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).
Foundational Taijiquan is practiced by those with health or mobility issues. This is a gentle set of physical movements designed to get a person moving around in a dextrous manner. Taijiquan can be very useful for those who are not fit and need some type of co-ordinated physical movement combined with deep and full breathing. With repetition this training process can build strength in the legs, improve balance and dexterity, and enhance the circulation of oxygen throughout the body by relaxing any and all unnecessary muscular tension. Through aligning the bones (and dropping the bodyweight into the ground), the bones, joints, ligaments and tendons are made more ‘robust’ through correct weight-bearing! Many people spend years working on this practice and quite often gain a considerable suppleness through this relaxation and the sharpening of ‘awareness’ in the mind!
For many practitioners in the West, Taijiquan is encountered only later in life, and quite often is not the common spectacle it is in China and throughout many diasporic Chinese communities. The popularity of basic Taijiquan (even in China) relies on quick courses which involve a ‘coach’ who has learned a Short Taijiquan Form over a six-week time period and is then tasked with conveying these movements to two or three classes of students a few times a week! This approach certainly gets the basic techniques ‘out there’ and gives dedicated individuals a training platform which they can build upon at a later date. This can involve longer and more complex Taijiquan Forms (of which there are many Styles), and can even include competitions, seminars and demonstrations, etc. However, even if this type of practice results in winning a World Title for ‘moving about effectively’ - this is still not the complete Taijiquan practice.
If you want to master the proper and in-depth practice of Taijiquan, you will have to find a genuine gongfu Master who is knowledgeable in Daoist self-cultivation technique and knows how to ‘fight’ in real life without compromising the sublime spiritual vision that underlies the Chinese martial arts. Following decades training with Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - I now occasionally have the honour of meeting the odd male or female Taijiquan Master through ‘invitation’ so that my physical and spiritual understanding of Taijiquan can be ‘tested’ and ‘confirmed’. Such encouragement ‘dissolves’ difficult to see ‘habitual blocks’ in the mind and body and moves onward or deeper into penetrating the empty essence of the Dao – as all movement is equally ‘empty’ and ‘still’ - this is why an immense power emanates through the channels that connect the ‘broad earth’ to the ‘divine sky’. This is why every perfect technique is both immensely ‘powerful’ and equally ‘empty’ from beginning to end – and within this freedom is vibrating a positive light that is a combination of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion for the entirety of existence!
Advanced Taijiquan is a product of a perfected state of mind and body that expresses the perfect Taijiquan technique – but which is no longer ‘limited’ to the practice of the physical Taijiquan Form - which naturally manifests every moment of everyday, whether formally training, lying in bed, going to the toilet, meditating, making love or carrying-out your work! As many of you reading this either have a low opinion of Taijiquan or believe Taijiquan cannot be used for combat (viewpoints that are a product of a lack of direct cultural knowledge), the manner in which Taijiquan technique is used on a kick-bag is simple and straightforward.
Advanced Taijiquan expresses the entire ‘bodyweight’ through any part of the body without any undue effort. Just as the bodyweight ‘drops’ into the ground through the aligned bone-structure – a re-bounding force naturally rises up continuously and without a break in the circuit. This remains true just as long as a practitioner is stood within a strong gravitational field. I start a suitable distance from the kick-bag and carry-out a mini-form set of co-ordinated movements that brings my body nearer the kick-bag and sets-up the power-technique! Today, I started with the left leg forward and threw on the spot a left-lead punch, right-reverse punch and left-lead punch. Weight shifted back onto the reverse right-leg (with bent left-leg forward in ‘cat stance’) and I throw a front-snap kick – landing forward on my properly placed left-foot and bringing the weight onto the left-leg. The power-shot is the reverse right roundhouse-kick – which swings through the air and impacts the bag with considerable and unhindered power! The process is repeated on the other side of the body and I repeat this for three-minutes.
Any combination of techniques can be used that test the ‘smoothness’ of Taijiquan technique on the one-side – and the unbroken (and considerable) power on the other. Obviously, being ‘rooted’ is important as is continuously changing sides so that left and right are properly trained and tested (as true combat is unpredictable unlike fighting with rules during sporting encounters). The mind should be calm, still, aware and all-embracing so that it is ‘reflective’ of all phenomena (like a mirror). The Buddhist Surangama Sutra explains this principle, as do various Daoist texts such as the Laozi and Zhuangzi, etc, and the ‘Book of Changes’ (Yijing). Not everyone is trained to this depth of Taijiquan attainment, and not everyone wants to be trained to this degree – but it is an option with the proper training and instruction.
Starting from around 16 years of age with a ruck sack of around 15Ibs - 20Ibs - a practitioner should start running over various types of terrain, and for different distances at various times of the year. The point is to 'sweat' and a number of clothing layers should be worn. This practice is a combination of weight-lifting and running. As the body (and mind) strengthens, the weight should be slowly increased. As a grown man, the weight should reach 56Ibs (perhaps 40Ibs for a woman) - but temporary increases up to 76Ibs can be used for short periods. Distances should vary from 1.5 miles to 5 miles on paved roads, but it is also good to run on grass and occasionally on sand. Much longer distances can be used if running is replaced with hiking. If a practitioner is only just beginning to get fit, or is recovering from injury or illness, always start by walking over a certain distance. It is a good idea to lift free weights for a time prior to ruck sack running so as to build the bones, muscles and joints, and to practice ordinary running (and periodic sprinting) to condition the cardiovascular system. For many, just 'wearing' the iron vest for any extended period of time is very difficult to do, and creates substantial muscular pain in the neck, shoulders and back, as well as in the knees, ankles and various parts of the feet. This is normal and will pass. Just as the iron vest compresses the body - the structures of the body 'resist' and generate an outward counter-pressure - which generates a substantial repelling force. This is how the body withstands and rejects any incoming power. Furthermore, carrying this weight forward generates tremendous 'forward' momentum which is very difficult for an opponent to 'stop', and which has the effect of 'uprooting'. All the blood vessels are opened and strengthened through a stimulated circulation, the bones are hardened and the both strengthened and relaxed in a coordinated and dynamic manner. The mind becomes calm and all expansive as the qi (vital force), jing (essential nature) and shen (all embracing empty mind) are thoroughly cultivated.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.