One of the most important aspects of Martial Arts is balance. The late Xing Yi Quan Master Hsu Hong Chi is quoted as saying “If with every step you can hit and yet remain balanced and centred you will win most fights”. Without balance one can neither have a strong rooted posture nor agility. Most people who practice martial arts are aware balance is very important but few put the time in to really master this skill. It is easy to think one is balanced in a posture but how do you test it?
Traditional Chinese martial arts had many practices to develop the balance usually under the heading of “light skill training”. Some common practices were walking on slender poles (Plum Blossom Training), walking on the rim of baskets of stones (reducing the stones over time) or walking on balancing beams – indeed my taoist teacher had me practice exercises on a slack rope.
In this post I will go through a simple yet profound method to develop the balance. I should say first that before you practice these methods you need a reasonably well establish stance practice, with a decent skill at Chinese martial arts or similar. If you have bad mechanics or incorrect tensions in your stances this training may increase the the wear and tear on the joints which are incorrectly aligned. See my free Kung Fu Fundamentals course to make sure you’re on the right path. With these practices there is always a danger of falling and hurting yourself, so take it slowly and be careful. Seek medical advice and a good teacher before beginning this training!
Level one in a double shoulder width horse stance (ma bu)
All you need is two house bricks and a piece of flat ground. If the bricks are a little weathered and uneven all the better but they should not be missing big chunks. First lay them with the largest surfaces on the floor and available to stand on. Depending on your art pick your usual training stance. In northern arts will this tend to be a shoulder width apart Horse stance, southern two or three shoulder widths apart. Wing Chun practitioners may wish to practice goat catching stance/figure 8 stance by slightly angling the bricks inwards. Internal practitioners may like to take up their favourite Zhan Zhang position. You may of course train multiple positions but spend a decent amount of time on each. Put you feet on the bricks and simply hold your stance allowing the weight correctly settle on the Bubbling Well points Yong Chuan (KD 1). Even though the surface of the brick is quite large you will probably find standing on the bricks makes the posture significantly harder to maintain as the stabiliser muscles are much more engaged.
Hold the posture for as long as you can aiming to achieve at least ten minutes. In time this practice will become quite meditative. If over time you wish to bring a Qi Gong aspect into the practice then on the in breath focus on energy moving from the bubbling well points of the feet, rising up the back of the body to the Bai Hui point (the crown of the head) then down the outer aspect of the arm to the Lao Gung points (centre of the palm). On the out breath move the energy from the Lao Gong points up the inner aspect of the arm down the front of the body and the inner aspect of the legs and back to the Bubbling Well points. Repeat.
Level two in a triple shoulder width horse stance
Once you’ve reached 10 minutes turn the bricks on their side and do the same thing, build up to ten minutes. Once comfortable see if you can slowly turn your body pushing off either foot but not shifting the weight. Then try shifting the weight from side to side. Try standing on one leg (Crane Stance or Hanging Leg stance or similar) and one legged squats. Next being the practice of simple slow whole body movements (Xing Yi Quan practitioners may practise splitting slowly, Ba Gua Zhang adepts, white snake spits tongue, Wing Chun players may practise Siu Lim Tao etc).
Level three in a basic Standing Stake (zhan zhuang) posture
Once the above practices are easy put the bricks up on their ends. Stand on them with the bubbling well points in the centre. Take this easy, it’s a big jump. Practice all the above exercises. By the time you can do ten minutes in a good stance on upturned bricks your balance should be quite good and your legs very strong.
Once stage three has been achieved you can try any of the following. To begin with the bricks on there sides again when first trying these exercises, plus make sure you can do them easily without bricks first! Take up a forward stance (style dependent for example Bow/Forward Stance) and see if you can develop the ability to punch/stirke full power without loosing balance? To do this the foot must ‘screw in’ to the point of balance rather then merely push off it. Once you can do this with ease try striking a Da Zhang (or Makiwara), wall bag or heavy bag. Can you get the recoil to go through your balance point?
Another good exercise is seeing if you can do multiple crescent kicks without putting the kicking foot down? One may even develop the ability to stand on two bricks or more. If you wish to train balanced transitions between stances one traditional method is to place nine bricks in a Lo Shu formation (or a three by three square), with either a shoulder width or two between each brick, and practice stepping between them (slowly at first!). The Baguazhang version is to make a circle with a circumference of 8-10 foot and place the bricks as far apart as your longest step.
Over time you will find a there is a close link between mental balance, physical balance and breath balance – perfecting any one of them aids the other two. Hope this helps your practice. If you have any questions please post a comment below.
Till then, Train Hard and Keep Well, Chris