What is normally referred to as standing meditation is the practice of standing postures in stillness (Zhang Zhuang), in here I refer in general also to standing meditation in movement such as the practice of Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Standing meditation is an ancient practice that has many different aims and benefits. It is practised for health, for spiritual growth and for many other purposes. In here I will focus on the benefit of standing meditation for martial arts.
We are all familiar with the images from the movies where the kung fu master would make the student hold a posture for very long time and we all know that this was a more traditional way of practising.
This does not only apply to “internal martial arts” which make the practice of Qi (energy) and relaxation its main focus but it applies in general to all martial arts. This type of practice seems too “boring” for us nowadays especially since martial arts entered the market in the west as another form of entertainment.
The truth is that the enormous benefits of this practice are not widely understood by martial artists. The most basic postures in martial arts are usually very simple and natural but if one tries to hold them he would realize that even a high stance guard is very hard to hold for long, this shows that one is unable to be relaxed and natural in the position. Through perseverance in this process one is able to reach the stage where the posture becomes natural and comfortable: this implies the relaxation of the body on a deeper level.
We have a lot of unnecessary tension in our body and if we try to be still we are able to feel the weight of all this tension we carry with us all day. As long as we are holding the position we are forced to stop using energy in unnecessary ways and our body learns how to use it in more intelligent ways. To optimize energy the body organizes it on “power lines” that sustain the body, this is what in martial arts is referred to as “structure”. Just as in architecture there are some shapes ( like for example the arch) that allow the weight to be transferred to the ground the same happens in our body. When the structure is properly aligned it supports itself and there is no need for unnecessary tension: this creates a strong, solid and relaxed structure (and at the same time helps preventing and curing illnesses).
An other very important aspect of standing meditation is rooting. Continuing on the example of architecture we can say it is necessary to have solid foundations to build a house. With practice one will be able to open more the meridians in his lower back, hips, legs and feet and to sink his weight and energy into the ground. The same structure that works as a vessel to transfer our own body weight to the ground can be used to redirect an attack or to generate power for a strike. The more one is connected to the earth the more power he can generate and the harder it is for one to be pushed away. If we want to deliver a strike like this the whole body needs to be relaxed so that the power from the earth can be transferred without obstructions from the ground through the body to the opponent: all the unnecessarily tensed areas in the body will work as blockages for the power that needs to pass. The vessel must open.
Through the practice of relaxation also the flexibility increases, it is not only about stretching the tendons but also about relaxing in our mind that the tight areas of our body will release the tension and allow our flexibility to grow naturally.
Those processes of alignment, connection and relaxation combined with the settlement of the mind enable the practitioner to connect with the inner power of the body’s energy centres and in general to become more sensitive to his energy and more able to use it with efficiency. In this way even somebody with a small and thin body is able to defeat a much heavier and bigger opponent as he is able to use his true inner strength, to borrow the power of the earth and to redirect the power of his opponent against him. For this reason it is said: the soft wins against the hard.
In truth this is the most natural way for the body to work, this is why a martial artist should pursue simplicity and naturalness. Observing nature we can see that a little monkey, who’s size is much smaller than ours can generate the power of many man, its body moves naturally and its mind its simple. The simplicity in the mind goes together with the simplicity of the movements, its our mentally unhealthy life that makes our body unbalanced, stiff and goofy. Through calming the mind and the body, speed and power are achieved naturally; this also applies to the speed of reflex and of reaction time. In fight the mind should be clear and not clouded by schemes and strategies, fear or pride, if one has a plan in mind he can be predictable, if one processes all the informations in his head before acting he will be slow. Only by being clear in the mind, relaxed in the body and present in the moment one can be always ahead of his opponent.
In China the internal styles and the stillness practices are considered a higher lever of kung fu. The cultivation of inner strength and of the power of the mind is considered a necessary step for the martial artist who wants to achieve higher levels of practice. It is very common that a martial artist practises his hole life and reaches a point where he stops improving or even worse that has injured his body and cant achieve the high performances that had before. Through the practice of internal martial arts one can not only recover his body but multiply his efficiency, speed and power.
In this article I only made a small introduction about the most normal and easily achievable benefits of standing meditation in regards to martial arts.