Setting of the shoulder in Tai Chi and internal arts

  • Setting of the shoulder in Tai Chi and internal arts

    Posted by Travis Stevelle on 15th June 2021 at 12:38 am

    Hi everyone, please excuse my lack of knowledge regarding this subject I trained with my Tai Chi teacher for around one year. Regrettably I had to quit the class when I relocated to a new city due to work commitments. I have noticed that setting the shoulder is emphasized in Tai Chi and the internal arts and I wondered what that means? Are our shoulders not already set in the correct position or does the setting require us to change our natural skeletal position? Are there any exercises or drills I can practice to feel the sensation of a correctly set shoulder?
    Thank you in advance for your input and suggestions. Travis.

    Joseph replied 2 years, 3 months ago 4 Members · 8 Replies
  • 8 Replies
  • Thomas Riinstain

    Member
    15th June 2021 at 1:17 am

    Hi Travis this certainly makes for an exciting discussion. I invite you to watch the video of Adam Mizner describing the importance of setting the shoulder in the video posted below. Setting the shoulder is not exclusive to Tai Chi, it is practiced in many TCMA’s, as it enables the practitioner to connect their arm(s) to their torso in the correct manner needed to generate full-body power. It also allows a person to receive large amounts of force through their bridge (arms) and dissipate the energy into the ground. As for the exercises required to achieve the setting of the shoulder, you could start with practicing the Song Gong exercises, as loosening the shoulders is a prerequisite to setting.

    https://youtu.be/5JAxVNolnaU

  • Thomas Riinstain

    Member
    15th June 2021 at 1:20 am

    Speaking of Song Gong, here is a video to get you started.

    https://youtu.be/mPV1MfVyMEE

  • Travis Stevelle

    Member
    15th June 2021 at 1:52 am

    Wow, I wasn’t excepting such a quick response, thank you Thomas. My previous teacher taught me the first Song Gong exercise, but he focused more on stretching than loosening. I will definitely try Adams’s way of practicing and see how that goes. I must mention that I feel my shoulders are already quite loose. What signs should I look for to know they are flexible enough to set?

    • Thomas Riinstain

      Member
      15th June 2021 at 2:58 am

      When your scapular can release to the point it can sink and set into the optimum position, the loosening process is complete. Listening to Adam’s explanation, could this be much harder than most give credit for? To paraphrase Adam, he mentioned that he has traveled around the world touching hands with countless people, yet hardly anyone has achieved a set shoulder. A crucial insight into the complexity of this task nobody should ignore.

  • James Dawes

    Member
    15th June 2021 at 5:15 am

    Not that I wish to sound arrogant, but isn’t setting the shoulder just ensuring the ball is placed and maintained inside the socket? For example, in Wing Chun, if you lift your arm too high when you perform a Bong Sau, your shoulder joint lifts and then it’s not in the socket. Am I right or am I missing something?

    • Thomas Riinstain

      Member
      17th June 2021 at 8:29 am

      James, what you have stated is partly true, but only a tiny piece of the puzzle. Setting the shoulder and maintaining the condition is a high-level skill, in my opinion, as we mere humans are prone to raising and engaging our shoulders in everyday life ha ha.

    • Travis Stevelle

      Member
      17th June 2021 at 11:05 pm

      I was thinking the same James until watching the videos Thomas shared in his earlier replies. I sense there is more to setting the shoulder than just packing down the shoulder down and keeping the ball in the socket. I am looking forward to learning more.

    • Joseph

      Member
      27th November 2021 at 10:48 am

      One perspective is that the ‘shoulder’ that needs to be ‘set’ consists of roughly the scapula, the collar bone, and the upper arm bone, and then of course all musculature and soft tissue involved in that mechanism. So it is more than just the bone in the socket. For the shoulder to be set requires those three aspects to be correctly aligned, and to respond correctly to incoming force, and for all of this to occur as a result of release (song) rather than being held via muscular contraction in the ‘correct’ position. This is why it can take some work to remodel the tissues if some are tight, or have chronic habitual tension (i.e., basically this is for everyone), as well as perhaps to strengthen various aspects of the whole mechanism.

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