The practice of Kung Fu and Tai Chi involves movements of all of the muscle groups in your body including the joints, tendons and internal organs. It will strengthen the upper and lower limbs while developing flexibility in the knees, hips and shoulders. It will also build elasticity of the waist and teach you how to control your breath during physical activity. These elements all play an important role in your practice. There is an old saying that states: “Practice boxing without exercising the legs, and you shall blunder into old age; practice boxing without exercising the waist and you shall never achieve expertise.” Statements like this remind us how important it is to train the body correctly and take our time to build the proper fundamentals necessary for success in our art.
Such sayings like: “Practice stances first and other exercises later and you shall gain strength.” “By keeping the waist supple and legs flexible you can move your fist and legs faster than meteors.” These old sayings explain that the fundamental requirements for your practice in general should consist of basic training of the waist, legs and most importantly, stances. Stance training is the most important element because it not only strengthens the legs but, if done properly, stances will provide a solid foundation where the lower part of the body will be well rooted, relaxed and secure. Stance work helps you understand proper body alignment and correct posture, two very important concepts. You must understand the proper body alignment as well as the correct body posture in order for the energy and power to flow through, making the techniques usable and effective. In the old Huaquan (Glorious Boxing) manual, it states: “One must keep the top of the head, shoulders and thighs level and the mind serene (level).” It continues to explain that “if the top of the head is level, then the head will be upright. If the shoulders are level, then the body will be straight. If the legs are level, then power will be positive, and if the mind is level, the energy flow will be smooth.”
There are many ways to practice and develop strong stances but generally they fall into two distinctive groups: Those that hold stances stationary, referred to as “seeking movement in stillness” where the student seeks out harmonious and smooth circulation of energy and blood in stillness, while enduring the discomfort in the limbs. The other method is referred to as “seeking stillness in movement,” where the student keeps the breath down and calm while performing movements.
The training methods in Kung Fu and Tai Chi are a refined science. At the beginner level of training it places heavy emphasis not only on fundamentals, but also on the health and well being of your mind and body. After all, if you do not have a sound body and mind, it will be difficult to practice for an extended amount of time. Only a healthy body is capable of reaching the highest levels of training. Hence, one of the goals for practicing Kung Fu or Tai Chi should be to end up with a healthier and stronger body than what you started with. Therefore, fundamental training is the most important and will cover how to perform stances in such a way as to not hurt your knees, how to kick without pulling a muscle, how to shift stances, and to jump and twist without spraining or tearing something. These issues all demand your utmost attention. The longer you train the more you will come to realize that the training isn’t just that of the body, but of the mind as well. This is why Kung Fu/Tai Chi is considered to be based on a scientific mindset—something the Chinese call "The Tao" or "The Way.”