Do You Make This Zhan Zhuang Mistake?

Standing Like a Tree
Yao Chengguang performs zhan zhaung

Even an exercise as simple as zhan zhuang has its subtle points, the ignorance of which may hinder your progress in wushu. Wang Xiangzhai, the founder of Yiquan and a master of zhanzhuang, said:

We must, first and foremost, avoid the use of clumsy force, in body and in mind. Using this force makes the qi stagnant. When the qi is stagnant, than the yi stops; when the yi stops, than the spirit is broken.

To be sure, this is good advice, but even the greenest student is familiar with this principle of no-force. So, instead of dwelling on that, I would like to examine a more specific problem.

Zhan zhuang practice typically begins with wuji zhuang, a balanced posture with arms down at the sides of the body. A transition into cheng bao zhuang (‘Embracing the Ball’ Stance) consists of raising the arms up and forward. This action shifts your center of gravity forwards, and unless you compensate for this shift with another part of your body, you will immediately topple over.

The easiest way to compensate for this forward shift is to move another part of your body backwards: butt, back, or head. This type of adjustment may seem correct, because you can thereby maintain your balance without much effort. But it is wrong; it defies the basic requirement of a straight back and impairs circulation. Moreover, these adjustments make it difficult to receive and issue force.

'Taming the Tiger' stance
(‘Taming the Tiger’ Stance)

Instead, accept that when you adopt different postures with the arms, you must engage different muscles in the legs and back to remain upright. At first, this will feel uncomfortable, as it increases the load on your entire body; nevertheless, it is correct. This discomfort does not necessarily mean you have violated the principle of no-force; rather, it simply shows that your body is not yet strong enough.

One of the signature benefits of zhan zhuang practice is development of hunyuan li, or unified martial force. To gain this benefit to the fullest degree, be sure to practice with your whole body.


  1. Thanks for this simple but very interesting article. I’ve kept a copy and I hope that’s OK. I can’t see the name of the person who wrote it.
    Drummond Blakely.

  2. I can’t speak for zhan zhuang as practiced in other systems but in yiquan one does want to expand the opposite side of the body away from the arms. It is in accordance with the zheng li (zhong lik) theory which is predominant throughout the yiquan system.



  3. Just beginning to learn Zhan Zhuang on my own (can’t find a teacher near where I live north of Detroit).
    Thanks for this good information. My question:
    Will Qi build in the body just by doing the Zhan Zhuang or must one meditate on the dantien and imagine the Qi growing?

  4. Regarding TK’s question: “Will Qi build in the body just by doing the Zhan Zhuang or must one meditate on the dantien and imagine the Qi growing?”

    Answer: You should not focus on the dantien or imagine anything, because this could be counterproductive, even dangerous if you get “obsessed” with feelings you may get during the training. Just let go.

    What I learned is that you can at the beginning of the training imagine to grow roots deep into the earth and branches high up into the sky. But do this only for 20 seconds in the beginning of the exercise and then let go, just relax.

    Actually what happens during zhan zhuang is that your muscles shakes and produce additional qi. This happens as if your entire body is one big muscle. And this is the trick, to learn to coordinate all 650 skeletal muscles and relax at the same time. There is no better “mindful meditation” than this one. Also zhan zhuang clears blockages inside every meridian, beginning from the smallest towards the bigger ones. With time the meridians are able to conduct more qi and the flow becomes stronger and stronger. Let’s say that a person who practice zhan zhuang for at least one year has a qi flow a lot stronger than that of a untrained person. Indeed the stronger flow would hurt a untrained person. Blockages needs first to be removed before the body (and unconsciousness mind) decides to unleash more qi.

    After a certain period of time the flow of qi in the meridians becomes so abundant, that they flow also abundantly into the lower dantien. This battery then gets recharged. At the same time qi flows through the conception and governing vessel unhindered. The precondition for the dantien to get filled up is indeed a cleared conception and governing vessel. Expect that this will happen after the 1000 hours of training (cumulative). But even before, when you have reached only the 100 hours, you will notice something, that qi flows … really flows and you get an understanding what qi flow really means. After 1000 hours you understand what it means to have a full battery again … because during your childhood you got a full battery, therefore children can jump and play without getting tired.

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