Sunday, April 26, 2015

Zhan Zhuang

For a bit of background for this post, I should mention that in the fall of 2013, I took a class on the Yang-style 24 Form from Sifu Amin Wu. I'd been interested in learning the 24 Form and had also been interested in taking a class from Sifu Wu once I learned she was teaching in the area.

It was a great class and I really enjoyed learning from Sifu Wu. Ever since the class finished, I've continued to drop in on Sifu Wu from time-to-time and have always wanted to spend more time training with her, when her class schedule and my ILC training coincided.

This year for my birthday I decided to do a private session with Sifu Wu in order to get her thoughts on my training and what I could do to improve things. She made a number of useful suggestions but her main point was that, if I really wanted to improve my Taiji, I should consider practicing Zhan Zhuang in order to strengthen my legs.

Zhan Zhuang is stance training - basically you get into an uncomfortable position and hold it for an absurd period of time. Sifu Wu recommended first working on open stance (i.e. feet parallel, shoulder width apart)  holding a squat with the thighs roughly at 45 degrees and, for variation, mix in bow stance. She also showed me how to eventually add some movement into the stance training that would work up to taking a Taiji step.

The day after the session, I decided to give it a try so I stood squatting in open stance as a warm up before my usual training - 10 minutes later, my legs were shaking so badly that I could barely do any further training that morning. This was a surprise - I've trained the slow form for quite a while and my leg strength and endurance are generally pretty good - and it convinced me that it was worth giving the training a try for a while.

So, for the last few weeks, I've been training Zhan Zhuang. The first week it was 10 minutes on alternating days but I've slowly increased things. Last week I did 10 minutes of standing followed by 5 minutes of leg lifts (held for 15-20 seconds) each day. This morning I did 20 minutes standing (10 minutes open stance and 5 minutes bow stance on each side) and 5 minutes of leg lifts - my legs are toast at the moment.

The results have been noticeable. I'm better balanced doing my Taiji form already and my 2-person work is more stable overall. I'm not sure if it's increased strength or improved posture (standing for that long gives you a lot of time to work on your alignment) but I plan to continue with the training for the next few months to see where it leads.