Traditional animal kung fu styles are well known for its low, low stances. To begin with these low postures can be quite difficult to do correctly and very tiring, you will likely feel awkward and slow using this kind of low footwork to begin with. In addition to this, when it comes to actual combat, it is unlikely that you will spend much time in a low stance. Most likely you will spend most of your time in a high stance with one foot slightly ahead of the other (we could call this the human stance ☺). Why go to all the effort of training those low stances then? Here are ten good reasons why.
- Low stances give you strong legs. Low stances put greater loads though the muscles of your legs. This will develop your strength and lead to greater endurance and more powerful kicks.
- Low stances improve your flexibility and range of motion. Transitioning through different low stances requires your legs to move through great range of motion relative to your pelvis. This will make you more flexible.
- Low stances improve your posture. If you focus on keeping your eyes level and head up in a low stance, this will bring your torso upright. To do this certain muscles in your torso need to lengthen, others need to shorten. This is much more challenging in a low stance than when standing upright. Practicing good posture in low stances will make it so much easier to have the same good posture when you are standing up.
- Low stances give you a trimmer, stronger waist. All this work that your postural muscles do maintaining good posture leads to stronger abdominal muscles, particularly the deep abdominal muscles and stronger more flexible lower back muscles.
- Low stances improve your balance. Having more strength, greater flexibility and stable range of motion around the pelvis, better posture and stronger core muscles (see points 1-4) all add up to better balance as you body is more able to make tiny adjustments to its position with ease. Lower stances also make small misalignments in your joints such as your knees, ankles and hips more obvious as you put more load through the muscles. This feedback can help you to move your joints to a more optimal positioning. This will make it harder for an opponent to knock you over or pull you off balance.
- Low stances make you faster. The strength and balance (see points 1 and 5) you develop through your low stances make it easier for you to shift your weight from leg to leg, and therefore to move your feet and body faster.
- Low stances make it easier to use your bodyweight to greater effect for striking, throwing and dragging. The ability to move from a high stance to a low stance with ease allows you to put your whole bodyweight into strikes, throws and drags without fear of overbalancing.
- Being able to change your stance easily can provide you with additional tactical striking options. Strong low stances allow you to drop down briefly to evade the arm or leg of a tall or jumping opponent, they also allow you to attack low targets such at the knees , thighs or groin using your arms without having to lean and make yourself vulnerable. The strength you develop in you legs will also allow you to pop make to a higher stance or even into a jump quickly if tactical options present themselves that make this desirable.
- Low stances give you a better cardio vascular workout. All the extra work your muscles do in low stance mean that you will need to breathe harder and you heart will need to pump faster. This will help you develop greater cardiovascular fitness. You will feel more energetic!
- Low stances look stylish. It’s true, low stances do look more stylish, they will also help you to get into the character of the different animal styles of kung fu you practice. This will lead to a greater understanding of the principles you are learning from each animal.
So next time you’re training an animal kung fu style, remember to go LOW. It might feel like hard work to begin with, but it will get easier with time and you will reap many benefits.
By John Munro