If you look carefully at the point where the pillars of a bridge bear the structure’s enormous weight, you will often find a small cylinder. This astonishing feature is known as a “bridge bearing.” The purpose of the bearing is to take the weight while giving the entire structure maximum flexibility.
Bridge bearings transfer loads and movements from the deck of the bridge down to the substructure and foundations. They make it possible for the structure to withstand the vibrations of traffic and the expansion and contraction caused by temperature variations. It is also thanks to these bearings that bridges are able to withstand severe winds, tremors and earthquakes.
The bearings are designed to redirect the forces that move over, through and around the structure. Engineers study the “downward forces” that pass through the center of the bearing, the “transverse forces” that move horizontally through the bridge or alongside it, the “uplift forces” that enter the structure from the earth and “rotational forces” that can twist in any direction.
Our feet have a natural bridge-like structure, arching between the ball and heel. They, too, have the capacity to absorb and redirect forces moving in all directions. Training to use the “red triangle” (pages 84–85) takes advantage of this natural structure and greatly increases your ability to react to and redirect forces all around you.
To begin this stage of your training, stand in Wu Chi for five minutes with your weight spread evenly over your feet. Then, shift your weight slightly forwards. Let your heels come up just enough to slide a sheet of paper under them. Focus your weight: it should rest on the red triangle shown on page 84. Include this new development in your daily training, so that you are able to remain balanced and stable without any weight on your heels. Progress to the point where you can maintain all the Zhan Zhuang postures, including those on one leg, using only the “red triangles” of your feet.
As you stand in this advanced position, you will naturally engage your large calf muscles. The next stage of this practice is to focus your attention on those muscles, particularly the large gastrocnemius muscle in the bulge of your calf. Try to identify it so you are able to contract it for several seconds without engaging the muscle of your ankle, thigh or buttock and while keeping your body completely relaxed.
Once you have trained your nerves to contract and relax the muscles in both calves, include this in your daily training. Contract and relax the muscles in your left calf up to 30 times, then do the same for your right calf. Then try contracting and relaxing both calves together. Avoid tensing any other muscles: focus your training on the nerves that control the muscles of your calves.
This training develops your internal sensitivity, exercises your nerves and sharpens the ability of your central nervous system to control subtle movements within your body. There is a similar practice for your hands. When you stand in the Zhan Zhuang posture, Holding the Ball (page 13), tighten your left hand into a fist. Squeeze it tightly for about five seconds. Then release the fist and open your hand fully. Stretch your fingers as wide apart as possible. Hold for about five seconds. Then repeat up to 30 times. Do the same with your other hand. When you practice closing and opening each hand, pay particular attention to your upper arms, shoulders and chest: these should remain completely relaxed. If you notice muscles in your upper body tensing, direct your attention to them and relax them.
These two mind-training exercises can become part of your daily practice. Gradually increase the length of time you spend standing with your weight on the “red triangles” of your feet. The the untrained observer, your feet appear flat on the ground, but, as in this photograph of the young Professor Yu, you develop the pump that will transform your practice.
A deep connection with the heart is essential for your health and your martial arts power. You develop this connection through your Zhan Zhuang training and the advanced work on the “red triangle” of your foot (pages 84–89). To go further, you need to use the power of your imagination to draw more deeply on the energy of the earth. Clearly visualize the basic triangle from the tip of your head to the base of your feet. Imagine that your feet go straight down into the earth. As your practice deepens, you will feel a second, inverted triangle extending downwards and holding you to the earth.
You can use this deep strength in the martial arts to take the incoming force of an attack into your body and direct it down through your rear leg. If you are learning for the first time, hold a Zhan Zhuang posture to one side and ask a friend to lean on your arms. Keep them in place without tension, directing the pressure down through your back foot.
Through your Zhan Zhuang training, the energetic structure of your body becomes increasingly stronger. Keeping this clearly in mind is vital to the power of Da Cheng Chuan. It is the secret of relaxed strength of advanced practitioners, such as the two masters in this photograph: facing Master Lam is Master Guo Gui Zhi, three times national martial arts champion of China.
When the arms are held in the fundamental Zhan Zhuang position, Holding the Ball (page 13), three principal triangles are involved. Two are formed by the shoulder, elbow and wrist of each arm. The third runs from shoulder to shoulder and connects to the first thoracic vertebra of the spine. These three triangles, combining structural and energetic geometry, remain intact under all pressures, but move flexibly without tension.
The Way of Power: Reaching Full Strength in Body and Mind
by Lam Kam Chuen
p. 86 – 91