I feel that I should begin with saying that I am in no way a Horse Stance Expert. Like everyone else, my horse stance needs constant work. Every so often, I have to look at my Horse Stance and try to make improvements where I can. I am currently trying to get back into real Kung Fu shape after my almost 4 month outage due to work travel and as I do this, the first thing on the list is Horse Stance. And when I am working on something in my own personal Kung Fu, it always spills over to my Students.
Most martial arts use a version of this stance, and it seems that everyone puts emphasis on a different aspect of the stance. I believe that Horse Stance is one of the most misunderstood stances in Kung Fu, and one of the most important.
Traditional Horse Stance training has fallen off dramatically over the years, and I truly believe that has lead to the degradation of Martial Arts in America. Many martial arts schools have either changed Horse Stance to make it easier, or eliminated it as a training tool altogether. They use a variety of excuses, my favorite being that “it doesn’t teach anything useful.” When I hear that one it sounds to me as if they said “Because I am lazy and don’t care for my students.” There are many things that Horse Stance training can teach, I will cover just a few of my top favorites.
First I will cover what a good horse stance is: feet a bit wider than your shoulders, back straight, legs bent at 90 degrees, with your upper legs horizontal to the floor (hips and knees same distance from floor), knees directly above the ankles, and the shoulders directly above the hips. Do not expect to be comfortable. If it doesn’t hurt, then you are not doing it right!! (though the pain should only be in the legs)
1. The most obvious is that Horse Stance builds physical strength. Strength comes in two types: raw power (lifting) and staying power (holding). Horse Stance primarily builds holding strength, keeping your body steady and solid through the range of motion when fighting.
2. Horse Stance builds pain tolerance. When done properly, Horse Stance hurts; but it is a “good” pain. By that I mean that it is a pain that only occurs when you are in the stance, and leaves no lasting damage. This is extremely useful in any situation in which you must fight for your life, allowing you to ignore a certain amount of pain while still being able to respond and protect yourself.
3. Horse Stance destroys perceived limits. Horse Stance teaches you how to push beyond your “limits.” Most of our perceived “limits” are ones which we place unduly upon ourselves, usually with little or no basis in fact. Take for example a 3 year old and a 30 year old, such as my daughter and I. She can flex to almost any position without problem, where I most certainly can not. This is not because my muscles are not capable of this flexibility, but rather my body has “learned” over the years that normal movement is limited to a short distance. So when I try to take them beyond that “normal” movement, they contract, causing me pain. When I take a mental hold of my muscle and force it to relax, my range of motion increases dramatically. We set similar limits on virtually everything. Practicing Horse Stance can prove to yourself that you can surpass these limits with some good Kung Fu (time and energy, or hard work)
4. Horse Stance builds Strong Character. Regardless of age, sex, race, music taste, or favorite color, Horse Stance is hard. It is hard for everyone. It shows that with some work, you can achieve your goals. A little bit of pain now reaps rewards later on. And if I am willing to put myself through things like this for myself, I am much more willing to help others.
As Sifu has told us several times before, practicing Kung Fu will either make you a better person, or you will quit. I really believe this statement, and that Horse Stance is one of the leading factors that makes this true.