Sunday, 4 March 2012

Horse Stance Training

Bucksam Kong from the Hung Gar Kung Fu system

     I can still remember my first encounter with horse stance training!

     The hall was dusty. We were all beginners in Kung Fu, standing in a row. In front of us was a small table bearing an incense burner containing a single stick of incense. It sounded all so simple: spread your feet apart, bend your knees to an almost 90 degree angle, keep the back straight, place your fists at your hips...AND DON’T MOVE! Oh yes…and stay there until the incense burns down to its base!

     I smiled. The teacher couldn’t see me from the other end of the row but probably, thinking back, he wouldn’t have cared. He knew exactly what was about to happen - because he’d suffered the same as a beginner.

     This is easy. I can do this without sweating! That’s what I thought one minute into the training.

     After just 5 minutes…I was hit by a wall. Muscles in the legs, even the bones, began quivering, then shaking so badly I began sweating not just from the effort but from the deep embarrassment of losing control over my body.

     As a teen, my body and I had an uneasy relationship – and now my legs, and then my torso, were coming apart. I felt betrayed by my body.

     It was at this point that I was introduced to a type of pain that has no respect for any conscious effort, strength, will power or any other psychological advantage that holds you together. It occupies every corner of who you are.

     But then I remember reaching a point where I stopped struggling against the experience. After all, there was no point. The incense wasn’t burning faster because I felt angry – at the teacher, and especially at myself. I just let the emotions fade.

     Suddenly, the smell of sandalwood soaked the air, my uniform and my skin. I began to inhale and exhale nothing but sandalwood. My senses opened up to such an extent I could smell the linoleum flooring down in the basement, the trapped, mouldy air beneath the stairs and the odour of the plastic of the telephone receiver hanging out in the corridor. Whenever a streetcar passed in the street outside, its wheels sounding like metal cutting through rock, I inhaled the sound, and the streetcar passed through me.

     By the time the stick of incense had burned down to its base, my sweat, my saliva that I was told to swallow for extra strength and the blood that kept me whole, had combined and turned into an elixir.

     In Kung Fu, they refer to this type of training as a part of “eating bitter”. I guess it’s the thorn that leads to the rose.

     The horse stance (sei ping mah - four point horse) is a foundation stance upon which you build a strong and honest character. In order to build a strong foundation, you always have to dig deep. I still thank my teacher for giving me this experience!


  1. If students could demonstrate their willingness to endure the rigors of prolonged horse stance training, the master felt better about handing down the secret family fighting system to them. Hmmm...start the personal training now.

  2. Hi,

    Absolutely! "6 months horse" was one of the many tests for gaining entry through the front door. These old traditions serve a deep purpose - and their effects tend to last a lifetime!


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