Why We Cross Hands The Way We Do

Posted by Stuart Herbert on April 5th, 2008 in Technique.

Do you keep a training diary?

I haven’t, until today. That’s over eight years of experience with no reliable record – only the neurones of my brain as an unreliable witness. How much have I learned and forgotten, and how many questions have I come across that I no longer recall?

In my experience, practising Tai Chi is a series of personal revelations. No progress is made, sometimes for months, and then WHAM – the pieces fall into place and my understanding takes a tiny step forward. The progress comes not through answers, but by finding the questions. When you find the right questions, the answers don’t provide the information – they simply show you what you’ve already come to understand.

For example, take one of the most basic hand movements in Tai Chi – cross hands. For the first eight years of my training, all the questions (from myself, and from fellow students) were about “what is it for?” or “how does it work?” They’re important questions; the student needs to know that cross hands is used to block kicks and punches, and they need to know how the timing and distancing works. If the student is more interested in health than martial, then the answers need to be couched in those terms instead.

But I no longer think that they’re the right questions, not with the outlook on the question as progress. The right question is “why is it that so-and-so arm is on the outside?” The answer to that ensures that form and function falls into place as a result.

In our form (Ng Family Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan), it is always the arm attached to the leading shoulder that sits on the outside of cross hands. We move left, and it is the left arm on the outside. We move right, and it is the right arm on the outside. Every time. Without fail. We’re always looking to move into a block, and we’re always looking to snag an arm or a leg and take it with us.

We’re always in continuous motion (one of the ten important principles from Yang Chen’fu), and cross hands appears deliberately designed to ensure that the move maximises the benefits of being in motion.

It also gives me new questions (well, new to me anyway!) about the old saying of the needle in the cotton, which I’ll look at next time.


In Memory Of Rhil

Posted by Stuart Herbert on April 2nd, 2008 in News.

After the class on Tuesday night, we learned that Rhil Haskins passed away recently. She was a big part of our class, and she will be sorely missed.

I’m always going to remember her for the way she applied herself, both to Tai Chi and to us all in the class.

She’d always complain about how she was mucking it up, but she was always first through the door every Tuesday evening, and she was always the last to leave. Whenever we had a break on an evening, it always seemed like she was going over the moves with someone. She even introduced a friend to the class, who she’d shown some of the moves to.

Everyone had time for Rhil, because she had time for everyone.

She knew the names of everyone in the class weeks before I did. As folks came in, she’d point them out to me and remind me who they were. Right up until she went into hospital, she kept coming to the class, and despite the obvious difficulty she was in, she wanted to be with us every Tuesday night, and she wanted to be involved. I don’t recall her once sitting out. They just don’t make them like that any more.

Rest in peace, Rhil.

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