This article is a translation from the French book, Dacheng quan, L’art ultime de combat by Guo Guizhi (Paris: Arkanorum, 2001) pp. 37-38. Guo studied Da Cheng Quan with Dr. Yu Yong Nian, Wang Xiang Zhai and Chang Ze Lang in 1957. In 1963 he began to train with Master Yao Zong Xun. Later he went on to teach and promote the art of Da Cheng Quan in Europe.
Points Concerning the Practice of Zhan Zhuang
The problem of contraction and decontraction (or tension and relaxation)
The problem of tension and looseness is relative and in practice, they co-exist. For example, expanding the chest (as if encircling something) and keeping the back tight exist at the same time. During practice one must be empty above and full below. Specifically, have the idea of burying the lower part of the body below the knee, while the upper part of the body is relaxed. The first point is the basis of the second. But be aware, hat the neck the two wrists and the two ankles are taut (five points). Otherwise, one cannot maintain a fixed posture during practice. One can also say that these five points of contraction allow the other parts of the body to be relaxed. To summarize, in practice, rather than complete tension or relaxation (contraction/decontraction), there is contaction in decontraction and vice versa, suitable contraction and decontraction, decontraction without looseness, and contraction without stiffness.
Some beginners believe that training means “applying force.” This is false, because Master Wang says: “The more the body relaxes, the more the circulation of blood is important. Id the body is tense when applying force, this makes the body inert and even worse, blocks the flow of energy in the body.” It is important to understand this point. It is also necessary for the forme to be relaxes and the mind to be “tense.” This second priciple means that the spirit is really focused during practice, rather than being in a state of nervousness which disturbs good body posture. Some concrete methods to help the body relax: Having a fascial expression that is is like laughing but not laughing, the “looking method” (looking with lower eyelids), or the “listening method” (listening to distant natural sounds – wind, rain, etc).
Difficulty in Remaining Still
Many beginners complain that it is difficult to practice Zhan Zhuang, and that when beginning training, they become nervous, and that this nervousness greatly upsets their ability to concentrate the Shen (Spirit). It is worse for those that have nervous problems. For these people, good physical and mental rest, accompanied by a regulated life-style, are the foundations for remaining calm during training. One must try to create the conditions, which are prerequisites. One can say that sooner or later anyone can achieve calm. It is a question of time. Certain advice can be given that will aide on in achieving calm, but it is more important to find one’s own solution in the exercise itself.
For reference, here are several methods offered by Master Wang: “When various thoughts arise, naturally let them go. Do not refuse to let them come and do not hold onto them when they leave. So we can restore the tranquility of the Spirit.” Also, “instead of repelling diverse thoughts as they arise, one can absorb them. The body is like a large oven in which we can melt everything in the universe inside the chest. Then the one achieves an unexpected stillness of mind.”
In short, one begins to practice Zhan Zhuang for health. At his stage of stillness it is sufficient to reach a state where the mind is lucid without upheaval, the body is at ease, and the Spirit slightly intoxicated. Thus one enters into a state between sleeping and waking. “This state is characterized by a kind of internal forgetting of the body and mind and forgetting of the external world, while being able to hear, look and think. This just happens without being disturbed by the external.
Difficulty With Respiration
Respiration is a human instinct. Zhan Zhuang training seeks to follow nature, avoiding unhelpful artificiality. During training, the mouth is gently open, and one respires through the nose. One does not expressly attend to the breathing and one does not seek to artificially control it. This method of breathing becomes, with practice, breathing that is even, fine, deep and long. It is best to completely forget the breath. In the mind all the orifices of the skin open and breathe. At this stage the body is at ease. But at the same time one should not search for this state. It must arrive naturally. In short breathing must be natural. That is the principle of Zhan Zhuang. Otherwise there will be flaws in training.
Problem of Mental Activity During Training
One of the fundamental requirements of practicing Zhan Zhuang is linking the physical forms with the mind and Spirit. Both are important. Therefore: “form without Spirit is empty form; Spirit without form will not produce power.” It is also said: “to have intention without force is false intention; having force without intention is not quick; force without Qi is useless, having intention without Spirit is inferior.” Linking intention, form, Qi, power and Spirit is correct.” Therefore one must connect these five elements together.
The spiritual aspect of Zhan Zhuang with regard to health are different than those of Zhan Zhuang which relate to combat. They are diverse. One can, for example imagine the following images:
- Mountains, rivers, magnificent landscapes, parks, bird in springtime.
- The pores are open and the hair stand on end and pushes outward without limit, like walking on air and touching the infinite, and the body is suspended in space. This corresponds to a passage written by Master Wang: “the muscles of the body are suspended in the air and each pore and hair is balanced in warm air.
- The thought are like breeze in the spring, the body is at ease and arrives at a state of emptiness. The body is like a lantern suspended in the air and balancing in the breeze.
- Like a pot of warm water pouring over the head and running down to the feet, gently traversing the neck, chest, back, abdomen and legs. The whole body has this feeling down to the feet; this can be imagined continuously, but if it creates nervousness, it is better to agin imagine pouring the water. This image particularly suits those who have are full above and empty below or suffer from hypertension.
- The whole body unfolds in spirals.
 “Décontraction” in French can refer to looseness of the muscles as in “Le relâchement des tissus” (looseness or lack of tension in the tissues of the body). This is like the Chinese word “Song,” which means to loosen, unbind or relax.