When I first started doing zhan zhuang, I was basically told to stand with my feet parallel, raise my arms about shoulder height forming a ball, and relax. That’s it. “Hold this position for 40 minutes”, said the instructor. I was then handed the book The Way of Energy by Kam Lam Chuen. No other real correction was given beyond that.
What this lead to was my own approach of external, school of hard knocks, eating bitter style of zhan zhuang. What do I mean by this? My goal was to hold the posture for a specific length of time, no matter what! At first, I couldn’t hold the posture for more than 5 minutes, so I use tools to get my mind off the pain. I started off by watching TV during zhan zhuang, then I slowly moved to listening to music and now finally I do neither. From time to time, I play a bit of ambient music when the day has been rough 😉
It wasn’t until I started training in traditional Chen Style Taijiquan that I received my first corrections on zhan zhuang. During class, I received my first corrections of “zhan zhuang” tweaking. Afterwards, my eyes were opened to a whole new layer of taijiquan. For more on these tweakings, check out my post on Zhan Zhuang Adjustments where I outline some of the corrections. Then, I happened upon a Chen Xiaowang seminar that focused on zhan zhuang and silk reeling where more zhan zhuang tweaking occurred. What I took away from all these adjustments was: being off my a millimeter can cause one to miss the target by kilometers. The minutia of the corrections are yet another reason to seek out a qualified instructor. A lot of the corrections will often require a hands-on touch (post: The Transmission of Touch).
I recently took a weekend trip to visit Rick of Wujifa where he covered some of these zhan zhuang corrections (more on the trip in another future post). More importantly, Rick has put together a formalized method for alignment in zhan zhuang and he calls 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4. I had heard about this before, but was completely blown away by the method after experiencing it’s effects in-person with Rick. At a high level, the first 1,2,3,4 address the basic alignment between the feet, knees, hips and shoulders. The second 1,2,3,4 addresses the alignment between the kua, tailbone, chest and head.
Zhan zhuang is used to develop connection within the body. What does connection feel like? For me, connection and correct alignment resulted in a feeling of intense burning in the thigh, similar to my previous post on The Burn. Additionally, I felt as if my arms just floated in the air. Yes, I know, sounds a bit ‘woo-woo’ (to quote Rick ;)), but I kid you not. How could simple minute adjustments have such a dramatic effect?
I want to extend a gracious hat tip to Rick (twitter: @wujifa) for further opening my eyes on what it means to be connected. Additionally, I feel that many people will benefit from his explanation on alignment. Below is a snippet of his post, but I would implore you to click through and read all about Wujifa Zhan Zhuang Alignment.
When practicing Standing, or Zhan Zhuang, getting good alignment is one of the common difficulties for beginners. The method for Zhan Zhuang alignment in Wujifa is called “One Two Three Four, One Two Three Four”. The two sets of One Two Three Four are different and complementary sets of alignment points.
The first set of alignment points are:
1. The feet are parallel.
2. The knees are over the feet.
3. The hip/inguinal crease/kua are lined up over the feet and knees.
4. The shoulders are lined up over the kua, or inguinal crease. …
— Source: Zhan Zhuang Alignment | Wujifa