Hunyuan Tai Chi Chuan Horse stance
The Side Stance or Horse Stance
So, to continue where I left off in the Forward stance article, what is foundation? Well, as I said, it is all of our basics. It is our stances, alignment or structure and our basic movements. I will get into structure in more depth after I go through the stances.
The side stance is just that. Its applications are all to the side, although that does not mean directly to the side, but more on that latter, first the stance itself. The side stance varies in size from hip width to twice shoulder width. For the purpose of this article, I will discuss a wide stance. So, let’s start from the beginning. If you stand with your heels touching and the toes turned out to a comfortable angle. Shift 100% of your weight into your right leg. Sink a bit into the right leg. Now step out directly to your left side with your left foot. Make sure that you don’t step forward. It may help, at first, to stand on a line so that the back of your heels are both on the line. Then, as you step out make sure you step along the line so that the heels remain even. When stepping out, step comfortably. Don’t step out so far that you have to catch yourself. Step more than shoulder width, but try to control the step. I will get into empty stepping in another article.
Sit down into your legs by bending at the gua and at the hip. The Chinese talk about two different joints at the hip. There is the one that allows movement of the leg from front to back and side to side. Then there is the other joint that allows the leg to rotate. The joint that allows rotation is the gua. We will get into moving gua to gua in a moment. First make sure you are sitting in the gua. That is, make sure to bend the hip joint rather than just bending the knees. If you bend primarily the knees, you end up leaning the body backward. That is not good. We want the body upright, so bend the hip as though someone offered you a chair and you are beginning to sit down. If you have ever hurt your lower back you will understand that when you have to pick something up, it really hurts to bend over, so you sit down in the legs in an attempt to pick whatever it is up without bending your back. That is similar to what we are trying to do here, i.e. get lower to the ground without bending over.
Some of the same things I wrote about in the forward stance article apply. I will explain them again here. We want the toes in line with the hips and knees. So, just as in the forward stance we need to look at out knees. If the knees are inside the toes you will see the whole leg bowing in toward centerline. That is very bad, we don’t want it, don’t do it. Try to relax as much as possible, but at the same time, press outward with the knees slightly. At the same time, press in with the toes, without moving either the knees or toes. That may seem confusing and you may be saying to yourself, “What is this guy talking about?” What I mean is that you want to feel as though you are ringing your legs out. The toes feel like they are turning in and the knees feel like they are turning out, but in actuality they stay in alignment and don’t really move. At first, when attempting this, you will be very tense in the legs, which is not good. What you want to do is relax into the stance. Easier said than done, I know. When you take this stance or any other really, you need to relax the big muscle groups. So, consider the upper legs, the thighs. When you sink down low in the legs, it is natural for you to tense the quadriceps. The quadriceps muscles are the big muscles on the front of your thighs. If you have not studied anatomy, you are probably unaware that there is another layer of muscle underneath the quadriceps. These smaller muscles are the ones we want to use in Taiji. At first, they will be weak, but they develop quickly. When you step out into your stance, sit down as I wrote before. Then, consciously relax the quadriceps. This takes practice, so don’t give up. When you first start, notice how tight your knees feel. The quadriceps are pulling on the patella (knee cap), which puts pressure the knee joint. You will know that you are making progress when you feel the pressure on the knee ease up a bit.
Once you are comfortable in this stance, you can begin to incorporate the upper body. The next time you are in Taiji class or are practicing at home (you do practice at home?) notice how the upper body is situated in conjunction with the lower body. Notice how the stance dictates what the upper body does. What I mean is that each stance gives the body a certain range of motion. The stance limits the range and the type of motion. In a side stance, the motion is limited to an arc that is roughly 90-110 degrees. That arc is bordered by the feet and legs. So, when you are in your stance, the feet mark the edges of your side-to-side motion. Here is where a basic understanding of geometry comes in handy. Imagine that your hip, knee and toe are all on the same vertical plane. That plane is like a wall or boundary line. We don’t want to go past that boundary.
I will get more into this subject in my future article on Structure and Alignment. For now, practicing the side stance with these things in mind should give anyone interested in trying it plenty to work on. Future article will include the following:
Gua to Gua movement
So keep checking back for these and more. Thank you for reading. I hope this helps.