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In China during the 1920s Wang Xiang Zhai, an internal martial art master of XingYiquan, became dissatisfied with the state of martial arts that was being practiced around him.
He felt that martial arts teachers and students, even his own, were more concerned with the performance of forms and development of techniques than with the emphasis of "developing one's intent."
Dispensing with the distracting forms and techniques, Wang Xiang Zhai developed an internal training system that worked directly at strengthening the student's intention and ability to respond to that intention as the decisive characteristic of a martial art.
Wang Xiang Zhai taught a handful of exercises and a different way to thinking about them. The generation of teachers who followed Wang put their own emphasis on different aspects of the practice they had learned, as their disposition suited them and as their students responded. Some teachers today, for example, teach a small set of exercises and expect the student to develop and explore the variations on their own. Other teachers explicitly teach a large number of variations to deliberately lead the student through certain experiences in body movement.
Wang Xiang Zhai also taught each of his students how to discover their own unique art.
The first fundamental YiQuan training exercise is stake standing or "zhan zhuang." The principal focus of this practice is learning how to relax to promote both good health and martial ability. After a good understanding of "relax" is reached, then you can work with visualizations. Learning "how to relax" is the common first step in all internal martial arts. Once this level of relaxation has been reached, the next step is to proceed toward advanced exercises.
During this standing practice, wherever tension is felt, just let it go. It'll probably come right back in a microsecond, but that's okay. The tension will be noticed and you will counter by just releasing it. Let it go again and again. Eventually that tension will subside and you'll notice tension somewhere else.
Repeat the process. As long as you are alive, it will never end.
The more you train and learn to relax, the more sensitive you'll become to noticing tension. You'll find that you notice how poorly other people are standing. They are reflections of you, past and present. Pay attention and let the tension go throughout the day. Constantly relax and let go.
As you progress, you will be able to feel any specific tension in you body with finer resolution. You will be able to identify individual muscles. The more relaxed you become, the more you can feel and become more relaxed. It's positive feedback. Relaxing the tension is similar to that of the action of peeling the layers of an onion.
The interesting thing about concentration on relaxation is that once you get into a very relaxed state, your structure becomes very sound. It must be sound in order you to be relaxed. When you are truly relaxed, you'll feel as though you were expanding in all directions.
Being relaxed, balanced, and so on, isn't some fixed point. It's a dynamic point that's always moving.
When you stand, you're basically physically still, but because this point is always moving around, you are intent with it and you always have the possibility of movement. You could support a mountain, but if a fly landed on you, you'd be in instant motion. You have the potential to be still or move.
How you train is a strategy. Think about what you are doing, how you are approaching it, and why. If you are not getting results, you are doing something wrong. Back up and examine your methods; then try again.
As mentioned previously, the basic purpose of standing was to learn to relax. That is the gateway to learning how to use the visualizations.
YiQuan uses vivid imagery to train the body to respond to the mind's intention. Once the novice practitioners have learned how to relax, they will begin to focus on specific visualizations. With each incremental sequence of specific visualization, the muscles of the body will begin to respond in the development of a coordinated frame of whole-body strength.