As I outlined in the previous part of this series, there are three types of WingChun footwork: stances, steps and strikes. For this article, Part 2 of 4, I’m going to describe the essential aspects of stances.
Like a drawn bow, a stance creates and stores potential energy (of position) in your legs, ready to be transferred and released into kinetic energy (of motion) as a step. I’ll analyze this model so you can apply it as a useful training strategy.
But first, we have to catalog some physical elements. The skeletal chain of your leg includes six main links. These are your foot, ankle, lower leg, knee, upper leg and hip. To simplify, this anatomy comprises three bone groups (foot, lower leg, upper leg) and three joint areas (ankle, knee, hip).
Via joints — and their intervening tendons and ligaments — muscles transmit contractile force through bone. Thus, you need to know the primary activators as well. These are the calves (soleus, gastrocnemius) at the ankles, thighs (quadriceps) at the knees and buttocks (gluteus maximus) at the hips. Note they all increase the adjacent joint angles of, or extend, your leg.
The bones and muscles above work together to produce three trajectories: downward (1), upward (2) and forward (3). Think of them as directional pressures.
- The downward pressure is due to the mass of your bones and muscles. In fact you are always falling towards the earth due to its gravitational force upon your body. This is your weight (Fg). Imagine yourself as a heavy stone dropping to the ground.
- The upward pressure is your musculoskeletal structure counteracting gravity. In physics this is related to the normal force (FN), where the ground pushes you opposite and equal to your weight (Fg = FN). Imagine yourself as a vertical spring about to bounce high.
- The forward pressure is generated by transferring your center of mass anteriorly. If your base of support is idealized as an equilateral triangle, your center of mass is a point in its center. But you want to adjust your stance so that this point moves a bit towards the triangle apex. Though this only requires a slight push, it is profoundly important. Imagine yourself as a catapult primed to launch its projectile.
“The stance is a preparation to step.”
— Sifu Klaus Brand
What you want to maximize is bottom-to-up, back-to-front power. Propagate power from the ground through the kinetic segments sequenced above. Simply, foot must project into hip.
Some traditional styles like Shaolin train deep flexion “horse-riding” stances. Others such as conventional wing chun emphasize inward adduction “goat-clamping” stances. Our IAW WingChun system focuses on forward function “human-being” stances.
We can return to the generalized bow analogy by concisely defining tension (Ft) and compression (Fc). Basically, they are forces caused by pulling and pushing, respectively.
Whereas the bow is under compression, the string is under tension. The bow is being pushed forwards and wants to straighten the string. The string is being pulled backwards and wants to bend the bow. One works against the other to build potential energy.
We can employ this concept in the Meridian Stance (Ji Ng Ma 子午馬). The back leg is tensed and pushes to the front leg. The front leg is compressed and pushes to the back leg. In a sense, the two legs actually push apart equally (Ft = Fc) although there is a forward gradient. If you do this without moving your weight, it develops an internal isometric pressure. The greater that becomes, the stronger your stance.
In case you were wondering, the arrow represents your arm which will be shot out by your legs.
I’ll finish by framing the three primary stances of WingChun:
|Jing San Ma||正身馬||Frontal Body Stance|
|Zak San Ma||側身馬||Side Body Stance|
|Ji Ng Ma||子午馬||Meridian Stance|
We already incorporate all of them in the initial three sections of our First Leg Methods (Gerk Fat 腳法) Form as taught in the First Student Level of the IAW curriculum. Here is a key suggestion for each based on my personal teaching observations:
- Jing San Ma: As a result of extending the legs, the pelvis goes forward. A common mistake is to let the knees fall backward.
- Zak San Ma: Keep the body mostly frontal even though you stand to one side. A common mistake is to overturn.
- Ji Ng Ma: Maintain continuous force into the front leg. A common mistake is to lose anterior pressure.
In summary, proper tension and compression coordination between your two legs is crucial to stance stability and step mobility. I’ll discuss the latter next in Part 3.
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Thanks for this wonderful article, Sihing Paul. Extremely well detailed and I really enjoyed reading over the many technical points you made. Your explanation of the concept of the Meridian Stance is superb, such a good reference for lower level students as well as those training for the upper levels.
Thanks for reading, Adam. Glad you got some useful ideas from it 🙂
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