Unlocking the Form #5: The Dynamic Stance
One of my best friends, a top-notch martial artist herself, once said to me that anyone who teaches people to stand without moving should be shot. Though this might sound like a principle from I Quan training she came to it from her own many years of practice and experimentation.
We're not quite that tough on the issue but we completely understand her point. There are some exceptions but —for the most part—long years of practice have led us to concur with her judgement.
We're quite aware of the benefits of stationary practice where you only hold a static stance and reduce external movement to a minimum. But now we are going to talk about a different way to approach stance practice. Will this be the one way to practice? No, of course not. Will this give many of you a valuable clue to bump your studies, especially some of those stagnant ones you do out of faith and stubborness, to another level? Absolutely.
First understand that stance training is not knee bends. Exercising the legs is great but, really, there are better ways to build muscle strength and stance training should be reserved for more essential matters.
Let's put you in a horse and keep you there. Now understand that there is "Bu" and there is "Shi". Mah Bu tends to be a horse stance with the hands cocked in fist formation. Ma Shi is the same stance but with ancillary hand positions which may change for many reasons but are highly variable. You may extend your hands in "Hold the Ball" or "Double Willows" or whatever. In general, except for beginners, we prefer Ma Shi to Ma Bu because it engages the entire body.
Nonetheless, once you are in the stance try relaxing but in a very specific way. Release the muscle groups but allow the tendons of the hips to settle and accept the weight of the body. Don't just use your bone structure to hold you up. CONTINUE to release and hold, release and hold. Slowly there will be shifts in the body and the bones will align. Never, but never, allow the whole body weight to just drop and cause agony by "melting" into your stance. You'll just discourage yourself and you won't be training right. First, no one can take their entire body weight without muscular support and secondly, you've lost the dynamic aspect of the stance.
What do we mean by dynamic? We mean the energy never stops running. With exceptions (always!) for specific training, if your stance is so dropped you can't move out of it like a springing tiger, you done lost the point.
There are many other ways to create a flow of energy. Stance training should be like ice: it may be frozen, but it's still water. This is a pause in the music, not a break. The sculpture Alberto Giacometti created wonderful, tremendously elongated figures. This was the most eye-catching detail of his art. But he also imbued them with a potential movement. Each one stands there, just about to take a step or to bend or to turn. His work is like that silent suck of air in the atmosphere a moment before an explosion.
Stance training should be as dynamic as this, never dead or stiff .