Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Standing Stake, or Zhan Zhuang Practice for Internal Martial Arts

Standing Stake practice, or zhan zhuang, is both a foundational and advanced practice in many Chinese martial arts traditions. It sounds so easy, but it isn't. Standing for 10 minutes, 20, 30, an hour or two is anything BUT easy, and many beginners are ready to jump out of their skins after just a few minutes.

ZZ practice has many benefits. Among them, the practice provides a framework in which one can learn to truly relax. To stand correctly, you must learn to use fewer and fewer of your muscles to hold you up. The muscles you can "disengage" finally have a chance to learn to relax.

In a martial sense,  one of the benefits of relaxation is to learn to be more effective. If you want to throw a punch for example, you want to use only those muscles that are indeed needed to throw the punch. Any other muscle that finds itself involved, ie not relaxed, works at cross purposes to your intent.

The ZZ practice also teaches alignment. If you are using fewer and fewer muscles to hold yourself up, one of the things  you need to get a knack for is to stack your skeleton up so you don't need those extra muscles anyway. A benefit of being aligned well is that your internal organs get lined up the way they were meant to be, and so work better.

For years the heels of my shoes used to wear like this: /\ Whatever it was that I was doing to walk and stand like this, there would surely be a price to pay when I got older. However since several years of standing practice, my heels now wear evenly.

Yet a third benefit of the standing practice is that it gives one's mind a chance to settle and to become quiet. In this regard I think ZZ has much in common with the zazen (sitting posture) of Zen. For me, standing stake is my Zazen practice.

I find that when I've been practicing regularly (this holds true of practicing taijiquan as well as zhan zhuang), my mind is more clear. Time doesn't actually slow down so much as I have the experience of having more time to respond (rather than react). Also, I am much better able to read people. As a salesman, I can read the currents swirling around in a room and pick out the threads that are most useful to me. It's not just body language; there's something more to it.

If you click here, you will be directed to a series of videos on YouTube where Master Lam Kam Chuen teaches a course in zhan zhuang. It is a  progressive series of videos and it is meant for you to stand along with him.

Master Chuen is the author of several books on the subject and related topics. I have a few of his books, and think The Way of Energy and The Way of Power are good introductions to the Standing Stake practice.


Memory Power said...

Nice and interesting post..
Thanks for the post...

Rick Matz said...

Thanks for stopping by.

The Strongest Karate said...

When you say that ZZ helps keep your organs "aligned" as they're intended to be. What does that mean?

I realize, of course, that as you move about your organs will shift - since we're all just basically walking water balloons. But our organs are held in relative place by tissues.

I realize there is subtlety here that I am unfamiliar with. Do you have a link or a resource I can check out?


Rick Matz said...

Think the chiropractic idea - if you're lined up right, everything works as it should.

If you are crooked, you'll have different areas of tension pulling and tugging at you, which works at cross purposes both mentally and physically.

Our bodies and minds reflect one another. Our bodies are crooked because our minds are crooked and vice versa. Work on one and you also work on the other.

Grinling E Gibbons said...

ndunamI had to smile when I first read this post. Forty years ago when I started practicing Chinese boxing we used to stand in the horse stand for as long as possible. Since we were all competitive young guys we would stand until our legs gave out and we literally fell down. If you were the last 'horse' standing then you could consider that you did a good horse stance that day. I can honestly say that learning to stand was the foundation of my martial arts practice, even to this day,

Rick Matz said...

Welcome Grinling!

Did you see this more recent post?

Grinling E Gibbons said...

I read Mark Cohen's post as well, it was a great exposition on Zhan Zhuang. I has really given more focus to how I stand, especially in the wuji position. In the early morning, 5:30AM I practice Taiji in my garden. Now I spend more time in the wuji position, just standing, listening internally and externally. It is a great insight. Thank you for the post!

Colin Malsingh said...

Master Lam and his son Tin Yu Lam still run classes in London.
I strongly recommend you try to attend one of these

Unknown said...

This kind of Zhan Zhuang Fa is just basic (Jiben) Yiquan health practice and is not enough. The next stage therefore, is actively seeking and cultivating (Mojin) contradiction force (Chengli) in six directions through mental induction (Yi) and various guiding visualizations (Jiaijie). With various visualizations and mental induction the nerve system is activated, which in turn stimulates the the whole muscular system in wanting to move but there is no external response, this way one can develop a unique kind of force which permeates throughout the whole body which is not directly produced by the muscles but by the mind.(seeking movement in non-movement). This stage of Zhan Zhuang Fa is very hard work. So, in this sense, "Standing meditation" is a bit of a misnomer. Hence, the name Yiquan (Mind Fist) I hope my view will help to get a proper understanding of Zhan Zhuang Fa.