With the advice Xiao Yu gave me to improve my wushu technique, I have already started noticing improvement in the transitional power of my stances, as well as in my overall leg strength. I suppose that is to be expected, but it did get me thinking about the most effective ways to improve one’s stance power and stability and I’ve come to realize a few things that really help build it up.
First, I think a lot of people (myself included) assumed that to improve the stability of your stances you needed to building up the ability to hold the stance for a longer period of time. True, that will help to some limiting degree (although whether or not holding stances actually helps sport wushu with its high-qi focus, is a whole different discussion) but what I’ve discovered is that the problem isn’t really with holding a stance, but the problem is with being stable with a stance once you have just gotten to it.
Very few people ever lose their balance when they are already in a horse stance, but when you are spinning around and transitioning from some other technique into a horse stance, that is often when your stability is compromised. How best to stabilize yourself as you transition into a stance then? Well, with focused attention on stance transition basics, for one.
Generating the transitional power in to a stance position reinforces your body’s ability to “punch” into that stance with stability. A solid transition helps build stability with stances. This, as it turns out, requires doing a LOT of stance transitions. This is why kids wushu classes in China are pretty much just basics for the first few years. You couldn’t get away with that in the U.S., of course, but here in China they are training athletes, not pacifying parents (no offense to any parents who are reading this, since you are obviously not one of those types – or else you sure wouldn’t bother reading wushuzilla’s super geeky wushu blogs. 😉 ).
The second thing I’m noticing that helps with stance power and stability is having a strong core. Especially your back and oblique muscles, as that is where a lot of the transitional power comes through, as well as the stopping power to hold a stance effectively. One of the biggest problems you see with beginners doing stances is that they tend to lean forward too much into their stance. How many times have you seen a coach slap someone’s back to straighten up? And how many times after holding a stance for a while do you find yourself slowly learning forward and bending at the waist?
Building up your core is, I think, the second part of having strong stances.
The last part of having strong stances (well, the last part that I’m going to talk about) is actually flexibility. Most of my personal stance problems stems from not having the full range of motion in my joints or muscles to hold the stance in the right way. if you look at a beginner’s stances, most of the reasons they aren’t able to do them correctly is that their hips can’t open up wide enough yet (hence the funky chicken horse stances and too-high bow stances). Or having proper ankle flexibility also prohibits a lot of people from being able to fully get in to a drop or empty stance.
My stances are always much more stable when I’m fully stretched out and warmed up. I can’t hold a decent cold horse stance to save my life, but after an hour of training and stretching, my horse stance is almost human looking.
So there you have it. My personal three-step approach to improving my stances.
2. Core Strength
And if you had asked me a year ago how to build up stance stability I probably would not have said any of them (well, maybe “transitions”, but not at first). Just goes to show you that even after 15 years in wushu you can still learn new things and make new distinctions in your training.
Before I used to think that wall sits and holding stances was the best way to get strong rock-solid stances. That is probably a result of my time training with He Jing De, since he was a strong proponent of the wall sit. And wall sits are good for building leg strength, especially after a knee injury where you might not be able to do a full stance yet. But now I realize that it is all the stuff you do around the act of holding a stance that really builds up your stability, as well as your power.
And that brings us to today’s class. Because it was in the midst of one of the most intense workouts I’ve had in a while that I came up with these new found distinctions.
Wednesday afternoon is pretty busy in the wushu guan. Chu Feng Lian is there with her 2 dozen wushu kids, the taiji group is doing their power training, and the wushu group is in full force too. I got there a little early today and watched the earlier kids classes that are there before 3:00. It really is fun to watch 100 kids doing basics in a 4-carpet wushu guan. There is always something interesting to watch.
But soon enough it was time to train. Our group was doing the usual competition preparation (60 minutes of self-warm up followed by full sets – just like at the tournament. something I’ve actually been meaning to blog about in more detail but haven’t had time yet) so I went on the side with the non-competing athletes (i.e. the”kids table” at your cousin’s wedding). After a quick warm up and some stretching the kids got some staves and were going to do kicking practice. I opted instead for stance training, as per Xiao Yu’s recommendations.
10 lines of 10 mabu-gong bu transitions = 100 mabu-gong bu = jello quads
After that I did some horse stance holding (feeling much stronger today!). I would hold horse while doing 100 quick grabs with my hands (quick clenching and unclenching of my hands – helps build forearm power) and then hold the stance for another 30 seconds. Did that 3 times.
3 x 90 second ma bu with quick clenches
I also did some kicking practice – holding the bar while the other arm is out and doing quick front stretch kicks. I did 3 x 10 for each leg.
Next I went in to the weight room and did 3 sets of “pop squats” at just 40kg worth of plates (i’m a wuss), followed with 3 sets of quick calf hops with the bar and weights on my shoulders. After each set I would go out to the carpet and do some deep knee hop ups – 5 or so.
Then I did 3 sets of 10 – 15 bench presses. Again, not too much weight, focusing instead on developing explosive power. To be honest my arms were SUPER sore from Monday’s class. It took me a good 15 minutes of swinging my arms around and stretching them out to get some of range of motion back. Just goes to show you how much I need it.
After that I worked on my abs. I did 3 sets of 20 leg lifts and 3 sets of 20 situps. My abs were pretty sore after that (I haven’t been doing much ab work, as you can tell) and then I went to a bar near the window and did calf raises. 3 x 30 with legs together, then 3 x 30 of each leg individually, almost to muscle failure.
By this time I was pretty tired. But Xiao Yu told me to do more ma bu – gong bu transitions. This time I was told to do the same exercise that I saw the kids at the track doing the previous week. You can see it in this video at around 1:40. I did 5 sets of 10, so 50 total of the hopping mabu-gong butransitions. I have to say that they are way harder than they looked when I saw the kids doing them at the track.
One thing I have to say is that Xiao Yu has been really helping me out. She pushes me to work on the stuff that we talked about and is always giving me suggestion on what to work on. If she sees me not doing something, she’ll suggest something for me to do. Coach Zhang doesn’t really provide much feedback (which is fine with me since he’s got bigger fish to fry and it is sort of our arrangement) so I’m very happy that Xiao Yu is being so helpful. I’m going to have to invite her over for another home-cooked meal next month!
Oh right … you don’t know about that, do you? Xiao Yu and another friend of hers from DongMing, Shandong – a sanda athlete) came over for my home cooking a couple weeks back. I made tu dou ci and suan la bai cai. (That’s right folks. The ‘Zilla can cook. Being Brandon’s roomate actually paid off. 😉 ) This year I’ve been making a concerted effort to learn some local dishes, which has proven quite popular with some of the Chinese folks who come over to our home. Plus, these are my wife’s favorite dishes so I’m scoring some brownie points at home too. 🙂
Anyway, I did take some video. The first one is of the athletes after class. Some of them were hanging out, some of them were practicing some random things. You can take a look for yourself …
And then is my wushu training vlog, but to be honest it isn’t very informative because I was way too wiped out after class to form any coherent thoughts. All I could get across was that I was tired. Here is that:
Tomorrow I have to take care of a few things in the morning so I will go to the afternoon class again – at the track. My plan is to run, but I also am going to practice the stance and power training while there. It will be good training to get me used to doing that sort of thing outdoors when I’m down in Hong Kong next week and don’t have a wushu guan to hang out at.