Stances, Structure and Front-Half – Marc MacYoung


I’m often asked about certain aspects of a system or technique. The response below was just one example.

The original question was about the Wing Chun square/basic/box/whatever someone is calling it where-ever they are. He had some specific questions about what the stance was good for. I took one look at his questions and realized that he was asking algebra level questions, but nobody had taught him how to multiply.

It wasn’t his fault, it was what his teacher didn’t communicate to him before ‘advancing’ him. The problem with most of these questions is that they have the same core problem. The person hasn’t been taught the fundamentals that underlie the system. Fundamentals that aren’t just critical for creating and delivering power, but knowing when and where to use a technique.

And a huge fundamental is what stance you take — and WHY.  If you don’t know these elements, then you’re going to have all kinds of problems.

Okay I’m going to cook your noodle here. The reason is what I am about to say can change your entire thinking about ‘stances’… and in fact, it should.
A stance is a transitional posture that you take to achieve a short-term goal.

That means
A) you move into it as a part of doing something else
B) and then you move out of it on your way to doing something else
C) you move back into a stance (a different one or the same one somewhere else) to achieve the new goal.

So if you hold your open hand out in front of you and close it and open repeatedly, you’ll be making a fist, opening it, making another fist, etc.. Stances are like that time your hand is closed in a fist. You’re moving in and out of them. You’re moving in to do something, you’re moving out to go do something else.

Generally what you are doing by moving into a stance is generating or receiving force. A stance creates a stable base from which to deal with force — whether you are giving it or getting it.

I mean that right there is going to give you something like three months worth of ideas to play with.

For example you don’t take a stance, get all settled in and then punch. There’s no momentum there. While there will be force, all that you are able to generate is how much you can move your body with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Now mind you, while making sure you have this little extra twist is critical for extra power … the key word here is “extra.”

I’m going to BBQ a sacred cow here. How many times have you heard “the hips are the source of your power?”

Well that’s wrong. The hips are an accelerator. They take your existing force and — if you do it right — can double it. If you know anything about cars, it’s like the coil in the engine that takes the low voltage of the battery and steps it up so there will be a spark that jumps the gap at the spark plug. But the hips are no more the ‘source’ of your power, than the coil is the source of the electricity in your car. The source of your power is your body moving. It’s called momentum or force.

Now I just told you something that is REALLY important. Unfortunately it is often lost in how we train. The hip twists and subtle weight shifts that you practice when you are punching from a stance in training do NOT have enough power to do the job. That’s because — basically — they are the last half of the process. When you are standing there in a stance punching, you are ingraining the last 40 of 80. You are NOT drilling (or ingraining) the first 40 of that 80.

The first ’40’ is moving halfway INTO that stance. And then — WITHOUT stalling or stopping your momentum — transitioning into the back 40. In fact, that last 40 usually locks you down INTO the stance AS your punch is connecting.

When that happens, all the springs, flexes, wiggling and bending that would cause your power to leak out, disappear. That means you strike harder because you aren’t leaking energy. Think of standing next to a full sink and trying to throw water on someone using a spaghetti strainer. Now imagine using a bowl to scoop up water and throw at him. Which one is going to deliver more splash onto him? Which one is going to get you wet too?

That part about you getting wet using a spaghetti strainer is really is import. That’s because think of the water as your force. You want it to go into him (get him wet) instead of back into you (get you wet). If you don’t have good stance or good structure (aligning your skeleton so the striking limb won’t bend or flex)then your force is going to come back into you and make YOU bend. (Newton: For every action, equal and opposite reaction). If things are flexing and bending then at least half of the force that you want to give to him, is escaping back into you.

When people are training they often aren’t told this kind of stuff. When you’re standing there in a fixed stance and punching you aren’t just sticking your hands out there and waving them around. That’s where you need to be focusing on the little tweaks, twists and the timing of the muscle lock downs that are ALL critical parts of the back 40 of the process. They are critical for not trying to bail with a spaghetti strainer.

However, equally important is the front 40. And that is moving INTO range for the technique, developing stance and structure WITHOUT stalling your momentum. This gives you something TO bail with a bowl.

Unfortunately WAY too many instructors do not consciously understand this. That’s if they know it at all, consciously or unconsciously.

A lot of times the guys who can hit like a freight train are unconsciously doing the first 40 without even realizing it. They’re doing it, but it’s so dog s**t simple and fundamental, that they forget to focus on teaching it, much less mentioning it.

On the other hand, people who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet kleenex, generally DON’T have the front 40 in what they are doing. These tend to be people who:
1) take a stance
    2) settle in and
    3) then punch

(Growing up as a kid, we had chickens. On many occasions I would see a hen return to her eggs, sit down and then do a wiggle/shudder and settle down — I cannot see a martial artist settle into a stance without this image flickering through my mind’s eye). By doing this, they have just thrown away the momentum they’d generated by moving. Then instead of doubling it, the try to recreate it by moving their hips when they hit.

What I want you to understand however is that often BOTH of these people will teach the exact same thing. In the school, ALL they teach is the back 40 of the process. But until YOU stick the front 40 on, you won’t be getting the full bang for your buck of the various stances you use.

Now I know I didn’t exactly answer your questions, but remember I told you that there was going to be at least three months study from the first, very basic idea? Well here’s the rest of the equation that is going to keep you so busy.

Every stance has certain strengths and weaknesses. That is to say it can be used to launch forces and deal with incoming forces, BUT ONLY IN CERTAIN DIRECTIONS. Think about steering a car, you point it in the direction you want to go. Stances, like cars, often don’t do well going sideways from the direction they are designed to go.

That statement may sound a little odd in light of … say, a sideways horse stance. But that stance is designed to withstand MASSIVE amounts of pressure from the side. (And if you shift your weight from one side to the other, that stance is also like a tractor. You grab someone who’s off to one side and shift your weight you’ll drag him along that ‘line.’) You can tucker yourself out right quick trying to shove someone over from the side while he’s in such a stance.

However — and I demonstrate this to folks — if you walk around to his front, with just one finger you can push the person over. That’s because — although I am standing in front of him — I’m now pushing from the ‘side’ of the stance.

BUT, and once again, we have a ‘this is important.’ That stance is an extreme. It is designed to handle a heavy work load. Because it has extra doses of certain attributes, it had to give up a lot of other ones. If you put a big, double headed arrow on the floor and then put your feet on the line, that would be the ONLY lines of force that stance could handle. You got no mobility, you got no speed, you got NO protection against perpendicular forces.

So, you ONLY use moving into that stance to achieve certain ends. Like initially resisting a super strong force or tractor dragging someone over (Incidentally, it’s a great stance for takedowns. You grab the guy and as you pivot and step back into the stance, you tractor drag him over your leg. He falls down.) Knowing this, you learn the limits and application of such a stance. In other words you learn when to use it and when NOT to use it. When those conditions have past, you change your stance to do something else.

Every stance you know, every posture you take HAS a certain set of strengths, weaknesses and application. Think of them as launch platforms for certain kinds and directions of energies. It’s up to you to figure out how to apply them. Having said that, your instructor, SHOULD be able to explain ‘this technique works with this stance because of A,B,C’, but don’t use this stance with this technique.’ And then be able to explain “Why you don’t”

For example, as a good rule of thumb, you DON’T punch straight out in front of you from a sideways horse stance. I do a demo where I have someone drop into such a stance and try to hit me in the stomach. When they do, I tighten my muscles and they fall over backwards. That stance is NOT designed to deliver power perpendicular to the line of stance integrity.

Your job is to go through every stance you know and find what delivery platform it is. From this posture, I can deliver (or resist a degree of force) this way.

So here’s a freebie. Going specifically to the square/box/basic stance of Wing Chun, we discover, it’s a pretty good punching stance. Pretty much anything in front of your nose can be safely punched without falling over or losing too much force due to leakage. While it is stronger in handling force from two directions (I’ll let you figure that one out by yourself), a really cool thing about that stance is it handle moderate force from all basic directions (i.e. you in the middle of a circle). It’s also really mobile. If you get a large pressure from any direction, you can easily step with –and then eventually away from — the force.

Okay, but what about kicking? Nope. Can’t kick from it because both feet are on the ground. In order to kick, you have to shift all of your weight to one leg and come out of the box stance. In short, you have to move into a kicking stance in order to kick. And yes, standing on one leg while kicking IS a stance. You got a foot on the ground? Then you’re in a stance.

Is it a short trip into that kicking stance from a box stance? Yeah it is. At least a whole lot shorter than from a deep sideways horse stance. That’s because the box stance is a nice, balanced moderate stance that not only has some good qualities, but it’s conveniently located to allow easy access to other, more specialized, stances.

Stances that you will be moving into to handle changing circumstances.

Now I know I didn’t exactly answer your questions, but what I did is give you the tools to diagnose your footwork, stances and power delivery systems. You’ll find the answers to your questions are not only in this information, but also these tools can be used to answer a whole lot more questions that you haven’t even thought about yet.

Leave a Reply