The way the 3 stars drill is done varies from school to school and style to style. At its most basic, 2 students face each other and begin striking arms, 3 strikes right, 3 strikes left and repeat. This form of 3 star works specifically on strengthening the Kiu or bridge arms. However, as stated in our first installment, there is more to be gained from this exercise, even at its initial phase.
Horse Stance (Sei Ping Ma) and Butterfly Palms (Wu Dip Jeung)
This exercise presents the instructor and the student with the opportunity to drill stances as well as the transition between stances while executing a hand motion. independent of bridge conditioning, this is of value in working the student's balance, rooting and generation of power from the stance. One stance transition is Square Horse to Bow and Arrow Stance (Sei Ping Ma to Ding Ji Ma). Timing is also drilled as the student works to generate momentum from the shifting of the stance, movement of the waist and hips, to the sinking of the next stance as contact is made.
Students turn to left Ding Ji Ma and make contact with right Lau Kiu
The next stance transition is from Ding Ji Ma to Diu Ma as the students make contact with Yeung Kiu. Rooting and balancing on the Diu Ma stance is more challenging as is the use of the waist to direct power to the Yeung Kiu and to absorb the force from the opponent's strike. Sinking in the stance (Chum Ma) is essential. Since most of the weigth is the rear, supporting leg (90%), rooting, balancing, and sinking is done virtually on one leg.
Then it is back to Ding Ji Ma before turning to the other side and repeating with the opposite hand and stances in the opposite leg.
Shifting to right Diu Ma while turning the waist to the right for Yeung Kiu
The student is also taught to use the guard hand when going from one bridge to the next. The guard hand is the hand that is free and is used to protect and close openings. The 3 stars exercise is one of the best ways to get students used to 'guarding" until it becomes second nature. It is simple to describe but somewhat more difficult to perform, at least in the beginning. When hitting low, cover up, when hitting high cover low. So, as one goes from on strike to the next, one stance to the next, one hand is striking, while the other shifts from covering the face to covering the abdomen.
Finally, the first stage of breath control are also introduced. The student is taught the difficult task of .... breathing normally. When dividing up the attention to so many aspects going on at the same time, it is fairly normal to forget to breath. Students learning 3 stars find themselves completely exhausted in a matter of just a few sequences since in effect they are holding their breath. So, the first lesson of breath control is to continue to breathe normally even if so many other things are going on. Ignore all hand movements, leg movements, leg fatigue, and painful contact... keep breathing.
A by-product of all of this work, coordination and attention to detail is expanded mental capacity and increased focus and concentration. This is perhaps the most priced result and one of the main reasons for the exercise, as our Shaolin forefathers priced self-development and self control, mind over body... above the wordly gains in strength, and conditioning. Like Indian yoga, the goal was to gain control of the body, to subjugate the body with the mind. Little by little to overcome pain, little by little to gain poise, balance, flow. So, in effect this was the original goal and design for these exercises and it is the physical gains that are the by product of this deep training.
In Kung Fu, all teachings are advanced... there are only beginning students,.