Mr. Miyagi - [while teaching Daniel to punch, wearing a catcher's mask and pads] "Secret to punch, make power of whole body fit inside one inch, here".
Mr. Miyagi - "Punch! Drive punch! Not just arm, whole body! Hip, leg, drive punch!
What is the basic foundation of karate? The karate stance (dachi)? Can you defend yourself without a good stance?
What is the perfect fighting stance?
The stance that causes your attacker to run away.
As a teenager, I remember several instances dragging State Street (the thing to do in the 60s) in a friends car and running into another group of teens looking for trouble. Sometimes we would stop in the middle of the road to fight (or nearly fight), only to have the fight end quickly when I assumed kumite dachi (a stance preparing to fight). The question always came up - "What's this? Karate?" My answer was "Yes"! And just like that, the fight was over with comments about the possible attacker not wanting to fight someone trained in martial arts. Or even more interesting were comments about not fighting someone whose hands were registered (not sure who started that rumor, that martial artists had to register their hands?)
One of the best scenarios happened when I was working as a lecturer at a planetarium when I was a college student and two ladies from the planetarium walked out to get in their car and were stopped by two aggressive males who would not allow them to close their car door. So I challenged them as any chivalrous male would do. They walked towards me and I stepped into kokutsu dachi. All of a sudden, their eyes widen dramatically and both turned quickly and ran. My first thought was - wow, my stances must be getting really good, just as a co-worker Luis Williams ran up behind me with a 2x4 in his hand. Well, it could have been my stance.
Whether you practice a back stance ‘kokutsu dachi’, front stance ‘zenkutsu dachi’, cat stance ‘neko ashi dachi’ or ready stance ‘fudo dachi’, these are greatly emphasized in most training systems in karate. In many, they are over emphasized. Kata (our guidebook) emphasizes stances – a back stance or cat stance for distinctly defensive tactics; a front stance for offensive tactics; shiko dachi (sumo stance) for balance; hachi dachi (pigeon toed stance) to protect the groin. Yes, stances need to be emphasized – but how much – and is it important to have a perfect stance?
When I watch my students perform kata, I will correct someone using zenkutsu dachi when the kata calls for kokutsu dachi, but not all the time. I would like my yudansha to know where traditionally we practice defensive tactics over offensive tactics, but I’m not overly concerned about our mudansha defending or attacking in a kata. I’m more concerned that they are learning stances.
|Senpai Ma demonstrates shiko |
dachi (sumo stance)
One of my yudansha has extraordinary technique, and she periodically ends up doing things differently in kata than the rest of the class. Most of the time I let her go and she apologizes but I tell her not to be concerned as her technique is flawless, she is just fighting different samurai than the rest of us. For those of us who have been practicing for years, this periodically happens to all of us. There is nothing wrong with this as it is a natural evolution of kata. As long as you are doing techniques correctly, keep going! We’ll get you back to the same kata later on. Remember katas are guidebooks, not laws!
When I started karate training as a teenager, there were only a handful of people in my city who trained in karate, and few stuck with it. This was because training methods rivaled training in the military. So intense was our training, that when I served in the US Army years later during the Vietnam war era, I had heard stories of the brutality of basic training. But because of my martial arts training, I didn’t see it was all that physically difficult. The problem I found was having someone constantly telling me what to do (I was never good at following orders) and the other was that the Army had total control over my life, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I don't like anyone telling me what to do - especially not the government!
During basic training at Fort Polk, the Army did their best to make sure no one received enough sleep (at least when I was paying for karate lessons, I got to sleep 8 hours a day). The continuous exercise combined with sleep deprivation invited every virus for hundreds of miles around to make themselves at home in any soldier – it resulted in many illnesses. Sooner or later, every trainee was on first name basis with every virus: myself, I caught pneumonia (as did many) but was still forced to train and run everywhere. Other than Sundays, I don’t remember getting 8 hours of sleep any night. The Army’s philosophy was that a soldier in combat needed to be tested under all conditions – my philosophy was that a well-rested soldier was a happy soldier without pneumonia. Other than training constantly, running or marching everywhere with a potentially life-threatening disease, the physical training in the Army seemed to be less demanding than my karate training. I actually enjoyed the physical demands (until I became ill).
The problem with this kind of philosophy or training in karate classes, is that most people are not captive audiences and they can just walk away without a 2-day pass or court martial. They are not going to volunteer to be put through brutality day end and day out. Training in karate must balance physical, mental and spiritual fitness – it needs to be interesting. The idea of doing the same thing over and over again is appalling. For myself, I trained in a variety of arts. I also try to come up with a variety of different ways to do the same exercise.
In the first years in karate, we spent a lot of time focusing on stances and body hardening. In particular, we spent hours and hours in ‘kiba dachi’. Much of the emphasis on kiba dachi was because our sensei wanted to strengthen our legs (and it worked) and because we trained in a small dojo with little room to maneuver. So much of our kihon (basics) was practiced in place from kiba dachi. We would kick, block and punch in kiba dachi: sometimes the entire evening in this stance. We would stand in a normal kiba dachi, then over emphasize the squat to help build muscle and kick and punch in a normal, deep, and greatly exaggerated deep stance. It taught me about extremes and made me a better runner (not that I like to run). But was it necessary?
The initial style I trained in was developed by Masutatsu Oyama who was known for extremes in training and for pushing his students to the limit. It was a very successful style for Oyama.
|Hanshi Finley demonstrates |
kokutsu dachi (back stance).
But are these stances necessary for karate? The answer is hai (yes) and iie (no). The great Shorin-Ryu master, Gichin Funakoshi wrote - low stances are for beginners and high stances for the advanced student. And I agree with this. Deep stances look nice and should be practiced in the beginning to assist the student in focusing on the stance. But as instructors, we should not go crazy over stances. I remember reading an article years ago where the author suggested that getting into and out of a stance is more important than the stance and one must be fluid in self-defense.
The other night, Sharon and I were watching Fight Science. This program was dedicated to the wushu styles of China. It was a great program. A White Crane kung fu stylist stood on a tiny plate attached to a pole in suru ashi dachi (one legged crane stance) 8 feet in the air while someone threw shurikens (star darts) at him - he successfully avoided them and remained in the one-legged stance. A praying mantis stylist showed his style with fluidity. He was then placed in a bubble room with several hundred flies to see how many he could catch in a few minutes. My thoughts were of the IHOP we visited in Grand Junction a couple of summers ago. Filled with flies, I had a contest with the people in our neighboring booth on how many flies we could strike in mid-flight. While watching the Fight Science program, I had to wonder with hundreds of more flies than at the IHOP how many did he swallow during this demo? Ugh! At the end of the program, the audience was treated to the Tiger Wushu stylist. His stances were deep and powerful and his strikes fast with tremendous force. Using a dummy made of ballistic gelatin, he ripped out the throat with his tiger claw strike that was very impressive. The force of his strike - 2400 pounds!
Anyway, stances should be emphasized to the new student – but not over-emphasized. If one were to take a look at historical photos of Okinawan martial artists from the early part of the 20th century and compare them to those of today, there is a noticeable difference in depth. Deep stances were almost non-existent. Students should learn proper stances and learn muscle balance, but stances need to be practical. Using Funakoshi’s precept – a student should learn deeper stances and focus on balance, but this should lead to relatively shallow stances as the student masters karate.
As one progresses, it is more important to learn to move from one stance to another and depth of a stance is unimportant (other than in stances like shiko dachi and kiba dachi). The horse-riding and sumo stances should be emphasized as deep stances because they are often used when there is a danger that an attacker can fall on the defender’s leg. This helps protect the defender from knee injury.
Our Taikyoku Sandan kata emphasizes a short (shallow) stance following gedan barai (down block). This was placed in this basic kata to help beginning students learn both deep and shallow stances.
Look at the historical photos I placed in this article. Examine the stances. These are all performed by some of the great martial artists in the past. Are the stances deep or shallow?
So to answer my initial question - can you defend yourself without a good stance? First, what is a good stance? This would be different for different people. And yes, you can defend yourself without a good stance.
|Sensei Kate Urbanek works |
on Sensei Kris Urbanek
using te waza from a front
Map to Dojo
|One way I relax and catch my breath between |
weight lifting exercises is to stretch. Some
stretches are also good for stances - even so, I don't
like stretching, but it is a good way to catch your
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