Three Stage of Tai CHi standing

The first stage is to seek relaxation;

The second stage is to seek stillness;

The third stage is to seek emptiness.

The first stage can be further subdivided into:

1. Experience relaxation in the shoulder and neck muscles;

2. Experience relaxation in the waist and back;

3. Experience relaxation in the dantian (abdominal muscles);

4. Experience relaxation in the hips.

With these goals, you can follow the steps and practice accordingly.

At this point, some might ask, I know I need to relax, but why can’t I relax? How can I relax? Here I will share how to relax based on my initial training experiences.

Relaxation and tension are unified opposites; thus, relaxation can be sought through tension, and within tension, relaxation can emerge. Only true relaxation and true tension are applicable in actual combat.

Because Yin and Yang depend on each other (each exists as a precondition for the other), pure Yin does not last, and pure Yang does not endure. Hence, in martial arts, there is no absolute relaxation or tension. Complete relaxation is slackness, and complete tension is stiffness. There is relaxation within tension, and tension within relaxation, the transformations of Yin and Yang are infinitely profound.

It sounds mystical, but it’s actually not that complicated. Once you master standing post, the variation between relaxation and tension is just a basic skill.

To stand correctly in your stance, vaguely think about relaxing the muscles you normally use. However, I didn’t know which muscles I usually use, so my teacher said, whenever you feel tired, just think about relaxing those areas.

Ordinary people who have not practiced martial arts do not know where on their bodies they are relaxed or tense, representing a state of chaos where Yin and Yang have not yet differentiated. Initially, standing post can be understood as a process of gradually experiencing the relaxation and tension within the body by maintaining a static posture.

Xue Dian said, “Post practice enters the path through slow practice,” which really embodies the simplicity and ease of the great path, succinct and to the point. Those who haven’t practiced martial arts have tense muscles and held-up shoulders, a habit of many years that one might not even be aware of.

However, while standing post, to maintain the posture, you will use muscular strength to counteract gravity, which reminds you through muscle soreness that these parts of your body are tense. Relaxing these muscles is the first step in standing post.

Humans and primates are close relatives, and before our ancestors walked upright, they must have had similar abilities. After humans began to walk upright, the back and abdominal muscles, which were frequently used, became less so, while the shoulders, arms, and chest muscles became increasingly used due to changes in lifestyle.

If the movement pattern of primates is called the innate mode of exertion, then the human movement pattern can be described as the acquired mode of exertion.

The innate mode is used for survival in nature, the acquired mode for living in society; the innate mode for hunting or fleeing among animals, the acquired mode for working among humans;

The innate mode is flexible and varied, the acquired mode is stiff and singular; the innate mode uses coordinated, whole-body exertion, the acquired mode uses isolated, local exertion.

When you relax the frequently used muscles during standing post, this forces the less frequently used muscles (referred to as dormant muscles in bodybuilding) to bear the load through the effect of gravity,

The first step lets us feel the presence of these infrequently used muscles, the second step gets these muscles moving, and the third step makes these muscles as flexible and useful as our arm muscles.

Therefore, the reason one can still stand upright and relaxed during standing post is because these infrequently used muscles are activated to maintain balance.

The deeper the skill in standing post, the more thorough the relaxation, the greater the stimulation these muscles receive, the more they can function, eventually replacing the commonly used muscles.

In martial arts, there is a term called “changing force,” which sounds mysterious, but if you understand the principles of standing post and follow the WeChat official account for sitting and standing post, you’ll realize that changing force is simply a change in the body’s muscle usage pattern, letting the muscles that are usually less used take over the functions of those more commonly used.

As long as you understand the principle of changing the pattern of exertion, then in everyday life and work, actively using your dormant muscles for various tasks, this is what the elders meant by saying you can practice boxing while walking, sitting, and lying down, integrating boxing into your life.

It is said that “Coal Ma” Ma Gui (a master of Baguazhang and disciple of Yin Fu) practiced his skills by shaking coal balls. Others held their shoulders and lifted baskets, shaking the coal balls with their shoulders.

Ma, however, sank his shoulders and elbows, held the basket against his waist, and shook the coal balls by swaying his dantian. While others were exhausted

from work, Ma became more spirited, and his skills improved.

Training in standing post is actually very tough, with at least two barriers to overcome: the muscle and bone barrier, with muscle soreness, profuse sweating, trembling thighs, and aching shoulders and arms; and the psychological barrier, with restless thoughts and difficulty in calming the mind. The first barrier that beginners encounter is the muscle and bone barrier, as many give up before they even become irritated.

How to overcome the muscle and bone barrier? Although this barrier is difficult to pass, it is not impossible. With the correct method and guidance from a knowledgeable teacher, perseverance will see you through.

The first issue in the muscle and bone barrier is the clumsy force in the shoulders and neck. Due to ordinary people’s habit of using their shoulder and neck muscles, relaxing the shoulders and neck is the first step in learning standing post.

I remember when I first started standing post, my shoulders and neck were the most tired parts, not my legs. Although my legs would tremble, I could still endure it because legs are stronger. But when my shoulders tired, the pain was unbearable.

How to overcome this barrier? There’s no other way but to relax.

Relax these sore muscles, letting the muscles in the back of the shoulder blades take over the weight of the shoulders. Once the power of the shoulder blades comes into play, the shoulders can relax, and then they won’t be tired anymore.

Once the shoulders are relaxed, this forms what’s called “bear shoulders.” Look at how a bear stands upright, that posture is what we strive for.

While seeking relaxation in standing post, we also seek unity. What is unity? Many people think “not falling when pushed, not collapsing when struck…” is unity, and of course, this isn’t wrong; this kind of unity is a manifestation of skill in standing post, but “unity” is not just these.

Such unity is not suitable for actual combat. True unity should mean that the entire body is coordinated, with a touch on the hands causing a reaction in the feet, and movement in the hips. Look at the movements of a cat; no matter when, its body moves in a coordinated manner. If one part moves, the whole body moves, even when it stretches or scratches an itch.

Master Li Zhongxuan said, “Practicing Xingyi boxing is like being a snake, with the whole body moving as one piece of flesh,” which means that after the body is trained to be unified, the muscles that used to move independently become coordinated in movement, as if there’s only one piece of flesh.

As you persist in standing post and deepen your practice, your body’s form will naturally change, gradually making the posture of the shoulders and shoulder blades, which is only assumed during standing post, a normal state in everyday life.

For instance, your collarbone will no longer be as elevated as before, and the distance between your shoulder blades on your back will expand. These are visible changes. I remember hearing from someone who practiced dance say, “If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; two days, the director knows it; three days, the audience knows it.” Martial arts are the same; whether someone has practiced martial arts or not is immediately apparent.

One of our senior students, he was very skilled, and people for miles around knew he could fight, so many teenagers came to him to learn boxing. Their purpose was purely to not be at a disadvantage in fights, wanting to learn a few practical moves that could be used immediately. But having moves without power is powerless, merely a recipe for getting beaten.

The senior was not secretive; to improve their power, he taught them to stand post, but those kids weren’t cut out for training.

Each one grimaced and gave up after a few tries. To appease the senior, every time he asked about their training progress, they claimed they were standing post at home. But after two or three months, the senior saw no change in their bodies, knew they were all slacking, and angrily drove them all away.

Now, let’s talk about how to overcome the muscle and bone barrier. Standing post is not about standing stiffly immobile, but about experiencing the internal movements of the body. If your shoulders are sore while standing, this is a phase of false fatigue; you must endure it, but just enduring stiffly can lead to stiffness. Here, I recommend a method for everyone to try.

When your shoulders are sore from standing post, you can move them slightly. This movement is very small, just a few millimeters, a gesture is enough, and others can’t even see you moving. The direction of movement is up to you; upward, downward, forward, or backward. In this movement, find the most comfortable direction for yourself. After moving for a while, the soreness will alleviate, and with prolonged movement, you will start to feel the position of the tendons in your body.

Thus, one method to overcome the

muscle and bone barrier is: micro-movements.

Think back to when I first started standing post, my shoulders and neck were unbearably sore. Later, I strengthened my intention to relax there, and once it relaxed, my collarbone lowered, my shoulder blades fell and spread to the sides, and at that moment, I felt the cross-force in my back: “The head is pulled up, the tailbone drops, and it expands to the left and right.”

Now, I speak with authority, but at that time, I was just standing foolishly, not thinking of anything else. I feel that was when I grew the most in skill. Pay attention to the WeChat public account for sitting and standing post, and practicing martial arts emphasizes “intention leads, Qi follows,” meaning the area you focus on develops faster.

For instance, when you first focus on relaxing your shoulders, thinking about relaxing them, the relaxation speed of your shoulders will be faster than other parts of your body.

At that time, my shoulders were sore, and my thighs trembled. To overcome this, I thought “relax the shoulders, relax the shoulders,” focusing particularly on the shoulders, and soon they relaxed. Of course, this intention shouldn’t be too intense, just a vague idea is enough; otherwise, too intense an intention can harm the body.

Once the shoulders relaxed, I felt the power of the back transfer up, and I could then experience the sensation in the back during standing post.

Thus, the second method to overcome the muscle and bone barrier is: coordinated intention.

Looking back on those times of standing post, it was indeed tiring and difficult, but I didn’t feel it was hard because I sensed the value in the effort, felt positive responses from my body, so I found joy in practicing.

Standing post should be lively and enjoyable; only then are you truly on the path. At that point, it’s not the person practicing the boxing; it’s the boxing that’s training the person. If there’s no vitality, it’s not standing post; it’s just like a utility pole standing there.

All the above focuses on the musculoskeletal aspects. In standing post, there are also key points regarding spirit and intention that need to be coordinated, but these are hard to discuss because everyone’s situation is different.

Musculoskeletal aspects are similar for everyone, but matters of spiritual consciousness relate to each person’s psychological quality, temperament, and disposition, and standing post has different requirements for spirit and intention at different stages, which must be specifically guided by a knowledgeable teacher based on each disciple’s actual situation.

“Spiritual clarity depends on the individual,” so I won’t discuss it here.

When standing post, the load on the legs is clear, and the fingers “prop up” can also ensure the burden on the shoulders, arms, and upper back, but these are ultimately two kinds of loads. How should they be connected through the waist? Or should the shoulders and hands also participate in standing post because it’s integrated?

I feel it should be the former because a careful analysis of all boxing theories emphasizes: Before contacting the opponent’s center of gravity and exerting force, the upper body is relaxed. Only at the moment of contact and exertion does it form a unified force.

Before exerting force, it should be “lower limbs and waist and abdomen integrated in movement, ensuring speed of movement, change of direction, and stability, while the upper limbs are like flags in the wind, or like the tails of tigers and leopards, swinging with the movements.”

Standing post should train both states. If the upper body is completely relaxed, maintaining only the stability of the musculoskeletal connection, without applying any muscular force, this relaxation is training the “muscular integrated movement” before exertion. Normally, it should be training the “muscular integrated movement” at the moment of exertion.

Then, there should be strength in the hands, even roughly proportional to the static contraction load of the legs, similar to the intensity of “propping up” during push-ups, and this strength should try to be transferred through the waist to the lower limbs, forming a complete simulation of the moment of exertion. At this moment, what should the sought relaxation look like?

“Pulling to stand is key.” “Pulling to stand” is about elongating the spine. Pull the chin as far in as possible, push up from the Baihui acupoint (head, centering on the Baihui acupoint), my proposed “inverting the pelvis, pulling the spine, and stretching the top of the head” are specific applications of “pulling to stand.” After the body adapts to “pulling to stand,” maintain this posture in everyday life.

Why does every Buddha statue sit so straight? Because in the double lotus or natural lotus sitting positions, each Buddha is “pulling to sit,” that is, “pulling the spine while sitting.” Sitting this way, no matter how long, will

absolutely not cause cervical spine issues, haha.

The purpose of “pulling to stand” is to tighten the spinal cord, increase spinal pressure, thereby creating conditions for clearing the “central meridian” (the spinal cord is an important part of the central meridian).

Standing post includes standing, sitting, and lying, primarily focusing on standing.

The spine is key to the use of whole-body strength. Boxing adages say, “It starts with the feet, operates through the spine, and manifests in the hands.” It looks like the hands are hitting, but the actual power should come from the spine. When you can issue power from the spine, you’ve reached a new level. It could be said, understanding how to use the spine, ordinary practitioners are probably no match.

In terms of martial arts, this is also considered entering a threshold. The hand is the tip of the branches of a big tree; how much force can the hand have? Even adding the arms, the power isn’t that great; the spine is the trunk of the big tree.

It’s harder to find the application of spinal power while sitting, especially for beginners. Regarding the adjustment of the spine in standing post, I’ve already mentioned it and won’t repeat it here.

When standing post, do not strain the heels; the body’s weight should be on the front part of the foot, just behind the toes. The heel is empty. It’s as if stepping on the ground but not quite.

Numbness in the feet while standing. Discomfort in some parts of the body might be related to the standing posture. It should feel comfortable. Too much force sinking downward for a long period will be uncomfortable.

Boxing adages say, “With a light leading force, Qi sinks to the dantian.” The top of the head is like an acrobat balancing a bowl of water; if it’s not balanced correctly, the water will spill, making the head correctly aligned. With the head aligned, there’s something lightly pulling upward, lightly leading, with the breath’s Qi sinking toward the dantian, making the internal organs comfortable. When standing, the entire body has a slightly ethereal feeling.

Adjust to a comfortable level wherever it feels uncomfortable on the body while standing. Soreness and numbness are normal, but not excessive, especially in the beginning. Excessive symptoms indicate problems with the standing posture.

Just start by standing foolishly; don’t think too much. Only a fool can develop real skill. If you’re ethereal while standing, then consider spinal issues, which will be effective. You can’t talk about anything else with just a few months of standing post.

It’s best to practice standing post in a quiet environment. Especially on the top of a high mountain, the feeling is incredibly beautiful. With a broad view, the chest feels open. But such conditions are rare for city dwellers. The feeling on a high-rise balcony at night is also good. With a broad view around and quiet at night, the spirit naturally enlarges, and the sense of unity with heaven and man is easy to experience.

I’ll say it again, unity with heaven and man, expanding the spirit, is a very important sensation in boxing, with untrained strength, Qi, and power all developing from here.

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