The 8 Stances are a highly important part of your training – particularly the training of tung lung (praying mantis). The purpose of stance training is to develop leg strength, rooting, relaxation, and the development of chi. Additional benefits include attention to natural breathing thru the nose and mental focus. Of course, their will be times when stances seem incredibly difficult. This is to be expected and one of the reasons why Chinese martial arts took the name of ‘kung fu’, which means “hard work”.
A few things to consider when training the 8 stances. First, your upper body must remain as vertical (perpendicular to the ground) as possible. Leaning either forward or backward creates a few problems including unwanted tightness, incorrect body alignment, and less than perfect balance. Practicing the stances at home in front of a mirror can help ensure proper posture.
Second, focus your mind on relaxing your muscles. The upper body muscles are the easiest to relax during stance training – although for some, all relaxation is difficult when holding low stances. There should be no tension. Relaxing the muscles of the lower body requires much more practice and mental focus. Shaking legs from exhaustion is a common and expected reaction when holding low stances for extended amounts of time. This does not mean it’s time to break your stance!
You must overcome the desire to break your stance and rise up or lower your stance to alleviate the pain. Find a stead point to fix your gaze and control your breathing. Relax your mind and just focus on what you’re gazing at and try not to recognize the exhaustion of your leg muscles. Eventually, the “burn” will subside and you will feel a combination of incredible body warmth and blood flow. Martial arts masters thru the ages believe this to be “chi” or the “life force” to be flowing through your body. This sensation develops explosive power and speed and will accelerate your progress.
Third, pay strict attention to the proper weighting of each stance. Some require the weight to be equally distributed between the feet, while some require the weight of the stance to be on only one foot. This also asks the practitioner to be cognizant of where the weight is to rest on the sole of the foot. It should be evenly distributed on the entire foot when the entire foot is on the ground. Feel your toes gripping into the ground.
Fourth, sink your weight and lower your stance as low as possible while keeping correct posture and relaxed muscles. Low stance training is similar to kicking training. Most kicks used in sparring are waist level and lower, but when practicing kicks we kick as high and hard as possible. Most stances used in sparring aren’t super low, but when practicing stances and doing forms we keep as low a stance as possible.
Lastly, the 8 Stances are a part of your training that can easily be done at home or anywhere you find time to train. Start off with 5 seconds per side for each stance. Continue doing that daily for a few weeks and then bump it up to 10 second per side for each stance. Continue this kind of progression until you can do each stance for a minute each side.