Taiji qin-na coaching clinic: needle at the bottom of the sea


The sequence in taijiquan known as "needle at the bottom of the sea" occurs quite a few times in the long form and in a variety of circumstances.

I've always understood it to be a classic qin-na technique - the "small wrap" known as "xiao chan" (nikkyo in aikido/jujutsu).  I thought this would make an excellent subject for analysis in this series.

I'm going to go through two different variations seen in the form:
  • the one I call the "straight dive down" and 
  • the one I call the "roll over".  
The "roll over" version I'll use is followed by the kick and "double wind blows on ears" from the second section, but a second such technique is also found at the end of the second section using a low kick.

The "straight dive down" occurs in both the second and third sections and is followed by "fan through back".  Let's go through that one first.

Needle variation 1: the straight dive down

First here is a description of the technique:

Starting with the brush knee you draw your weight back.

As you do so, you lift your right arm so as to create an "S" curve in your wrist (thumb leading).  The other hand raises to face height but is extended.

Both arms perform a vital function which I'll explain in due course.
From there you dive down, pointing your right hand fingers first to the floor.  Your left hand slides along the inside of your right forearm.
From there, you move your left hand to the outside of your forearm.  Again, this has an important function that I will soon describe.

You raise your body and expand your arms outwards...
stepping forward into "long stance" (gong bu) and performing "fan through back".
Now here's what I've always understood to be happening here in terms of application:

Since I've already said I thought it was clearly a xiao chan lock, I think you could start with some some sort of wrist or forearm grab.  But since these are so "out of vogue" (and since they don't explain the initial rising movement) I'll default to another popular grab: a double grip on the lapels. (Another substitute is the shoulder grab experienced by women and others who are being "shaken" during a domestic or other assault.)
The rising movement of your arms does two things: First, your left (leading) hand distracts your opponent by approaching his face.  Second, your right hand levers the grip so as to twist the grip slightly.  This gives you some purchase for your own grip coming up.
Having created a bit of a gap in your opponent's left grip on your clothing, you can reach across with your left hand and peel it away at the little finger, twisting inwards so as to create an "S" shape in your opponent's forearm.
Your right hand is now free to "dive down" over the top of his left.  This forces pressure on the inside of your opponent's forearm with the underside of your forearm creating a painful lock.  Except it's actually more than a lock: it's a break or sprain.
In reality, it should be done hard and fast.  You use gravity to assist you by dropping your whole body weight into the technique.  You'll notice that for the whole time, your left palm should keep a strong grip on your opponent's hand - otherwise the lock ceases to work.  As in the form, your left hand will be on the inside of your right forearm as you drop.
Your opponent will try to escape the pain of this lock.  The line of least resistance (and hence escape) is for your opponent to straighten his arm.  Since you're holding on to his hand, this will mean your left arm will slip to the outside of your right - again, exactly as per the form. [Oh - and for those who like seeing images of Jesus in burnt toast, that isn't a "punch to the thigh".  It's just my curled (not even clenched) hand after Jeff has pushed out of my lock.]1

Of course, many martial arts applications end there.  Or they have the opponent back away.  However as I discussed recently, combatants who are compromised at close quarters tend to rush in to clinch or grapple rather than do anything else.
You can and should expect a shoot from here, so you let your right arm slip over to an "underhook" hold.
Use the underhook to help guide your opponent's forward drive down and away.
If you can, you can put your opponent in a shoulder lock and hold him/her there.  But in this case, I'm assuming my opponent uses another line of least resistance to slip out of the lock and straighten up.
Anticipating this, I rise with him, keeping my right hand in the "underhook" position (which helps me control his left arm) while making sure my left palm is ready to intercept and negate any attack with his right.  At this point however, my opponent is too busy trying to re-establish balance to try something like that.
In any event, I don't wait for my opponent to punch me: rather, I use the opponent's rising momentum, and my own coiled energy, to drive a palm into his face, forcing his chin up and back.

Needle variation 2: the "roll over" followed by double wind blows on ears

The first part of the "needle at the bottom of the sea" in other variations is really quite the same - except it proceeds from a different set up - and is followed by your own kick as a counter (and some things after that).  But before we get to that, let's look at the "xiao chan" aspect:

The sequence starts with a turn of the body - an evasion off line.  It is followed by a rolling "xiao chan".

The principal element of the "xiao chan" is of course the "wrap" - a circular action where one forearm (your right in this case) rolls around from below your left...
 ... and over ...
and then down.

As before, you sink your weight.  In this case, your left forearm is under your right (for reasons I'll explain in a moment).
In it's first incarnation, the xiao chan is followed by a heel kick.
The knee is then retracted and the arms come forwards, either side of the knee.
You then press your weight forwards, stepping into gong bu and perform the strike known as "double wind blows on ears.
Okay, so what does it all mean.  For a change, I think it really is about a wrist grab.  To "jazz it up a bit", I'm going to make it a trapping motion, setting you up for a punch. 

Okay, so here's Jeff grabbing my hand and jamming it against my body, coming across with his left to punch me.
My response is to twist by body offline as I trap the fingers of his grabbing arm and "snake" over the top of his wrist, bending it into an "S" shape.
Before the punch can land I drive the xiao chan down hard onto his wrist in a snapping/spraining action.  Apart from anything, the xiao chan cuts the "supply line" through his shoulders, reducing the force of the punch should it get through.
As in the form, I utilise my full body weight behind the technique.  The drop in the body also helps me duck the punch if my xiao chan has been unsuccessful.

You can see from this photo why my right hand remains over my left in the form.
Jeff responds by rising and pulling away (straightening his arm as he does so).  I deliberately keep a hold of his arm (knowing I can release it at any time).
Of course Jeff might then have the idea of throwing that punch again (or maybe just moving into me), but this time I'm pulling his arm down as I raise my knee (so that my arms and knee are at about the same height)...
... and I thrust a lead heel kick into his abdomen to stop his advance.
I let go of Jeff's arms and so that I can perform a double rising strike up to his ears, exactly as per the form.  Jeff drops both his hands to grab my thrust kick (thrusting kicks are far easier to grab than snapping ones).

Again, as per the form, I bend my knee - but the difference is that I drive my weight forward to do so - I don't bring my weight back.

At the same time I unleash a double strike to Jeff's ears (ie. I hit him as my weight is falling forwards into him).  As an aside, over 35 years of sparring this has been been my most-used defence against having my leg grabbed.  It works like a charm.

The application I feature here is shown at the end of the video below:

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic


1.  Curiously I almost wish the so-called punch to the thigh were actually there!  It occurs to me that a "jam" at this point (it needn't be a powerful punch) might have severely impeded Jeff's dive into me.  It goes to show that even if the poor demented fellow who raised this issue had been correct, it might not have been such a bad thing.  Indeed, this might be the reason that both hands open and are held out in front of you from the moment the lock is "broken": you can cut supply of momentum at the source - in this case you can stop the thighs from pushing your opponent's dive into a tackle.  As it turns out, the application uses the forward momentum to draw the opponent down into the shoulder lock.   But the alternative is valid...