How to Learn Zhan Zhuang From a Book

A recent entry in the suggestion box reads,

“What is the best book or DVD for learning zhan zhuang?”

My zhan zhuang background

My formal introduction to zhan zhuang (standing meditation) was provided by “Michael”, a master of Taoist self-cultivation methods. With his expert guidance, and my previous years of training in the martial arts of karate, aikido, wing chun, xingyi and BJJ, I was confident in the direction of my practice.

Within Michael’s xiu dao system, zhan zhuang prepares the body and mind for the demands of seated meditation and neigong practice. At the first level of training, students are to hold the standing postures from one to three hours daily. I followed his instructions, to the extent that my schedule and willpower allowed—all in addition to my ongoing martial arts study.

During the occasional period of intensive training, I practiced upwards of 40 hours per week, with standing meditation as a major component. And in my free time, I read much of the English-language material written on the subject.

Having met Michael and other genuine masters of their arts, I held no illusions regarding my own level of mastery. I did, however, believe that I knew how to train properly.

Ten seconds, six inches

Some years later, a wing chun friend introduced me to “Stan”, a third-generation master of Wang Xiangzhai’s Yiquan. I asked Stan for a critique of my posture—the posture I had refined over hundreds, if not thousands of hours of dedicated effort.

He observed for three seconds or so, before giving his reply. “Your zhan zhuang is upright, but incorrect. It is ‘wing chun’ straight, not ‘yiquan’ straight.” With a few minor physical adjustments, Stan fundamentally altered my experience and my understanding of zhan zhuang. Thanks to his input, my standard is higher, and both the health and martial benefits of my practice are greater.

Before I met Stan, my standing meditation already exhibited all the salutary qualities you would read about in a book, or hear in a DVD lecture. It was “relaxed”, “aligned”, “expansive”, et cetera.  At the most basic level, such gross physical and energetic descriptions are helpful, but at a higher level they are worthless; the description is not a prescription. The issue is not whether, but how precisely to relax—and it will not be settled by words, by references to a shared experience that you do not already possess.

How do you learn zhan zhuang from a book? In my experience: you don’t…at least not well. If such books inspire you to take the next step, and locate a good teacher, then they have served their purpose.


  1. I think you can get started from a book or DVD, but you really need to get some hands on correction from someone who knows what they’re doing.

    You can’t correct errors in your posture by yourself if you don’t know any better. Once someone else corrects your posture, and you get a chance to see how it feels, then you have some frame of reference.

  2. i agree with rick if u make errors no one is there to correct you on your mistakes sure books and DVD’s are great i myself have a large collection on articles and such on martial arts but nothing beats having a real person who knows what there doing to show you what to do

  3. Agreed with other commenters that while you cannot learn from a book it’s a good way to get started if the instruction is not available. In this regard, I would highly recommend Kam Lam Chuen’s Way of Energy book as a good primer to get started. Like others have noted, it’s best to find a teacher and receive instruction/correction, but until them, keep standing 😉

  4. What about the wii? I think we could invent a t-shirt and sweatpants with built in movement sensors. Then at least we could get a zhan zhuang correction over the internet!
    I love standing.

  5. Hey Scott, I think we have a nomination for The Most Boring Video Game of 2009! Kids will beg to go play outside instead! 😉

  6. i begun training in zhan zhuang a few months ago and i truly believe in it as a martial art and a health system.
    i live in Ireland and it is very rare that somebody specialises in it so i will continue to practice from master Lam Kam Cheun s book and it is great to see that there are like minded people who know where they stand.

  7. I followed the exercised in Master Lam’s book. I definately experienced some benefit, however, taking a few private lessons with Master Lam in London was extremely helpful. He corrected my posture and other mistakes I was making.

  8. Yes i would like to visit London sometime next year, could you give me advice about training , i like to practice qigong and tai chi and i work in painting , is it better to keep zhan zhuang training separate and what time of day is best to train

  9. Master J.P.Dong has an excellent book called “Still as a Mountain, Powerful as Thunder”. It is out of print, but you can find a used copy on on the Internet.

    Magical things can happen if you apply the simple instructions with regularity.

    Once a guy hit me unexpectedly when I was sitting down. I got up very fast, energy moved from my feet through my chin into his fist, and he flew back about ten feet and fell down. My hands never touched him. Nothing I consciously willed to do, it just happened. Like magic.

    The problem is this: when you are doing this practice, your mind will mess with you in untold ways. It is really difficult to keep up, as your mind will conceive of every possible reason not to do it. Persevere, and the prize is yours.

    Also, don’t over-train.

    Over-training in this powerful art can literally blow out some nerves. I know from experience. Proceed slowly, carefully building your internal energy over time.

  10. At one level I believe it could take more than a life time to understand two words “Simply Stand” as people tend to complicate… Although I want to also say there are many reasons to practice stance. So the first question one might want to explore is purpose “What is one’s purpose” in choosing to practice. Many a parent has told their child to stand in a corner and take a “time out” and then their are some people practice standing as a meditation… And even others as a martial art. So understanding your and “the” purpose for a training is important. Also there is a saying in Wujifa that may be helpful to remember ICW this topic and that is “You are where you are and that’s where one starts” being really honest about where you are and what you’re doing. Also as most of the people said above find a good instructor is key as well if stance as a serious gongfu is one’s aim.

  11. I’ve got a bit of a problem with my Zhan Zhuang that no book so far had the answer for — I’d be extremely grateful if someone could suggest something. The thing is, I can hold the position comfortably for quite some time, checking my alignments and sinking my qi, lower my centre of gravity and all that … but … approximately 10 minutes into the stance I start to have some pain in my feet, especially in the right one, and the pain defies the whole purpose of the drill because I subconsciously start to lift my weight off my feet. It is very frustrating because I’m capable of standing MUCH longer…

    When you guys stand in Zhan Zhuang, do you let your weight sink down to the ground? When I do, my feet naturally press against the floor more amd that’s what causes my problem. That’s the evil cycle. How do I get out?!

    I haven’t got any previous injuries, broken bones or something. Every book says “be prepared to some discomfort in your shoulders” (which I don’t have at all) but none of the books I’ve read suggested a thing about the foot pain. “Burning in the soles” is the closest I’ve come, but it is different, if it was only burning I’d let it burn till cows come home. My case is different.

    Any suggestions? Please…

  12. Aodaliya_Ren, have you seen a foot doctor? There are some things that must be seen by a doctor, even when it comes to the feet. The onset of diabetes is one possibility, there are many. Other than that, have you tried to ‘cup’ your feet prior to practice? It’s not unacceptable to move your foot a bit to get some circulation flowing, and then go back into your stance. My advice, when experiencing any pain, is to stop: it’s a sign of over practice or some medical issue. Good luck with it.

  13. Thanks a lot for the answer, Mick Malkemus. You are right, it is over practice, must be too much push-hands… Good excuse to get lazy 🙂

  14. Aodaliya_Ren, glad that helped. Bones take literally months to increase in density/structure. Take it slow. We are dealing with the primal forces of the universe with this practice, and they must be respected.

  15. Is there any chance of the author detailing the differences between “Wing Chun Straight” and “YiQuan Straight” ? I’m sure many others, along with myself, will find this information useful.

  16. Hi Nick, just compare the online photos of Yip Man with the photos of Wang Xiangzhai, and you’ll see what I mean. Depending on lineage, the Wing Chun spine has a slight, or significant backwards lean. (Yes, some people lean forwards too, but they’re not really doing Wing Chun IMO.)

  17. I really happy to know that this art is the best one and i like to learn your art.

  18. Hello, I’d like to agree and glad I found this blog, The Way of Energy got me into practicing and then videos and I finally travelled through London and went to see Master Lam Kam Chuen, exactly as people have described, in that it’s always good to get a Master to check on the posture so he can see you. haha, and he is funny and still funny,. well worth the money as “One lesson is a Parent for a lifetime”
    It really is So Simple that it’s easy to get distracted and the mind wander etc. But I held onto the Balloon (2nd position) for over a year. lol just to make sure and take it SLOW ha. After about a year I found the Chi was there in my hands and I could make a Chi ball. Wow, did I have Insomnia that night.
    This really is amazing to see peoples comments about this almost looked over part of martial arts and probably The Only way it comes is if you are open to it. I nearly had a nervous breakdown and this practice certainly helped me regain BALANCE at an enormously quick rate. I’m still only up to about 30 mins through a full cycle of the 5 basic postures in Master Lam’s book but I feel great when I’m outside and it’s true, I actually want to go and do this thing even more in Nature or suitable environments cuz you feel that good. The Universe Comes 2 U, and U go 2 it. Ha, chuck in a bit of Cloud Hands and I’m laughing all the day through.
    Best of regards to all the other practitioners out there.
    #I’mStillStanding@MontBorun 😉

  19. Aodaliya_Ren,

    I see that someone has answered you that you see a foot doctor, etc., which is well and good. I have some suggestions, and some of them relevant to the original question as well.

    I learned standing from John Li, and had the benefit of being corrected 4 times a week for a year on it, and so somewhat agree about not getting it out of a book, except that there are some internal things that maybe would make it easier.

    The first concept is roundness, which was a major criterion for everything that John Li taught, and for that I do not do the zhan zhuang posture as I’ve seen it around YouTube and elsewhere, but we learned about 7 postures anyway, so perhaps that is just another one, but it isn’t round in the arms (from the point of view of Hwa Yu as John Li taught it) because the elbows need to be sunk, which brings the hands to a 10-20 degree upward angle, and what I’ve seen doesn’t maintain round in the hands either, which should hold a ball and have the thumb and forefinger in a C shape (dragon mouth). Just getting these differences out of the way because of what I’m going to say next, relevant to your foot troubles.

    We learned that standing has 7 circles (plus an internal circle that caused it to sometimes be called wind circle standing): These plus being suspended from above correct the posture:
    1) A circle of the feet, caused by slightly gripping the ground and slightly over-emphasizing the arches (which might help you Aodaliya_Ren).
    2) A circle formed going up the inside of one leg across to the other and down, which is easier to create by rocking slightly from side to side as you start, concentrating on opening the hips.
    3) A circle formed behind the legs cause by bending the knees naturally.
    4) A circle formed by the torso by shrinking the chest and rocking the hips forward, which can be checked by checking being suspended from above.
    5) A circle formed by the arms being out and slightly hugging.
    6) A circle also formed by the arms in the vertical direction above the arms, formed by keeping the hands raised somewhat higher than the shoulders and the elbows down (arms round, this is called).
    7) A circle formed by the hands from the above mentioned hand position as if holding a ball.
    Standing as if suspended from above – visualize your torso hanging from the spot on the top of your head. You can even aid the visualization by letting it swing slightly back and forth from above, straightening everywhere it isn’t as if it were hanging, and letting the hips round in underneath to the front. This if done correctly will make the torso circle form naturally and will make the spine very straight all the way to the coccyx.

    Hope this helps, the circles in the legs and feet take some pressure off the feet.

    As for learning standing from a book, there won’t be any of the daily corrections, some of them sometimes only a fraction of an inch, by someone with great skill, but it could be done as long as you maybe learn from a lot of books, cross checking them, and scouring the internet for pictures and video as well. John Li made people do the above for 1/2 hour before learning the 2nd half of the form, and wanted people to do it for an hour a day, which most of us did, I think.

  20. I understand your point to find a good teacher to escalate knowledge. However where I live there is no one which such standing. How about to find someone who can teach from distance method?

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