The Forward Stance in Tai Chi
The Forward Stance in Taijiquan
The Forward Stance in Hunyuan Taijiquan
Foundation, foundation, foundation! How many of us have heard these words from one teacher or another in the course of our training? We hear the words, but do we really understand them? Do we internalize them? I do not claim to be a master, nor do I think I have fully understood most of what I have been taught, but I do have some understanding. After nearly thirty years of training, I should hope I have some understanding. Otherwise, what have I been doing?
What is foundation? I believe that it is all of our basics. What I mean is that it is our stances, our structure and our basic movements. I teach the Chen Hunyuan Xinyi Taijiquan system. For those that are unfamiliar, it is a system based on Chen style Taijiquan, with elements of Xinyiquan, Tongbeiquan and Hunyuan Qigong. Outwardly it looks like the Chen Xinjia, but with more and larger circles. So when I talk about structure, foundation, stances, etc. You will know where I am coming from. Since this will be ongoing, I will write on each subject in a separate article.
So, back to the subject at hand, what is foundation? Well, the Taiji classics tell us that if there is a problem in our form, we should first look to the feet and legs. So, let’s start with stances and foot placement. When I teach beginners, I keep it simple. I teach three stances, and show how other stances are really just variations of those three. First, I teach the J-stance. Simply put if you start out with your feet hip width apart. Turn out the left foot to 45 degrees, step forward a comfortable distance with your right foot. Look down at your feet. They should form a basic J-shape. So, the left foot is turned out at 45 degrees, and the right foot is pointing straight forward or slightly in (no more than one half-inch). The feet should still maintain their hip width. If the feet are less than hip width, you are tight-roping and are unstable to the left and right sides. If the feet are much wider than hip width, you become unstable to the front and back. The length of the stance is different for each style and at different points in the form.
Now, as for the weight, in a forward stance like your typical J-stance, the weight is more in the forward or front leg. In the illustration I have you step forward with the right foot so that is your forward leg or front leg. I know this may seem obvious to some, but my experience in classes has shown me that stating the obvious is sometimes absolutely necessary. So, we have our right foot forward and our weight should be about 60-70% in the right leg. There are times it will be different and each style has its differences. But in general, the weight should be 60-70% forward.
When you step forward, unless you intend to immediately take another step, you should keep the heel of the left foot down all the way to the ground. It is a very common mistake to lift the rear heel. The length of the step is important for proper execution of your particular form. For my illustration it should be a comfortable walking step length. This is a good length for many things. In push hands for example, many people, especially Chen stylists, believe that the lower and bigger their stance, the better. This is simply not so. I once had the opportunity to push with Milton Lie. He is a senior student of Jimmy Wong of Dallas, Texas. Some of you may know him if you have been to the Taiji Legacy tournament. Anyway, his stance was so short that he was almost standing with his feet even. His forward foot was only forward about six inches. I took my usual big Chen style stance and proceeded to get pushed all over the place. So, my point is, the size of the stance is not as important as the alignment, root and sensitivity. Don't get me wrong, Long stances are very good, for certain things. I just mean that they are not the best and only answer every time. When practicing many of the applications, a long stance is essential. Adaptability is the important thing. If you rely on one stance and don't practice using a longer or shorter stance, you are inhibiting your ability to adapt to the situation.
So, the feet are hip width, the left toe is turned out 45 degrees and the right foot is forward a comfortable walking step, with the right toe straight forward or very slightly turned in. The weight is 60-70% forward. The right knee should never stick out beyond the right toe. The rear leg should be as relaxed as possible. The knee should never be locked. Another problem I have seen in this stance is that some people allow their lower back to arch, especially when they are asked to hold the stance for a period of time. Arching the back causes several problems. First is that the lower body is disconnected from the upper body. What I mean is that the body cannot act as a single unit. It is like a broken branch, it cannot withstand any pressure. When the tailbone is tucked under, the upper and lower are connected. I will get to the full list and explanation of ten Taiji principles in another article. For now, what is important is to remember not to arch your back.
The other main problem I have seen is that some people collapse the front knee in toward their centerline. What this does is weaken the entire stance and endanger the knee. When the knee is not kept in alignment with the toe and hip it puts stress on the knee. There are two ways that knee is stressed. The first is collapsing and the second is twisting. To know if you are collapsing, take a forward stance and then look down at your front knee. Imagine a vertical plane that passes through your hip and toe. If the knee is not on the same plane, if it is inside it, you are collapsing. If you have trouble imagining a vertical plane then take a yardstick or some other straight edge. Put one end on your hip, where the hip bone (pelvis) meets the thigh bone (femur). Line up the straight edge with your knee in about the middle of the kneecap (patella). Now use the straight edge to site down your leg to the toe. If the middle toe is not in line with the straight edge, move the knee and/r the toe until the hip, knee and toes are in alignment. I say to move knee and/or toe, because sometimes the misalignment comes from turning the toe out too far.
The second stressor for the knee is twisting. This is much more common in the side stance (horse stance) than in the front or J-stance, therefore I will cove r that problem in my article on that stance.
When you move forward and backward in the front or J-stance, make sure you keep your hips level. Don’t allow one to come up higher than the other. If you sink the body, make sure the hips sink evenly.
If you like this article please let me know. I would like some feedback. Leave a comment about any quality you wish. Was I clear in my explanation? Did I ramble too much? Was I not detailed enough? Also, I am planning my next article on one of the following topics:
Something on the thirteen postures like -
The five directions
The eight energies
Let me know what you want to see next.
Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang
Hunyuan Taijiquan in China
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