Why should martial artists stand?

art_standing4Considering that Chinese martial arts has been used for fighting for over 2000 years, it has an unusual practice, one you would not immediately associate with combat and killing.  In this practice we stand, motionless. I have had my own questions and doubts about the efficacy of the practice. For years I participated but resisted. I could certainly grasp why a Shaolin monk might prefer to meditate in a Horse Stance rather than in a lotus position: it would be good strength-building and increase his rooting skills. But in general, the question “why should martial artists stand?” kept bugging me.

I have, over the years, tacked together an explanation that—at least in part—gives a functional explanation as to why we do what we do; not just standing, but the particular poses involved. It even explains why they might increase fa jin, our ability to issue strength. Fa Jin is, after all, supposed to be major benefit of standing, allowing us to increase our power through what is essentially stillness training. So, this is just an idea, but here’s how it goes:

Horse stance training

Horse stance training

Everyone knows you create power in a technique by muscular contraction, weight shift, and torque. It’s this last I want to address. Strikes generally torque as they are executed. The question is, not how to get torque, but where it should lead. It makes sense that at the point of impact, the bones should be aligned so naturally that there is nothing discomforting about the position. In this case we go from the deformation, or maximum torque, to the minimized torque of a perfectly aligned position: a perfect slot to slip into. Maximum twist, execution, perfect alignment. Then the process starts over.

Most strikes in Kung Fu are highly specialized postures, almost never entirely “natural.” Therefore we need to practice training the muscles so that these ultimate positions are ingrained in our neurons, completely relaxed and structured. This can be conditioned through standing practice, and very few other methods. This is why almost every classical posture can also proxy as a standing practice, a nei gong.

What’s the criterion for knowing that you have achieved just the correct posture? After all, each position has 100 variations and a thousand ways to go wrong. The discipline of standing with intent, keeping to the posture, will allow the precise adjustments. In other words, it’s like having a landing spot so that every time you execute, you end up where you should be.

We practice moving up and down the line, exploding with energy, peaking at each punctuation, each completed execution. But, rather than tensing up with the last ten per cent, we find the correct groove by relaxing into the posture, training ourselves to see relaxation as power instead of surrender.

It takes time, patience, and an understanding that Yin and Yang are not combatants but compliments.

One additional note: some of you may ask, “What about postures that are martially neutral, like Wujishi?” This is a different aspect of the martial; once you’ve expended energy and are neutral, you have to create torque for the next move. In other words, a proper sequence might start with something like this: a highly torqued strike which transforms into a relaxed posture held as in Wuji, then torques again to add another strike. Like a sine wave, the power crests and falls but, because we have Yin moves and Yang moves, there is always a way to find power from any position. In this paradigm, Wuji Shi is the Yin, and the martial posture is the Yang, with the strike itself being “Hua”, transformation, from one to the other.

Thoughts on this?

2 Responses to “Why should martial artists stand?”

  1. Johann Takalo says:


    Every style & Master teacher has their methods in postural practice a la “Standing Training”; so this may or may not add to the well written article.

    It has been my experience that many traditional systems use the postural training for Three types of training: 1.Martial, 2.Healing & 3.Spiritual found primarily in Chinese Traditions.

    The training divides into three divisions in relation to Gong Fu training: 1. Internal energy training 2. Breath Energy Skills Training 3. Spiritual(Shen ) Training.

    1.Internal energy training: The postural training is trained in order to increase strength, endurance, speed and power needed for realistic Martial Art Applications. The emphasis here is developing a powerful bone & muscle structure to counter and release strong locks, strikes, throw and kicks.

    2.Breath Energy Skills: The emphasis here is on developing powerful Chi circulation, and to increase respiratory endurance. Focus is placed on the ability to utilize the energy (chi) of the inner & outer organs in order to increase physical strength needed for realistic Martial Art applications.

    3.Spiritual(Shen) Training: The focus here is placed on developing the mind in order to keep focus, reduce fatigue, increase physical power, speed and strength.

    Outside of the Martial Arts, there is direct methods for Healing & Spiritual “Standing Methods”. The Standing traditions is goal oriented be it Martial, Healing or Spiritual. The goal is what are you doing the training for, be it one of the three divisions above. It is a style of practice that is not for the faint of heart, most never get pass the first three months of training. But for those serious there are quality teachers out there still teaching the inner aspects of it.

  2. Jeff says:

    I go to this tailor near my house whenever I need a new uniform altered (they never fit). He came to America in the 70s. One day I took my sons in to have their new uniforms altered. He told me how he was unable to pass along his family style to his sons, because they wouldn’t stand in a horse stance for an hour. It’s only an hour, he said. His grandfather taught the style to him, and he was worried about not passing it along to his family.

    He didn’t seem very interested in passing it along to me, despite my hints. Alas.

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