The Journey of training Kung Fu can be a seemingly daunting endeavor for the new student. Essentially it is a process of teaching the body how to move and stand in very unnatural ways, while breaking the habits of our natural reactions. The goal is through countless repetitions the unnatural becomes natural, and the movements which are now the natural response, are a sophisticated and complete system that is interconnected and flows from one move to the next without thought.
Kung Fu starts with the foundation. The first stage of training begins with the horse stance or as we refer to it, “sei ping ma,” or four corner horse which roughly means square horse. The square horse stance gets it’s name from it’s very low characteristic which can look similar to a person sitting on a horse. Traditionally students were initially only taught the horse stance for the first months of their training. The new student was forced to sit in horse stance for as long 30 minutes or more depending on how strict the teacher was. Sitting in horse stance for the first time can be one of the most humbling and strenuous things you will experience. I have personally seen very large and muscular body types sit in a low horse stance, trying to hold it for just 1 minute, only to have their legs shake uncontrollably and fall to the ground.
The intense burning of the legs while sitting in horse stance can be overwhelming. This is why everyone starts with the horse stance. To hold this stance for a long period of time takes more mental control than it does physical. It is a hard concept to understand, but it is very real. You have to be able to control your mind, and be able to find a way to direct it away from the burning and shaking of the legs. It also take the willpower to want to put yourself through such an agonizing exercise. It is a very good way to filter out students who simply don’t want to reach a high level of kung fu, or continue to train at all.
Every teacher wants new students to succeed, but you can’t make them good, you can only teach them what they need to become good. My Sifu always tells me the story of when he first started his Kung Fu training under Sifu Share Lew in the early sixties. At the time when he started his training he said there was a pretty large group of students that wanted to learn from Sifu Lew. For the first three months all they did was sit in horse stance. By the time his Sifu began teaching them more combative aspects, my Sifu and only a few other students were left. I always keep this story close to my training to remember to push myself and never forget the importance of the horse stance.
The importance of the horse stance can not be emphasised enough. It is the root of all power generation and the foundation for everything you do. The Shaolin refer to the legs as needing to be as strong as a Pine tree with roots deep into the ground. To hit someone and not be rooted to the ground will not cause severe damage. To hit someone while being connected to the earth can have an incredible amount of force and power that can stop a person with one strike. Power begins at the feet and moves through the body into your target. You must have a strong foundation.