Sticky Elbows

Sticky hands. Chi Sao. Push Hands. Kakie. Mochimi. Heavy Energy

Like with other common combative principles, "sticking" manifests itself differently in various martial arts around the world. In all of its variants, the core concept remains universal:

"Stay in contact with the enemy to gain a tactical advantage."

This advantage could be to position ourselves for greater security or to create an opportunity for effective offense.

In this article, we will explore a variation of sticking that uses the upper forearms and elbows instead of, as usually seen, the lower forearm and hand. By developing such a skill, we gain several advantages in close quarters combat.


  • More persistent head cover.
    • The elbows can "stick", control and trap an enemy’s limbs while allowing your own arms to maintain cover from your chest to the top of your head.
  • A mechanical advantage in power/leverage against the opponent’s hand strikes.
    • Utilizing the major muscles of the shoulders and back as well as mechanical leverage allows a weaker person to more easily redirect the stronger person's attack.
  • The ability to "safely" close distance.
    • Being able to deliver elbows, short punches and throws quickly while limiting your enemy's offensive options is a strong tactical advantage. Further, by using a larger blocking area there is less need to be precise and "errors" can often have advantageous outcomes.
  • It leaves hands free for simultaneous striking, additional defense or to take further control.
    • This one is simple. If you can control the enemy’s hands without occupying your own you gain an advantage.
  • It takes advantage of the commonality principle.
    • Utilizing "hands high" cover is critical in an engagement prior to the limbs coming into contact. By allowing the elbows to parry, trap and control an attack the cover and the guard become the same position.


As mentioned above, sticking is a method of controlling your enemy in close quarters for a tactical advantage. In its most basic form, it is the ability to "ride" the enemies limbs/body with our own.

Through this contact, or bridge, you can sense their movement and position ourselves in an advantageous way to our adversary.

When sticking it becomes important to stay relaxed and move quickly. Relaxation allows you to "stick" more effectively due to increased sensitivity while speed allows you to capitalize on any opportunities that arise. It is equally important that both limbs stay active and, in a way, communicate to each other in maintaining contact.

Finally, sticking successfully also requires the ability to "slide" the hands and arms as necessary to bring the hands into play, switch hands, and maintain good leverage.

In addition to the skills required for "sticking" with the hands, there are a few additional elements that require consideration:

  • Understanding the relationship between the hand's rotation and the elbow joint.
  • Stepping toward and past the enemy, not backwards or directly to the sides.
  • Shoulder flexibility.


A basic beginning point is to take your favorite parry & press drill, trapping drill, etc. and perform it using the meaty part of the forearm (about 3-4 inches above the elbow) against the opponent's attack. Explore how different angles of the elbow and hand positions effect the trajectory of the attack, as well as how the forearm "sticks" to the opponent.

Once you've comfortably adjusted to parrying with the upper forearm begin to practice sliding the arm up the opponents arm until it is past the elbow. In other words, the lower part of the upper arm, just above the elbow, is what manipulates the opponent. This takes the place of any "pressing" or "trapping" done in a hand-based "sticking" drill.

There are a few general rules to sticking and trapping in close quarters:

  • When attempting to move to the outside of a punch the same-side hand will redirect, and the opposite-side hand will trap.
  • When moving to the inside, the same side hand can often do all of the work.
  • When moving to the outside of a wide punch (a la the "haymaker") a slight duck and an acute angle of the elbow can provide a strong advantage.

After a time, you will become comfortable manipulating the opponent’s arms with your elbows. Now you can begin using the elbows to trap the opponent’s arms against your body or turn the opponent. Of course, the hands can easily, and quickly, come into play to further trap and control the opponent at this point.