The basic or fundamental stances of Shaolin kung fu form the base of the art and are considered to be of great importance. The five basic stances are the horse riding stance (ma bu), the bow arrow stance (gong bu), the slanting body stance (pu bu), the cross stance (xie bu) and the false leg stance or cat stance (xue bu), with horse riding stance being the most important of all.
If someone learning kung fu does not practice stances properly, or is unable to hold
them well, their development of force & form and their overall performance will be greatly disadvantaged. Years ago, kung fu students would initially be made to practice only basic stances for a number of months without necessarily being told what their purpose was, before being allowed to move onto anything else. This was because the kung fu masters knew the vital importance of solid stances and that without them, their students kung fu would be poor.
Nowadays, it may not be as practical for kung fu masters and instructors to have their students working solely on stances in the beginning as it may lead to disinterest and ultimately a loss of students, so many will also learn some basic forms while working on their stances to keep the interest levels up. However, stance training should never be fully substituted for anything else early on and there is no getting away from the fact that good, persistent daily practice is required if you want to develop good strong stances and subsequently proper kung fu.
Kung fu is the only martial art which stresses the importance of, and trains stances, and this may be a big reason why many choose to practice other martial arts, as they may lack the persistence, time, or simply understanding of why good stances need to be developed. When beginning to practice stances you will most likely become weak at the knees and feel stiff in the legs for a few days afterwards. You should not be concerned as this is completely normal and in fact shows that you are practicing
the stances correctly. The stiffness and tenderness will subside slowly as you continue to practice and as the strength in your legs changes and grows.
Kung fu stances can be thought of as the ‘foundations of kung fu’ in much the same way that a building needs good strong foundations in order to be solid and sturdy. Because most kung fu techniques, whether it be forms, specific combat techniques or qi breathing techniques are all built around the fundamental stances, a kung fu student cannot progress properly in the art if the footwork is not solid and the body not stable.
Techniques like blocking a powerful punch may result in a loss of balance which is the last thing you want in a combat situation and conversely, because stances build firmness and stillness in the lower body, someone who has not practiced stances may throw a punch with all of their force but much of it will be diminished as the lower body is unnecessarily moved during the motion.
Most people without any martial arts training are top – side heavy and so it does not require much to knock them off balance with a kick or a sweep. The practice of stances (especially the horse riding stance) aims to lower your centre of gravity to the mid body, in kung fu, this is known as the ‘tan tien’. As a result of shifting your centre of gravity through stance work, your upper body subsequently becomes lighter and quicker while the lower body feels heavier and steady, instead of the opposite which can be found in most people without any stance training.
Just because the upper body now feels light however, does not mean to say that it can not be as equally powerful as the lower body. Once you can perform your stances properly for an indefinite amount of time, you will then learn at a more advanced level to use your new found nimbleness and balance to channel internal force from the central vital point, or your centre of
gravity, to the arms and fists to deliver powerful strikes that would not have been previously possible.
Once the basic stances have been practiced properly and for some time, you will begin to see a number of different benefits. You will have a new strength at your legs that will allow you to walk greater distances without becoming tired. Any other form of exercise like jogging, swimming or cycling will also be greatly enhanced by your stance training and lastly, you will feel more sure footed and so will have less likely hood of tripping or falling over whether in day to day or combat situations.
Along with stance training, it is also very important to stretch properly to ensure that your legs and body will not only be strong but also flexible and agile, as it is this that allows the application and delivery of the new found strength and force.
Although the basic stances of kung fu can initially look quite simple, they do require allot of practice to be able to master properly and it is very important that you do not overlook them, or be put off by the fact that they can be very taxing and tedious at times because they will undoubtedly yield great benefits when practicing your kung fu later down the line.
If you are beginning to learn kung fu and feel reluctant about stance training, then it may help to view them as an initial hurdle, or test of your persistence and staying power before you can competently be able to graduate onto other aspects of kung fu that you may find much more appealing.