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Stances are a highly fundamental part of all Chinese Martial Arts. Wushu is characterized by low, wide stances designed for mobility and protection. Stability is another key concern of Chinese martial arts, and the wushu stances reflect this sensibility. There are five key stances utilized in both contemporary wushu and traditional wushu. Many others exist, and different styles of wushu prescribe a particular protocol for "correct" stance.
Contemporary wushu stances
Ma Bu (馬步)
Ma Bu, known as "horse stance" or "horse-riding stance," is a fundamental stance found in nearly all styles of wushu. In actual attack and defense, Ma Bu is sometimes viewed as a transitional stance, from which a practitioner may quickly switch to other stances. The stance typically begins with the feet a shoulder-width apart. The feet are parallel, straight forward, and the knees are bent at 90 degrees. The torso sinks down as if following a plum line and the sacrum curves forward and in or arches. Equal weighting (50-50) is given to each foot, making for a very stable stance. Ma Bu is frequently used for conditioning and building up knee strength. Many kung fu masters required students to be able to hold Ma Bu for at least five minutes before learning the forms of a style.
Different styles of kung fu often teach variations on the horse stance. For instance, in bái hè quán (白鶴拳), the knees are bent inward and almost touching, unaligned with the toes.
Gong Bu (弓步）
Translated as "bow stance", Gong Bu is also known as "Deng Shan Bu" (mountain-climbing stance) or "Gong Jian Bu" (bow and arrow stance). The lead foot is pointed straight ahead, with the lead leg bent slightly. The trailing foot is angled outward at a 45 degree angle, with the heel lined up with the heel of the leading foot. The trailing leg can be held straight or slightly bent. The result is a "lunging" pose. In southern styles, the toe is if it had stayed in Ma Bu; starting in Ma Bu, the hind leg steps forward and turns while the front leg stays in the same position. In northern styles, the toe points forward. The given weighting is 70% on the front foot and 30% on the rear.
In application, it is popularly used for attacking. The structure of the stance partially protects the groin and allows the martial artist to punch with greater power by driving the rear leg into the ground. Additionally, the rear leg can be quickly drawn forward for kicking attacks.
Fú Hǔ Bù （伏虎步）
Fu Hu Bu is translated as “tame the tiger stance.” Other names include “drop stance” or Pu Bu, “flat stance.” According to changquan master Yang Jwing-Ming, the stance was named after a martial artist named Wu Song, who slew a leaping tiger with the stance during the Song Dynasty. In this position, the martial artist squats on one leg until the thigh is parallel to the ground and extends the other leg out to the side. Both feet are parallel and pointing forward, relative to the torso, and like Zuo Pan Bu, the practitioner faces the opponent with his/her side.
Versatile in application, Fu Hu Bu can be employed for both attack and defense. A primary application of this stance is defense against high or jumping kicks, as evidenced in the Taiji technique “Strike the Tiger.” Baguazhang and Taiji forms also use the stance for low hand attacks, such as “Snake Creeps Down” from the Yang-style taijiquan sequence. With Northern Praying Mantis, Fu Hu Bu is applied in Ba Bu Gan Chan (八步幹蟬）, a leaping attack to the opponent’s ankle with the foot. In traditional changquan forms, such as Yi Lu Mai Fu, the stance is used to pick up objects from ground for use as projectiles during combat.
As with Ma Bu, different styles assume Fu Hu Bu in differing ways.
Xuán Jī Bù （玄機步）
Xuan Ji Bu is rendered as the “false” or “tricky leg” stance, associated with kicking attacks. Popular alternative labels include the "empty stance" or "cat stance.” Xuan Ji Bu is assumed by placing one’s entire body weight on a single leg and extending the other leg in front to lightly touch the ground. Since the frontal leg has no weight placed on it, it can be used to launch fast kicks. It is sometimes used in conjunction with other stances for evasive actions.
Zuò Pán Bù （坐盤步）
Zuo Pan Bu (interpreted as “sitting on crossed legs stance”) is known by a number of names, such as the contemporary wushu “cross stance” or “rest stance.” It can be assumed by beginning in Ma Bu, pivoting counterclockwise on the right toe, and crouching down with the back straight. The result is a cross-legged stance that can be used for initiating attacks or defending, while facing the opponent with one’s side. The crossed legs protect the groin from attacks and prepare the practitioner for a side kick.
More importantly, Zuo Pan Bu is the basis for Xie Bu (蟹步 literally “crab walking”), which is also called “clandestine steps.” Crab walking is performing by alternating assuming Zuo Pan Bu and Ma Bu, moving to one side. From Ma Bu, stepping to the side with either leg effects a transition to Zuo Pan Bu. Using the other leg, the next step to the side returns the practitioner to Ma Bu and the process iterates. The overall effect is rapid movement to one side. Nearly all combat applications of Zuo Pan Bu involve Xie Bu to some degree.
Traditional wushu stances
The five stances—Ma Bu, Deng Shan Bu, Zuo Pan Bu, Fu Hu Bu, and Xuan Ji Bu—are the five basic stances taught in contemporary wushu, the sport established by the People’s Republic of China. Contemporary wushu practitioners often perform stances such as Ma Bu and Deng Shan Bu lower than traditional wushu practitioners. In contrast, Northern traditional wushu masters usually teach higher, more practical versions of all five stances and a number of other stances, most notably Si-Liu Bu, Jin Ji Du Li, Tun Bu, and Qi Lin Bu.
Sì Liù bù （四六步）
Si-Liu Bu is the “four-six stance,” used heavily as a defensive posture. It is named for the fact that 40% of the weight is on the leading foot and 60% on the rear foot. The stance is somewhat similar to Deng Shan Bu, with the exception of the greater weight distribution over the rear leg. The lead foot is oriented slightly to its opposite side (left foot gravitates right; vice versa) and the rear foot is almost aligned with it. The rear knee is turned inward toward the groin and the front knee is bent.
Si-Liu Bu is a highly functional stance that often serves as a standard guard position in many styles of wushu; it has great utility, allowing the martial artist to initiate nearly any technique in this stance. From Si-Liu Bu, one may switch to any one of the other stances with minimal effort. The stance is highly mobile, used for swiftly stepping forward or backwards, “changing legs,” or leaping to the other side of an opponent.
A number of jumping techniques are also executed from Si-Liu Bu, such as Yiou Bu. Translated as “hop jump,” Yiou Bu is used to either advance or retreat over a short distance. It is essentially a large hop forwards or backwards, propelled by a thrust from the back or front leg, respectively. Because of the large spread of the legs, Si-Li Bu is an extremely stable stance.
Jin Ji Du Li （金雞獨立）
Jin Ji Du Li, translated as “golden rooster stands on one leg,” is popularly known as the crane stance, used heavily in karate. It is formed by raising one knee to its maximum height. The facing can be either to the front or the side, relative to the opponent. As with karate, Jin Ji Du Li is used as a platform for frontal kicks, as well as side kicks. It is also frequently employed defensively to deflect low to middle height kicks. Lastly, it is used in Northern styles for Tiao Bu (“jump step”) and Dan Tiao (“single-jump”), two techniques of movement for advance or retreat. It is also known as the crane stance in many martial arts.
Tūn Bù （吞步）
Most clearly associated with Northern praying mantis, Tun Bu is the “swallow stance,” related to Fu Hu Bu. Like the former, it can be used to defend against jump attacks. It is formed by squatting on a single leg until the thigh is parallel to the ground and extending the other foot to touch the ground. Unlike Fu Hu Bu, the extended foot contacts the ground with only the heel and faces forward. This stance can be used to trap the opponent’s foot to set up a shuai jiao technique. Punches and kicks, as well as jump kicks, can be executed easily from Tun Bu. Most praying mantis exponents assume a higher version of Tun Bu, in which the thigh is not parallel to the ground.
Qi Lin Bu （麒麟步）
Qi Lin Bu is the “unicorn stance,” used primarily in changquan and Northern praying mantis. It is similar in appearance to Zuo Pan Bu, with the exception that the frontal foot’s toes point to the left or right. Also, the exponent’s front faces the opponent. In changquan forms such as Shi Zi Tang (十字趟）, it is employed as a low platform from which to execute uppercuts and front kicks. Furthermore, it is used evasively for straight-line retreats.