Good Kung Fu comes from good stances. Stances are fundamental and important for all Kung Fu practitioners.
Because stances are the first thing learned it is easy to try to move on to the next thing. The striking, throwing, kicking, and joint locking of Kung Fu is exciting. Correct stances provide the proper base for all these techniques to work. Without a correct base applying any fighting technique will be difficult.
Franklin Fick - Ng Ga Kuen - Kneeling Stance
Usually, only long time students of Kung Fu realize the importance of stances. It is said, that when a Master watches a Kung Fu demonstration, he (or she) looks at the footwork and stances of the person demonstrating. By doing so, they can easily judge that person's level of skill. When a novice watches a Kung Fu demonstration, they are taken in by the swift hand work or the flowery techniques.
Purpose of Kung Fu Stances
As a training tool, stances help to strengthen the legs and waist. From a functional standpoint, the stances are how we move forward, backward, and sideways.
Training stances is sometimes incorrectly viewed as something the teacher uses to test students. A boring training, with no real benefit other then testing the student's sincerity and character.
But stances are much more then that. A simple kung fu proverb states that the most basic is also the most advanced. This is true for stances.
Kung Fu stances teach the student correct alignment and posture. They teach how to twist, shift, and move and emit force in all different directions.
How We Move
To discuss stances, we must first make some general observations about how it is we move in this world. As humans, we must follow some natural laws as we interact with our environment.
Between Heaven and Earth
Between Heaven and Earth is how the ancients described man's place in the world. But what does it mean?
One meaning is that we have the ground below us and the sky above us and inbetween these two is the domain in which we interact.
Heaven or the sky above us is a fancy way to say the force of gravity which pushes us downward. Earth is a solid mass which forms the limit of where the downward force of gravity can push us.
Lets examine this in a bit more depth
The Solid Earth
This is the base from which we move. The earth is the solid base below us from which push and are pressed into.
When we started life we went from laying , to crawling, to walking upright. We learned to use this solid base to propel us through this world.
Gravity Pushes Down On Us
As we are learning to walk and run in our early years, the other force we have to content with is the force of gravity. It pushes downward on us at all times. Through the process of trail and error we learned what worked and what did not.
We learned how to manipulate our body. Taking into account the solid base below us and the force that pushed down on use from above.
Finding Efficient Structure
While learning how to crawl, sit, stand, walk, and run, trial and error has shown us that some strategies are better the others. The nature of our learning process is such that when we found a strategy that worked we stuck with it. Because it worked. When something worked, we made that the default. Rarely needing to explore and investigate the method more. This is of course oversimplified.
The problem is, our default method of moving might not be the most efficient or the most powerful. This is where martial arts training comes in.
Martial arts training allows us investigate the methods we use to interact and move through the world. We can explore and find more efficient ways to move and because the nature of martial arts explores conflict through striking, throwing, joint locking, and kicking, we get instant feedback whether the method we are using is efficient or not.
Finding the optimal position takes into account the powers of Heaven and Earth, as well as the task that we want to accomplish.
Standing upright, an efficient structure stacks the bones in a way that the body aligns with the force of gravity. The downward power of gravity can flow through the body and into the ground. To do this the body needs to be upright. Any leaning will break the downward flow and muscle force will have to be used to hold the body upright.
With the body in the correct alignment, there is a natural springy force that rises upward, caused by the compressed connective tissue. This downward flow of gravity and upward springiness is the harmony of Heaven and Earth in the body. The compression is caused by the force of gravity alone.
If the body is out of alignment, then this force will be broken (un-manifested) in the body. In Internal Styles this type of springy force is used to produce what is sometimes called effortless power.
How to Produce Power
Learning how to align the body and produce power is essential for martial arts. But, it is also useful in everyday life as well.
We talked about two main forces so far, Heaven and Earth. The ground (earth) and the force of gravity. These two forces interact vertically. Up and down. But the problem is that we interact horizontally with the world.
Anything that we do has a horizontal component. Fighting an opponent, opening a door, pushing a lawn mower, or reaching for a glass of water. All of these combine the vertical forces of Heaven and Earth with Horizontal expression of power and movement.
Training Kung Fu stances allows us to learn how to properly express the power from the ground through our body to the target.
We get the power from the Earth in Kung Fu. If you don't believe me:
- put your two hands on a wall
- jump up so that your feet are off the ground
- try to push the wall
What you will find is that your body will move backward.
If you don't train your Kung Fu stances correctly you will have not be properly connected to the Earth and you will not be able to put any power into your movements. You will be about as effective as jumping up and pushing yourself off a wall.
Traditional Kung Fu Training
This is why Traditional Kung Fu training starts from the basics. Things such as:
- holding correct Kung Fu stances
- walking and moving around with proper stances and transitions
- combining basic techniques of striking and blocking with the movements of the stance
These are the most basic things to learn in Traditional Kung Fu. But, these are also the most advanced.
If you can not move with power and speed while connected to the earth and in alignment with gravity, you will not be effective.
This effectiveness goes beyond just mere fighting technique. When you learn to move with connection and coordination, you will express gracefulness in everything that you do.