The power of standing - artikel om stående meditation, med gloslista

The Power of Standing

An interview with well-known writer and teacher Lam Kam Chuen on the power of standing meditation, the dangers of qigong and Reiki, and the history of Dachengquan.

Standing meditation (zhanzhuang) is probably one of the oldest qigong-exercises in China. It grew out of the shamanic tradition1 and was handed down to the Daoists, who refined it to an intricate system covering every aspect of the human body energy matrix. It is used in all the internal arts as a way of connecting mind to body, building qi, and safe-wiring your body´s energy system. Early in the 20th century a new martial art focusing on standing meditation was born. The style, first known under the name Yiquan, was founded by Wang Xiangzhai (1885 - 1963), top pupil of Xingyi-master Guo Yunsheng. Wang Xiangzhai lived and breathed martial arts, and put together his findings into a composite style which now is seeing a rising amount of interest. Today you can find a third generation student in Wang Xiangzhais lineage in a small clinic above the hectic traffic of Shaftesbury Avenue in London. Lam Kam Chuen is a doctor of chinese medicine and a healer with forty years experience of qigong, and also the author of two books on the art of "standing like a tree".

Tough stuff in Hong Kong

Lam Kam Chuen grew up in Hong Kong. At the age of ten-eleven he started practicing external arts like Choy Lee Fut, but not out of any family tradition: his neighbourhood was mostly boys - "And every time I went out I got beat up. So, maybe I better learn something!" he laughs, leaning back in the chair. Lam is a stocky southern Chinese with a big, qi-full laugh. His skills are not visible on the outside at all - in fact, the only distinguishing mark on him is a clouded-over left eye, the result of an old accident. He smiles a lot. It wasn´t until he was twenty that he shifted to the internal arts for real; before that he only did Taiji because his instructor insisted on it. Lam was also a member of the Hong Kong police force, and had to use his fighting-skills both in the ring and out in the street. This was the time of fairly nasty tournaments, he comments with a short laugh. People got badly hurt or even killed on stage, but since the face masks fit so badly that they hindered your sight, most competitors simply threw them away. Then his wife-to-be insisted on him quitting the "tough stuff", and he eased down on the tournament fighting, instead turning to the art of standing still. The power of the standing shocked him. He decided to find a really skilled teacher. His path ended with master Yu Yongnian, a long-time disciple of Wang Xiangzhai, who was - and still is - teaching in Beijing.

Dachengquan - the Jeet Kune Do of the internal arts

From what he learned on his travels all over China, Wang Xiangzhai created an eclectic internal martial art. After teaching it in Shanghai for many years, he went to Beijing where his style was nicknamed Dachengquan ("Great Achievement Boxing"). The original name Yiquan ("Mind Boxing") came to be, explains Lam Kam Chuen, because "A lot of Xingyi-people were starting to focus too much on the external movement. That´s why he changed the name to Yiquan so that they remembered that the important thing was the mind, not the movement." Dachengquan is composed of a core of standing practices surrounded by exercises from both Xingyi, Baguazhang, Taijiquan, and other styles. Some teachers prefer to call it a collection of concepts, much like the students of Bruce Lee describe Jeet Kune Do. There is also a version called Taikiken, founded by Kenichi Sawai, a japanese student of Wang Xiangzhais. Taikiken has a much more japanese flavour than the mainland styles. But whichever the version, their trademark might be summed up in the one word: "simplicity". Yiquan and Dachengquan are basically the same thing; practitioners of the latter tend to be more proficient and interested in the fighting-aspects, practitioners of the former more focused on the health-side alone. In the long run a student might do both, eventually ending up with the root instead of two branches, says Lam. He himself teaches both sides, but the fighting is only taught to a very small group of advanced students.

The dangers of qigong

"I think that at the moment there are a lot of problems in qigong," says Lam. "I think that a lot of people make up their own skill - they say it´s real qigong and make their own style after having gone to a couple of workshops. They get some streching-exercises and call it qigong. But the real qigong," he says, voice rising, "is really really less movement; 90% of it is no movement - that is real qigong!" Behind the smiling face I can sense an old ire rising to the surface, as he refers to the "many people" - he doesn´t want to mention any names - who just do a lot of movements and call it qigong. It is better not to do it at all than to practice the wrong thing a little, he states. Can it be dangerous? "Very much so," he nods. "Practice it wrong and you can get a lot worse instead of better." One of the problems is the prepossession with movement here in the West. We are used to aerobics or dance that are totally based on external movement alone. The genuine internal arts and qigong are based almost completely on the use of the mind - both xin and yi - and use very little movement in comparison to the more modern or standardized qigong-systems. "But," I press on, "can you be more specific about the dangers?" "Sure. Some get nervous breakdowns. Some people hurt their qi, some have to go to the bathroom all the time - how can they work? Some get very scared, some can´t sleep, some want to fight all the time. A lot of problems can come," he adds laconically. "For some people it´s physical - joints hurt, or spine. Some get serious problems with breathing, but the more they try to do deep breathing the worse it gets." Other possibilities in some styles are organ malfunctions with no clear source, or steadily worsening mental health, to which the solution is - of course - to keep practicing, since your teacher swears that´ll make you get better... Lam adds that he has had many patients at his clinic who needed "cleaning up" after encounters with incompetent qigong teachers.

Avoiding the risks in qigong and Reiki

The easiest way of getting qigong as safe as it´s supposed to be is to find a really good, qualified teacher. The teacher should know his or her system well enough to spot problems - preferably in advance - and be able to treat it or give different exercises to work around the problem instead of trying to force it. Most traditional teachers say that you need to have at least eight-ten years of training before you start to teach. The current craze of Reiki healing is a subject Lam isn´t fond of at all. It´s very dangerous, he comments, curtly. Few people, including the healers themselves, are aware of the high risks they take. If someone learns healing in just a short time, he explains - a weekend, half a year, three years - the main risks are that the healer knowingly or unknowingly steals qi from the patient, dumps bad qi or their own negative emotions into the patient, drain themselves, or generally make things worse instead of better through locking energy in the wrong flows. Also, many of them get bad qi from the patient without knowing how to clear it out of their system. In the original versions of wai qi zhi liao - external qi healing - in China, it´s a rule to have at least ten years of personal qigong-training before you start healing. Otherwise your body and mind aren´t clear enough, and the healer might be a danger both to the patient and to themselves. Lam gets many people who turn up and say that they do medical qigong, they got this certificate after two months of study - "Look, I learned this in China! I can do it now!" "And then what happens?" he asks rethorically. "Hospitals believe that, medical people believe that, people go practice it - and if something goes wrong, they don´t say that the teacher doesn´t know anything, but that chinese qigong is really bad..." He makes a face. The real reason for Empty Force

In the small room the smell of herbs lies in the air. On one wall hangs a jian, the double-edged sword; on another a couple of fighting-vest. There´s a row of photos above the fireplace, one of them a portrait of Wang Xiangzhai. Outside, the buses and cars on Shaftesbury Avenue honk themselves through the after-lunch rush. In the wake of the loud, sometimes tense discussion about kongjing, "Empty Force", in the UK, I breach the subject to get his views. "Everybody´s talking about kongjing," Lam Kam Chuen says with a deadpan expression on his face that turns stricter as he continues. "My friend he´s a teacher and kongjing master in America; his friend is a kongjing master in China. I do kongjing as well. But kongjing is to help you understand how your energy can get more sensitive," he emphasizes. "It´s not for moving people around - that was never the point!" It´s simply meant to increase your sensitivity to incoming energy: a higher level of tingjing, listening energy. "You can´t stop people trying to beat you or cut you!" Lam laughs. "But if you can feel the force coming, you can deal with it faster. It´s only one part of the training, there´s nothing special about it."

Standing - the key to health and power

All the internal arts have standing practice in them, especially the older systems and the ones focusing on full effect for fighting, meditation, or health. Xingyi has San Ti; traditionally something the student worked on exclusively for one to three years before learning anything else. The old Yang style of Taijiquan was taught through holding postures from the form, sometimes for an hour or more, before you learned the actual movement. Even Baguazhang has standing postures as an adjunct to its circle walking practices. When it comes to health, the basic effects of standing practice calm down the nervous system, let you relax your entire body deeply, balance your blood pressure, calm the mind and, almost most importantly, ground you in your physical body. This is one reason for the old comment in the martial training: "Stand still, get faster". Diligent standing practice will clear the pathways in your central nervous system, eventually almost nullyfying your reaction time since there´s no lag left. Stillness produces movement. There is also a pedagogical bonus involved; standing meditation is an excellent place to work on the internal form, the internal energy work and structure, without having the added hassle of external movement. This will maximize practice time in whichever art you choose to work with. The optimal balance is usually considered to be something like 70% jinggong, still qigong, blended with 30% or so donggong, moving qigong.

Very friendly people

Today Lam teaches both privately and in classes and workshops. His practice is thriving and so is his writing; recently his second book was published. He is one among the most visible practitioners of standing meditation in the West, trying to spread Wang Xiangzhais dictum: One hundred actions are not worth as much as one moment of stillness. At the end of the interview, just as we´re about to head down the winding staircase, he explains that the gulf between Yiquan and Dachengquan is more a matter of finding the bridge. "In modern China everybody says "What are you learning?" "Dachengquan." "Ah, you´re a strict fighter, a warrior!" - so," he continues, "people stopped using the name Dachengquan. The ones who did made a lot of enemies, since their master beat people from many styles. Now they change the name back to Yiquan, and don´t get so many enemies - Dachengquan?" Lam mimicks a sour face. "Oh, I don´t want to learn. Yiquan - what´s that?... They´re still the same thing. But this is why people don´t use the name Dachengquan. We don´t fight," Lam says, smiling. "We´re very friendly people."

Daniel Skyle © 2000 Daniel Skyle is a freelance writer and internal arts teacher based in Sweden.


Standing meditation - a qigong exercise where you stand still, with stillness both externally and internally. Specific postures are used to work with different energy flows in body and mind; some styles have the complete Daoist version of 200 plus postures, others use fewer, either because of specialized interest or lack of knowledge.

Wang Xiangzhai (1885 - 1963) - founder of the martial art called Yiquan (also later known under the name Dachengquan), which mostly combines practices from internal systems such as Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyi. It focuses heavily on standing meditation.

Yiquan - Lit. "Mind Boxing". Also "Intention Boxing". The character yi is usually translated as either, but the most correct translation would be "Mind Boxing", since the mind harbours the intention.

Taikiken - a japanese version of Yiquan, created by Wang Xiangzhais student Kenichi Sawai.

Reiki - a japanese version of the original external qi healing methods (wai qi zhi liao) found in China and Tibet. It is widespread and badly misused in the West, mainly due to extremly short training periods required before the student is allowed to start working as a healer (one weekend workshop is the rule rather than the exception), and an often complete ignorance concerning the risks taken by both healer and patient.

Kongjing - "Empty Force". The claimed ability to be able to move attackers by energy alone, without touching the assailant. Originally used as a high level of tingjing, listening energy. Kongjing is also the foundation for external qi healing.

Tingjing - "Listening Energy". The skill of feeling ("listening") to your opponents qi during partner-exercises, healing, or fighting. The qi moves before the physical body does. This is one of the reasons that internal martial artists seem very fast when they actually might not be; they just started moving before your physical body did.

Xingyi - the most overtly martially oriented of the internal arts, Xingyi focuses on fighting as its primary goal. San Ti is the Xingyi-version of standing meditation. Xingyi is considered to be extreme yang due to its specialization on hard energy and a mindset of conquering the opponent.

Taijiquan - popularly known as Tai Chi. A blend of buddhist fighting-techniques, daoist philsophy and daoist energy work. Originally an extremly powerful fighting art, it is these days mostly practiced for health. Few teachers have the full knowledge of the martial side; even fewer of the ways to transform Taijiquan into a purely spiritual practice. Taijiquan specializes in luring the opponent through the use of soft energy, and is considered to be extreme yin.

Old Yang-style - the old ways of practice used before Yang Chengfu. They include large amounts of standing meditation and internal energy work, with copious amounts of single movement practice. Lineages from the Old Yang style are extremly rare. Most Yang-style versions of Taiji come from Yang Chengfu, who´s teachings are called the New Yang style.

Baguazhang - the only completely Daoist internal art. Baguazhangs main practice is the circle-walking, which uses static upper body postures together with complex footwork. Post-birth Bagua starts teaching fighting forms early on in the training; the older Pre-birth method focuses more on internal energy work, later transforming it into fighting-practices. Bagua is neither yin nor yang, utilizing both extremes at will and blending them into one force.

Internal form - the internal energy and mind work that fills the external movements of the internal arts and qigong. The internal form is much more complex and detailed than the external form.

Donggong - all moving qigong practices.

Jinggong - all still qigong: standing, sitting, or lying. But just still qigong is not the remedy; the moving practices can open your physical body and tissue in ways that the still cannot, whereas the still practices can increase your energy and stillness of mind in ways that moving qigong is unable to. A balance of the two will create the highest effect.