There are TONS of different martial systems and they all seem to
have their own ideas as to which different martial arts stances are
the most effective. Horse, cat, bow-and-arrow and “L” stances
seem to be the most popular as you research various systems. There
are – for very good reason – many ways to position your body so you
can achieve the results you are looking for.
Structure – on the other hand – is something that is lacking
in many systems. It move when your body is effortlessly supporting
its own weight instead of straining to keep one position while
attempting to support and outstretched arm/leg in a strike or absorb
the pressure delivered from an outside source in the form of an
You Can Have Balance Without Structure, But Not
Structure Without Balance
Get a coin and place it on its thin edge on a flat and stable
surface. It is balanced. There is equal pressure effecting the coin
from all angles. Now, bump the surface it is on. What happens to the
Now take a pencil and shove it in a Styrofoam block wider and
longer than the pencil is tall. Place your new creation on the same
surface as you did the coin. Bump the surface. Does the pencil fall
over? If not, why? It has a higher center of gravity and more mass
than the coin but you can apply SO much more pressure to it before it
even begins to topple.
Both objects were balanced, but the pencil had the benefit of
structure regardless of its inherent disadvantages compared to the
coin. So what were the differences that made this possible? Let’s
Coin: It’s base was more narrow than its height. Its top weight was heavier than the weight of its base. That means that any pressure applied went to the top and pushed the coin over.
Pencil in the Styrofoam: The base was wider than the height of the pencil in all directions. The base was also heavier than the top. This means that the pressure applied to the pencil distributed the kinetic energy to the base
instead of traveling to the tip.
One can infer from this example that in order to remain balanced
and structured, one would have to move around in a horse stance – the widest and lowest stance in martial arts – and wear cement shoes. This,
however, would make moving around a bit of a challenge unless you had
legs the size of oak trees.
Balanced Movement or Structured Movement?
Grab an empty water or soda bottle and a piece of string about 3
feet (1 meter) long. Tie a slip-knot in the string and fit it just
over the mouth of the bottle. Now gently tug on the string. What
happens to the bottle? It falls over, right?
Now widen the loop in the string and fit it near the middle of the
bottle. Tug on the string. What happens to the bottle? It should
slide along with the string for a little bit before it starts to
Now, place the string near the bottom of the bottle and tug on the
string. What happens? If you tug fast enough, the bottom will
accelerate faster than the top and the bottle will fall.
What does this tell us? An object has more stability and structure
in movement if that movement is initiated from the center instead of
the top or the bottom. Generally, when a person moves, it is a
controlled fall. The person leans enough to start losing balance and
then adjusts their base – their feet – to stabilize their
structure and improve the balance.
If that same person learned to move from the waste instead of
leaning, the whole body would move as one unit; thereby maintaining a
solid structure and – as a result – their balance.
Pressure Testing Stance vs Structure
Stand with your feet in any stance you want. I recommend trying
this test using every foot position (stance) you can think of. Stand
as balanced as you can. Have a friend – or someone you trust –
gently push you in from the front, back and either side without you
leaning into the pressure and maintaining your stance. Have your
friend gradually increase the pressure in all four directions and
make note of how much pressure it takes to get you to lose balance.
Now, stand with your feet directly below your shoulders, relax
your legs (do NOT lock your knees but don’t bend them drastically
either, put your balance in the center of your feet (equidistant from
the toes and the heel and the same from either side). Have your
friend push or pull you from all four directions again. There is only
one difference. As your friend applies force to you, let yourself
sink downwards at the same rate you are being pushed. Do not lean,
just let your knees bend and your waste drop as the pressure is
applied. Eventually, the pressure will be too much for even that
method, but make a note of the difference in force it took to either
get you to move or start to fall over.
What Does All This Have to Do With Martial Arts?
Whether you grapple, are a striker or you go to the ground, your
opponent is going to want to achieve on basic thing in order to gain
control over you, restrict your ability to have an effect on them and
reduce your power so that the attacks, locks or pins have less
leverage, speed, power or accuracy. In short, they are going to want
you off balance.
Once you are off balance, you are now fighting to do two things;
effect your opponent with the technique of your choice and regain
your balance so you can continue with maximum efficiency.
Maintaining Your Structure is More Important Than Where You Put Your Feet.
Stances are methods of movement from one location to another. They
are NOT for stability while stationary. The Horse Stance is perfect
for lateral movements or lowering your center of gravity in
preparation for a throw. The Cat Stance shift the weight off the
front foot completely to the back so you can increase distance
between you and your opponent and prepare for a front-footed kick.
The Bow-and-Arrow Stance is great for covering large distances and
maintain balance in a single step. The “L” Stance is actually
pretty pointless because no matter which way you turn or move, you
need to move too much to get where you want to go.
The one thing all of these stances have in common is that they are
transitional. At no point does the practitioner actually stay in that
position. I guess you can say they are bridging methods from one
location to the next; from standing in one location to standing in
another. They are NOT the destination OR the final position you will
wind up in to perform your techniques.
Structure is the way you hold yourself while you are performing
your techniques, while you are experiencing pressure from an
opponent, or while you are just standing, walking, running, etc. Good
structure will allow you to stand and move effortlessly, not be
effected by outside influences and deliver tremendous power to your
techniques; no matter what they are. Proper structure is the key to
success in ANY martial field. It is truly the foundation of any good
If you have anything you would like to add or have any questions,
please feel free to leave a comment below and I will address them as