Gongfu Horse Stance Training
The Ch’an Dao System utilises Longfist gongfu which uses (amongst other stances) deep and powerful Horse Stances to developed internal and external strength. Modern Wushu is a demonstration sport where the feet follow the hands. This means that there is no ‘rooting’ in modern Wushu, which allows the practitioner to remain light footed and jump and skip in and out of stances. This creates the fast and snappy Wushu routines that are pleasing to the audience. Traditional styles, however, are not like this. Traditional styles train extensively in ‘rooting’ so that the hands follow the feet. At no time is the connectivity to the ground lost as the bodyweight is always ‘dropped’ into the ground. The hands move freely in any direction because the legs and feet are firmly anchored to the ground. As Horse Stance training is a standing meditation exercise, its practice is regulated by counting the breath. One breath is defined as the amount of time it takes to breathe deeply ‘in’ and breathe fully ‘out’. Students should start with five breaths without moving, and not start the breath-count until the upper legs are parallel to the floor and the feet are stable. As strength and stamina increases, the breath count can be extend from 5 to 10, 15, 20, 25. 30, 35 and even 40 breathes and beyond - without moving. In old China it was said that certain gongfu masters could hold the Horse Stance for hours (defined by the length of time it took an incense stick to fully burn through) – but for practical purposes a modern practitioner should seek to perfect the Horse Stance placement and technique first, and from this mastery, extend the length of time the posture is held. Hakka Chinese martial arts make extensive use of Horse Stance training. Horse Stance training is defined in a modern Chinese dictionary through the following terms:
‘Horse Stance (马步 – Ma Bu): This is a term commonly found within Chinese martial arts. The legs assume the posture of sitting upon – or ‘straddling’ a horse. Within Chinese martial arts, sitting upon the horse is a fundamental training skill found in ‘Standing like a Stake’ (站桩 – Zhan Zhuang). Riding the Horse (坐馬 – Zuo Ma) is used in ‘Standing like a Stake’ training primarily as a means to cultivate ‘jing’ (精), ‘qi’ (气) and ‘shen’ (神). This exercise develops vitality as the qi flow within the blood is regulated. In-turn this qi-building process develops ‘jing’ (essential nature) which strengthens and integrates with ‘shen’ (the realisation of an empty and yet all-embracing mind). The focus required to perform this exercise correctly, disciplines the mind (by gathering all the thoughts into a single point of reference), which allows for the realisation of advanced states of consciousness. Crouching (or ‘squatting’) down in the low Horse Stance requires the gathering and strengthening of qi, jing and shen. The effectiveness of this training requires that the practitioner crouches (or ‘squats’) deep down, whilst continuing to breath in and out naturally (so that the breathing process is not forced in any way).
Stability is generated by the thigh-bones being kept parallel to the floor. This position opens the qi-energy flow in the throat, chest, kidney and other areas. The abdominal muscles are strengthened by naturally contracting from the pelvic floor upward, generating and retaining central stability within the body. Holding the deep and low Horse Stance strengthens the legs, as the muscles of the lower-limbs must naturally ‘tense’ to maintain the position. For this practice to be mastered, the mind and body must be thoroughly focused so that the profound underlying nature (性 – Xing) becomes the only dominant and directing force in operation within the practitioner. Within Chinese Buddhism, this is the revealing of the ‘Buddha-Nature’ (佛性 – Fo Xing) through arduous and highly disciplined training. This is the integrative training of holding the Horse Stance. Power and strength is developed by holding the Horse Stance for long periods of time without moving. This develops an immoveable or stationery strength which is the product of ‘Stake Self-Cultivation’ (桩功 – Zhuang Gong). This is the development of dynamic power and strength through holding a posture which resembles the immovability of a stake, which is set firmly within the ground so that no matter how much external pressure is placed upon it, it stands absolutely still and does not move. In other words, those properly holding the Horse Stance cannot be uprooted because their feet are firmly anchored into the ground through the bodyweight dropping directly through each leg and foot evenly. The psychological discipline and focus required to hold the Horse Stance for long periods of time, creates a powerful and yet calm state of mind (静功) – Jing Gong). As the musculature naturally contracts, this creates good posture and gently places a recuperating pressure upon the inner organs which are purified and strengthened as a result. By holding the Horse Stance correctly, the entire physical system is strengthened and enhanced. This means that the practitioner develops an all-round ability for dynamic, and powerful movement. Many different traditional styles of Chinese martial arts use this training method, with each style interpreting the practice according to its own particular lineage requirements.’
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.
Ch’an Dao (Low) Horse-Stance Training: Guidance
With daily (low) horse-stance training, it is important to remain fully aware of the entire process, such as:
1) Feet two-shoulder widths apart, knees bent at around 90 degree angle.
2) How the feet ‘touch’ the floor.
3) How the knee aligns with the ankle (through correct shin placement).
4) How the bodyweight drops through the shin (tibia) and into the ground via the foot area.
5) How the bodyweight drops through different parts of foot touching the ground.
6) How the weight-bearing knee joint fully exercises the tendons, muscles, ligaments, cartilage, synovial fluid and bone structure – above, within and below the knee joint.
7) How the thighbone (femur) is placed in relation to the shinbone (tibia) – not too high or too low.
8) How the pelvic girdle aligns with the thighbone (femur), and how by slightly adjusting the pelvic girdle position, effort can be ‘moved’ or ‘re-distributed’ around different parts of the musculature.
9) How the (lower) lumbar area of the spine is placed in relation to the pelvic girdle, and how the concave structure can be ‘straightened’ out, and ‘replaced’ back through gently re-positioning.
10) How the upper spine should be kept ‘rounded’ (convex) and extended (i.e. the Hakka Dragon-Back technique).
11) How the arms are extended from the should-joint, but gently ‘rounded’ through the fore-arms which are gently ‘turned-in’.
12) How the hands form a ‘triangulation’ at the upper-chest position – just below the throat-area. Index-finger extended on each hand, with the thumb extended sideways. The hands can also form a ‘rectangle’ shape – depending upon the purpose of the training. Triangulation is for ‘rounded’ defence, whilst the ‘rectangle’ is for straight-line offensive purposes. Practitioners can use either method or interchange the method during practice sessions.
13) The inward breath begins at the point of the end-tip of the lower-spine, and proceeds up the spinal column through the neck and round the back of the head, and completes at the centre-top area of the skull. The outward breath begins at the centre-top point of the skull and travels down the centre of the fore-head (upper dan tian), down through the face and the mouth (where the tongue must be in contact with palate to connect the circuit), through the throat, down through the heart (or middle dan tian) area, and through the centre-line of the front of the body, down into the naval (or lower dan tian) area, through the genital organs, the perineum the anus, and completes at the tip-point of the lower-spine. This is a full cycle of moving qi energy in the inward breath up the Governing vessel, and the outward breath down the Conception vessel. This is called one complete cycle of the microcosmic orbit.
14) Whilst focusing the mind on all these specific instructions, consciousness should be expansive and fundamentally ‘aware’ of the environment. This means being aware of whether the climate is hot or cold, and how the ‘air’ is interacting with the skin.
15) Thoughts in the mind should be reduced to ‘stillness’ so that an expansive awareness is cultivated.
16) Forty cycles of breath is a good time period the each training session, and three training sessions should be practiced daily. One cycle is a complete inward breath and a complete outward breath performed at a relaxed pass. Do not rush breathing cycles.
17) Correct alignment of the bones and joints creates ‘iron vest’. This means that the bones and joints are significantly ‘strengthened’ by the process of constantly ‘dropping’ bodyweight through the centre, and correctly circulating qi energy through the area. An aligned bone and joint deflects, repulses and/or safely absorbs incoming power so that the inner organs are protected, and the attacking-limb is ‘injured’ by the very power it is attempting to generate.
18) Iron vest damages the attacking limbs of an opponent without any undue effort on behalf of the defender. This ability is only gained through correct ’standing still’ practice.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (25.4.2016)