Na Ma (or “pressing horse”) training is the key to Lung Ying’s legendary power and stability. Practiced correctly in coordination with the hands is the one thing that students must master before learning anything else.
With a strong connection to the ground, martial artists can extract maximum force from their techniques. In Lung Ying, this is achieved whilst not sacrificing mobility. In some styles, mobility is achieved at the expense of a strong base, limiting power to hand speed combined with a floating, hopping body mass. Na Ma training delivers far more than just the feeling of your body weight on the ground, it delivers the feeling of grip and stored energy for rapid forward motion.
Grandmaster Lam Yiu Gwai famously spent four years developing his leg strength and stance stability. This gave him two benefits that no-one could match. First, lightning-fast entry speed that meant he was on top of his opponents before they could raise a guard. Second, his hands could remain relaxed whilst his base delivered the power. This enabled hand speed and sensitivity that was described as “fluid, like water” by his student Wu Hua Tai. Opponents could not get any leverage on his arms, whereas he could redirect their energy with ease.
Sophisticated martial arts like Lung Ying (and also Wing Chun) require patience and progressive learning, in the correct sequence, to obtain true mastery. Once Na Ma training is well established, students can then learn the basic Sup Luk Dun form. This teaches them how to release the power in multiple directions. Once comfortable with the form, students can practice Chuk Sarm Dim with a partner. This teaches them how to create (and close) gaps on opponents, break guards with the Kup Sau and transmit lifting power against resistance from a partner.
Such was the importance of this training, that if anyone approached Lum’s school claiming to be good at Lung Ying, the Grandmaster would simply say: “Show me your Na Ma”. They would protest, offering to demonstrate an advanced form such as Lung Ying Mor Kil, but he would insist. He knew that without the correct basics, time spent on advanced techniques is wasted. In Lung Ying, the basic Na Ma stepping appears in every single form as a constant feature. This speaks volumes for its importance.
Watch the video of Wu Hua Tai demonstrating:
How to train Na Ma stepping
You must progressively develop the four stepping variations, starting with the most basic. Master each in turn, before adding the next. The intent is to gradually develop your ability to coordinate the movements, so that maximum strength from the base can be transmitted to the hands. It also introduces power delivery in different directions (not just forward).
1. Basic stepping (Legs only)
Train the legs on their own first as there is some careful coordination involved. If you cannot coordinate and the basic footwork, adding the hand movements too soon will make your kung fu worse.
The basic position is designed for maximum grip and stability. Key attributes:
- 70% weight to the front
- Front foot turned in slightly
- Hips tucked in
- Muscles from the hip down are kept tight and strong
- Upper body muscles are kept loose and pliable
- Back straight and hands on hips.
Coordinating the movement
Once in the forward position with hands on hips, the flow to change to the next foot is as follows:
- Front foot lifts and back leg springs hip forward
- Feet come together, legs remain bent
- Back foot steps into forward position at slight angle
- Hip drives the motion from back leg
- At conclusion, hip twists and tucks simultaneously
2. Stepping with uppercuts (Pau Choi)
Combine the basic stepping with uppercuts from both hands.
- Hand movement: Loosely-held fists, striking forwards and up
- Stepping: Basic
3. Stepping with grab and pull
Combine the basic stepping with hands grabbing at someone’s forward guard.
- Hand movement: Grabbing across front, then pulling back towards hip
- Stepping: Basic, with extra hip rotation to complement the hand movement
4. Stepping with sideways strike (Lam Da)
Combine the basic stepping with to simultaneously jam and lift the opponent.
- Hand movement: Sideways and up
- Stepping: Basic, with extra hip rotation to complement the lifting arm movement
Article: Written by R Zandbergs. Created from Barry Pang’s seminars.
Main photo: Grandmaster Wu Hua Tai