The third formal component of a Jiulong Baguazhang class, after quiet sitting and daoyin, consists of standing practice. Yes, just standing as still as possible. Those of you familiar with a broad array of martial arts know that standing still and holding various postures is a relatively common practice.
There are good reasons for this. The human body is structured to stand and move in the upright position. It can assume many different postures of course, but there are optimal postures for performing tasks requiring power and/or speed, such as those used in personal combat. In Jiulong, we emphasize the importance of maintaining the spine in a neutral posture as the best for striking, pushing, deflecting, evading and moving.
This posture maintains the upright position with the least amount of skeletal stress and requires the least amount of muscle tension to do so. Repeated practice in different postures guided by an instructor, strengthens the neural pathways (some call these pathways ‘muscle memory’) required for the postures until they can be performed without thought and thus very quickly.
We also emphasize muscular relaxation while holding postures and this, too eventually becomes automatic with diligent practice. Being able to relax antagonistic muscles, i.e. those muscles that act in opposition to those required to maintain the posture, is a valuable skill that will also increase speed and power by offering as little opposition as possible to the muscles performing an action.
Our standing practice extends and reinforces the mental training of our quiet sitting practice as well. While standing and holding postures, students are taught to conjure feelings of exerting force while remaining physically relaxed. Neurocognitive research has validated this kind of mental training as effective in enhancing strength.
I should mention that I use the same kind of postural training in my medical practice in the management of chronic pain. It still amazes me to see how simply standing up straighter and learning to relax while doing so can make such a big difference to many of the people I treat. Like other aspects of Baguazhang, standing practice has consequences that go beyond the bounds of learning self-defense to enhance basic human function.