January 2004 Issue
Horse Stance Training
Horse stance training is vital to mastering many Southern Chinese martial arts systems. This practice also is emphasized in northern kung-fu systems. Horse stance training strengthens the muscles of the legs. When the legs are stronger, forms practice will be better balanced and more stable. Forms also become more graceful and beautiful. Plus, the stances give a fighter more power and quicker movements in self-defense or street situations.
There are three main reasons for practicing the horse stance:
To train students to have patience and perseverance. A successful martial artist must have patience when training. Back in ancient times, old masters used to put the students through horse stance training for years to test a student's patience. This testing also gave the master a chance to observe his student's loyalty, sincerity and true intention. If students could demonstrate their willingness to endure the rigors of prolonged horse stance training, the master felt better about handing down the secret family fighting system to them. Loyalty, sincerity, patience and good personal character continue to be valued traits.
To master footwork and to strengthen leg muscles - In stance training, you must work on different stances besides the regular horse stance (a.k.a. the square horse). The bow stance, cat stance, kneeling stances and different twist stances are important factors in kung-fu training. The Chinese term ma has several different meanings: it means the word horse or in the southern kung-fu systems it also means stances. Therefore, you don't just stand in one position for long time doing only doing "the horseback riding stance." You should practice all the different martial art stances. The choy li fut kung-fu system has a horse stance training form called the "five wheel stance." In ancient times, students of the system were required to practice this form for three-to-six months before they were taught any hand forms. Each time they worked on the five wheel stance form, students were required to hold the position for three-to-five minutes. While an entire form could take two hours or longer to perform, students developed fast movements with strong, powerful stances.
To develop internal energy - When a student practices the stances for over 15 minutes at a time, his legs will grow weary. It is important to learn how to relax the muscles to hold the stances for longer and longer periods. Thus, he must focus on his breath or breathing. Once he begins to focus on his breathing, he sinks into deeper levels of concentration, his mind gets calmer, and his chi, begins to drop lower into the navel. By practicing the stances for a lengthy time, the student's chi gets stronger and his mind becomes sharper. One Chinese saying states, "Develop the internal by training the external." One key is to massage the leg muscles right after stance training to loosen stiff muscles and help improve blood circulation.
Horse stance training can be practiced anytime, anywhere. However, you must train on smooth ground or a level floor. For your health's sake, it is not good to practice outdoors when a strong wind is blowing on you or under direct sunlight. The best environment for training is practicing indoors. If you are training outdoors, try to remain in the shade. You can practice stances at work or at play. For example when standing to do any kind of work, just bend your legs and do your stances at the same time. You can keep changing the stances according to the different working situations. According to an old Chinese saying, "The more you practice, the better the results of your training."