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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stances and Relaxation By David Poon

Qi Magazine - Issue 39 (1998)

When performing martial arts and Qigong stances, 
you will always hear your teacher telling you to relax. 
However, no matter how much you think you are relaxed, 
you are told that you look tense.

Stances are designed to transmit force through the body. For Qigong, the only force you need to consider is the weight of the body itself. Therefore a Qigong stance has to transmit the weight of the body down into the ground. However, for martial arts the stance has to transmit force from the ground, through the body, into the opponent. There are several mistakes we can make. The first mistake is not to line up the joints correctly. This is most often seen in the knees when in a squatting position. If everything is lined up, then the legs are capable of taking a lot of weight. If you have seen a suspension bridge, such as the “Golden Gate” in San Francisco, then you have seen how a lot of weight can be supported simply by a strong cable and two supporting towers. All the weight of the bridge is translated into tension in the cable. However if the supporting towers were not aligned correctly the bridge would not be able to support its own weight.

The muscles along the top of the leg, such as the quadriceps, are like the cable, and the bones in our lower leg are like the supporting towers. Misalignment here will damage the joints in our legs, and in the case of martial arts, prevent the strength from our legs from being transmitted upwards. The second mistake is to lock the joints in the legs and support your weight on them. For example if you want to perform a low stance, it is tempting to lock your hip joint, and sit on top of it. This takes the load off the muscles and puts it on the ligaments of the joint, eventually damaging the joint. Instead, you should gradually develop the strength of the muscles so that they are strong enough to support you in low positions. In order to increase the flexibility of the hip, however, you can break this rule a little. The third mistake is to use too much tension in your back or stomach muscles to keep your stance stable. This usually happens when there is a mistake in the lower body, and the upper body has to be tense in order to compensate. The fourth mistake is more related to martial arts, and is to use muscles that directly oppose the direction that the force is being expressed. For example, pushing someone with your arms uses the triceps under your arm. However it is common for people who weight train to develop the biceps. The biceps oppose the triceps and will prevent you from delivering your punch. Using the triceps only, and other related muscles under your arm is a common theme in martial arts, and is known as “Zhou di li”, or “Strength that comes from under the elbow”. It is difficult to achieve, since when we think we are going to get hit, we automatically tense our biceps in order to cover our face. Relaxed means that the joints are bending the way that they are supposed to bend, and that the load on the body is taken by the appropriate muscles. Initially, these muscles will be uncomfortable, but with time they will develop strength, and will feel relaxed even under load. The body will feel loose, and Qi will be able to flow freely. Most importantly, the strength will continue to develop by itself.