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Universal Standing 'Post'
Msr. Han XingYuan

Chan Chuang ( Zhan Zhuang ) 站樁功

[ Note: the teaching methods and goals, the stance, with hand positions, orientations, the arm/ to finger spreading grasp ...between Wang and Han differ significantly and direct development differently.]

The Training Method : as taught Wang Xiang-zhai to Han Xing-yuan and to his student / friend Li Chung. Han's positions and their ordering differs from Wang's...a question few people have asked. 

   Zhan Zhuang  站樁 is often wrongly translated as 'standing post'; it does use standing with arms embracing, but as an alert guard-sentry;..also a staked-pile, or piling, pounded into the ground and dynamically self adjusting for balance.

   Wang Xiang-zhai was ever evolving and simplifying. When questioned, he once expressed that it was a spirit (shen) as if swimming 精神游泳 and also as a being one with the universe or universal 普遍 . To do this zhan zhuang needed to use the aspect of to extend" qiba 延長  from the pull 起拔 [ mistakenly called qiba ( 起霸 / to extend for domination by some. ] This is important as an art of health preservation (yang shen)  養生 .

Indian at Prayer
Boston Museum of Fine Arts Statue

Kuo Lien-ying a student of Wang Xiang-zhai
Guang-ping Yang Tai Chi Standing

Msr Wang Xiang-zhai
Standing as One ...as the Universe

Stand firmly, tall and erect, with the feet parallel and at pelvis width.  Stand as if you are filled the force of all creation.

Lift the head slightly upward by gently raising the muscles at the back of the neck.  Hold it aloft not by force, but by your will.  Center the head between the shoulders; the eyes should be held in the position of best view straight ahead.  Hold the neck straight and the chin will already be slightly downward; do not crane the neck forward or your body will follow after it. To root down, .go up.

Relax your shoulders downward; do not square them or force them back further than a 135 degree angle; this is due to innate geometry and alignment.

Yield your body's weight downward as if in the idea of sitting;  Relax and let your body reorganize itself.  By relaxing, the experience of 'heaviness' is felt in the lower half of the body.  With gravity tugging at one end of your spine and your will holding it up at the top end, the dual action results in an alignment of the middle area, like pulling on opposite ends of a string. This also establishes a near linear alignment from the crown of the head to the coccyx bone at the base of the spine, parallel to the pull of gravity; it also elongates the spine and retracts compression on the vertebral column.  Remember, always stand as if you are suspended from above, this coordinates the crown with the coccyx.

Round your legs, do not let the knees collapse inward.  Straighten your angles [a major fault for most students], let your weight fall to the outer edges of your feet.

Coordinate top to bottom, so that the upper and lower extremities work as a single unit: the shoulders should co-align with the hips; the trunk of the body should sit over the pelvis.  The elbows should co-align with the knees; then the arms and legs can act coordinated.  The knees should co-align with your toes; where ever your toes point, your knees will follow.  
Coordinate every part by intuition, not by reasoning; when the feeling, feels correct; the deliberation and dialectic argument is not needed. Dynamics direct the mechanics.

Expand your grasp,  feel the air as if it were a living medium.  Open your fingers as if you were embracing a great sphere; the rest of your body will follow this example.  Stretch your arms to open in an expanding embrace; this engenders an open psychology.  To embrace, you have to open yourself up; you must expand to get the crush of the hug.  There is a message in that.  The hands are best held no wider apart than shoulder's width.  Round your arms in the position of half-flex, let the elbows settle downward.
   The arms can be held at any of three levels: high, with the hands held between the height of the shoulders and the eyebrows (the elbows should not be allowed to rise above the level of the shoulders, otherwise their anatomical advantage is lost; middle, in which the forearms are just about parallel to the ground and at about solar plexus height; and low, which is angles downward to just about the level of the navel and pelvis.
     The hands can be oriented at any of the three arm levels: (1) with the palms being turned slightly upward (as if holding a book); (2) palms turned so that they face each other equally; (3) the palms facing slightly downward (as if to pitch a basketball); or (4) the palms facing completely downward (as if they are resting flat on a table).  Notice that with each rotation of the hands, there is a corresponding variation in the muscular tension by the arms (sometimes more of th biceps, sometimes more of the forearms), needed to sustain it.  Also notice that the further your hold your hands away from your body, that the more physical that the action becomes and the greater will be the tension required to hold it.  Hence, as the hands are rotated and their level and distance from the body changes, the degree and type of development induced varies accordingly.  The higher the arm level and the further away from the body, the more physical (muscular, cardiovascular) will be the exercise). The lower the arm level and the closer they are to the body, the less physical, but more centrally balanced (supported on the skeleton) will be the exercise and its developmental influence.

Be attentive.  Bring your attention to bear, tether your mind to the results of your activities; do not let it go running around.  Divorce your actions from conscious control, then your actions will become the will of your nature.  By keeping the mind alert and receptive to sensory cues,  you will act intuitively.  Be responsive to what you feel without deliberation or argument.  Your ability to intuitively monitor your body's' physical and physiological sensations and to select those that will further overall unity is the key to success of this exercise.  It is NOT meditation, NOR dharma.  Just gaze calmly straight forward and observe, and take in all that's surrounds you.  Keep your senses open, your body aware, and your mind clear, -- attentive without the need for wordage identification. Put your mind on a diet. Trust your feelings.

Concentrate your energy, but not your Spirit.   Allow your spirit, your inner, dynamic self, to respond to outer demands. Stand so as to express the feelings of 'aliveness'.  Although the body can be 'mentally conned' into following and conform to  a 'correct' position', if it remains insensitive to the dynamics
of your internal dynamics forces and the urgings of your spirit to expand and merge with life-activities, it will lack any expression of aliveness and will not develop.  Just standing in the mechanically perfect position is not equivalent to chan chuang.  The exercises' utility as a means of health and self-defense is weakened if it is practiced with a spiritless attitude, much as music without soul is lifeless. Even after years of faithfully repeating the exercise, unless your spirit is the motivating force behind its motion, then your practice is empty and will be without substantial physical or will-spirit gains.
  Make a connection with your environment, merge with your surrounding as if it were a medium of exchange. By emptying your ind of wandering thoughts and distracting desires, you have adapted yourself to correspond with the circumstances.  Be responsive to sensory cures.  Sense the atmosphere as if it were a fluid medium and you will find that you are a part of a greater waterway.  It is while in this heightened state of awareness and connectives that you will be able to obtain a natural state of being.  Initially, when starting practice, it is better to behind with a middle to higher arm level.  Then as your arms and back muscles fatigue, you will  naturally drop them to a lower level.  By then, you will also be ready to take on a more balanced, central approach to development, rather than a strongly physical one.

Breath naturally and regularly.  In and out through the nose; not too deeply, not too long, and never strained to you full capacity.  Inhale through the nose as if inhaling 'a long silver wire or as if lightly smelling the air; exhale as softly as a baby's sigh.' [This method is the key]  Deep exhalation will make your shoulders and abdomen tense and your torso tilt forward.  Become attentive to the results of your activity and merge your mind with it. Forget about esoteric ideas that breathing is chi.
   Allow your movements to coordinate with your breathing, not the breathing with your movements.  With inhalation, there is expansion and rising of the body and arms.  With exhalation, there is contraction and sinking.  
   By continuing to breath without purposely forcing the diaphragm downward, a sensation of gathering will be felt in the lower abdomen, a sense of heaviness around the body's center of mass.  (Stop thinking about ideas like tan tien.)  By continuing, a sensation of localized breathing will begin (which is only a local increase in circulation).  Later, this warming sensation will radiate on its own to the extremities, especially if they are relaxed, but doing activity.

Relax and let every part be at ease.  If strain is locally felt, relax and allow your body to self adjust.  As one of my teachers told me, “Chan Chuang is not by force, ”Like a woman or a child, be gentle and they will come to you.”  You must be open, to welcome the embrace.
Initially, practice only for short, but frequent periods of time, ie. Ten minute    intervals, two to three times daily.  This results in a efficient use of efforts than will prolonged or infrequent practice.  By gradual and continual practice, there results beneficial structural and function alterations.

It is Not a Meditation :
   Various sensations will be manifested during this exercise that serve to fee information back to you on the results of your efforts.  Consequential to changes in rate and depth of your respiration, there will be alterations in your heart's rate and stroke volume, which will be followed by a slight increase in salivation, heightened sensory awareness, spontaneous emotional releases such as laughing, sudden , overall relaxation responses, and neural circulatory, flow responses, ...rushes.         There will also be a local sense of heating wherever your attention is directed [ hence, do not direct it.] 
   Furthermore, if you enter into a mild, hypnotic trance, there may be a visualization of colors and sense of spatial contraction, which means that you perceive that you are melting into the surrounding environment. These sensations may seem strange at first, but do not fear them.  They are not the goal of coordinated standing practice [neither samadhi, ecstasy nor nirvana, sensory goal, are the reason for nor the objectives] only passing phenomena of the on-going process [akin to watching a sunset and believing that is the end of the sunset-show.]  Just remain attentive and  keep going.  Do not go looking for a point of focus, a center, such as the tan tien, there is more to see.  Let your awakening spirit view guide you. [ This is something akin to watching a movie and having no idea what will come next. ]

   If you have managed to get this far, then you have learned the fundamentals of internal kung fu and the basis of tao yin, longevity exercise.  The cultivation and release of your innate potential is more electrical flowing than it is physical showing.  Remember, internally supported martial art is less an activity of the arms and legs and is more an exercise in learning to stand and move firmly and with innate stability without damaging yourself.

[ Excerpted from an article appearing in Inside Kungfu Magazine: 10 (3) May 1983 by Khan Foxx ]