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The Iron Horse,

The Mighty Root of MartiaI Arts


by Sifu Richard Mieir-King
The essence and foundation of all techniques, from beginning to advanced, are built upon our
basic, foundational techniques and elements. These basics strengthen and build legs, waist and will
power, along with many other important aspects of our martial arts capabilities. We call the horse
our "foundation" because it is the base, the platform and foundation upon which we build everything
else. The analogy was taught was that of constructing a building. When a building is being
constructed a great deal of time, effort and care is spent on the foundation before the walls or roof
are ever put in place. This is because the builders know that the walls and roof are only as strong
as the foundation upon which they are built. f the foundation is not solid and strong then everything
built on top of that weak foundation will, likewise, be weak.
The horse stance is also the forge, the crucible, which helps build our determination, perseverance
and discipline of body and mind.
There is more to horse stance work than can be covered in one article, so we will look at what we
can in this article and, perhaps, follow it with more articles on horse stance work in the future.
AII Horse Stances are not the Same
Stepping into a correct horse stance is the first thing to be addressed. Not all bodies are the
same. Some people have longer legs, some shorter legs, builds vary from person to person. So,
trying to have everyone sit into a horse stance in the same exact way is like trying to drive a
square peg into a round hole. There is, however, an old method for resolving this dilemma and
finding the horse stance that is correct for each individual. This method consists of only 5 counts
which we will illustrate and describe in the following photos along with a few more drills and
exercises.
As you will see in figure 1, we begin standing at attention. Feet are together and hands at the
sides. On count one, in figure 2, shift the weight slightly onto the heels and turn the toes out 45
degrees, put the hands on the hips or chamber the fists at the waist. On count two, in figure 3,
shift the weight onto the toes/ball of the feet and turn the heels out 45 degrees. On count three, in
figure 4, shift the weight slightly onto the heels again and pivot the toes out 45 degrees. On count
four, in figure 5, shift the weight to the toes/balls of the feet and straighten the feet so that the toes
are pointed forward. Now, on count 5, figure 6, we bend the knees 2 inches sitting into the horse.
Only sink into your horse 2 inches and do not let the knees stick out past the toes. This keeps
stress off of your knee joints.
Measuring up
We also want to make sure that our structure and alignment are correct. Once you have settled into
the horse, tilt your pelvis forward taking some of the arch out of your low back. There are 2 tools
that can be used here. Place one hand is placed on the stomach area. The other hand is on the low
back, juxtapose to the hand on the front side of your body. The hand on the front side of the body is
on the Dan Tien which is 2 inches below the navel. The hand on the back of the body is on the Ming
Min. As you tilt/thrust the pelvis forward exert just a small amount of pressure with each hand.
Pulling the Dan Tien in and just slightly pushing the Ming Min out. All of this helps to take excess
arch out of the low back and puts the spine in a neutral position. Also, imagine the tail bone being
pulled down to a spot between the feet as though a weight is hanging from the tail bone. At the
same time imagine the crown of the head, also know as the Bai Hui, lifting up. This creates the
sensation of a lengthening of the spine. This also lowers the chin slightly offering some protection to
the throat from an attack. See figures 7 and 8 for location of the Dan Tien, Ming Min and also the
liac Crest which will be referenced later.
There are also health benefits to these positions. This can help with low back pain and stiffness in
the low back area. The lifting at the Bai Hui area helps to decompress the spine, can help with
headaches and strengthens the back while improving posture and balance.
We will also level the hips. Find your liac Crest, the hip bones, shown in figure 7, and imagine a
line connecting them. This line is your carpenters level with the bubble in the middle, at the Dan
Tien. f the bubble is not in the middle then your hips are not level and are out of balance. Your
Dan Tien is the bubble, the center. Holding a stick at the hips as illustrated in figure 9 is a good
visual for you to check your hips for correct position and balance.
We can also use a 6 foot staff to check the back. Sit into your horse stance and take your staff and
hold the staff up to your spine, straight up and down. This can also be done using a door, a corner
of a wall or against a flat section of a wall. The first thing to do is to slip your hand into curve of
your low back. Notice is if there is a lot of space in your low back area. f there is a lot of space
when you insert your open, flat hand there is too much arch in the low back and this can also be
the source of pain as well as throwing off your structure. Begin slowly tilting the pelvis forward
taking arch out of the low back until you have just the enough space for the your open hand to
comfortably fit in the low back area. With the low back corrected, bring the attention up to the head
now. You will note that the head may be turtled forward and the back of the head is not touching
the staff or wall. Keeping your eyes level, slide the head back until the back of the head makes
contact or comes as close and let the head lift from the Bai Hui as previously indicated. The same
things will happen as before. The spine lengthens and the chin tucks down. There are many
elements here to consider but in time it becomes second nature and not something you have to
think about. t strengthens the body and improves the posture and health as well as building a
strong root or foundation.
Countdown to Strength and WiII Power
Having now found and sat into our horse stance and aligned the spine, hips and pelvis so
everything is structurally correct and in a neutral position, we can begin some work. This work will
tone your legs and build your endurance and fortitude, or will. Start off by holding this position for 5
minutes. This may not sound like much but you begin to feel it pretty quickly. For those of you who
may be very experienced in their horse stance work, and have more strength, you can increase
this time in 5 minute increments until you have reached the place you feel challenged. Holding for
5, 10, 15, 20 minutes and longer. n our training, at every test, the length of time you hold your
horse stance is increased over time in 5 minutes increments. At brown sash the stance is held for
30 minutes without moving. At black sash the stance is held for 1 hour without moving. t becomes
not only a test but, in a way, a right of passage as it is an challenge presented, taken up and
overcome.
As you practice this, start with just 5 minutes. Test your legs. II it is easy then continue adding in 5 minute
increments. We advise moving into the horse stance in these 5 minute increments. See how you tolerate
sitting into the horse Ior these time periods and add on only as you build your strength.
Standing the Sands of Time
Another step to add to your horse training is to have a box Iilled with sand. The kind oI sand you'd Iind at the
beach or a child's play box. This box needs to be the width oI a wide horse stance so as to accommodate
anyone's horse stance that might use this box and have space leIt to each side. Smooth out the surIace oI the
sand and then step into the box oI sand assuming your horse stance. As you do so do not smudge your
Iootprint in the sand. Sit into our horse and hold this position Ior as long as you can without smudging your
Iootprints. II you Iind you have smudged your Ioot print then smooth out the sand and start over. The goal is
to hold the stance as long as you can without smudging, blurring or otherwise messing up your Iootprint
while holding this horse stance. As your strength improves you will be able to hold your stance in the sand
without Iidgeting and when you step out there will be no smudges in the sand.
Finding BaIance with the Staff
Another drill, exercise and challenge for our article today will employ the previously used staff. You
will lower your horse until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Note, too, that we have turned the
toes out. This unlocks the knee joints and reduces possible stress on them. Now, taking our 6
foot staff, lay it across your quadriceps between the knees and your hips. You can chamber your
fists at your waist, place the hands on the hips, or hold them out in the manner illustrated in Figure
10, and balance the staff in this position as shown. As you lower your stance, do so as though you
are sitting down and don't let your knees extend past your toes. Extending the knees past the toes
could put unnecessary stress on the knee joints. Hold this position as long as you can, keeping
correct structure and not letting the staff roll out of the position it is in.
Another exercise is demonstrated in the Iollowing pictures using my son who weighs approximately 120 pounds.
This can be done with a person oI any size but be sure your are comIortable doing so and with the weight oI the
person. This is diIIerent Irom holding a weight while standing in your horse because a person moves, even iI it is
micro movements. This requires that you be able to compensate Ior any movements they make so neither oI you
Iall. II you have never done this beIore do so only with someone that can assist, help and instruct both oI you in
how this is done. And, again, make sure you are comIortable with the weight oI the person. Regardless oI how
much weight you can liIt, do this with a light person Iirst and progress only as you strengthen to the weight oI
that person. Do not do these exercises iI you have any issues such as problems with your knees, back or any other
areas oI your body. As illustrated in Figure 12 and 13, I have my son standing high on my thighs, nearing my
waist. We lock our hands together to stabilize the structure we have created. In the second picture I have shiIted
my weight and stance to one side. As shown, in this technique, I have my son climb up on and stand on my
Iorward quadriceps. There is a great deal oI weight going on to this leg and Ioot. All oI the same precautions
above are to be observed here as well as. This position is probably more diIIicult Ior most people. These
particular positions require BOTH people be strong and knowledgeable in what they are doing. II you have any
doubt or do not have someone qualiIied to guide you do not attempt this. These type oI exercises and positions
are also used in Lion Dancing.
To illustrate the strength oI the horse stance, in the next illustration, Iigure 14, I have my son holding what we
call a 'Walking Horse Stance. This stance has many names but you can see in the picture the shape oI the
stance, regardless oI the name. See in Iigure 14 that I have my son in a walking horse stance. His weight is
approximately 120 pounds. I am pushing on my son and my weight is 198 pounds. I have pushed out on him
committing all oI my weight, I am on my toes as can be seen in the picture. I am also Ilexing my body muscles to
exert more weight and pressure against him. As you can see in the illustration, he is able to stand his ground.
This concept is simply called 'ground path energy. As I push he simple absorbs the weight, sends it through and
down his body to the soles oI his Ieet. The result is I am essentially pushing against the ground because he is
grounding out my push and negating my energy. The concept can be seen illustrated in ancient architecture where
arches are built. The top center stone in an arch is the keystone and transIers all oI its weight into the stones upon
which it is resting and locks the structure. The heavier the stone, and the harder you push on it, the more it locks
the other stones in place as it transIers its weight into the ground. This is used strategically in martial arts, in
many martial Ieats and, sometimes, in some martial arts trickery. But it is an important and useIul concept to
understand and use.
ConcIusion
This is just a few of the many exercises that
strengthen the horse and the foundation or root.
We will show more exercises in future issues. n
the mean time, build your leg strength with these
techniques and reap the benefits of improved leg
strength, discipline and focus, and many health
benefits offered with these methods. And, as
always, be sure to check with your doctor to make
sure you are physically able to do this kind of
exercise.
Sifu Richard Mieir-King is a Kung Fu and Tai Chi
instructor in southern California since 1981. He
teachers Kung Fu, Tai Chi, corporate health and
wellness, works in medical clinics, does seminar
and workshops, lectures, demonstrations and
more. This article is an excerpt from an upcoming
book on various aspects of conditioning that can
be used in any system of martial art, not just
Kung Fu. To be notified when this book, and
others, are ready contact us to get on our mailing
list but going to the websites listed. For more
information and to contact us see the following
websites www.KingsKungFu.com and
www.KingsTaiChi.com.
We thank Sensei Elam for his organization and
making this publication you are reading possible!