Tear Down the Monkey

A critical analysis of the fighting stance we've been using for years. And why I got rid of it.

I recently went through some changes in my teaching and practice. One of these recent changes was in our fighting stance. The reasons for these are many, and too lengthy to explain for these purposes. However, the root of any changes I make are always born of a desire to improve things for myself and my students.

Let’s compare the stance we were using for years, the Monkey Stance, with the 3 Dimensional Stance, 4-6 Stance, or 40/60 Stance common to other Chinese boxing systems from the same region and era.

Monkey Stance (Hóu Shi 猴势)

Monkey Stance

Monkey Stance

The ‘monkey stance’ is found in seven star praying mantis boxing, plum blossom praying mantis boxing, and supreme ultimate praying mantis boxing. Although used within these branches of mantis boxing it is not necessarily a ‘sparring’ stance. It shows up within moves in the boxing sets of old, but usually aligns with the execution of specific techniques. More common in these old forms, is actually, the bow stance, or mountain climber stance.

Upon recent discovery, these monkey stance techniques are typically leg wrap takedowns which necessitate this stance in order to shadow box the move absent a partner, without falling on one’s face. I had fully integrated this stance into my fighting and movement patterns after having learned it from a coach I worked with for years. He taught/used this monkey stance in fighting predominantly because of the correlation he found in Western Boxing. However, the latter is usually in a much higher posture due to the lack of necessity in defending kicks and takedowns.

The higher posture found in western boxing allows for increased mobility when using this stance/footwork, and has less detrimental effect on the fighter’s balance. The feet are closer together which leaves the stability of the boxer mostly uncompromised. This has issues in a mixed martial art arena, which is why you do not see MMA fighters using this stance.

When used as a lower stance (as we were doing), the monkey stance is rather unstable and rife with problems. Least of which is it’s mobility. Let’s rip it down so we can understand the inherent strengths and weaknesses of this ‘stance’.

Strengths

  1. Offers solid defense capabilities - decreased profile for target acquisition from the opponent.

  2. Forward position offers quicker range to target - a 50/50 weight displacement puts the range to target of the striker closer to their target. This helps get hands on the opponent faster and offers a range assist for smaller fighters.

  3. Increased mobility - this is only active when the fighter is in a high stance. Otherwise, this is negated.

  4. Protects the Knee - this is one of the finer points of this stance in my opinions. With the knee over the toe, the boxer is almost immune to cross kicks and side kicks which are designed solely to attack the knees. Proper execution of this stance nullifies this threat.

  5. Good in the Clinch - when engaged in grappling, the 50/50 position of the monkey stance, and the lowered center of gravity are where this stance shines the most. A stance with weight distribution forward, or behind this 50/50 center of gravity point, causes us to be open for pulls, pushes, and a variety of throws. This, in my opinion, is where the monkey stance becomes necessary, and relevant.

Weaknesses

  1. Unstable - this stance is extremely unstable. Especially from lateral attacks such as haymakers, which are an extremely common strike even from novices. The stance can become stable with a great deal of tweaking and perfection, but the amount of time required to do this, certainly nullifies its benefits, which are few compared to other stances. The ease of which a smaller fighter can be rocked and toppled makes this a dangerous choice when looking at stances to use in hand-to-hand combat.

  2. Difficult for beginners - there is a massive learning curve with this stance. When sitting in this stance to maximize its effective traits, it is extremely finicky. Knee over toe, back foot angle/position, hip alignment, shoulders over hips, balls of the feet, hips dropped. Remembering all of that, while trying to move in a completely foreign manner that is counter to our human movement patterns, can take a casual practitioner years to get down. With diligent focus, the stance still requires hundreds of hours of training to overcome and perfect the stability and mobility deficiencies.

  3. Decreased mobility - when hunkered down in this stance it is lacking mobility in order to maximize defense. While defense is great, it is not the endgame. The ultimate goal, is to defeat our opponent(s). Imagine being faced with multiple attackers, and sitting in a fighting stance that creates a 50% speed reduction. Or you are in a cage fight, facing a mobile, and speedy opponent. You won’t keep up.

  4. Vulnerable to Leg Kicks - The forward 50/50 position for the center of gravity, causes the leg to become a closer target for our opponent’s leg kicks. Additionally, more weight on the forward leg, causes an extreme delay in response time in getting the leg up to check, or avoid an opponent’s leg attack. This is the number one attack I would use against someone in this stance. Destroy leg. Compromise their mobility, and take their will to fight.

  5. Exposed Striking Power - in order to generate maximum power in this stance, a fighter must learn to shuffle with each strike, or twist/rotate the hips when throwing off the rear hand. This is common in western boxing for producing awesome striking power. However, when we twist and throw ‘long’ punches/strikes we create a longer opening in our defense that is susceptible to counter-strikes. This window of opportunity can be an issue against a seasoned opponent.

  6. Takedown Defense - if you were to classify each type of throw, trip, takedown that exists within martial arts styles the world over, and then categorize them based on frequency of use, the single and double leg takedown would be at, or near the top of that list. These are common weapons in the arsenal of wrestlers the world over. The monkey stance, becomes necessary within the clinch, but when used prior to the clinch phase, it creates a leg position that is extremely vulnerable to single/double leg takedowns. Additionally, the 50/50 weight distribution again creates a speed limit on the ability to sprawl. A veteran shoot fighter that is highly adept at setting these up, will close the gap from striking range to the takedown in the blink of an eye. Any speed/range advantage we can have in striking range can be a deterrent against these attacks. This stance is not the choice selection when it comes to this.

The Three Body Solution - San Ti Shi (三体势)

Used in a derivative of Mantis Boxing known a 6 Harmony Praying Mantis Boxing, and a newer (1900’s) subset of that known as 8 Step Praying Mantis Boxing. The 6 Harmony line has roots in another style of Chinese boxing, that is derived from Liuhe Xingyiquan (6 Harmony Mind Intent Boxing). A system taught by the Dai family in Ming dynasty who owned a security/escort company known as a biaoju. This explains why this line has an entirely different stance than the other branches of mantis boxing.

The concept is - simple striking with solid footwork designed to maximize power. The striking was used in conjunction with blocks/intercepts and could be blended together for combinations as needed. Throws and other techniques were included in the system, but it was overly simplified to keep the training methods efficient and effective. Something you would want when training security and bodyguards.

The stance used in ‘mind intent boxing’ is called a San Ti Shi (three dimension stance 三体势) and while not unique to this one style, it is effective. It appears in other Chinese boxing systems originating from northern China as well.

In my opinion, this is a much better stance for a variety of reasons. Hence why I began adopting it in my system and discarding the monkey stance except when grappling. The following breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of the three dimensional stance before we get into the details on proper execution.

Strengths

  1. Stability - this stance is incredibly stable, especially when compared with the monkey stance. The 40/60 weight distribution, with hips dropped offers a stable platform for striking, kicking, or defending even from lateral angles of attack.

  2. Ease of Use - one of my biggest criticisms of the monkey stance is it’s long and finicky learning curve. For beginners who are training 2 to 3 hours per week, the san ti stance is much easier to learn, and execute. Unlike the monkey stance, it takes very little maintenance to get people on board with the concepts and application of it.

  3. Power Generation - next to stability, and ease of use, this is probably one of the greatest advantages of this stance. The power generation capacity from this stance versus the monkey stance is phenomenal when looking at a fixed stance platform to compare. The monkey stance can generate power as well, but usually at cost of defense, or stability when committing to the twist execution to produce the force. The 3-dimension stance however, can outperform without compromising the integrity of the defense/position of the fighter.

  4. Kick Defense - the round kick is a powerful weapon in a boxers arsenal when used as to attack the lead leg of the opponent. Opposite the monkey stance, the three dimension stance offers a quicker reaction time to move our leg, or shin-check the opponent’s attacking leg. When it comes to groin kicks, the narrow stance of the san ti offers defense by itself. Once again, the lighter weight on the front leg allows for a quick reaction time against leg attacks, knee attacks, or groin attacks.

  5. Takedown Defense - this is specific to shoot takedowns such as single leg, double leg, or rushing/tackle takedowns. The rear sitting san ti stance, offers a larger timespan to initiate a sprawl, or rearward step to avoid these takedowns. The forward weight of the monkey stance was not useless, but the timing was harder to get down.

  6. Range Manipulation - another exceptional advantage to this stance, is the ability to manipulate range. The slight rearward weight distribution offers an appearance to the opponent that we are further away than we really are. The lead foot position indicates our true range to target. We can therefore, get that position across the ‘critical distance’ line of our opponent with them unaware that we moved in. This allows for us to gain range advantage on an offensive assault. Additionally, as mentioned above, the defense is also assisted with the range increase offered by the rear sitting san ti stance compared with forward-weighted stances.

Weaknesses

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  1. Knee exposed - if your stance sits too far back, meaning you violated the 40% weight on the front and 60% on the back, it exposes the knee. This is improper or lazy execution and can cost you your knee if you are not careful. Be mindful of the cross kicks, and side kick attacks your opponent may throw at your foreward leg and you should have plenty of time to defend if that happens. To nullify this, train the proper weight distribution and sink your hips. This will keep the front knee rounded, arcing against your opponents thrust force.

  2. Mobility - the stance is less mobile in circle patterns commonly found in boxing and MMA bouts. Use it for engagement purposes only, once you have crossed ‘critical distance’ and committed to your assault.

  3. Clinch Deficient - this is not an optimal stance inside the clinch. The weight being back makes us susceptible to being pushed over backward. Once the clinch happens, shifting to the ‘weight-forward’ advantage offered by the monkey stance, bow stance, or horse stance when in the flank, is a better tool for the job.

Mechanical Breakdown

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  • Weight Distribution - 40% of body weight on front leg. 60% on the back leg.

  • Center of Gravity - CG should be slightly rear of the 50/50 mark. Sink your CG by dropping your hips 3 to 4 inches. This will also bend the knees and create a suspension system in your legs allowing for better balance, and mobility.

  • Front Foot - aimed at target, or direction of travel.

  • Rear foot angle - it is imperative for stability that the rear foot be at or around 45 degrees angled off from the front foot.

  • Width - heel of the rear foot is in line with the heel of the front foot (see diagram).

  • Splitting the Floor - Focus the pressure on the pads of feet. When hips are dropped, it should feel like you are splitting the floor between your feet.

  • Posture - sit up straight. Shoulders over hips.

The san ti shi is an all around better stance as we can see from our strengths vs weaknesses evaluation above. The ease of use, striking power increase, kick defense capability, improved range manipulation, and takedown defense make this an optimal fighting stance far superior to the monkey stance. Therefore, it’s a no-brainer from a coaching perspective, as well as a fighter’s methodology. You can see why we switched.