Monday, August 13, 2007

OK Fellow Rats, Lets Try Stillness

All you fellow Dojo Rats out there; if you are interested, let's try an experiment. While we all are all into active movement for our workouts, I have been fascinated by the Yi Quan system that holds static postures. My only experiance with this is from "Warriors of Stillness", by Jan Diepersloot, which gave me many good training tips. Formosa Neijia turned me on to this site, a guy who is in Bejing studying Yi Quan with some high-level masters. I love his writing and experiance in China. I have been holding combat postures off and on, but usually only for ten to fifteen minutes. These guys hold postures for thirty minutes on each side and then go to combat training. From what they say, you can't believe how energising the feeling is from this training. I have never pushed it that far, but I intend to give it a try. I would really like to hear from readers that are willing to try this or who have done it in the past. What is your "Breakthrough Point"? How long can you stand? The key is to relax as much as possible. We are not training fast-twitch muscles, it is the stabilizer muscles that this practice trains.
What do you think? Have you tried it? Come on, let us know!


Adzz said...

I regularly practice some yi quan standing postures, its really not an endurance test like some other standing qi gong methods. In yi quan you stand and extensively use the mind to produce feelings of support and comfort in the body, from there you add more mind to create resistance on various planes and coordinate these together. The length of time that you practice should be dictated by the endurance of your mind, i.e. if you can no longer concentrate and produce the required feelings, you may as well move to another training method as just standing there in a posture is not the point. There are some free yi quan e-books here:
and some articles here:
Both sites offer enough detail to play around with the relevant mind activity in yi quan. Have fun!

Hand2Hand said...

My personal best for standing in the "Embrace the World" posture is 90 minutes.

My sifu at the time was a firm believer in stance training. He believed that an hour was a major milestone, that once you did that and did it well, that you had good chi.

I can safely say that my push hands sucked until I made ETW a regular part of my training. I was also doing iron palm and iron vest training and that those improved greatly as a result. I don't know why, but I can say that my palms got harder even when I wasn't doing anything but ETW.

The trouble with such training is that it is time-consuming. At the time I was with that sifu, I was chronically underemployed. It would be hard for me to do some stance training, at least as much as I used to, today. Having a full-time job and a six-year-old son makes it difficult.

I also used to do slow motion Siu Lam Tao, taking an hour or longer to do that form. That also has similar benefits as static stance training, plus you develop good habits for chi sao.

However, I finally found a good xingyi and bagua teacher in the Tampa area. I'm looking forward to taking my internal training to new levels. This teacher seems to emphasize reeling silk practice from Chen taiji rather than stance training.

He believes in stance training, but concedes it is hard to have time for it along with the rest of your martial practice.

Patrick Parker said...

Yo, DR,

I'd like to see you talk about the posture that you show in this picture.

This is essentially similar to the first movement in the first exercise in the aikido system that we do. We call it shomen tegatana, meaning 'forward handblade' or 'palm to the face.' As such, it is pretty fundamental to everything we teach.

Besides stepping forward and jacking someone in the jaw with a palmheel, what do you see that posture/motion as being good for?

Dojo Rat said...

Adzz; thanks for the links, I'll check them out!

H2H; Wow! 90 minutes! It sure is hard to stand still when I want to be walking Bagua or something...
I hope all you guys check out the link to the guy practicing in Beijing, it's pretty interesting

Pat; The stance is from xing-yi and is called the "San Ti" stance, or "Trinity"-ie; heavan-earth-man (if I remember correctly). It is defensive as well as offensive, both high and low guard as you see. This stance is in many of their moving forms as a palm strike as you mentioned. It's also a non-confrontational "Back off" posture.

JessOBrien said...

Hi Dojorat and others,

San Ti is a real cool training method from Xing Yi. It can help relax the mind and get quiet, awake and aware. This helps a lot in two person activities.

I used to do Aikido, and when I started learning Xing Yi I discovered that the San Ti Posture, and it's moving version Pi Quan are essentially identical to Aikido's Shomen Uchi.

Anyone who does Aikido should go check out Xing Yi sometime and get a glimpse of how they use Pi Quan. I think it would open up a lot of things for Aikidoists. Pi Quan is one of the most vicious and powerful techniques in all of Chinese martial arts. Shomen Uchi could be the same, the mindset just needs to change a little.

-Jess O'Brien

JoseFreitas said...


I'd like to give you a short description of my experience in standing. I am primarily a Xingyi and Taiji guy. Before that I practiced Shotokai Karate for about ten years (I still do, for the last two years again). After I quit Karate at the time, for a number of reasons, I didn't think I'd keep doing martial arts, I was mostly interested in Qigong only. I met my current Chinese teacher about a year and a half after I quit Karate, and went to him because he taught Lian Gong in 18 Postures (a famous modern Qigong set).

But I had also started training with other teachers, and one of the groups I trained in started an experiment on standing. For about 9 months we met four times a week and did nothing but standing in the basic Embrace the Tree posture (we did some moving Qigong at the end for about 10 minutes). We worked ourselves up to about one hour. I have to say that I thought it was REALLY HARD and frequently wanted to quit. I was never able to totally relax, and my shoulders in particular always felt like they had hot, burning wires going through them. We reached the 1 hour mark after about five months, and I stuck it out for another four months. I also trained at home for about 30 minutes at a time every day. After awhile I quit because it seemed the practice was no longer going anywhere, and the people I was training with were not really being supervised by anyone else. There was a little risk involved that something might go wrong (it did go wrong for a couple of less stable people in the group) plus I felt that to advance, something needed to be added and they didn't know how to. But I liked the experiment and it was hugely important for me at the time.

Fast forward a few years: my teacher, Sifu Wu Xuan, had convinced me to begin learning Taiji. I thought Taiji was ridiculous before that, but eventually tried it and loved it. At the same time I was learning a mish-mash of northern style forms, mostly for fun, not for fighting, and to complement my practice of Karate Kata (even though I had quit Karate, I always continued training the katas and would do a workout session 2-3 times a week, and I thought that adding a few chinese forms, with so completely different motion patterns might be fun), and one day my teacher offered to teach Xingyi. I loved it at first sight, and have been doing it forever since (this was 97 I think).

The thing is that coming from Karate, Xingyi was #$%$#""#ing difficult! There was a level at which the detail needed to actually learn the stuff seemed impossible to get. In Taiji, it was OK (even though it was difficult) because it was mostly slow motion. In Karate, when they taught a block or whatever, it was always "do this" and the movement basically took care of itself. But in Xingyi, after you thought you were doing the move OK, the teacher would add "yeah, but you have to add a spiraling force from the shoulder to the wrist, on the inside", and once you thought you could do it it went "well, but it has to be sequential, and you have to feel the stomp in your foot coming up at the same time" or some such weird improbable thing. Doing it slow motion was not the answer, because in Xingyi so much is dependent on the footwork and on the jump steps that carry your momentum, that doing it slow motion emptied it completely of its power and meaning. You always need to move at least at moderate speed, and real Xingyi also strongly supports the idea of developing speed, so... I REALLY thought my teacher was making it up at one time. I just couldn't "feel" my body to the level of detail needed.

My teacher then one day told me to approach San Ti as a training tool for just this kind of feeling. And he gave me some advice which sort of ran counter to what I had been taught regarding standing. Relax into the postures and mostly practice for about half the time you can hold the posture was the primary one. His idea was this: "You need to be able to hold the posture for 40 minutes, but generally, on a day to day basis, do only 20 minutes". His advice was to go all out once every 10 days or so, but on a day to day do 20 minutes, changing 4 times (5 minutes on each side, twice). He also thought that it was better to do 2 or 3 sessions of 10-15 minutes spread across the day than one longish session. Not every Xingyi teacher has the same opinion, and it varies with what the teachers think of the goals of San Ti. My teacher doesn't emphasize San Ti for power, rather he emphasizes feeling and sensitivity, so for him San Ti is a supplementary training tool. For power he emphasizes reps of the Five Fists and that's that. Other teachers think that you need to do 40 minutes, and that's mostly because they emphasize Fa Jing and power.

In any case, for me standing was the key to develop the ability to feel into my body that allowed me to develop Xingyi. I can say that it was instrumental. Having done the previous training with the other group was important, because when Sifu Wu Xuan said I should be able to do 40 minutes I didn't immediately think he was totally crazy (some of my comrades did...). Nowadays I am more in favor of splitting my San Ti into two 10 minutes sessions, also because of time constraints. But the primary thing that changed my practice of San Ti and made it quite pleasant was this idea of approaching it as an exploration of the feelings and sensations inside your body, and of using this time to explore every corner of it and how it connects to the rest.

By the way, the book you mention, Warriors of Stillness, is an amazing book, and a lot of the stuff he teaches is pretty good: many of the combinations of breathing and "expansion/contraction" of the spine are great. It should give you months of experimenting.

JoseFreitas said...

Patrick: to really have an idea of what Pi Quan is about, you need to see it performed in its entirety.

This is an OK version of it, not spectacular. A little too much forward energy rather than downward energy.

So, there is an initial strike that looks sort of like an uppercut. It could be an attack, a drawing out of the opponent or even an entering or defending move. The completion could be an arm destruction, for instance, pulling in your opponent's wrist down, smashing at the elbow or shoulder. Or smashing the face/neck as you pull him in. Or a takedown. Can be many things, but the point of the movement is "pulling down on something as you do a motion of "splitting"". The energy developed is the key, rather than anyone specific technique.

Here you see a different rendition:

The initial move of the form is Pi Quan. In the applications section, 2:40 is the classical app.

Scott said...

My first (N. Shaolin/Taijiquan) teacher's motto was: One day missed, ten days lost. Since my dance teacher's had the same idea, it didn't occur to me until I was about 28 that I could actually take a day off.

With Northern Shaolin we would stand in difficult high and low stances for 5 minutes, but sometimes we would hold them for up to 20 minutes.

At twenty I started doing YiQuan style standing for an hour a day and I've never stopped in the 20 years since. It just seems normal now.

The longest I ever held a stance was 6 hours, it was the standard even weighted-holding-the-barrel stance. Some weird ritual I attended, most people's knees were hurting after but I felt fine. Still there was nothing to recommend it.

I held a low wide horse stance for an hour a day with my hands out to the sides for a year in my early twenties. I know now that I wasn't aligning my arms correctly but it was good for my legs.

I stood for 2 hours a day, most days, for about year when I was thirty. I used easy postures and I recommend it, my body really changed.

No super powers yet...But someday it would be nice to find a student with as much appetite for practice as I've had.

Dojo Rat said...

With my work schedule, I like Jose's idea of several short sessions. I am going to keep working on it, thanks everybody for suggestions!

Patrick Parker said...

I don't know about standing for 6 hours in a posture - or even for 1 hour.

The static posture work that I've done, i never timed it with a clock. One of my instructors taught us to time it against breath cycles, so a good start was to hold a posture for 30 breathing cycles. this brings your concentration to your breating and it also progresses itself automatically - as you become more relaxed and comfortable in the posture, your breathing slows, so the 30 cycles takes longer and longer. after youre able to drop your breathing rate nicely, increase the number of cycles.

JoseFreitas said...

Patrick, what's your rate of cycles? I generally fall to 4 cycles per minute, so 30 would be around 7-8 minutes. If the posture is totally non-strenuous, like Wu Ji standing it can go to 3-4 cyles a minute. I consider 10 minutes to 20 a good standing session for a non-hardcore crazy guy (which Scott obviously is, :-)).

Patrick Parker said...

in relaxed seated or recumbent postures i can get down to 3-4 cycles per minute. in relaxed standing positions i can get down to about 4-6 cycles/minute. walking i try to entrain down to about 12-18 steps per breathing cycle.