Holding the horse stance (馬步 - Ma Bu) requires a stable, physical structure which is permanently held regardless of the emotional or physical feeling’ that is present. This includes – but is not limited to – the pain experienced in the muscles when deep stances of this nature are assumed and maintained over a set period of time. The structure must prevail over every other consideration. The structure must prevail over a determined time scale no matter how tired the mind and body appear to manifest. The point of this mode of psychological and physical discipline is that although the physical structure is deemed ‘permanent’ for the duration of the exercise – the ‘feeling’ capacity of the mind and body is understood to be fleeting, changeable and impermanent. This being the case, feeling tired, distressed or overwhelmed is not a good enough ground to ‘stop’ holding the physical structure of the horse stance!
The advanced holding of the horse stance must ‘root’ the practitioner to the ground, whilst the inner energy is circulated through micro and macro-cosmic orbits (simultaneously or alternatively as required), with a deep and full breath that empties and fills the (mind) and body without fail and in a continuous and powerful manner. The mind should be calm, expansive and all-embracing so that the physical body and immediate environment seem to manifest within the fabric of the mind all at once! Energy flow is optimised in an existential and historical manner, with the individual mind ‘detached’ from both whilst permanently interfacing with reality in an indifferent attitude of all-encompassing awareness. All types of feeling is understood to be ‘fleeting’ - whilst the powerful nature of the horse stance is considered the essence of all martial ability.
The structure of the Book of Change (Yijing) hexagram is the model which all effective horse stance training should follow. The legs are the bottom two lines, the torso (and arms) is the second to lines) and head is the top two lines. Although not representing any particular hexagram (six-lined structure), the body of the martial artist holding the horse stance represent ANY and ALL of the sixty-four hexagrams that transition from into another. In my training, I often visualise the second hexagram of ‘earth’ as the six ‘yin’ lines symbolise the ‘dropping-down’ activity of ‘water’ sinking into the ground! Of course, as the energy rises up the spine, I visualise hexagram one – or ‘divine sky’ to assist in the ‘lifting’ of force! Any part of the body can represent any hexagram, whilst the entire situation can also be represented a an over-all and defining hexagram! This is an area of study that must be built-up over-time and which requires and in-depth and drawn-out study of the Book of Change (Yijing).
The point is to bring an end to all greed, hatred and delusion in the mind, body and environment. Although this a distinctly ‘Buddhist’ solution to the ills of life – generally speaking, it is also the solution of most ‘secular’ models of reality! An individual can choose their path and express their development in any way they wish or see fit – but in the end a definite ‘purification’ process is experienced which changes the inner and outer being forever! Inner peace is expressed through a deadly martial technique that is NEVER personal but always ‘indifferent’ and in a state of continuous ‘healing’ of humanity, the world and everything in it! Although wild animals can be extremely dangerous in their natural habitats – nevertheless it is important not to produce thoughts of ‘anger’ or ‘violence’ when taking suitable action to ‘avoid’ the danger.
This is using wisdom. Sometimes, even wild animals can be seen responding to ‘kindness’ in a manner that is considered very unusual! Even domestic pets can be difficult – but this is all the more reason to maintain a sense of inner and outer peace. Human-beings, by way of contrast, are often far more dangerous with their habitual anger and potential violent outbursts! Traditional gongfu training prepares human-beings for the maelstrom of combat in the outer world – whilst maintaining a calm inner terrain that remains ‘unruffled’ regardless of circumstance. Life can be hard, but it can also be beautiful, truthful and full of justice! The point is to always be ready to build upon the foundation of ‘peace’ and make the world a better place for everyone to live!
The physical techniques of the martial arts exist to empower an individual to protect their bodies, their community and their nation. The inner path is universal and transcends these narrow categories of potential violence! If combat happens, then the qualified Shifu must fight to prevail and never lose any encounters! However, this ‘victory’ should never be allowed to happen through ‘anger’ as this is ‘low’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘despicable’! As a situation can change in an instant, a martial artist must always be prepared to ‘adjust themselves to circumstance’ and never let a prejudiced view of reality take over the ‘flow’ of combat and conflict resolution. On the other hand, when combat must be successfully engaged within, then the sheer ‘weight’ of the cultivated ‘inner peace’ must quite literally ‘crush’ the violence that exists in the mind and body of the opponent! Peace must prevail over all.
The mastery of physical technique is an issue of training that should be achieved as soon as possible – even if the process takes a long amount of time in reality. This is irrelevant to the ongoing ‘inner process’ which continues continuously and without end regardless of physical circumstance, (i.e., standing, sitting, lying, walking or sleeping, etc). The mastery of physical fighting is the ‘external’ element of combat training – whilst the ‘inner’ processes far transcend the limitations of human conflict. Individuals can master ‘external’ combat without ever recognising the need or purpose of ‘inner’ training’.
Furthermore, it is also possible to participate within ‘inner’ training with no experience in ‘external’ combat. However, within genuine ‘spiritual’ Chinese martial arts – the student has to traverse the terrain of ‘external’ combat BEFORE being allowed access to the path of genuine ‘inner’ training. Many who develop a skill at ‘external’ fighting with no inner training, usually exhibit an increasing and strengthening of the egotistical mind-set and the tendencies to be one-dimensionally ‘selfish’, ‘aggressive’ and highly ‘ignorant’ in manifestation. As such a person becomes ‘older’ - their physical skills diminish and finally disappear – leaving them as a bitter person with no martial ability.
In fact, getting older is an important aspect of ‘inner’ training, as there are processes of internal mastery that are entirely reliant upon a profound transformation of the body chemistry and frequency of psychological patterning. Inner mastery can happen in a relatively younger person, but only within special circumstances, and only then if such a person retains a humble and accommodating attitude toward the further process of ‘maturing’ and ‘deepening’ of understanding as one’s age increases. Without this inner mastery – and older fighter will always be beaten by a younger fighter – but with inner mastery, the younger (less experienced) fighter will always be defeated.
Spiritual mastery defeats an opponent on the spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical level – and it does so BEFORE any movement is even made. Without spiritual mastery – two fighters physically ‘clash’ and entangle their arms and legs in a chaotic manner with the ‘winner’ being that who prevails through an arbitrary set of rules. Onces the movement of the arms and legs are mastered; the emphasis forever moves inward and away from the physical body. This is a preparation for the (natural) dying process experienced at the end of life. This is how the martial arts is a vehicle for ‘life’ and ‘death’ which has nothing to do with the rather banal activity of physical combat.
Many renowned martial arts masters are known to have spent many hours in quiet and still meditation and contemplation. I carried-out three-years of intense meditation (from 1989-1992), or there abouts, in a monastic setting. I gave-up physical practice, as well as all reading and writing. I used the hua-tou ‘Who I hearing?’ (given to me by my Ch’an teacher – Richard Hunn), and eventually penetrated the empty essence of the ‘mind ground’. This also happened to be the ‘empty essence’ of my physical existence and changed my entire perception of reality. This change in base – or ‘foundational’ - view has been permeating through my mind and body ever-since. It is a gradual process of discovering different ways of viewing reality, as various situations arise and fall away. It is the ‘difference’ in sensory stimulus that generates the circumstances for a new and deeper insight. A new understanding is always in response to an environmental challenge, although it is true that the ‘environment’ can be the outer world, just as much as the ‘inner’ world of the interior of the mind, emotionality and perception of the inside of the body. There is much to work-on as insight is continuously upgrading into an ever-improving understanding of reality. There is a fundamental ‘turning-about’ in the deepest recesses of the mind - this is the permanent and radical change achieved in an ‘instant’ often after years of intense struggle – which permeates through to the conscious-mind – but only over-time. At least, this has been my experience confirmed by my teachers. When the body assumes a martial stance, the perception of the entirety of the structure is far more profound, intricate, precise and ‘exact’. This is the change in the perception of ‘stillness’, but as the body ‘moves’ into different martial stances, there is an equally profound alteration in the perception of ‘movement’, and how ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ continuously interact with one another (effectively ‘merging’ whilst remaining ‘distinct’). The observations associated with these changes are endless, as it is a never-ending improvement of human perception not only within martial arts, but also within (and throughout) life.
As we get older, our perception of our training changes. This is not only crucial, but also essential. Getting old is important for Chinese martial arts mastery. Getting old is not an error or a failure. We must give-up all of our younger perceptions as they are now out of date. Younger perceptions are for younger people as that is where they belong. Ego ad its ‘giving-up’ is the key. Young people are taught that ‘winning’ is everything in this (Western) culture, but in China the prevailing attitude is that ‘cooperation’ and ‘assisting’ one another are the glue that holds a civilised society together. Even ‘sparring’ in the Chinese cultural sense is very different to its ‘hate filled’ Western counter-part. An opponent exists, within the training context, to assist you to develop, they do not exist as cannon-fodder for the ego! Training to boost the ego means that when the body ages and changes, the practitioner quite naturally ‘gives-up’ as he or she can no longer muster the required aggression to train or fight! What a pointless waste of time all this is! Grace under pressure is what Westerners should be aspiring to achieve. Psychological and physical relaxation in the face of potential violence and danger is the standard once the physical techniques of combat have been mastered! Getting older is important to deepen understanding and develop a more profound perception of reality. Fighting is awareness and understanding which manifests evenly through both ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ performed at the right moment! Most people find it very difficult to be ‘still’, although generally people think they can ‘move’ around quite well. Both assumptions are false. Clearing and deepening perception will lead to correct ‘stillness 'of body and mind. Again, age leads to an enhanced awareness through which the body moves with an almost divine capability regardless of circumstance! This is why getting older is important and to be welcomed!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.