Hand Positions and Gestures in Tai Chi Chuan
Hand positions and gestures in Tai Chi Chuan and all classical combat styles of martial arts like Northern Shaolin, Lan Shou Quan, Xing Yi Quan, or Ba Gua Zhang are both important and easy to improve. Each moment of practice in any of these classical arts has a specific formation and gesture with your hand. Each of these has a martial, a health, and an aesthetic component.
From the martial point of view, we need strong hands and firm formations of the basic fist and palm positions. For actual self defense having strong hands and being able to properly form a fist or palm is incredibly important. If you do not know how to form your fist or palm appropriately you are likely to injure yourself if you strike someone else. This is especially true if you hit someone in the head with your fist. The skull is hard, and some areas and angles are more than strong enough to break your hand if you are not careful. There is less chance of injury to your hand with a palm strike to the head. However, striking the body with the wrong palm position is likely to injure your wrist. It is quite possible to injure yourself far worse than your opponent with a poor hand position. If you knock them out cold, but in the process break your hand and then spend weeks healing it, loosing work, and paying medical expenses, we have to wonder if “winning” was worth it. Did you even win?
So, a basic and incredibly important part of every technique is your hand formation and proper wrist alignment. When I watch people perform, it is immediately obvious who will break their hand or their wrist and who will not. When I see someone, who has a high degree of precision in the exact position and alignment of their wrist and elbow combined with a proper fist or palm I know they have actual martial skills. I also strongly suspect they have spent considerable time hitting bags, targets, and sparring with contact. As simple as this sounds it this does not happen overnight. To really get it right you need to hit bags, and targets, and people who are actively defending. All of these will teach you how to actually and practicality use your hands. Developing your hands in this way is in many ways much easier than mastering all the other details of body structure and sequence that are important to generating power and applying force in your techniques.
From a health point of view practicing and mastering your hand formations is a great way to improve the strength and dexterity of your hands. Each hand position has a correct way to be shaped or formed. Each hand position, even the simplest fist and palm, requires some practice to correctly create and even more to become strong enough to use for self-defense. The good news is simply switching from one hand formation to another consciously with martial intention focusing each action builds the strength you need and helps you to understand how to position your hands correctly. These actions increase circulation and help to open, stretch, and strengthen every part of your hand. In addition, the hands contain many important acupoints that are stimulated to improve your health and build muscle throughout your body. I have seen many people relieve significant amounts of swelling and pain from their hands and wrists as a result of correct practice. I have also seen people’s hands and wrists change their appearance and become more supple, graceful, and healthy looking. This is a fantastic benefit. Many people have also reported a lowering or complete elimination of their arthritis pain and carpal tunnel syndrome pain.
Tai Chi Chuan in particular becomes more beautiful, graceful, and relaxing to watch as you improve your hand positions. Because hand positions are easier to improve than many of the details about leg or hip position or stepping and shifting your weight they can be a great way to make and experience progress in your practice. I love practicing making the gestures of Tai Chi more fluid and graceful. The gestures of Tai Chi Chuan in particular are graceful and fluid. Because Tai Chi moves slower than Kung Fu the transition from one hand formation to another generally takes longer than the super fast transitions of Kung Fu. This gives both us and our potential audience longer to observe the change of hand position. Because it is slower, we can work with the transition to make it more expressive, fuller, and visible. When we use the palm in Tai Chi, we often have the opportunity to make more subtle changes in the shape, angle, or movement or our hands and enhance the appearance of the whole movement. This is a fun and pleasant way to practice. Focusing on the hand positions is easy, it feels good, it looks good, and it can help to relax your mind, and improve your mood.
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