SEI PING DAI MA: An Analysis of Hung Ga's Complete Horse Stance Training
The Sei Ping Dai Ma (Four Levels Big Horse) stance is the most stable of all basic positions. Although there are numerous different styles of Chinese martial arts that emphasize distinctive aspects of this stance, regardless of the style, almost all of the consider the square horse stance the first lesson of practice.
Many traditional systems require students to practice this stance for three years before allowing them to progress to a further stage. The purpose of this is to develop stability of leg positions and movement, and only after the student can stand well will he be qualified to commence learning other skills in martial arts.
How does the student achieve stability in the square horse stance? How does he make the stance the root of correct movement? How does he generate power from this stance to support movement and not let the legs/thighs take the burden of the body?
Each Chinese martial art style has various forms of standing in the square horse stance: wide, narrow, high, low, fixed, mobile, and so on. On first impression their appearances are different, yet the essentials are similar.
Although these people lived in different times and places, and practiced different styles of martial arts, their square horse stance shows the same principles and presents something that is possible to call the truth of the square horse stance.
In Hung Ga, the “four levels” refer externally to the eyes/shoulders, waist, knees, and feet:
The head should be held even and erect, evenly balanced and suspended on the top of the spine, so that the “jade pillow” area is open and not obstructed. This will cause the energy to reach the crown point/DU20 and the Yin Tang point, raising the spirit and causing the eyes to brighten.
Shoulders should be straight and even; the upper body should not slouch forward nor backward, but the spine should be held straight. The fists assist in the posture of the upper body by being held firmly to the sides with elbows back with effort.
The waist should also be evenly sunken, along with the middle and lower back, which, coupled with the above points, will create a slight stretching/straightening effect on the spine.
The knees are pushed evenly out so that the forelegs are perpendicular to the ground. The knees should not go past the toes.
The feet should point directly forward and be parallel to each other. The feet should be directly under the knees.
Internally, the four levels refer to the four sinkings. Energy from the eyes should sink evenly to the shoulders, then to the waist, then to the knees, and finally through the feet to the ground via the “bubbling spring” point/K1. Combining the external structure with the internal sinking through these four levels makes Hung Ga’s square horse stance training complete.
The lower leg is the main part of the stance. It should be perpendicular to the ground as much as possible. Knees optimally should not go past the ankles. When standing in this stance, the knees should not go beyond the toes, and should follow in the same direction. If we imagine a line between the knees, with the feet forming a second line, then the space between the lower legs and knees should form a quadrangle, and the power of the stance is thus connected with the ground through the rear and inner sides of the lower leg. Knees should not bear too much weight, and power should be distributed evenly, rather than having the inner side of the leg to bear more, the outer side less; or the front side bearing more, and rear side less, etc. It is especially important not to produce power using the knees, as the knees should maintain stability and transfer power.
If the lower leg may be considered a pillar of a building, then the upper leg is the crossbeam; and they determine the height and width of the stance. However, the inner sides of the upper legs form an arch. It is well known that the arch is the strongest structure capable of propping up force. For example, the physical structure of the arch bridge propels power upward in the most efficient way. If we want to achieve the same goal in the human body, the muscles around the kua/hip joints must be relaxed, making them closely united with the pelvis so that the hip joints are opened up and extended to either side of the body. At the same time, the big tendons of the inner sides of the legs must be connected through the hoi yum/DU1 point. The power of those tendons connected together rises upwards through the hoi yum, so that both legs can be united, and this is called dang ging. The stable arch of the lower body, based on the stable quadrangle and dang ging generated by this arch will generate upward power, and this power not only prevents dissipation of “lower chi” from the lower belly, but also by having a stable pelvis (wherein stability lies on top of a steady and powerful arch) penetrates upwardly through the spine and reaches the whole body. Therefore, the four levels big horse stance does not mean that the body “sits” on the legs, and that both legs bear the weight of the body. On the contrary, the propping up structure of the shape of both legs goes through the pelvis to the body. In this way, both upper and lower parts of the body are united, and during movement both parts will not burden each other.
When we try to perform the above-described movement, a common mistake is noted in that we feel that the center of gravity of the body drops backwards, but in reality if we sink (flatten) the lumbar region, the chest cavity will shift slightly forward (the chest vertebra naturally will push to the top and tend to straighten), and if we place weight on the two points opposite the ming mun point, over the kidneys, relax and sink our buttocks so that the belly cavity will be located on top of the kua (the inguinal crease), the body will naturally obtain balance and every area will have its own respective propping up force, finally achieving stability and agility.
Experience in practicing martial arts dictates that when faced with a training problem, it is best to return to the basic skills. The more basic skills are practiced-and practiced deeply-the more likely it is that future progress can be attained. But those basic skills must be practiced correctly, because even the smallest mistake can have serious consequences in future practice.