Stance Training – Inside Kung Fu

August 1, 1999

By Shi Yan Ming and Allan David Ondash
Inside Kung Fu, August 1999

stance training for kung fuFirst the good news: jing, or power can be found in virtually every Chinese martial arts system. Now the bad news: most practitioners don’t know what to do with it. Want more bad news? Even those who know about jing, who try to harness its power, don’t know how to use it. And consider this: even those who know how to use it, use it for all the wrong reasons or in ways that reduce it’s effectiveness.

The reason for this confusion of such basic Chinese power supply is simple. We do not often see things as they are, we see things as we are. Many attempts have been made at the construction and reconstruction of true martial arts power, all without proper knowledge as a tool. Whatever one may find or think he has found in a fighting art, cannot and will never surpass the transcendental thought and physical studies attributed to a form of power deemed so perfect that it has repeatedly proven itself in a constant unchanging manner since its birth nearly 5,000 years ago. In fact, those who know the proper methods realize the only way theu can be taken any further is through a study of internal practice.

It can be said that any practitioner who believes he may have taken on a new technique that is larger then kung-fu will be surprised to learn that he has simply borrowed a tiny piece. An alarming percentage of practitioners have not yet ventured beyond the first physical stage, proper turning of the feet. That is where we will begin.

Stance training utilizes the body’s most natural movements in the most powerful way from the bottom up. Here, Shi Yan Ming shows the proper position of the feet and knees in kung fu’s major power stances: horse stance (1); bow & arrow stance (2); tiger crouching (3); and twisted (4).

Powering the Stance

Gong Bu or Bow Stance in Kung FuStance training utilizes the body’s most natural movements in the most powerful way from the bottom up. The turning of the feet will always determine the direction of the body. It is important to verify that it is impossible to move the foot by itself. The foot always takes orders from the ankle, no matter what. Therefore, even though one’s feet should be married wholeheartedly to the ground, emphasis on rotating the ankle, rather than (say) pushing the heel outward, will immediately increase the initial power necessary to start a thunderous spiraling procession to the hands.

The perfect order of this bottom-to-top procession may be summed up as such: If one is walking down a street and decides to turn at the corner, his head and shoulders do not move first in determining his new direction. He instead (naturally) turns his feet first and then the rest of his body obeys accordingly. Additional, the lead foot points out the new direction before the second foot moves. This brings us to a modern discrepancy worthy of clarification – shaolin (or traditional kung fu) vs. wushu. In the movement art of wushu, both feet move lightly and almost always simultaneously so the practitioner can gather speed to block, strike or kick. In the true fighting arts of northern and southern shaolin, the feet are more grounded to harness “shock power” in the waist for blocking, striking or kicking, as well as so the lead foot of every stance may be used to undermine an opponent’s attack.

For example: Two opponents square off in horse stance postures. As the offender strikes, the defender simultaneously blocks and opens up the lead foot to a 45-degree angle. This invites the offender to step slightly beyond the defender’s lead foot but unknowingly trap his own foot inside the defender’s ankle. Then, and only then, does the defender spiral the rear foot into an explosive action which meets violently with the now-solid lead foot causing shock power in the waist. The waist power is then linked to the striking hand which hits the opponent like an iron whip and makes him simultaneously trip over the ankle lock. Uprooting techniques such as ankle locks and leg throws are common to form application and self-defense. They work well against unseasoned fighters. However, when applying san shou in the ring against a fighter of equal caliber, uprooting would become a useless game of cat and mouse. Fighters use faster methods such as front leg and hand maneuvers rather than the traditional reverse-hand, rear-leg applications. Some may misinterpret this as freeing oneself from the boundaries of traditional kung fu to demonstrate movement. This is simply untrue. The finest san shou masters always rely on the twisting shock power learned from traditional grounding of the feet. Without it their techniques would tremendously suffer.

In light of this misconception, the Westerner may hypothetically compare kung fu to wushu by equating the difference between hockey and figure skating. In hockey, the players utilize hard, fast, and deceptive maneuvers with one goal in mind. Alternately, figure skaters utilize soft, graceful, and telegraphed maneuvers with several specific goals in mind. Though both activities are practiced on ice, one is clearly more brutal than the other. Such is the case with shaolin and wushu. Both have their righteous place in kung fu, but only one is deadly; the other is vaguely reminiscent of that deadliness.

Turning the knee is the next step in the procession of power. As the ankle summons the foot into action, the knee should catch it and immediately help it on its way. Many martial art injuries have occurred by either ignoring the need for the knee to help or by hyperextending it so far it blocks the power. As a rule, the knee should never extend to a fully locked position. Additionally, when helping the power to move upward, the knee should turn no further than the angle of the issuing foot. In other words, it should always be placed in the middle between the rotating foot and the side of the waist that will be delivering the technique. Demonstrating the proper positions of the feet and knees in four of kung fu’s major power stances is Shifu Shi Yan Ming, the highly regarded 34th-generation Shaolin monk.