In Search of Efficiency – Part Four: Harmonies (The second aspect of movement)
There are six harmonies in Chinese martial arts, three external and three internal.
For this post, I am going to refer to the three external harmonies because they relate to movement and I will focus on one in particular.
The Three External Harmonies:
1) Hands harmonise with the feet,
2) Elbows harmonise with the knees,
3) Shoulder joints harmonise with the pelvic/thigh joint.
The harmonies allow you to translate total body coordination into descriptive words.
The concept is simple enough. When you move the two components mentioned together should move in similar directions.
By doing this you will coordinate your body into coordinated movement.
However, the order of the words is important because we want our hands harmonising with what our feet are doing. That tells us the feet generate the movement and the hands are moved accordingly.
We also want our knees to generate the movement and the elbows move accordingly. Not the other way around.
In some writings, the third harmony is stated as the shoulders harmonise with the hips or waist. Waist is often a translation of the Chinese word qua which doesn’t refer to the waist we westerners tie our belts around but rather the pelvic area including the thigh joint. Hips or waist can rotate and the shoulders can follow but when we think of this harmony as our joints then we can also harmonize that they can open and close and can have a more three-dimensional rotation; therefore, I think of the joints.
These are vital for movement and power generation but the one I want to focus on here for movement is the elbow moving in harmony with the knee. We want a full, total body movement. If when I move my knee forward my elbow moves forward then everything in between my knee and elbow moves forward and this gives us the total body movement we want.
Picture stepping in with your right foot to deliver an elbow strike. Your foot drives off, your knee drives forward, you elbow drives forward, you rotate your knees, which rotates up through the thigh/hip joints rotating the hips and therefore the elbow rotates into the strike (as the other elbow rotates back). Because the elbow went in harmony with the knee everything in between went with it and your entire body landed on the strike.
This is the purpose of the harmonies. Hands harmonising with the feet is subtler because, unless stepping, the movement of the feet can be simply pressure or engaging the elasticity of the body while the hands reflect that pressure in actual movement but always in the same direction as the pressure in the feet.
The harmonising of the shoulder joint and pelvic thigh joint is worthy of a book so I’ll leave it for its own entry.
Just try stepping with the elbows doing what your knees are doing and see how your whole body moves. And as one knee moves forward often the other knee is pulling back so the other elbow also has to reflect this movement. You can feel the whole body in each movement.
Here is an old clip on knee elbow harmony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GGXubu7lwQ&spfreload=10