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The Four Right Reasons for Stance Training

By Master Eric Sbarge

Why You Need Stance Training

master sbarge Master Eric Sbarge

Ask students what stance training's purpose is, and they'll tell you it's to build up strong legs. Ask them the purpose of strong legs, and they'll tell you its to have powerful kicks. They're right, technically. Stance training will give you strong legs and more powerful kicks, plus allow you to better withstand blows to your legs. But these aren't the reasons to practice stance training, they're merely side benefits. The real reasons for stance training are to develop solid root, to improve posture, to temper and control one's mind, and to cultivate chi or inner energy. If any of these qualities aren't fully developed in your own training, then your skill will never reach its full potential.

In the years I've trained, hardly a class has gone by where we didn't warm up with intensive stance training in many different postures. Though it admittedly was torturous in the early years and at times remains so, I can attest to its many benefits.

Solid Root

lean forward search for the sea The first reason for stance training, developing solid root, means reaching the point where you can take any posture out of your forms and remain stable in it just as a rooted tree doesn't budge when pushed. If someone pushes or kicks you, you shouldn't even move out of your posture. Some postures are inherently more stable than others; generally the wider and lower a stance, the more stable. But even high stances held on one foot, such as a crane stance, can be developed to the point where it is difficult to topple you over. In combat, or when performing forms, you are constantly in rapid transition from one posture to another. You must reach a level where you automatically and immediately become rooted in each and every posture.

crane stance Why is rooting essential? Because only from a rooted stance can you generate power through your legs and waist to effectively strike with "whole body" power, which is the signature of an advanced martial artist. Rooting is not practiced so that we will be immovable when attacked; when we are attacked we want to move. But again, we want to be sure that we move into a rooted posture that allows for immediate and powerful counterattacks. Pa Kua Chang is an example of a style known for such intricate, quick and light stepping - the moving, rooting and striking seem almost to happen at once. This should be the goal of any martial artist regardless of style.

Many people have heard the expression that martial arts is 70 percent feet and 30 percent hands. Unfortunately, many people also misconstrue its meaning, thinking that we should kick 70 percent of the time and use hand strikes the rest of the time. Just the opposite is true: We should kick very infrequently and only at opportune moments, because kicks are relatively slow. They leave us "uprooted" and vulnerable to counters, especially if we kick high above the waist. What the expression really means is that we should pay 70 percent of our attention to stepping, of which rootedness is an essential part. Our hands, elbows, arms, and shoulders should be our primary weapons, but our feet get us where we need to be to optimize these weapons. Only with stance training can we maximize the rootedness required for proper stepping.

Posture

horse stance The second reason for stance training is to improve posture. Virtually every martial art has forms comprised of various postures - the same postures or variations thereof that we use in combat. To improve our postures and therefore our fighting, stance training is ideal. Most martial arts share common postures or stances such as the horse stance, the forward bow, the cat stance or the vane stance. Only through stance training can we make these postures precise.

The horse stance, for example, requires a straight back from the neck all the way to the tailbone while sitting low and pushing the knees outward and letting the weight drop downward. The forward bow requires that the front shin be exactly vertical and the back be kept straight. Each of these "universal" stances have universal requirements that must be mastered and adhered to if they're to be effective.

lying leg Then, within any individual style, we find postures unique to that style: Hsing I has the san ti stance, Shuai Chiao has the back stance, Pa Kua has kou pu and pai pu, and so on. If you are shown these postures and immediately go into moving patterns or forms without static stance training, it is difficult if not impossible to develop the postures correctly. Our minds must first ingrain the gross and subtle characteristics of each posture, and then our muscles and joints must be conditioned to be able to form the posture correctly. This is far easier if we are standing still, focusing only on the posture rather than moving and thinking about stepping or sequences.

Tempered Mind

The third reason for stance training is to temper and control our minds. The mind is mysterious, multifaceted, and tricky. It doesn't like to stay focused on one thing for long, particularly if that one thing is difficult, painful, or unexciting. Without warning it will leave the point of focus and think about tonight's dinner date or tomorrow's meeting.

One recent study that showed that the average person has more than 60,000 thoughts a day-and over 90 percent oft hose thoughts are the same fruitless thoughts as the day before. The Chinese often refer to the mind as "the wild monkey." For success in martial arts, we need to learn how to tame this wild monkey and keep our minds fully focused, whether for training or for combat.

dragon stance Stance training is an ideal way to calm and control the mind. Like sitting meditation or concentration exercises, stance training inherently stills the body and thus allows for observation and work on the mind. In sitting meditation, however, we tend to sit comfortably so we can forget about the body. Stance training is unique in that the body, though still and unmoving, quickly begins sending messages to the brain of great pain.

No matter how fit we are or advanced we are as martial artists, if we take a very deep cat stance or raise one knee high for a crane stance, our legs and bodies soon begin to hurt. The mind senses this pain and, keeping in character immediately urges us to "go sit down and relax" or "move on and try something else." If we learn to observe such "tricks" of the mind and not be affected by them, we can push ourselves to stay focused, stay in stance longer, and achieve greater results. As we develop greater focus and will power, this discipline carries over into all aspects of our martial arts and ultimately our entire lives.

Chi Cultivation

pao chuan stance The fourth and perhaps greatest reason for stance training is to cultivate chi or inner energy. The awareness of and training for chi are most prevalent in the Chinese internal arts or any soft art such as Japan's Aikido. But every art, internal or external, hard or soft, requires chi cultivation for a practitioner to reach high levels.

Several methods are used, including meditation and visualization exercises, chi kung exercises, breathing exercises, or style dependent exercises such as Pa Kua's circle walking or T'ai Chi' s practice of the solo form. Stance training is often overlooked for chi cultivation but in fact is one of the most efficient and powerful ways to stimulate and develop chi.

brush knee To cultivate chi while holding stances, you don't need to consciously think about or manipulate your chi; the process is automatic. Some people believe that you have to control and direct the chi with your mind to make it flow through the body's many chi meridians, reservoirs or orbits. While such control can be used by high level students to "fine-tune" the chi flow, for most people this attempt at controlling chi is both unnecessary and potentially damaging. What you should pay attention to is correct posture, proper rooting, releasing the mind and body and breathing naturally and correctly. If you follow these simple guidelines, an increase in energy and chi will come naturally and in time will spread throughout your body of its own accord.

That's not to say that the principles behind chi develop are necessarily simple or that complex phenomena aren't happening during stance training. In the esoteric art of Hsing-I for example, it is often said that the whole style is dependent on developing and understanding Hsing l's signature san ti stance. Sun Lu Tang, the famous Chinese internal arts master, wrote about the San ti or "Trinity" in his book" The Study of Mind Boxing." He first devoted two pages to describing the san ti posture in detail and how the principles of yin and yang come into play, going on to explain that:

rooster stance

"The so-called Trinity denotes the three phases all together, i.e. heaven, earth, and the human being. It corresponds to the head, hands and feet in boxing. These three phases are again divided into three sections... The Dan Shu says that Tao generates chi from emptiness. This chi generates yin and yang. Yin and yang become trinity. Trinity creates everything. The so-called 'chi in emptiness' is the root of heaven and earth, the source of yin and yang, and the origin of everything."

Clearly the relationships between stance training, the cultivation of chi and the ultimate mastery of a style is deep and profound. And doubtless a better understanding of a style's underlying metaphysics and philosophies will improve our skill. But fortunately, such a deep understanding is not a prerequisite to significant benefits from stance training. If you simply hold the stance, focus your mind and follow the proper principles, by the natural Way of the Tao, you will reap great rewards from your stance training.

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