Yang Style Bow Stances

by Mei Ying Sheng Translated by Ted W. Knecht

The Influence of the Bow Stance on the Frame

The bow stance is one of the most basic components in the practice of Yang style Taijiquan. The traditional Yang style contains 17 postures that employ what is called a front bow stance. Examples of some of the postures that use a front bow stance include Right Wardoff, Brush Knee with Twist Step, and Jade Lady Weaves Shuttle. There are eight postures which use the bow stance that is called the side bow stance. Postures such as Left Wardoff, Single Whip, Fan Through Arm, Diagonal Flying, and Wild Horse Parts Mane are examples of postures using the side bow stance. These two types of bow stances consist of 63 percent of the stances found in the traditional long routine as standardized by Yang Cheng Fu. From this, it can be said that the bow stance is one of most essential and basic components of Yang style Taijiquan. The proper function of the large frame postures is directly linked to the quality of the two types of bow stances. Consequently, the correct execution of the bow stances holds great importance to the Yang style. Comparison of the Two Bow Stances

The “Brush Knee Left with Twist Step” posture and the “Single Whip” posture were extracted from the book The Complete Volume of Taijiquan written by Yang Cheng Fu in 1927. There are relatively few Yang style practitioners today who conform to the strict requirements of the bow stance as set up by Yang Cheng Fu. The following is a detailed description of the two bow stances as transmitted by Yang Cheng Fu.

1. Characteristics of the Front Bow Stance

The Yang style posture of “Brush Knee Left with Twist Step” as shown in the photo will be used to illustrate the proper formation of the front bow stance. If we were to look at this posture from a bird’s eye view, we see that the distance of Yang Cheng Fu’s right heel (center of heel) from the centraleast to west ground line is equivalent to the width of his pubic bone to his right hip joint. For most people, this would be approximately 15 to 20 centimeters. The angle of the right foot (from the center of the heel to the tip of the middle toe) from the east to west ground line is 45 degrees. The distance of the left foot is approximately 15 to 20 centimeters from the east to west line, and the angle of the foot is from the east to west ground line is 20 degrees. In summary of this, the distance of the two feet from the central east to west ground line is approximately 30 to 40 centimeters in width. This is equivalent to the width of the practitioner’s left and right hip joints, in addition, this width is approximately the width of the practitioner’s left and right shoulder joints. The total angle between the two feet is 65 degrees. The distance/length between the right heel to the left heel is termed the “stepping range.” This stepping range is based upon the strength of the practitioner. The stepping range is proportional to the amount of exercise you will receive during practice.

Yang Style brush kneeFront Bow Stance

The following is a description of characteristics found in Yang Cheng Fu’s classical “front bow stance”.

A. The central line, both front and back, of Yang Cheng Fu’s torso is directly in line with the east to west ground line. In addition, the line from his left hip to his right hip is precisely perpendicular to the east to west ground line of the stance.

B. Because the central point of his right heel is approximately 15 to 20 centimeters from the east to west ground line, the right knee joint, right hip joint, right shoulder joint, right elbow joint, and right palm form a straight line paralleling the east to west ground line if we were to look from a bird’s eye view at the stance. By aligning the body in this manner, Yang Cheng Fu has satisfied the so-called “three external harmonies” by aligning the hip with the shoulder, the knee with the elbow, and the foot with the hand.

C. Due to the upright nature of Yang Cheng Fu’s torso, the right leg is naturally straight and the left lower leg (tibia) is perpendicular to the ground. These requirements are exactly what Yang Cheng Fu states in his book entitled Taijiquan. He states that “the torso must be held upright without any inclination. The spine and the weilu (tail bone) are straight. The two legs must differentiate emptiness and fullness. The standard is to bend the leg perpendicular to the ground. To go beyond the perpendicular will lessen the internal strength (jin).” The lower portion of the body is the root/foundation produced by the bow stance, the upper body is the upright and centered frame. Hence, a straight line is formed from the Bai Hui or crown point on the head down to the Hui Yin or perineum on the bottom of the torso down vertically onto the ground. This straight line formed through the body falls directly on the east to west ground line as discussed above. The differential distance of the right heel to the vertical point is 81 percent, and the distance of vertical point to the left heel is 19 percent. Accordingly, the foot with the greatest distance away from the vertical point is the right rear foot. Consequently, we can establish the lines for the Yang style’s High Frame, Middle Frame, and Low Frame postures based on the above example. The practitioner can determine the amount of exercise to be performed based on the distance from the rear foot to vertical point.

D. When the right foot is in the rear and the right hand is held to the front, we form what is called the Ao Bu or “Twist Step” bow stance. Sometimes this is explained when the right hand is held out in front while the left foot is standing forward. Under the correct conditions for a proper Ao Bu front bow stance, we form the second longest energy vector path in the body. This occurs when a straight line is formed from the rear right foot to the front right hand. In terms of the martial application we can explain it by using the Taiji principle of “the waist being the axial hub and the arms being the wheel.” During the process of dissolving the enemy’s attack with the left palm (brushing), we borrow the attacker’s force and turn it back on him by using the body’s second longest energy pathway. The energy is connected from the root of the right foot, issued up the right leg, controlled in the waist, and manifested in the right palm. In summation for the above material on the front bow stance, we can say that Yang Cheng Fu’s “Left Brush Knee in Breaking Stance” not only conforms to Taiji principles and theory, it also conforms to the demands of motor dynamics. The posture is imposing and open on the outside and flowing with energy and blood on the inside. It is indeed a posture to strive for.

2. Characteristics of the Side Bow Stance

The Single Whip posture will be used to describe the characteristics of the Yang style side bow stance. From a bird’s eye view of the Single Whip posture, we can see that the center of the right heel is positioned along the east to west ground line on the ground. The right rear foot is turned out 80 degrees from this east to west ground line. The left front foot is positioned directly along the east to west ground line. Hence, the angle between the two feet is also 80 degrees. Yang Cheng Fu’s posture of Single Whip is a classical form of the Yang style side bow stance. The characteristics of this type of bow stance are described below.

Yang Style Single WhipSide Bow Stance

A. By looking at the posture from directly above, we can see that the center of the right heel is precisely along the east to west ground line. The right knee joint, the right hip joint, the left hip joint, the left knee joint, and the left foot fall directly along the east to west ground line. The full front part of the torso faces sideways to the south and the full back section of the torso (including the spine) faces to the north. The front and back parts of the torso intersect along the east to west ground line. The left and right shoulder joints match up directly with the left and right hip joints, respectively, the left and right elbow joints join up directly with the left and right knee joints, respectively, and the left and right fingers of each hand match up directly with the left and right toes of each foot, respectively. Therefore, the above satisfies one of the principles of the “three external harmonies.”

B. The line from the Bai Hui or crown point passing through the Hui Yin or perineum point down to the vertical ground point must fall directly onto the east to west ground line between the two feet. The differential distance from the rear right heel to the vertical ground point is 70 percent more than the distance of the front left heel to vertical ground point (30 percent). Consequently, the further the right heel is from vertical ground point, the greater the amount of exercise attained.

C. When the right foot is positioned to the rear in relation to the placement of the left hand in the front, the stance framework is called a Shun Bu side bow stance. Shun means “in the same direction as.” In other words, when the left/right foot and left/right hand are positioned in the front this is called a Shun Bu side bow stance. The distance between the rear right foot to the front left palm in this stance is the longest energy vector pathway in the body. While the right hook hand dissolves the incoming force of the attacker, we can borrow the attacker’s energy and turn it back upon him with an attack from our left palm. The energy pathway for this technique moves from the root of the right foot, issues up the right leg, controlled in the waist, and manifested in the left arm and palm. In this way, we are using the body’s longest energy pathway. No matter what the “stepping range” is for either the front bow stance or the side bow stance, the Bai Hui and the vertical ground points must line up directly on the east and west ground line between the two feet. This vertical ground point is the “central equilibrium point” as stated in the Taiji classics: front advancement, rear retreat, look left, gaze right, and central equilibrium.

Fighting Characteristics Formulated from the Bow Stances

Based on the proper structure of Yang Cheng Fu’s front and side bow stances, the bones, tendons, and muscles below the waist will attain the greatest relaxation and sinking. The body’s most optimal condition for advancing attacks and retreating defense is placed on the rooting of the feet and the driving down reeling silk internal strength of the legs. Under the conditions of “differentiating fullness and emptiness” and “relaxing the hips and rounding the groin” within the postures, the root or foundation of the upper and lower body’s frame will be the most solid. The Taiji Classics state this idea as “no matter how I move, the root is secured in the feet.” All of the postures which originate from a bow stance within the Large Frame Yang style have their own unique practical fighting applications. They are founded upon the basic principles of motor mechanic in promoting the varying array of fighting techniques within Taijiquan. If this was not the case, how could the first three generations of the Yang style (Yang Lu Chan, Yang Jianhou, Yang Cheng Fu) have become so famous in the capital city of Beijing?

The Relation Between Stance and the Diagram
In the classic, Discussions on Taijiquan, it is stated that wardoff, rollback, press, and push relate to the four cardinal directions of Qian, Kun, Kan, and Li, respectively. Pull down, split, elbow, and bump relate to the four corners of Zhuan, Zhen, Dui, and Gen, respectively. As published in Yang Cheng Fu’s book entitled The Complete Volume on Taijiquan’s Applications, there are a total of 94 photos of Yang Cheng Fu in stationary postures from the classical Yang routine. Each and every posture strictly follows the eight trigram positioning of the four cardinal and four diagonal directions. In the Ninth Palace Eight Trigram Diagram, the four cardinal directions are east, south, west, and north, and the four diagonals are southwest (corner 1), southeast (corner 2), northeast (corner 3), and northwest (corner 4). The total of these eight directions yield the eight trigrams. By placing an intersecting point within the center of these eight directions, the ninth palace has arisen. The following are some basic rules that must be observed in the Traditional Yang style.
1. The central intersection point within the Ninth Palace Eight Trigram Diagram when lines are drawn from each corner is often called the central palace. In terms of this, every change to different postures within any given stepping sequences from the routine must commence from the central palace point of the diagram. Examples of this are as follows: After completing the commencing posture in the routine, the right toes turn out 80 degrees to the right to begin the Left Wardoff posture of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. The right heel is considered to be the central palace. Upon turning out the right foot, the left foot steps out toward the south along the north to south ground line to form a left side bow stance. Following onto the Right Wardoff posture, the left toes turn in 45 degrees. In this case, 15 centimeters from the heel of the left foot becomes the central palace. The right foot steps to the west approximately 15 centimeters to the right of the east to west ground line to form a right front bow stance. Continuing onto Single Whip, the toes of the right foot turn ten degrees past the south. The right heel is now the central palace. The left foot steps to the east directly along the east to west ground line to form a left side bow stance.

2. On the basis of the four line directions of the Ninth Palace Eight Trigram Diagram, we can standardize the structure of the two above described bow stances. In this way, we can prevent the often seen problem of a front bow stance not having a front and a side bow stance not having a side. Let us use the left front bow stance from Apparent Closing as an example to illustrate this. The most commonly observed problem with forming a proper front bow stance in this posture is the inability of the practitioner to sink his right hip enough. This will cause the central line running from the Bai Hui point down to the ground to deviate from the east to west ground line. This deviation will cause the body to lean slightly to the right (south). Another possibility could occur if the hip and shoulder joints are not lined up properly. When this occurs the left palm is slightly in front of the right palm during the pushing motion within the technique. This destroys the symmetrical balance of the posture and lessen the degree of power generated for the application. An example of a side bow stance not conforming to its guidelines can often be seen in the left side bow stance of Single Whip. The most commonly observed problem with forming a proper left side bow stance is again the practitioner’s inability to sink the right hip down enough. When this occurs, the central line of the front and rear sides of the body does not line up properly with that of the north to south directional line. This will cause the body to tilt to the left as well as shorten the length of the longest energy pathway in the body.

The Central Equilibrium Line

As noted above, the vertical line running from the Bai Hui down through the Hui Yin point to vertical ground point between the two feet on the ground forms the essential central equilibrium line for Taijiquan training. To illustrate the importance of this line let us use Grasp Sparrow’s Tail as the example. During the transition from Left Wardoff to the stationary posture of Right Wardoff, the central equilibrium line moves along the east to west ground line to form a right front bow stance. Continuing on to when the weight shifts back to conduct Rollback, the central equilibrium line moves directly along the east to west ground line without deviation. The central equilibrium line moves forward along the east to west ground line during the action of Press as well as during the action of Push. During the practice of stationary push hands, no matter what technique is being conducted such as wardoff, rollback, press, or push or what direction the waist is being turned, the central equilibrium line must be constantly maintained between the two feet along the east to west ground line. No matter if you are shifting forwards or backwards, the central equilibrium line must maintain its vertical position.

No matter what the transition may be for the 25 various bow stances in the traditional Yang style routine, the central equilibrium line must be always maintained between the feet along the ground line. Besides the two different types of bow stances, there are eight empty stances, four natural stances, two single legged stances, and two drop stances that also have their own central equilibrium line. Among the thirteen postures of wardoff, rollback, press, push, pull down, split, elbow, bump, advance, retreat, look left, gaze right, and central equilibrium, central equilibrium is the core, it is the soul, and it is the life line of Taijiquan. In order to hold fast to this life line you must put the foundation of the front bow stance and side bow stance at the forefront of stance forms training.