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An Introduction to Basic Wushu Qigong

Qigong can be divided into several types. Such as medical treatment Qigong, fitness Qigong and the type we will discuss: Wushu Qigong. Wushu Qigong also has many different types. Within the Shaolin system we have Natural breathing and Reverse breathing styles, and then this can further be divided into many different styles of practice. For example one type may not place importance on the limbs, but emphasise focus on the Dantian instead. Another type, although also involving the Dantian, does not have the breathing centralized there. Here the Dantian is seen as if suspended by iron threads, and the focus is gathering Qi to the four extremities.

In this article we will use 4 types of different characteristic Fist arts as example to aid explanation. They are: I-shaped Tiger Taming Fist which first needs the Dantian’s stability to drive movements; Chang Quan’s criteria of circular movements, with changes in posture influenced coordinated with breathing. Next Crane fist and Snake fist which are also different. Crane fist uses reverse breathing and raising up the breath, this is because its main concern is speed. Raising the breathing up creates lightness instead of steadiness. The process of drawing the Qi into the lower Dantian is not fast, so the Tiger can only be mighty and fierce, sunken and stable, but in the Crane Fist if Qi is raised up, the power is skillful and cunning. Snake fist’s principle is with the Dantian as its central focus, but breathing and resultant Qi are continuous without breaks, spreading to every part of the body.

With Dantian as the Center

Wushu Qigong’s first basic concept is: ” The Dantian is the center”. During Wushu breathing do not use the chest to breathe. Chest breathing is acquired Qi drawn in from the environment, itself having physical restrictions. (This referring to the distinction of prenatal Qi which is the life force your conciseness had from birth, and postnatal Qi which you absorb through breath and food etc. It means that chest breathing is superficial and not linked to your bodies’ deepest Qi reservoir, which is the Dantian). From Eastern medical theory it is said that the Lung belongs to Yin, and hence it is naturally not suited to do a drastic or intense breathing cycle, as this will easily cause injury. Therefore with many Wushu practices it is suggested to use herbal wound medicine to supplement the body and to avoid injury when first starting.

The Dantian can be separated into: Upper Dantian (between the eyes), Middle Dantian (Solar Plexus) and the Lower Dantian (3 inches below the navel). In Wushu Qigong the Middle and Lower Dantian are places for storing Qi. When considering the upper Dantian we only discuss Spirit or Consciousness and not breathing. “Spirit” here means the intention. Fist practice and Qi practice both rely on the intention. Wushu has a saying: “The 3 tips align”, which is a type of intention development. The three tips are the toes, the fingers and the nose. We use inner body forging practice to achieve outer body development. The lower and upper body are united with the intention all to face ahead. Naturally once the intention is developed the body will naturally align to its command. When facing an opponent and only using the eyes to observe their movements, the eyes send a signal to the cerebellum, which then gets the body to respond. This is often too slow. Intention development lets us easily feel the opponent’s movements. As if our hand has consciousness and can detect through touch, and can directly respond.

In Wushu Qigong we inhale through the nose into the body, directly into the Dantian, without stopping the flow of air in the chest. Zhuang Zi’s staple teaching refers to: “Enlightened people breathe with their heels, normal people just breathe with the throat”. Meaning that breathing must be as deep down into the body as possible. When starting Wushu practice, even the basic movements must preserve their relationship with Qi flow and breathing. With HuoBei as example, the toes should hold the floor and the rest of the body should be relaxed. The breath can then naturally enter the Dantian. If obstructed, the Qi normally stops and vacillates in the chest area, and can cause inner injury. If the feet are not steady then the Qi is not stable and will float up, further allowing our base to sway. Progressing on from the basic movements, one’s practice is only able to advance if at the outset one can grasp these few basic essentials.

Additionally there are some common misunderstandings. The Qi entering the Dantian makes the lower belly rise and fall, hence some people will draw the breath to the belly’s outer layer. This is a mistake. When doing any movements, the spine is the support. It is situated at the rear of the body and if the Qi is drawn to the belly’s outer layer, then because the belly is flexible, the body movements follow the breath and are unsteady. Thus Qi is unable to reside at the Dantian, which is our primary requirement.

Qigong Basic Movements’ Main Aspects.

When breathing one should inhale through the nose. The eyes are closed but still looking towards the nose. The nose points to the heart, as if watching the Qi flow down into the body. The tongue is lifted up to lightly touch the roof of the mouth. Draw in the chest. The lower jaw is slightly pulled in making the neck upright. Breathing is steady, slow and natural, inhaling into the Dantian. Don’t forcefully squeeze or press the air. When exhaling the tongue can lower a bit to the lower jaw, the air exits through the mouth. The hand movement is the same as the I-shaped Tiger Taming fist’s raising hands posture that is part of its opening greet. In our Qigong practice it is most important to clearly discuss and understand the fundamental concepts, as each particular style or form is just one kind of usage or application of those ideas. So learning forms is not the goal itself, it is merely a tool to understand these concepts.

Frequently people’s minds are easily distracted. If the eyes are open during Qi practice, the mind will be more open to external distraction unless one can look but not see. Practicing Qi above all else requires the Spirit to become focused. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and all the bodies’ senses should become focused and unified by the control of the intention. The eyes being closed does not mean we are without sense awareness. We should be looking inward at our own breathing. Following with the breath as it moves, just as when hitting with the fist the eyes follow the fist’s path. The tip of the tongue pressing up must not shake or move, the lower jaw is slightly pulled inwards. Allowing the air to flow undisturbed into the body. The chest must not stick out but rather should be slightly drawn in. However one should not concave too much to the extent that the back is hunched vertically. The spine must stay up straight. The breath is drawn continuously along the inner side of the spine into the Dantian and not on the outer surface of the belly. We can also lightly raise the anus. When exhaling the tongue is against the lower jaw and the air is slowly exhaled out. The release of Qi is slow and controlled if we wish to acquire the goal of keeping the Qi stable. This is like blowing up a balloon with air. When releasing the air it is essential to use the hand to pinch the mouth of the balloon and let the air slowly release out, so that the balloon won’t fly around chaotically.

People have said: “Beginners practice for and hour, but experts practice for only one minute”. That is because experts can grasp all the essentials, and can hence quickly achieve the biggest effect. Also the beginners’ hour of practice will mostly be focused on lessening problems. The movements are done, but regarding the advancement of Fist Skill, and the storing and cultivation of Qi the benefit will be small. Only after forging practice for a longer time, problems of technique can slowly be reduced, and thereupon one can grasp the essentials. With both Fist Skill and breathing essentials, the more they are practiced, the more quickly they can be achieved, resulting in faster progress. Often Martial Arts practice bottlenecks if breathing and Fist Skill cannot link together. Then we are merely forging practice on posture and movement and not building our ability to nurture and use Qi.

Practicing Qi’s Four Requirements: Breathing must be Deep, Fine, Long and Even.

1) Deep:

Qigong practices’ first requirement is the breathing must be deep. When practicing Qi it is best to find a place with fresh airflow, so to encourage deeper inhaling. The deeper the better, as if you want to inhale all the air between Heaven and Earth. Wushu Qigong development can be split into four stages namely: Inhaling Qi, Turning Qi, Moving Qi and Converting Qi. “Inhaling Qi” is initially just a process of storing and cultivation. If we want to get our Qigong to become part of our Fist skill, we must first accumulate an amount of Qi.  If we equate this Qi to water carrying a boat. Regarding the storing and cultivation of Qi, the deeper the water that is available the bigger the boat that can be carried, and for a longer time too.

In our system some people can have a mistaken notion that we only begin to develop the relationship between Fist skill and Qi after learning the I-Shaped Tiger Taming Fist. But actually from the very beginning with the basic movements of Huobei and Shuaiyao or even beginner forms like Lian Bu Quan and Gong Li Quan, breathings natural close connection with Fist Skill should not be broken. In accordance with normal reasoning when practicing the I-Shaped Tiger Taming Fist, because of its power and pace, breathing co-ordination should be very smooth and fast. But when one is just starting to learn the I-Shaped Tiger Taming Fist one is only starting to understand Qi, and hence when encountering breathing that should be fast, it causes one to breath incorrectly and only use chest power. This makes the force generated neither hard nor fierce, as it should be, but diffused instead. This is because the beginner has no idea of Qigong’s basic concepts. Once in place though they serve as a guide when trying to combine Qi with Fist skill and the use of weapons also. Hence these two Wushu disciplines both can transform to have the liveliness and vitality originally intended.

When beginning to practice the I-shaped Tiger Taming Fist normally it is done in a fierce manner, but regarding Qigong practice this should be avoided. At the beginning of ones Qi practice one definitely needs to store and nurture Qi. If the breathing isn’t deep into the Dantian then there is no centre. Having no centre ones base will be unstable. Hence one can only generate power using muscle action and has no awareness of using the Spirit. Hence only using Li (muscle power) and no Jing. (The term for power generated through harmonised body Qi and intention. Normal muscle force is short and burst like, Jing is continuous and recyclable). “Li” is only dependent on muscle and bone structure to produce force. When Jing is emitted the muscles are definitely not tense, Jing uses intention to apply Qi, then uses Qi to apply force, so using almost the whole bodies power. Most notably with the waist, legs and Dantian as center, then integrated through intention, breathing and posture changes combine to achieve the force.

It is important to know that the hard and fierce Jing emitted for the I-Shaped Tiger Taming Fist is not the only use of Qi. Chang Quan, Snake Fist and Crane Fist’s emitted Jing are different types of Qi expression. Qi itself is formless, it can be flat, it can be round, it can be long or short and it can change. Applying Qi can be light or heavy. Just like water it can become a big wave and also can transform into a small stream. How can our intention guide this stream of Qi? How can we develop this type of force totally by our selves? Of course you must first have this stream of Qi. Then if you want to make it into a big wave you must have enough stored Qi supply for this task.

2) Fine:

During Qigong’s forging practice one certainly cannot be impatient. One needs to trust gradual development. “Xi” then is in order to cultivate patience, and slowly achieve progress one small step at a time. Impatience causes the flow of Qi to be broken, and hence we cannot achieve the result of “If the Qi is long (unbroken), the force will be big”.

When inhaling it is like drawing a silk thread into the Dantian. Exhaling is also the same. If the breath is too fast then the flow is interrupted and the “thread” is broken.

Practicing Qi is like the flow of water, it needs to be continuous (unbroken). Only then can the Qi be continuous. Through impatience one will not be able to develop the martial power to use against others, further more it can actually cause the practitioner to harm them selves. Continued practice in this way can cause the so-called “Excess of fire Qi”. This is normally because of impatience. In this case the balance of “Fire Qi” (connected to the liver) and “Water Qi” (connected to the Kidneys) is out, and the excess of Fire Qi harms the body. It has also been know to cause delusions.

Fist practice and Qi practice both place extreme emphasis on the intention being focused. Qi practice requiring the breath to be finer has even greater need for this focus.

Starting off the breathing must be very fine, so fine that only you yourself can feel the air flow. Exhaling is different for our two styles. The Northern Shaolin Fist requires the exhale to be fine. The Southern Shaolin practice requires an audible exhale, but this breathing is still fine. Through this exhale sound we can check if the breathing is correct or not. It must be done without stops or breaks. Later if we note that when practicing Qi the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and intention are all totally focused, then there is no need to further depend on the exhale sound as a check. So we mostly adopt the traditional Northern Shaolin principle of not emitting sound. However in the Southern Shaolin styles there are some movements that are comparatively fierce, so they do require the emission of sound. In this case of applied use of breathing to generate power, if one doesn’t emit sound one may feel the Qi is smothered or blocked and that they are holding back when delivering power. However in our discussion of the cultivation stage of Qigong, silent breathing is correct and should not be confused with the above discussion of applied Qi usage.

With the requirement of the breath being fine, at the same time we must make sure that there are no breaks in the flow of air. So typically in Long Fist practice, when doing Lian Bu Quan this continuity is still achievable, but when practicing Gong Li Quan some people in order to try and punch with more power stamp down the foot hard when punching out. This only serves to break the flow of Qi. Although saying it has a lot of power, and appears to have a lot of intention, but after striking with one fist like this one’s power is exhausted (i.e. no accumulated power). The way of developing Jing is not easily manifested, so that after hitting with one fist all power is not dissipated. Each time then power build up must start a fresh, and from one punch to the next having to pause for a bit, being unable to link up ones power.

3) Long:

When practicing Qigong the duration of the breath definitely must be longer than normal breathing. We often use the tortoise, snake and crane to represent longevity because their breathing is very slow and long. Their metabolism is slow so they have a long life.

Qi practice is not only about breathing. Spirit or conscious awareness is also important. If Spirit can continue longer, intention and breathing then can be continuous and unbroken.

We often use Chang Quan and Snake Fist’s movements to increase the breathing length. Their movements, even though they could be done very quickly, if slowed down and enlarged it allows the breathing to follow the changes in body posture. The eyes should also follow with the general body movement. Earlier we mentioned that Fist practice should not have breaks. Between one strike and the next, although the Jing has stopped, the intention is not broken. Unbroken intention will let the movements easily follow on when it is time to continue, and hence it is not necessary to start again afresh building power from nothing.

Qi practice also requires intention to be unbroken. Broken intention makes each movements’ Jing need to be formed afresh leaving gaps between movements. Fist practice requires these empty gaps to be reduced. If each time we do one movement all the intention is scattered only to have to be formed afresh for the next move, then after practicing for 10 years our Wushu will still be useless. Even if one punch could knock down a tree, but with scattered intention after hitting once we would have nothing more. Suppose your one punch misses and your opponent can return 4 or 5 strikes. Qi practice then needs to make the empty spaces between moves disappear. Just like the sea. One wave rises and is followed by the next before the first has leveled out, so as to continue unbroken.

When starting fist practice one needs to use slower movement so we can be sure to check that breathing is flowing with body posture and stepping. If movements are fast and with lots of muscle power and holding the breath, this can feel like there is sweet chili sauce flowing in the blood. This is caused by holding the breath and over exerting. The Qi production is stopped, which can cause injury to the body. Also when extending the intention it can be used to watch the Qi along its path. One should check to see if the Qi is an unbroken link from when entering the body until when it exits. If it is unbroken then there is no problem, and one can continue with practice. If incorrect, one must normally return to the beginning and review the basic movements. So our potential to progress past this bottleneck then lies with our practice of continuous self-review and checking of movements already learned.

4) Even/ Unbroken:

“Even” is breathing’s equal distribution from inhale to exhale. Not only must the breath not break at any point but further more it must be of a constant rate of flow. In application this seems impossible with Fist practice having light and heavy, fast and slow movements all intermixed. This has already been discussed with the application of Qi earlier. As a beginner starting Fist practice, movement must not be fast, but rather slow and uniform. This is the only way that the whole bodies breathing can link up. By the time the movement is well practiced, intention can naturally accelerate the movement to be faster. When practicing the I-Shaped Tiger Taming Fist we say it must have: “Raising steps that lift wind and clouds, roaring breaths that move mountains and rivers”. But when first learning it must be slow. Slow movement is the only way to stay connected. If we start to introduce speed too early the flow of breath will be interrupted. The remedy for this is continued forging practice, nothing more.

Only after the breathing is slow, steady and stable can speed be introduced. Only after a period of regular forging Qi practice does the breathing method become natural and we can feel inside the body and so produce the bodies’ expansion and contraction. When starting we only feel the bodies movements, later we feel the movement of Qi, producing the so-called “Qi Sense”. To develop this Qi Sense is Qi practice’s most important point. Taiji Quan has a saying: “If my opponent can’t sense me, and I can sense my opponents intention, then I will be invincible”. This saying can be interpreted as follows: When part of our body collides with the opponents’ body, both of us definitely have a physical sensation. But if we have Qi Sense we have sensation before the opponent does.

There is a saying: “All styles can be defeated, only the fast are not defeated”. This “fast” is actually not a physical movement done quickly but is attained by the Qi Sense going first, feeling the opponents movement. Hence they arrive late even though moving first. Unless the speed of the attack is too fast (as a bullet) or too acute or sharp, Qi Sense will be too late to respond, this is because people have a definite limit. If one’s own breathing is not uniform and stable we will not be able to sense changes in breathing coming from outside. Also not being stable we are unable to influence the opponents body posture or Qi.

Extending this Qi principle we can draw example from Qinna or breaking free from a grasp.

Due to our Qi being continuous, but the opponents’ force being segmented and with our stable sense reading the opponents changes in breath, naturally we can control them. This use of Qi’s most devastating effect is when the breathing is intensified and transformed. We don’t want the Qi to build and then dissipate, we want it to rather build and intensify. Just as one and one is added to make two and then again added to make three. As opposed to interrupted Qi flow where one dissipates to become zero and then has to become one again.

Leading with intention

It is said: “Practicing 1000 times, makes the body movement natural.” But this has one prerequisite condition: We must practice with conscious awareness, and we must know this type of “One command, one step” unified method. Otherwise the result of practice is that movement is natural, but not useful in practical application. In the historic work entitled “All Men are Brothers” there is a character Jiu Wen Long who previously followed several teachers practicing the various pole methods. His technique was extremely beautiful and smooth. The movements one could say were very natural, but once meeting Jin Wang the expert teacher of the king’s 80 000 elite guard, it was clear his pole techniques although looking good, weren’t one bit useful. Hence in our Fist Skill or Qigong our emphasis is all on consciousness and intention as the guide. This does not imply that these techniques are inflexible but rather should be guided by intention each time they are applied. Each time a technique is applied the situation will be slightly different. Range from the body can vary.  The intended goal of the action will be different. There will be a different opponent and different circumstances. Each time however, our movements and postures must naturally follow to make the appropriate adjustments to achieve the required effect. If this is kept in mind then even when practicing on one’s own, progress can also be made.

 Conclusion

When first learning Qigong we need to understand the basic ideas clearly and then start to practice. Find a place with good airflow and few distractions. Stay focused. Relax the body and don’t be in a rush or restless. Based on the required principles gradually get the breath to extend longer. Starting off the breath must not be too fast or fierce. Initially don’t aim too high. Practicing Qi is not just a routine habit. One must time after time improve one’s practice. Carelessness cannot be allowed. Preferably do the practice well once rather than carelessly 20 times. This way you will at least gain the effect of one time’s practice. Practicing Qi’s highest need is conscious awareness. Don’t practice with rigidity. If consciousness is not present normally there will be no effect.

 The most important thing in Qi practice is to achieve an effect. But first the Qi Sense needs to be cultivated. First the seed must be planted, and then slowly nurtured. Be sure to avoid rushing and “pulling up the seedlings to try and make them grow faster”.

 Furthermore with Wushu Qigong, the point is to get Qi to merge with our Fist Skill. Otherwise Qigong ought to belong to Qigong, and Fist Skill should belong to Fist Skill. If Fist practice cannot be combined with Qi, the fist has no way to advance. This is the so called: ” Fist practice without practicing its usefulness and applicability is futile, one can practice ones whole life and it will still be useless”.

By: Teacher Chen Qing Ho

Complied by: Instructor Lu Ray Xu

Translated by: Paul Hanrahan, Arthur Hsu, Jiang Xian Ting

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On the Functions and Training Methods of Ma Bu

To train Ma Bu is the basic training of learning martial arts. Some call it zhan ma bu(to stand on ma bu), zhan zhuang(to stand solidly like a pillar), di pen(to stand firmly on the ground like a basin), or zhuang gong(the skill of standing solidly like a pillar.) Ever since I have some idea of what martial arts is all about, I have considered it a golden rule to train ma bu, something that cannot be changed or a step that cannot be skipped, if you are serious about martial arts. I have studied kung fu for several decades, and I have endured the hardships of training ma bu, driven by the environmental factors and my own will power. When I started to teach, I have seen some people sweat it out and persevere, and yet still more people try to avoid the pain, or simply give up the idea of taking up martial arts training. So through the observation and experimentation during the teaching sessions, I spent a couple of years delving into the further understanding and consolidated what I learned about ma bu. Thus I hope I can help students overcome the obstacle, let more people benefit from kung fu training and have some fun in the process.

 FUNCTIONS OF MA BU

All styles of kung fu have ma bu, especially among traditional styles, it is very much emphasized. I myself have suffered a lot from its training. In our Chang Hong system, we further divide ma bu into the Chang Chuan Ma (northern ma bu) and Hong Chuan Ma(southern ma bu.) What exactly are the functions of ma bu? Some pugilists in the past consider it only a way to train muscular endurance. Indeed it is basically correct to say ma bu can train the endurance abilities of muscles. Human body is made up of skeleton and muscles. The application of power is correlated to the endurance and tightening and loosening of muscles. But we will not emphasize here in order not to lose sight of the more important and fundamental aspect of Chi (breathing.) We will briefly divide into several parts and explain in the following.

(1)the function to sink the Chi lower

To train in kung fu, one must first change the way he exerts power. He must give up the simple muscle power that is generated by tightening the joints and convert that to the power integrated by mind, Chi and muscular power. And the simplest way to do that is through zhan zhuang(stand on ma bu solidly like a pillar.) When we have found zhong xian(imaginary central axis) and Dan-tien.(about 3 inches below navel) through the basic training of hands, eyes and body, we must let the Chi sink down, and then when we stand on ma bu, it would be like a tree with deep root in the earth or like a tumbler that has a low center of gravity. If one squats down only with one’s body, but not one’s Chi, the bottom of the feet will have a reactionary force and make one’s body float. At this juncture, although the body may seem to go down, the Chi actually floats up and makes one unstable, not to mention if one rushes forward to throw a punch. Another situation is when one squats down with the whole body tightening into one block, it may seem very stable. Indeed, if the volume of body is shrunk into one block, it is more stable, but it’s like an ostrich, not only defenseless and clumsy, and it has nothing to do with sinking the Chi down. This is not what a martial artist should strive for.

(2)to train will power and patience

In the process of traditional kung fu training, it is of utmost importance to ask the practitioners to follow the way and virtue of martial arts. That is why the practitioners must first endure hardships so that they won’t be like the ancient practitioner, Chin Wu Yang who courted disaster because of his rashness. Martial arts is not just a discipline that offers health exercise, also it’s a skill that teaches one how to defend himself, or even kill the enemies. If a student cannot restrain himself and resort to etiquette, when he is highly skilled in kung fu, he becomes a loose cannon. That can be a very dangerous thing. Therefore, in the traditional training methods of basic skills, one of the purposes is to train the students’ perseverance, endurance and will power and let the students at the same time “nurture Chi in the mind” and “straighten the internal breathing” so that the ability to have “clear mind, clear eyes, sunken Chi and steady step” is achieved.

(3) to coordinate the hips, body and power

Before integration, the force that be exerted is only bits and pieces of power that can be generated from the limbs, and not the synchronized power generated from the center of the body. The reason why we list zhan zhuang as a basic training is to synchronize san guan qio qie(neck, ribs, waist, shoulder, elbow, wrist, groin, knee, and ankle) and Chi of the mind. One must be able to feel the existence of the power of the body center, and through other practices, to train the feel of correspondence between the head and the rear, like the modulation of the river and the sea. As a result, the theory of generating power and practices will affect the demands of zhan zhuang. Different training methods and demands of ma bu of different schools diverge subsequently.

HORSEBACK RIDING STANCE OF CHANG CHUAN AND FOUR-EVEN HORSE STANCE OF HONG CHUAN

In the previous section, we discussed the basic functions of ma bu. Here we eemphasize that ma bu is the basic skill to let the body balance, coordinate and the Chi become stable and flexible. The training methods and demands of ma bu will vary depending on the power generation habits of different styles of kung fu. In the following, we will explain in further details using the basic ma bu stances of Chang Chuan and Hong Chuan in our system as examples.

1. horse-back riding stance

The movement of Chang Chuan is long and extended. As to the power generation mode, it is through the change and rotation of hips and legs in conjunction with the application rules to make it accelerate in the end and extend the body, so called “straight line acceleration power penetration, hips and legs extension and retraction, whipping power generation…” Therefore, we must pay very careful attention to the coordination and balance of body.

With respect to the training aspect of stances, the basic eight stances are considered the basic zhuang fa(method of standing firmly like a pillar.) Among them, the horse-back riding stance is considered basic of the basic. The gist of training ma bu is to straighten up the body, sink the Chi low, tilt the knees slight inward toward the center of the body, and let the hips remain flexible. When the body is straight, it is well balanced from the left and right, without tilting to any one side. And then in conjunction with the lowering of one’s center of gravity, let Chi into the Dan-tien, and let remain stable there. Since Chi is in Dan-tien now, it is not stuck in the upper body, and the hip is not stiff, upper body is relaxed, not uptight. If Chi does not go down along with the center of gravity, normally it gets stuck in the chest and ribs. In this case, the body will be deadly stiff or even floating upward. It will be very painful to do ma bu then. So at this instant, one has to try to adjust breathing, and stand a little bit higher, and let the knee and thigh form a 45-degree angle. Wait until the breathing is smooth and low in the Dan-tien and then gradually squat down lower. Otherwise, there will be all sorts of twisted postures like stiff chin, drawn up shoulders, thrust out chest, a spine that is bent too much inward, and as a result the buttocks seem to be projecting outward.

Another important requirement of horse-back riding stance is to slightly bend two knees inward toward the center of the body. When we stand on ma bu, if we relax our body, the force of gravity will fall evenly on two feet, and the weight of the body will evenly sink down too. But sometimes when we do ma bu, due to the changes of breathing, center of gravity and posture, part of the force of the center of gravity and body will disperse outward because of pressure and will result in the phenomenon of what we call “the confusion of axis and wheel.” Unless we only want to use the rotational force of perimeter of the body and reactionary force, we have to straighten up the lower back, bend the two knees slightly inward, try to concentrate the Chi in the Dan-tien, and produce the torque about the central axis. This way we have some idea of the central axis, and this is the kind of power generation mode we want.

During the ma bu training process, we always ask the students not to let your knees go over your toes, even if that means you have to stand up a little. (You can go over a little, if you are built that way, but not too much.) Why is that? That is because the power generation method within our school is to rotate your body around the fixed axis centered in Dan-tien and create the torque. So you have to stabilize your Chi in the center, not to push it to the front or extend to the back. Also you have to straighten your body, not to tilt to any side. Furthermore, when you execute the blow, it has to be swift and direct like snapping a whip or shooting an arrow. On the other hand, if the knees should go over the toes, the Chi will be in the front part of your belly instead of center, and the pressure will fall on the knees. In this case, you can only exert power using the perimeter of your body to rotate as opposed to the central axis. For Chang Chuan, this is not direct and crispy. After the fine points are understood, then the rest is all time and sweat. Grand Master Lee once said, “kung fu is grinding practice of time and sweat.”

After one has nailed down ma bu, the next stage is to learn its flexible changes. First, it’s the upright body and sunken Chi, in combination with the left right switch of mountain-climbing stance; the real false conversion of cat stance ton make the change of posture nimble gradually; and then with the application of forms to make the stances reach the stage of being alive and usable.

We have to pay attention to one particular point. That is when we practice the change of various stances, a lot of people overlook the “straight” transmission. What I mean by “straight” transmission is that we move with the rotation of the whole body, not to hold your breath and move like a concrete block. For example, when we change from horse-back riding stance to mountain-climbing stance, pay attention to the accompanying change of heel and ball of the foot, we can’t just twist the knees and the upper body. We will lose balance that way. Then when we switch from left to right stance, although there is no pause in the middle, make sure to change to horse-back riding stance facing the front, and then rotate to the right smoothly. This is the right way to do it. This rule should not be neglected in the training of zuo pan, fu hu, xu bu and du lib u either. From the requirement of ma bu to hold your body straight, and then to accompany the change of other stances, this is the basic training, and also a very important process to step into the doorstep of the treasure house of Chang Chuan.

2. four-even horse stance of Hong Chuan

According to the tradition, there are 12 different stances in the Hong Chuan posture training, which is the building block of Hungar kung fu. Among the 12 stances, the four-even horse stance and Er Zi Qien Yang Ma are essential. Four-even horse stance is for the low wide stance training, and the Er Zi Qien Yang Ma is for the tall narrow stance training. In the following section, we will introduce the four-even horse stance of the 12 stances.

The so called “four-even horse stance” is in fact a ma bu. The only difference between it and the horse-back riding stance is that its stance is lower, the knees don’t bend inward and the requirements of “four-even, four-straight, and four-sinking.” The four-even is to have an even head, even shoulders, even thighs, even heart. The four-straight is to have a straight head, straight body, straight posture, straight Chi. As to the requirement of four-sinking is to have sinking shoulders (not to draw up), sinking elbows (not to raise it. Should point to the direction of the floor.), sinking groin, and sinking Chi.

To study Hong Chuan, one must have the concept of mind and Chi first, and its central idea is “the way of nature.” Hungar kung fu adopts the forms of the birds and wild beasts, the shape of the mountains, rivers and nature, the figure and presumed intention of gods and Buddha so that the students can imitate the form, study the intentions, and make it a reality. “This so called reality is that you can try it out in your daily life.” Therefore, it is pretty important to grasp the idea of mind and Chi, and the central axis of the body.

It is stressed in Hong Chuan system to exert power from internal Chi, and therefore to  keep the body straight up is emphasized. As a result, the changes of 12 stances rooted in the four-even horse stance demand attention to the postures, accompanying Chi and variations, not to do it at will without paying attention to the center. This is why the forms for the beginners seem to be slow and driving the Chi all the time, clumsy and not as agile.

3. horse-back riding stance, four-even stance/north and south, it’s all in the family

Many people believe ma bu of different styles cannot be mixed and practiced at the same time. In fact this is a misconception based on the misunderstanding of the relationship between “man and martial arts.” As a matter of fact, martial arts is a skill evolved from the struggle between man and the world, man and the animals, between man against man for survival, for protection of his home and community.. It is the man who uses the skill. The application environment is variable. How can we limit ourselves to a narrow area? Therefore the more advanced martial artists can control the body with internal heart, mind and Chi to better adapt to the changes of nature and environment. They will not stick to rigid rules to train their ma bu and entrap themselves. Consequently, if one is good at controlling the Chi and mind, he can adapt to different stances of different styles, not just the Chang Chuan and Hong Chuan. Otherwise, even ma bu and bow stance have different configuration, how can one train at the same time? Cat stance even requires a different center of gravity and falsehood and reality, not to mention if you add hand and leg techniques. This is where the difference of good and bad interpretation lies between martial arts learned with external physical training and training with internal Chi. After we understand the relationship between center of gravity and accompanying Chi, we know why some styles of martial arts are classified as external pugilism.

ZERO IN ON ONE OR DABBLE INTO DIFFERENT STYLES

Almost all martial artists from all styles of traditional Chinese kung fu emphasize stances to have a solid foundation. As a result, stance plays an important role in all schools of martial arts, such as the 10 basic stances of Chang Chuan and the 12 stances of Hong Chuan. But can we mix the stances of all styles and train at the same time? People’s opinions vary on this subject. In fact, compatibility of the stances between Chang Chuan and Hong Chuan is high. For instance, the stances of Hong Chuan centralize on four-even stance, and some of the styles of Chang Chuan in the north utilize this stance too like Hua Chuan. Whereas the horse-back riding stance is the major stance of our style, Chang Chuan, which is also used in Hong Chuan as a modified little four-even horse stance. Therefore, putting aside for a moment the requirement and variation of mind and Chi, one can focus on one stance to train utilizing it to train the Chi to go down and the integration of the body, and then use the other to train for the variations. This way you don’t have to worry about mixing them up.

When can you change this and start to 2, 3 styles or even more? This is not a difficult question to answer. After you start to train for a while, you will know if you can or not. You don’t need to hurry to make a decision now. Let’s reflect on the experience of some of the senior famous masters. After they have immersed in a style for a long time, when they try to learn a new style, they often are stubborn about changing old habits. This is to say for this kind of people, it’s even more difficult for them to change their deep-rooted habit or conception. This is the shortcoming of learning one style, and then trying to learn another, when they have some basis. And this is why some masters don’t like to teach students with previous experience, because “it is easy to learn a new style but difficult to right the wrongs of the old style.” As to the beginning students who just started to learn the basics, it is also a grave concern to get mixed up. But if one can understand the relationship of the way of martial arts between the front and the rear, the subject and the object, it is alright to learn a few styles of skills, sports. It’s just that if you dabble into too many different kinds, you may have only a superficial understanding of everything. That’s something to be concerned about. Therefore, teachers become very important to the students who are beginning to form their first concept and seek their first objective. They should pay attention to mind and Chi, not just in the pursuit of exterior form. So in the beginning, if they seek to understand what their purpose and concept of learning kung fu, what their central idea is, and follow that direction to search, then whether to focus or to leaf through, stabilize on the constant or to seek the change, the choice to choose and to give and take should be clear to make.

To practice the basic moves, one has to understand its objectives and guidelines. One can’t just practice blindly or brush it over. The practice of these beginning moves will affect the progress you can make and the level you can reach in the future. Stances to martial arts are the building block for future development and basis for a variety of change of stances and movements, and launching pad of power generation. Therefore, with respect to the diverse detailed applications of kung fu, if one can’t accommodate with diverse flexible concept of stances and direction of training, one can’t bring the abilities to a higher level, nor can he grasp the intricacies of kung fu applications. Therefore when learning the basic skills, like stances, one has to be flexible, and to try to grasp the changes and internal breathing, and not to stop short at imitating the external forms. Normally the formation of a more complete or important style of kung fu is complicated. Take Chang Chuan for example. Currently, the prevalent Chang Chuan style is not just one school, one style, but formed of many styles, many divisions. The characteristics of each style are not exactly the same, if we try to delve into the nuances. Just like Lien Bu Chuan and Gong Li Chuan, there are different requirements, style and objectives. As to the formation and content of Hong Chuan, the variances are even greater. For Wu Xing (5 forms), Shi Xing (10 forms) and Zhang Fa (palm skill), they are different in requirements form from form. They are so different in terms of stances, power generation methods and style that they each can form an independent school. The reason why they can be combined into one school must have its theoretical basis and common grounds. Subsequently, one has to be aware of the following points when learning the foundation building stances.

1. It has to be correct

Especially, the consistency between the stances and power generation methods of relevant styles can’t be neglected.

2. Seek the flexibility of diverse changes.

Kung fu is a physical skill, applicable in daily diverse variable environment. If one is rigid, and can’t cope with changes, one would always feel “it is never enough when you need it.”

3. Use Chi and Mind as the guiding principle to train.

This will break through the rigidity and clumsiness of stances resulted from the wrong training methods and will enter into the new realm of diverse and synchronized world of kung fu.

So, in conclusion, if a kung fu student who doesn’t have much time, or who thinks he can’t handle it because he just “doesn’t have it” or because of impracticality, he can just choose one style or even just one form, and don’t even think about learning many forms and many different styles. But if you can surpass this, the rest will take care of itself.

by Joseph Jiang

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