Cloud hands, ‘wave hands clouds’ as also known, one of those classic Tai Chi movements that characterise the art.
Done slightly different ways in different Tai Chi styles.
Old yang, also called Gu style
As you can see, the Yang style more of a vertical arm block, the Chen style is more of a horizontal elbow strike while the Sun style has the palms facing outwards.
It’s a case of different horses for different courses, but while there are subtle differences between them, they all involve the common theme of stepping to the side while rotating the arms in circular motions (presumably like clouds on a windy day).
Martially speaking, I think of this movement as intercepting an opponent’s strike and throwing the attacker out, or applying a lock to their arm through the action of turning your waist.
To the attacker it should feel putting their hand into a blender – it gets caught up and crushed and it shouldn’t feel easy to retract your arm once it’s trapped.
It’s easy for beginners to make the arms ‘flat’ in this posture – instead they need to be continually projecting outwards. I think of them as being the antlers of a stag, or the branches of a tree – they grow outwards, and slightly curved.
If you’re going to intercept your opponents strike with this technique, then it’s going to help ‘catch’ their attack if the intent in your arms (your antlers) to project outwards.
The real lesson of Cloud hands though to turn the waist. It’s a common mistake to not turn the waist enough in Tai Chi, and I find that, for the beginning student, a breakthrough in this area often only comes about through a study of Cloud Hands as an isolated technique, repeated over and over.