… One Arm

Zhengmanqing once famously told his students “last night I dreamt I had no arms” and this marked the beginning of an interesting training method within the lineage – practicing a linked form sequence without using one’s arms at all. Instead, the practitioner steps through the form merely imagining the arms moving as they hang limply at the sides. Firstly it is a great exercise in visualisation – the first time you try it, you might find that trying to keep up to where you are in the form sequence with no arm indicators can be quite tricky. I think the next step is to try to feel how much momentum you can generate into the arms to make them swing in the required directions for the form. This does require a little active will – your arms will certainly not move into some of the postures without a little imagination. The trick is to power them with momentum as much as possible and when you actively put the arms back in, trying to maintain this reliance on momentum and rely as little as possible on muscle contraction.

Tonight I was cleaning my teeth while working my way through the form with my feet, my body and my free hand and it suddenly dawned on me that I was doing the form with only one arm. This became a very interesting exercise as I imagined all those places in the form when the arms come together for some purpose – the squeeze forwards, single whip, white crane, closing and sealing a door, cross hands etc. etc. Of course you should try the exercise with both of your hands – say your right hand the first time and your left hand on the next run through.

The really great thing about this exercise I think is that you can imagine quite clearly all those times of contact between your hands and arms – it’s there crying out in your muscle memory, giving you a real sense of relating to another arm in a way that remembering all those application repetitions with all those different people of different shapes and sizes somehow doesn’t. I suppose my right arm is always my right arm – it’s always the same length and it’s always pretty much in the same place, trying to adopt the optimum posture in abstract – without having to alter its shape one iota in order to better pin someone’s elbow or to find the striking line to the temple.

On a totally different track, if you mentally focus on specific combat applications rather than more generic movement qualities, you can visualise your one arm trying to fulfill both the defending and attacking roles on it own. For example you can picture how it might express a little more sideways rolling movement here … before extending and drilling as it slides up the outside of the opponent’s arm to deliver a palm strike under their jawbone. You can see this training method as useful preparation for an encounter where your other arm is out of action – perhaps broken, or clutching something or someone precious that it cannot let go of. Alternatively, you could see the exercise as training both arms to be able to fight independently, perhaps helping you to deal with multiple opponents simultaneously. Or you could simply consider the merits of training each arm to be able to be as good as two normal arms, or not far off.

Inspiration can come at the strangest times. I’m glad I’ve always been diligent about clean teeth.



Before her passing, Joanna Zorya, ranked as a Grade A instructor in the UK, was the head teacher of the Martial Tai Chi Association.  Her web site is http://www.martialtaichi.co.uk/contacts.html. Her several series of VCDs and DVDs,are all available through Plum:
Joanna’s Instructional DVDs

2 Responses to “… One Arm”

  1. patrick hodges says:

    Hmmmm…Interesting. Many years back, a Sifu friend of mine had a set based on this idea although he never told me the origins. Also, my Tao Gar Sifu had a form also following this precept although he created it. Supposedly, it could also lead to Kong Jin or empty force. I guess if you believe in a “universal Consciousness” things happen.

  2. patrick hodges says:

    Oh, I forgot, additionally, Hung Fat & Black Tiger systems also have one armed sets…The before mentioned comments applied to forms not using any arms but only intention….

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