There’s a lot of talk in the internal arts about the “kua”, and how using the kua (as opposed to the hip joints) is central to getting the idea of internal movement in Tai Chi.

So, what is the kua?

A definition from Crane Tiger Tai Chi reads:

Kua refers to the area that extends from the inguinal folds (front of the hip where the leg and body meet) to the crest of the pelvis. It includes the hip joints, the iliopsoas, and adductor muscles as well as the sacrum and the perineum.

I’ve written about the kua several times myself, but I think Ken Gullette’s book (my review is here) does a great job of describing it. To me, moving the kua is about opening and closing the body in the space inside the hip joints. Integrating the opening and closing of the kua into your movement facilitates power moving smoothly from the legs and feet up through the body, or receiving force in the opposite direction and directing it down towards the ground.

Moving “inside” the hip joints allows for very detailed movement and enables you to create and remove space when interacting with an opponent, which has martial application.

However, I think that the focus on the kua in internal arts often risks people ignoring the pivotal (ha!) role of the hip joints. I think the hip joints are actually more important to get right – if you focus on the kua but never think about your hip joints it’s a bit like building the walls of your house without a firm foundation.

I’ve been reading a great little book called Lighten Up by Mark Josefsberg, which is a humorous description of the Alexander Technique, and only costs £2.50 for the Kindle edition.

It starts off making the great point about the pivotal (ha!) role the hip joint play in actions like sitting, standing, running, walking, bending, etc.. A good point it makes about your hip joints is that they probably aren’t where you think they are. People tend to think that you put your ‘hands on your hips’ that’s where you bend from, when in fact, your hips attach to your legs via a ball and socket joint that is much lower down.

This has real consequences for Tai Chi postures such as “Needle at Sea Bottom”, where you bend forward. If you bend from too high up then you are compromising your spine, and bending from your hip joints is always a bit lower down than you think it is.

Wu Jianquan, Needle at sea bottom

The way I do Need at Sea Bottom is to try and keep my head going “up” away from the spine and bend from the hip joints (where the legs attach to the body) keeping my spine in a straight line. In theory, at least.

I don’t know who this is, but look at this guy doing it:

To me there are all sorts of problems here – he’s rounding his spine, and the head is kinked at an unnatural angle that isn’t an extension of the spine, in an effort to go too low. I’d rather not go as low as he is, and not compromise my spine like that.

The other point that Mark continually makes in the Lighten Up book I mentioned is to be aware of the AO joint – the atlanto-occipital joint. This is where the head meets the neck, and again, it’s not exactly where you think it will be. Put your fingers in your ears and imagine they are touching. Rotate the head up and down from something on a level with that point – that’s roughly where it is. What you’ll find is that you can look up and down without your fingers moving up or down because you are rotating the head around this point. Now apply that principle to Needle at Sea Bottom and you can see how your head position is meant to be.

Here’s a video of my Sifu Raymond Rand doing the movement correctly, with martial application:

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