Saturday, October 31, 2015

Training the Empty Stance

Continuing with my Zhang Zhuang training, Sifu Wu recently added a new stance into the mix - the empty stance (aka the back stance).

To get into an empty stance, you start from an open stance (i.e. feet about shoulder width apart, feet pointing forward), turn one foot out by about 45 degrees, shift the weight onto that leg, lift the other leg (like in the leg lift exercise), and then put the foot down so that it is forward of the weighted foot - the heel should be on the ground, the foot flexed, and the knee (very) slightly bent. The hips should still be straight and the lateral distance between the feet still about shoulder width.

In the empty stance, all of your weight is on the back leg and your upper body should be straight upright over that leg. As with the other stances, the supporting leg should be solid and rooted while the upper body should be loose and relaxed.

This stance gets uncomfortable quickly and, eventually, your leg begins to shake at which point you sink down the toes of the front foot and then shift the weight from the back leg into a bow stance, which is a more comfortable posture that allows the back leg to rest a bit.

Once the back leg has rested, you bend the back leg to shift your weight onto it, returning to the empty stance. After doing this for a while, you switch to the other leg so that it too can share in the pain and misery (and the benefits).

When I first start training this stance, Sifu Wu had me practice with my back to a wall which forced me to 1. shift all the way onto the back leg, 2. keep my hips straight, and 3. keep my upper body upright and relaxed.

Initially it was difficult to do it for more than a couple of minutes and a lot of the time was spent in the bow stance. I now do 5 minutes on each side and, while I still shift into the bow stance (particularly towards the end), I spend most of the time in the empty stance.

As with the other stance training, spending time in this stance has allowed me analyze my structure and notice when things aren't right. For example, when all of the weight is over the back leg, it is important to feel the weight in the center of the foot. I have a tendency to feel my weight in my heel and, with Sifu Wu's help, I have found that this is caused by collapsing the knee slightly - expanding the hip and knee shifts the weight to the center of the foot and takes care of the problem. It also makes the stance harder.

Again, as with other stance training, this training has helped improve my form. There are a number of postures where you need to shift fully onto the back leg (e.g. circle foot and carry the hammer forward) and I now realize that I wasn't shifting nearly far enough back, which left me off balance and created a lot of tension in my upper body - the form is now harder for my legs but easier on my upper body.

PS. At work the other day, I noticed that my pants were getting a bit tight in the legs and I subsequently realized that many of my pants/shorts are now tight in the legs. I haven't had this problem since I was a weightlifter in my 20's - sometimes it's reassuring to have a physical manifestation that training is actually having an effect.