Stillness, movement and awareness in martial arts

16 Jul

In Yoga, it has been said that the two most difficult Asana (positions) to master are the corpse (lying on the floor) and the mountain (standing). In some so called “internal martial arts” (those who know me know I hate that term!) the idea of mastering “stillness” has become a cliche bordering on fetish. However, as someone who has done training akin to “internal” and also who has trained in Yoga, there is something to be said about “stillness,” but only when understood in integration with movement.

"Savasana" or the corpse posture

“Savasana” or the corpse posture

In this asana, the object is to imitate a corpse. Once life has departed, the body remains still and no movements are possible. By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But – it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.
– The Illustrated Light on Yoga, B. K. S. Iyengar

The corpse position, to lie on the floor, appears so simple. It is an excellent example of how hard “stillness” is, how true stillness is probably impossible and probably not even what we really want. If you have done “Savasana” (usually at the end of a Yoga class) then you probably realized that you didn’t really stay perfectly still. Your body “settles,” readjusting which is probably an ideal thing for it to do (I will harass one of my friends, a skilled physical therapist, for his thoughts on this!). As long as you stay “in the moment” and focus on that settling, you should feel your entire body. You should learn awareness of the entire body


Assuming a standing posture always reminds me personally of the opening of a Taiji set, that slow bending of the knees and finding a comfortable distance for the feet, and that sinking into a comfortable posture. They say most of our common discomforts can be traced to poor posture; the spine not properly aligned or tightness or stiffness in the back, resulting in an imbalance in the body (at this point just screaming for comments from my friend!).


Yoga’s “mountain” reminds me of “internal” martial arts’ standing meditations, its “post clasping”. Again, perfect stillness is probably both impossible nor desirable. Standing introduces another level of difficulty, and so a chance at a higher degree of awareness. At this point, in my method, it is an excellent opportunity to begin actual movement.

side stance

The side stance, the “Waan Gung Sik”, has practical application as self defense. In Lama Pai, it also serves to teach the “eight character true essence,” which is to stretch out the limbs to strike while keeping the body out of reach of counter attack. In addition, the turning of the body (the “wheel body”) is an increasingly difficult challenge to maintain awareness. At the same time it is an opportunity to learn the “three external harmonies” (三外合法).

The three external harmonies (三外合法)
1. Your hips coordinate with your shoulders.
2. Your knees coordinate with your elbows.
3. Your feet coordinate with your hands.

Of course, martial arts can not be about just standing in one place. Movement must evolve. And as it evolves, we have increasing challenges to maintain complete body awareness. From the stationary (a sort of “stillness”) we evolve into “eight directional stepping” (Baat Gwa Bouh); forward and backward stepping, the “female triangle”, the “male triangle”, etc.

In Lama Pai, the next step is movement away from the point of origin. In Lama Pai, this is with the so called “unmatched lead stepping” (七星);

Some of this is discussed in my current book Lion’s Roar San Da. I will have an in depth examination of this in the next book….


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