Static Postures are a common practice in internal Chinese martial arts, and are especially prominent in Tai Chi, Ba Gua, and Hsing-I. They are trained by holding the body in a certain shape over an extended period of time, and make up a subset of Chi Kung, which literally translates into “energy work.” Static Postures are the key to understanding structural stability, initially through stillness, and eventually through motion.
Though simple in concept, static postures can be difficult to maintain, and as a consequence they are often neglected or undertrained. Postures that appear quite simple and natural, such as holding the arms above the head or supporting the body with one leg, may result in rapid fatigue even for people used to lifting heavy weights. It is not uncommon to see those unaccustomed to such practice quiver and shake as the postural muscles tire.
While it may appear to an outside observer that the martial artist is "just standing there," this is not the case. There are a series of requirements the the martial artist must consistently and mindfully fulfill to ensure the training is meaningful. Certain details may vary slightly from art to art, teacher to teacher, but many particulars are common across the board.
Regardless of the shape, the martial artist should be aware of the physical center, where the balance of the body naturally settles. Known as hara in Japanese and tantien in Chinese, this is an infinitely small point that is located approximately one to two inches below the navel. The next idea is to relax into that point, which allows the knees to bend, the hips and body to sink, and the shoulders and elbows to drop. The chin should tuck and head should be held as if it is suspended by a string, which means the neck is lifted and the spine is stretched. Once these essentials are attained, the goal is to maintain them while disallowing any unnecessary movement. At this point, the martial artist should focus on the breath, which should expand and contract the lower abdomen due to the rise and fall of the diaphragm.
The purpose of holding Static Postures is to train the body to be structurally sound so that stability can be preserved in movement. When in motion, the requirements of the static postures continue to apply, and the ideal is that at any point in time, whether performing technique or walking across a room, the martial artist should be able to stop and hold in perfect balance. In this way, movement can be understood as a continuous string of Static Postures infinitely linked together.