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In Tai-Chi, if I remember correctly, many stances and movements signify something , such as "push opponent away", "block a kick" etc. At least that's whatone of my trainers claimed.

In one of the tracks of Body Combat 50 (a kickbox workout) there is this stance. Does it come from a traditional martial arts form, such as Shaolin Kung Fu? If so, what does it mean? Does it stand for something more violent such as "ready to strike with a dagger" ? Or is it just an "energy stance"/ just showing readiness?

Stance

  • I think this might be better named a "posture" - stance in my vernacular usually refers just to the feet and their positioning. – William Mioch Feb 22 '12 at 11:35
  • Good idea. Title renamed. However, there is no tag yet named "posture". Can you create one? – knb Feb 22 '12 at 14:22
  • done - you just type in the tag you want (at least that's what I did) – William Mioch Feb 23 '12 at 11:11
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In Shaolin Kung Fu, that is actually a combination of a few different moves. Forms will typically encode movements in combinations like this, for multiple reasons. One, it makes it easier to remember large amounts of moves, as forms were typically used to preserve techniques where handwritten manuals weren't sufficient. Also, when fighting in real life, you never will be using a single technique in isolation and will often have to combine techniques fluidly. This translates into the fluid movements and transitions in forms, and the seemingly superfluous arm and legs movements.

I'll break down the different parts of the stance, according to my own training in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Wu Su. Different styles may have some differences in detail, but probably will have similar constructions.

  1. The diagram is demonstrating someone in a reverse bow and arrow leg stance. A typical bow and arrow leg stance is used for stability in the front-back direction. It will have both feet positioned at an angle, with the front leg bent and the back leg out straight. The front knee is turned in and the toes on both feet are pointing in the direction of the knees, parallel to each other. Weight will be distributed 70% on the front (bent) leg and 30% on the rear (straight) leg. The practitioner will be facing forward. The reversed variant of this stance will have the weight distributed the other way: the rear leg is bent with 70% of the weight and the front leg is out straight with 30% of the weight. Often, the reverse version of the stance is used in transition while stepping or preparation for a technique (such as a sweep or a kick).

  2. The right arm is executing a low circular block. These are typically used to deflect low punches or kicks, or other incoming attacks. It is likely that the person in this diagram either is mid-turn, defending against an attacker striking from behind, based on the body position.

  3. The left arm is executing an upper block. These blocks will typically be used to defend against high incoming attacks striking in a downward motion. They can also be used to deflect attacks to the face or break out of shoulder or lapel grabs.

The positioning of the person in this diagram makes me think that this is the likely situation that it is illustrating: The practitioner is engaged against a person in front of them, and is in a bow and arrow leg stance at the time (he could have transitioned to it from executing a strike, or other technique, or it could be his "ready" stance). The attacker executes an upper attack or grapple and is deflected via the upper block. At the same time, another attacker advances from behind and attempts to attack the practitioner with a mid-range kick to the kidney or floating ribs. He turns and deflects this incoming attack while still maintaining control of the first attacker's arm.

Of course there are other situations where this position may end up occurring. However, this is what immediately occurred to me when looking at the diagram.

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  • 2
    Nice answer and welcome to the site ^_^ – David H. Clements Mar 20 '12 at 2:52
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Postures encode a lot more than the obvious. Sometimes you'll find yourself in the middle of sparring, and you flow through a posture you've trained before. "Oh! I just did X! I didn't know I can use it like that!"

Striking and blocking are the most obvious application. The next layer beneath that relates to what you can do when you grab or use joint locks. In this posture's case, there are some sort of throws/sweeps in there.

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To add to one of the answers, blocks in two different directions, such as the mountain block in Taegeuk pal-jang, make sense in the case of defending against multiple attackers. If there are multiple threats, then you have reason to defend yourself in different directions.

You'll also see some weapon forms taking a similar stance to create a longer block using the weapon (i.e. staff forms). In the forms I've seen, it has been used as part of a longer sequence of blocking and striking.

When you look across martial arts, blocks are rarely used alone. They are often used with other blocks or strikes either before or after. The use of the stance above would depend on the context - what happens before and after.

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  • In my case, it's at the beginning of a form, which starts with a low block with the fist at the hip tucked in, before the arm is raised above the head. – knb Feb 19 '12 at 20:51
  • I think I'll accept this answer because I like that you pointed out several aspects: it can be multiple attackers, it depends on the context, and it still can belong to a weapon form. – knb Feb 22 '12 at 14:25
  • That's interesting. In Taegeuk Pal-Jang, the technique is done as one. What about the speed of the technique? There's usually room for interpretation in that as well, but it could also be an indication of what it may be used for. Also worth keeping in mind is that forms are usually a way of practicing techniques that would otherwise be used in a more dynamic fashion (i.e. sparring). – rcheuk Feb 23 '12 at 19:20
  • I disagree that any technique in any form represents a defense against a multiperson attack. For that to be the case, it presumes a very narrow instance of attacks, making the scenario so improbable that it would neglect more reasonable scenarios with one attacker. That the technique is unfortunately named a "block" causes confusion about its real purpose - which has nothing to do with blocking anything. The mountain block mentioned here is a strike - not a block. – Andrew Jay Jan 9 '18 at 13:30
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I'm rather loathe to answer this one again... However...

It's a simple defence against a kick.

Catch the leg, raise it up with the back hand. Front hand pushes opponent backwards over the extended leg.

No "blocks", no strikes. Just catch, lift, push.

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  • Unfortunately, I have but one upvote to give. But I wholeheartedly agree - not a block at all, and no multiple opponents. – Andrew Jay Jan 9 '18 at 13:41
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    The problem I think, is the concept of "a response", or "defence" has been translated to english as "block". This is certainly true in Karate, with "uke" and has caused many misconceptions. The other problem is the position is being analysed out of context. It only has meaning in the context of the preceding movements in the form. – ColinSeligSmith Jan 21 '18 at 18:46
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This position (approximately) occurs in the first form ("discipline form") of the Shaolin Qi Shi (seven animals) style of Kung Fu that I am learning. In this form, the hands are held in eagle claw rather than closed (the position is therefore known as "low eagle"), and the upper hand is closer to the face, but it is otherwise the same.

The position occurs as one returns from a side kick to an attacker in front, and is held only momentarily - the form continues with a high and a low block with the leading hand, then a counter-strike with the upper rear hand.

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In Korean, I would call that santul makki or mountain block. It appears two times in Taeguk Pal Jang. It is followed (in that poomse) by a crossing shoulder grab (using the lower blocking arm) and a killing uppercut (using the raised blocking arm).

In terms of it's meaning, I would interpret as "protecting your head from an attack on your left as you move quickly inside the strike of the attacker on your right so that you can quickly disable him."

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  • Thanks! What a great answer!- Still, I'll wait a bit (1-2 days) for new answers coming in. – knb Feb 19 '12 at 18:19
  • Hm, In my picture, the guy moves the fist over his head, but in the taekwondo form, it is more a horizontal upper arm / vertical lower arm, and the fist is placed a good deal more away from the head. – knb Feb 19 '12 at 18:35
  • @knb, you are welcome. You aren't wrong in noticing the difference between the form and the picture. Personally, I would call that a variant that, in real life, would certainly be adapted to the situation of the moment (i.e., block high if the attack is coming high). Your mileage will obviously vary. – Bob Cross Feb 19 '12 at 21:00
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Yikes! Blocks? Multiple attackers? I agree that we in Taekwondo have this same technique, but I don't subscribe to this as being a block or a multi-person defense.


As to a block, it would usually follow to mean against a low attack - which would typically be a kick or a weapon - two very things that should never be blocked, unless one desires to end up in an arm cast in short time. And in any contrived scenario involving a kick or a weapon - or any other attack - one questions what the high back hand is doing? Or what the near leg is doing with its exposed and unprotected knee?

If the strike originated from high and ended up low, then the defense becomes a parry - not a block - or a grappling technique. And this makes more sense, because then we can interpret what the back high hand is doing. And, we can have a meaning for the stance, which the picture does not adequately portray except as approximately a horse stance, but which is different than in Taeguek Pal Jang (Taeguek 8).


And as to multiple attackers, any contrived scenario is always based on a lucky scenario not likely to happen. Were it to really happen, the focus for that unlikely scenario pulls attention away from more likely scenarios. It would force us to think as if we are stuntmen in a Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung movie: very improbable movements to unlikely encounters, however entertaining the result may appear. While we always assume we are attacked by more than one person, we must dispatch each attacker one by one.

The fact that we are in a horse stance according to the illustration, we presume our sole attacker is to our right or left.


As ColinSeligSmith mentions elsewhere in this question, this pose (and poomsae) can easily represent a catch of a kick:

You squarely face your opponent who throws a kick with either leg.

You step backward with your left foot, into horse stance. You are now off the line of attack, so you've met one prerequisite for self-defense.

As you step back, your left arm draws back and follows the kicker's knee (making this more a parry, and not a block); at the end of the kick's reach, you raise what is now the rear hand (the left hand), and because it's a fist, we assume we're grabbing something: the calf, ankle, shoe, or pants leg; and then we raise it high.

In raising the leg high, the opponent should be off-balance, and should be moving more or less uncontrollably toward you, passing to your front.

He is losing height as you are stretching him into sort of a split. This also neutralizes any attempt by him trying to follow up by using his hands to further attack. He might reach you, but not in any meaningful way; you are now meeting the next rule of self-defense: neutralize the attack.

Your ethics takes over from here, but, assuming the opponent is still dangerous, your "low block" is a strike to his head (which could be lower if he's lost his balance) or it could be a hammer fist to his knee depending on where you caught his foot, or it could be a hammer fist to his groin - especially if he kicked with is left foot and you both are facing the same direction; and in this case, if the hammer fist is not readily accessible to the groin, it is your elbow - and not the fist - which can strike his stomach.

Taeguek 8 does not lower the high hand as if in a strike, so, for Taeguek 8, this would not be the best interpretation. However, the illustration - without context of what happens next - could infer this as one possible scenario.

In this way, you've exercised the final rule in self-defense: you neutralize the attacker. So to recap: we've gotten off the line of attack; we neutralized the attack; we neutralized the attacker.


Another interpretation is similar, and does apply to Taeguek 8, and still applies to the illustration:

You square off; your opponent throws a kick, similar to before.

You back up (getting off the line of attack) into a horse stance as shown and as prescribed in Taeguek 8, which means backing up with your right leg.

As you back up, your "low block" is a parry: it leads (not blocks) the kick to where ever end it may land - low, medium, or high - but not on you, because you moved off the line of attack. No matter the assumption here, we don't have to assume anything about the attacker's kick quality; we just know that while we got off the line of attack, we did not give up distance to the attacker, and because the attacker closed the distance by kicking, we can assume that the attacker is in very close proximity to our right hand, which is executing a high "block". With his face right there, the "block" is a strike to the face/jaw.

Our own head is looking toward the low block, not the strike to the head. This might make sense: if there was another opponent to deal with, if he's behind your attacker (whose now been struck with your raised back hand), you need not yet worry about him, so no need to look in that general direction. The bigger worry is if you are sandwiched in between two attackers (one of whom you just took out his jaw), and the other is possibly coming at you. What you do next depends on the poomsae's interpretation of his attack, but, whatever you do, you keep your eye on him.

This is how we consider multiple opponents. We indicate our awareness of another opponent, and our positioning with regards to one: this is called strategy, and is one of the things our forms are supposed to teach us. That is precisely why we study - in great depth - of every nuance of the poomsae: eyeline, stance, open or closed hands, bending knees, foot placement - everything.

But in our forms - no matter the style - we can't presume the attacker will do anything warranting a specific attack: In Taeguek 8, we have the slow upper cut coming next. Why assume that is for the next opponent, when we might not yet have completely dispatched the current opponent? Indeed, the rising high block might just be the preparatory movement for a lock or a pin. In my studies, the slow movements are exactly that: preparations for a pin or a lock, which almost never require an explosive movement. Yes, a slow movement is not a slo-mo of an attack, like an upper cut; it's a movement meant to draw and control the opponent, and in which speed of the technique is meant to stabilize by keeping up with the opponent. Fast is not important, or even strength and power. Keeping up is the key, and that is representative of the slo-mo movements.

Explaining this further would draw away from scope the original question, so perhaps asking another question about what slow moving techniques are for is warranted. I only mention it because Taeguek 8 was brought up, and uses this as the very next movement to the pose being asked about, and its consideration has effect in Taeguek 8 application, and is not applicable to the question about the pose; and because of the mentions about multiple opponents.

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