The Paradoxical Horse
One of the first positions we train in our Martial Arts journey is the Training Horse. In the beginning it is fairly uncomfortable for several reasons: First, it can make one feel extremely vulnerable as you are squared to the front with your legs spread. Hands raised at your waist often in fists. So understandably a person could feel somewhat exposed even though one would be fully dressed. For this reason the “Horse” is not necessarily a common position one would choose to remain in.
Historically, it gets the name Training Horse as it resembles what someone might look like if they were sitting on a horse bareback and it is a position we train many upper body Self Defense coordination exercises. An important aspect of the position is it allows us the opportunity to set a balanced foundation while focusing on our upper body actions.
In addition to the sense of vulnerability other initial aspects of the position can be recognized as uncomfortable. Not only should your feet be about shoulder width apart and turned in slightly or “pigeon-toed”, it is important that you lower your center of gravity by bending your knees slightly outward towards your small toes. This pulls your weight away from the main ball of the foot -A natural result that occurs when bending your knees outward. This new feeling of weight distribution can also lead to a recognition of discomfort.
Another result of bending your knees out, it pulls on the arch of the foot and stretches the medial longitudinal arch. Something many of us ignore. Since we fail to work this part of the foot regularly. Again, it is new sensation and way of working our feet that initially is uncomfortable.
Lastly, the slight bend in the legs works leg muscles also in a manner that is many of us overlook and remaining in this position even for short periods of time can, in the beginning, quickly fatigue the leg muscles.
So why is this stance/position so important? With what was previously stated about being an uncomfortable position to exercise, then add to it that the overall practical self-defense application of the Training Horse is somewhat limited- why in the world is it a foundation to many Martial Arts?
Paradoxically, that is the reason! Let’s face it there is this strange paradox about exercise in general. In almost all aspects of strengthening and athletics in general we have to start with minimal challenges. Then as we grow, strengthen and improve we increase the challenge. We are not going to decide to take up an activity like tennis, golf, bowling, etc. and as our first act enter a competitive event.. It would be a rare individual who would decide to take up running and on day one run a 26.2 mile marathon.
In the beginning of any program or activity for many, it is the challenge that brings them back. Paradoxically we can be motivated both by success and failure. If we don’t reach our goal we may stubbornly dig in knowing we can finish what we started and if we succeed it may motivate us to embrace a bigger challenge, pushing us on.
Thus the Training Horse represents such an experience. At first, the realization that our legs fatigue so quickly may inspire us to work at holding the position for increasingly extended periods. Then as our legs become stronger and we become more comfortable with the position, we become motivated to sink a little further, hold a little longer and eventually challenge others to attempt to move us from our position. Having someone apply some resistance further challenges and strengthens us.
The value of the Training Horse in self-defense is that it helps the practitioner understand establishing a stable position. It allows an experience of syncing the core muscles and their use with the relationship of the leg muscles when exerting actions that require a secured balance point. This can be realized by having a training partner challenge you to maintain your position as they work to move you out of position by pushing and pulling on different areas of the body. As you get stronger and understand the process obviously you would want to work on increasing the intensity of the actions that the training partner is applying;
The other paradoxical aspect of the Training Horse in self-defense is that although it has limited opportunities of usage it is still the base of training. This is due to the fact that with a slight adjustment it allows us to apply more practical and effective positions for self-defense. The positions offer more defensive angles and support our actions with proper body alignment than the Training Horse normally offers. From your Training Horse with just a shift of the foot, hips, shoulders, etc. You are now more effective and vulnerable areas are protected or fortified.
The Training Horse now offers a reference point that allows for further understanding of other positions. Once the Martial Artists experiences the Training Horse and understands it’s “feel” understanding and properly executing other positions become easier and more effective.
It is an interesting realization that although something has little use in application and initially is uncomfortable, becomes such a foundation to the overall successes in so many other areas that can be achieved.