgeway, of the EFC, to be part of its stable of MMA training facilities in the spring of 2010.

Simply stated: The system works because the fighter has the heart to persevere in a training regimen that mentally, emotionally, and physically prepares them for the opponent they can’t beat… Not the one they can!

To Illusive Pugilists “… the mind is the greatest weapon and the heart the greatest shield.”