Taijiquan Horse Stance Training
The internal high Horse Stance (马步 - Ma Bu) as used to develop an expansive conscious awareness (意 – Yi) that permeates every cell of the human body (and environment), is different from the gongfu (or ‘Shaolin’) low Horse Stance, as it does not require (or demand) the ‘tensing’ of the leg muscles for long periods of time. Holding the high Horse Stance is a ‘Standing like a Stake’ (站桩 – Zhan Zhuang) self-cultivation method. As the mind calms and the thoughts are ‘stilled’, an awareness of qi (氣) energy flow throughout the body and mind is developed. The ability to focus or congeal qi energy in any or all parts of the body for defensive or offensive martial usage, is a consequence of this development of the mind. An obvious manifestation of martial qi energy is the full awareness of bodyweight and the ability to move the bodyweight freely through the inner-bone structure. This process strengthens the body and mind from the inside out, and makes the practitioner impervious to psychological or physical attack. Yang Cheng Fu Old Style Taijiquan makes extensive use of the high Horse Stance as an internal ‘daoyin’ (導引) or ‘qigong’ (氣功) training method. In the Ch’an Dao System there is a traditional belief that Taijiquan (太極拳) was first developed by Confucian scholars, and premised and guided by the teachings contained within the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 – Yi Jing), for the purpose of preparing the mind and body for the practice of the art of archery. The joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons are relaxed over-time, so that the cavities of the body ‘expand’ outward when filled with qi energy. Later, Daoist thinking and health-giving techniques were integrated into the practice of Taijiquan. When a student first begins internal training, their mind and body is usually subject to various blockages or deficiencies of qi energy flow which must be rectified as the first stage of training. Once the various energy channels that carry qi around the body are cleared, the strengthening and deepening process begins. Qi energy is obtained from both parents at conception, through breathing deeply (and properly), and through food and drink. It is built-up and retained within the mind and body through disciplined training and living that prevents the wastage of qi energy associated with a frivolous and ill-disciplined life-style. The building of qi energy strengthens the body cells and the connectivity between body cells – this is referred to as building ‘essential nature’ (精 – Jing). When the conscious awareness permeates the body cells and environment without limit – this is awareness of, and integration with, the ‘realisation of empty space that includes all things’ (神 – Shen). Through an aligned bone structure the posture is corrected and unnecessary muscular tension is dissolved out of the system. The rounded bone structure (with bodyweight-qi energy flowing freely through it) is inherently strengthened as are all the internal organs that benefit from a correct and robust placement that is nourished (or bathed) in ample qi energy flow. Qi energy flow within the blood is comprised of oxygen, and nutrition gained from dietary intake. This is augmented by the presence of the psychological element of ‘attentive awareness’ (意 – Yi). The development of enhanced internal training is entirely dependent upon the development of ‘attentive awareness’ and cannot exist without it. A contemporary Chinese text concerning Horse Stance training states:
‘To train in authentic Chinese martial arts, regardless of whether it is through the Internal Family Fist (内家拳- Nei Jia Quan) of the Wudang (武当) tradition, or through the External Family Fist (外家拳 – Wai Jia Quan) Shaolin tradition, it is important to understand that each approach eventually leads to the practice of its opposite. This means that ‘internal’ students must eventually master the ‘external’ method, and that ‘external’ students must eventually master the ‘internal’ method so that both methods (the ‘internal’ and ‘external’) are thoroughly integrated. In other words, in the practice of authentic Chinese martial arts, both the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ methods are indispensable for correct training. With regards to training through the ‘internal’ method, the regulation (and strengthening) of qi energy and blood flow is achieved through the practice of ‘Standing like a Stake Self-cultivation’ (桩功 – Zhuang Gong). This practice (of holding a stance for extended periods of time) develops and refines essential nature (精 – Jing), vital energy (气 - Qi), and empty spirit (神 – Shen). By concentrating and calming the mind, a conscious expansion of awareness (意念意识 – Yi Nian Yi Shi) is cultivated during this training. This is the power of the ‘Standing like a Stake Self-cultivation’ method. When cultivating the ‘external’ method, the musculature and bone structure are toughened and conditioned for greater endurance, which protects the inner organs when the outer body receives a blow. Training in the ‘external’ method also strengthens the inner organs. ‘Standing like a Stake Self-cultivation’ is an excellent method for both the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ method of Chinese martial arts practice.
Although the ‘internal’ method has been described here before the ‘external’ method, this does not imply that one method is ‘better’ or ‘preferred’ over the other. Each method is equally valid and effective within the context of its own training technique, because each method is designed to develop the mind and body equally, but differ according to the path that is taken. No matter which path is taken, the static Horse Stance position is used to calm and ‘still’ the mind (through regulating the qi energy flow by focusing all thoughts onto a single point of reference), which eventually achieves the breakthrough of the realisation of an expansive and all-embracing state of mind (神 – Shen). Through breathing deeply and fully, the qi energy sinks down and is gathered in the lower centre of energy cultivation, situated two inches below the naval (丹田 – Dan Tian). As the mind becomes calm and all-embracing (so that it is ‘dynamically aware’), it is able to perceive reality through a deep sense of expansive wisdom, that easily distinguishes the intricacies of what is right and wrong in every situation. Therefore, regardless of whether the ‘internal’ or ‘external’ martial path is pursued, both methods are equally effective for developing the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ body for health and the ability to practice vigorous self-defence.’
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.