There are five main stances in Wushu and they are the Bow, Horse, Cross, Drop, and Empty stances. Mastering these five stances is essential for practicing Wushu forms, both external and internal. Correct posture leads to better form and hence stronger performance. Practicing these stances not only improves Wushu ability but also strength, flexibility, and stamina.
As the name implies, this stance resembles an arched bow. The front leg is bent and the thigh is parallel to the ground while the shin is perpendicular to the ground. Ideally, the leg should form a 90 degree angle. The front foot, which carries half of one's weight, is turned slightly inward. The back leg is straight but not locked. The back foot is also turned inward, but at 45 degrees to the line of the stance.
For a right Bow Stance, the right foot is in front and would point towards the left side. Vice-versa for a left Bow Stance. It is important to keep in mind that both feet must be planted firmly on the ground, i.e. either foot should not tilt off the ground in any way and should lie flat with the ground.
The upper body, regardless of position or Wushu style, should remain straight, the spine elongated toward the direction of one's focus. In practicing this stance, you should keep your fists at your waist, shoulders down (relaxed), and elbows close to the body. For an added challenge, try moving up and down while in this stance.
This is one of more the common and difficult stances as it requires a great deal of power and strength from the legs. The stance resembles the position in which you ride a horse. Both feet are about 1½ times shoulder-width apart with the toes and knees pointed forward (not outward) to the best of one's ability. Like the Bow Stance, the thighs are parallel to the ground and the shins perpendicular to the ground. The feet also must remain flat at all times.
The upper body also must remain straight as though you were sitting on a stool against a wall. A common error is to lean forward and/or extend your posterior to balance your weight. This denotes that more training is required to build strength in the legs. The posterior must be tucked forward and the spine completely perpendicular to the ground. To practice this stance, place both fists at your waist, keep your shoulders relaxed, and elbows tight to the body, while remaining motionless. Ideally, one's thighs would be completely flat and a staff placed on them would not roll forward or backward.
Beginners practicing this stance may want to stand higher and gradually go lower with time to build strength. Mastering this stance means being able to remain unmoving in this posture. If your legs shake, then you need more practice.
As the name suggests, the legs are crossed in this stance. For the left Cross Stance, the left leg is in front of the right leg, and for the right Cross Stance, the right leg crosses over the left. Both legs are bent so that the person sits on their ankles. For both sides, the foot that is in front must remain flat on the floor.
To do this stance correctly, the legs must be completely crossed, i.e. the knees should pass each other rather than come behind one another. Otherwise, the knees would push into each other while going down into this stance and the stance would be unstable as a result. Also, the lower knee does not rest on the ground and the weight of the person is carried only by the feet.
Again, the upper body should remain straight, the fists at the waist, the shoulders relaxed, and the elbows tucked tight to the body.
This stance requires a great deal of flexibility and beginners should only go as low as their body allows. Similar to a Bow Stance, one leg is completely bent while the other remains straight. The front leg would be extended toward the direction of one's focus while the back leg is bent with the knee facing in the opposite direction as much as possible. Both feet again must remain flat on the floor at all times and pointing perpendicular to the extended leg. Ideally, the front leg would be so low as to be completely level with and almost lying on the ground.
In a left Drop Stance, the left leg would be extended with one's weight on the right leg. The both feet would point inward, i.e. facing towards the front. The back should remain flat and straight while body leans forward towards the extended leg. The chest and face should look in the direction of one's focus, but the body overall should be as low as possible. Both fists should remain at the waist again to practice this stance. To stretch for this stance, place your hands on your feet and use your arms and elbows to open your legs as wide as possible.
This stance is the most difficult stance in Wushu, and requires a great deal of strength from the legs and knees in particular. Beginners should again begin standing high and then work their way gradually down to the proper height. In a right Empty Stance, one's weight is completely on the right (back) leg while left (front) leg carries no weight and hence is empty. Both legs are bent with the knees forward and the thighs parallel to each other and the ground. The right foot remains planted firmly on the ground. The left foot, which is extended in front of the body, is turned inward and slightly touches the ground with the toe.
The leg in front should be exerting no power. To test whether or not you are doing this stance correctly, simply lift the forward leg. If you cannot remain standing then you are relying too much on the forward leg and must practice more on your back leg. The forward leg should only be used to stabilize the posture.
In a correct stance, the front leg is slightly bent less than the back leg and the knees are fist-width apart. The knees both point 45 degrees from direction of one's focus. The back should again be straight and the arms at shoulder level and extended to balance the body.
Practice Makes Perfect
These stances form an important foundation in learning Wushu, as no fighter is stalwart without a solid connection to the ground on which he or she stands. If you spend even only one minute for each stance and each side per day (which would work out to ten minutes altogether), you will have an excellent basis for learning any Wushu form. Because these are the most common stances in Wushu, knowing them will greatly improve your understanding and learning of any new form. All forms contain most of these stances with small variations on height and position.
These stances can be practiced for strength and stamina as well as flexibility and stability. After practicing them, be sure to continue moving to keep your muscle and tendons warm and to reduce the soreness. It is expected that for beginners, their legs will be sore the next day after practice, but with time and ability, this soreness will disappear. Stances, like all other parts of martial arts, must be continually practiced for maintenance of posture and stability. They are an important part of any warm-up or training routine.