"The sages of ancient times used to stand on earth, supporting heaven, controlling yin and yang, breathing with essence of qi, standing alone, guarding spirit, with body being a one ".
This quote from "Yellow Emperor's Inner Classics" (from about 3rd century B.C.) is by many researchers seen as the earliest mention about zhan zhuang. However this method of cultivating health became really popular only in 20th century.
Some exercises known as zhan zhuang used to be utilized by most of traditional Chinese martial arts. But in many cases their function was just strengthening legs to achieve stronger, more stable postures in combat. In these cases there is almost no relation between such zhan zhuang and the method described in this book.
Zhan zhuang exercises described here, which are being used in Chinese hospitals and sanatoria as supplemental method of therapy, and are also practiced by many people with aim of improving health and developing well being, were developed by famous master Wang Xiangzhai (1885-1963).
As a young child Wang Xiangzhai became student of Guo Yunshen, who was one of most famous masters in history of xingyiquan (hsing-I ch 'uan) - one of Chinese internal martial arts. As in many xingyiquan schools zhan zhuang exercises are limited only to santishi posture, it is not quite clear whether Wang learned more of zhan zhuang postures as part of "secret transmission " or if he developed them later by himself on basis of santishi.
Wang Xiangzhai traveled a lot all over China, meeting many experts of traditional martial arts and exercises for cultivating health. This way he gained a lot of experience. In middle 1920s he started developing his own variant of xingyiquan, which he called yiquan. Zhan zhuang exercises became the most characteristic and stressed part of training. On turn of 1920s and 1930s Wang Xiangzhai became very famous in Shanghai.
It was period of strong influence of western culture and science in China, and hence some criticism toward Chinese tradition. Wang had met many famous representatives of various schools in all parts of China. He was able to notice that not everything in tradition was really valuable, that following old ways without any criticism may cause a lot of bad results. Impact of western science was important factor which inspired him to try to view traditional concepts and methods from different perspective. His goal was keeping what was valuable in traditional systems, and getting rid of what was wrong. This opened a way for further verification of methods and modifying theories.
By end of 1930s Wang Xiangzhai moved to Beijing, which since then became the main center of yiquan. In 1940s his system was also promoted by his students as dachengquan. This name is still used by some branches of the system.
When yiquan became a famous martial art, many practitioners could personally discover, that practicing zhan zhuang helps to improve health. In 1940s more and more people started practicing yiquan (dachengquan) mainly to cultivate health. And in 1950s situation was not favorable for popularizing an efficient art of combat. So Wang concentrated more on using zhan zhuang as a method of therapy, working in hospitals in Beijing and later in Baoding. Such variant of yiquan, limited to most basic methods became quite popular. And complete system was practiced by very few people. Only since 1980s yiquan (dachengquan) taught as a complete art could be popularized officially again.
The system of cultivating health exercises developed by Wang Xiangzhai is usually called zhan zhuang, because standing postures are most often used. However also sitting postures, lying on bed postures, half supported postures and moving exercises are used. Those whose health and level of fitness doesn't limit the possibility of practicing more advanced methods, use to practice yiquan as a complete art.
Chinese characters International transcription Old English transcription
Zhan zhuang Chan chuang
Yiquan I ch'uan
Wang Xiangzhai Wang Hsiang-chai
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