A posture is like a battle formation
Postures are an important part of Chinese martial arts. They are an indispensable part of the training in every school. In particular every school’s ‘basic form’ will contain the basic postures which are the ‘mother posture’ (also known as ‘original posture’) followed by several ‘son postures’ (also known as ‘variation postures’). As regards Bagua Quan every posture has the dual connotation of internally nourishing the body and externally dealing with the opponent. Here I will only touch upon the aspect of ‘dealing with the opponent’.
The posture in combat in fact equates to the ‘battle formation’ that both sides take up in war. There are various distinctions between the units in a ‘battle formation’ such as being regular or raiding forces, being in the open or concealed and being in standoff or close quarter positions. There is single line formation where the head and tail should correspond with each other, there is echelon formation to cut and breakthrough the enemy, there is pocket formation to lure the enemy in deep. In other words each unit is deployed, gives mutual support and defeats the enemy on the basis of a specific tactical concept.
The units that martial arts can employ against an opponent are the four limbs. Some people make the very appropriate analogy between Chinese chessmen and parts of the body with the general as the head, the guards as the shoulders, the ministers as the elbows, the chariots as the feet, the horses as the kua, the cannons as the fists and the soldiers as the fingers. So every posture is a different combination of limbs and forms a different ‘battle formation’ for dealing with the opponent.
“Single Whip “Posture and “Red Phoenix Faces The Sun “ are ‘single line formation’. When both hands are in front protecting the chest this is ‘echelon formation’. “White Crane Spreads Its Wings” is pocket formation. Empty Stance foot position is ambushing while the elbows, knees, head and shoulders are all raiders.
So a posture is like a chess game set up by the defender. However the attacker is by no means stupid. You should never make a move hastily. The attacker may use a deceptive feinting move or change his position to trigger off the defender’s battle formation and then look for an opportunity.
Another thing that must be understood is that a posture in Chinese martial arts does not just look to countering one single opponent but supposes that the opponent may have ‘raiding forces’. So in many postures in Chinese martial arts the hands are deployed in various directions –in front and behind, left and right, up and down – and the opponent is not necessarily assumed to be in front – the defender’s attention must simultaneously cover all directions.
This is the foremost function of ‘form training’. The form is composed of different postures. The ‘completing posture’ that finishes one move is the ‘preparatory posture’ for the next move. Moreover this is just one possibility. The student must study other possible variations just as a general in peacetime must study variations in battle formation and a chess player must study variations in a chess game.