Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Traditional Karate Stances

Build your house to withstand earthquakes, and you will need a very strong and flexible foundation. Build a karate practitioner to withstand onslaughts, and you still need a strong and flexible foundation. Strong and flexible foundations in karate require good stances (dachi) to provide balance and flexibility, along with immovable courtesy and respect for those who teach you. So build a foundation well!

Kiba-dachi (騎馬立, Horse riding stance)
Stand in front of a mirror, examine your karate posture. Start with horse-riding stance (kiba dachi). Do you look like a bare-foot, bull-legged cowboy? You should, unless you're a cowgirl. Are your (1) feet spread apart so your feet extend beyond your shoulders? Remember, you are doing horse riding stance - so does you stance allow for a horse to sit between your legs? (2) Are your feet parallel with toes pointing to the front (shoman) of the dojo? If they are at an angle, you are standing in shiko dachi (sumo stance) instead of kiba dachi. But both are good stances.

Soke Hausel, stands in shiko dachi to teach white
crane Shorin-Ryu at a UW clinic in Laramie.

Bend your knees more and observe how you look. Keep your back straight. Now bend your knees more until you look like you are preparing to practice wushu (kung fu). It is likely your stance should be somewhere between your initial stance and your wushu stance. Periodically, practice kata with very deep stances to develop leg muscle strength. Turn sideways and observe your posture in a mirror and insure your back is straight.

It is my experience, few beginning martial artists get their feet in a proper position in kiba dachi and end up in shiko dachi. There is nothing wrong with shiko dachi, it can be used for any technique used in kiba dachi; but by tradition, it is used in specific waza (techniques) in kata

Typically, yori ashi (shuffle step) is employed when moving forward in kiba dachi, but you can just as easily move backwards with sugi ashi. Turn sideways and take a shuffle step with your lead foot followed by dragging your back foot - this is yori ashi. After you’ve tried this exercise, add a side kick (yoko geri keage or yoko geri kekomi) to your exercise regimen.

Shiko Dachi (sumo stance
Shiko dachi can be used in place of kiba dachi, as both work well interchangeably. The only difference between the two is that shiko dachi is a slightly more relaxed stance.

In many of the Japanese dojo (道場), there is an insistence that students practice kiba dachi where it is designated with no room for interpretation. However, many Okinawa schools are not so concerned with exact placement of feet. It is much more important to keep knees bent for effective self-defense. To the uninitiated, shiko dachi and kiba dachi look the same and they can be used interchangably.

Zenkutsu dachi (front stance)
Hanshi Andy Finley, 8th dan, stands in zenkutsu
dachi while teaching  nunchaku clinic at
University of Wyoming.
Critique your zenkutsu dachi (front stance), by checking your feet placement: be sure to spread your feet apart (front to back as well as side to side). Your front knee should be over your instep with toes pointing forward and there should be about 1.5 times your shoulder width separation between feet (front to back). Your back leg and knee need to be relaxed (not locked), and your back foot pointing forward at a small angle (10 to 20 degrees). And also constantly note that your feet should be separated right to left about one shoulder width separation (this is always a problem for most beginners). Each time you walk forward, check this width. 

When you check your stance, look at the position of your knees and feet. If your back foot is perpendicular to your front foot, you are likely standing in fudo dachi or kokutsu dachi rather than zenkutsu dachi. Examine to see if your back is straight

Walk forward in front stance keeping knees bent, your shoulders should remain at the same height (i.e., do not bob up and down). If your shoulders follow a sine wave pattern, you should be in physics - rather than karate. When you block, rotate your shoulders and upper body to match the angle of your feet. If you are punching, square your shoulders so they are nearly perpendicular to your stance.

The younger you are, the more you need to bend your knees. If you are over 60, take it easy, but remember to keep your feet on the floor and move in a smooth line so there is no perceivable up and down motion in your knees, head, and shoulders. 

When you move in any direction in front stance, your feet need to scribe a semi-circular path on the floor with the ball of your foot always touching the floor as you glide forward, side to side, or backwards. 

When you think that you have your stance correct, have someone check your posture to be sure that they agree it is correct. Once you have it right, practice, practice, practice, so that your body learns to do the correct stance.

Sensei Tyler Durfee, 3nd dan, stands in
kokutsu dachi while training with
kamaSeiyo Hombu, Mesa, Arizona.
Kokutsu Dachi
The back stance is slightly different for Shorin-Ryu karate than Shotokan karate. In most systems of karate, feet are perpendicular to one another with knees bent. However, in Shorin-Ryu, the back foot and knee are at a 100 to 110 degree angle with the front foot, with both heels slightly off-set off the embusen line rather than in a straight line. The separation of feet from front to back, and side to side, should be the same as in zenkutsu dachiKokutsu dachi is typically used for defense.

Neko ashi dachi (cat leg stance)
The cat stance is a great stance to defend from. As you practice cat stance, be sure all of the weight is on you back leg and both knees lie over the insteps.

As you practice this stance, periodically lift your front foot to see if you have to adjust your balance to keep from falling forward. If you do, you need to readjust and get all of your weight on the back leg.

Tsuru Ashi Dachi
Soke Hausel in crane
stance during karate demo 
at Chinese New Year.
The crane-foot stance (鶴足立), in Japanese is referred to as tsuru-ashi dachi (pronounced sue-roo ah-she da-chee). This stance appears in many kata in Shorin-Ryu including Pinan Yondan, Gankanku, Hakutsuru Dai, Rohai, Wankan Sho, as well as in many kobudo kata including Seiyo Sai no Kata and Suuji no kun

The stance is also known as sagi-ashi dachi, which translates as heron-foot stance (鷺足立 ). Typically, it is used in avoidance of foot sweeps, shin or foot strikes, and was featured in the Karate Kid movie. In some cases, we interpret its use in kata, as an exercise to assist students in building leg muscle and balance. 

Musubi Dachi (結び立 - Joining stance)
Soke stands in musubi dachi at
UW clinic in Laramie
A very important stance in traditional karate, used when we bow, and found at the beginning and ending of kata. The stance, known as 'musubi dachi', is complete with heels touching (joining), and toes split along a 45angle. It is used to perform a formal, and respectful bow, rei () - the most important technique (waza) you will use in martial arts.

Periodically check your feet placement, and be sure your heels touch. This stance is different from heisoku-dachi (閉足立), feet together stance), which is rarely used in Shorin-Ryu.

Iaigoshi-dachi (居合腰立, Kneeling stance) 
This stance shows  up in a couple of kata such as  gankaku, empi, sword-taking kata, nunckaku shodan kata, and others. The stance is used to get below your uke’s strike, or to give you a little extra time against and downward cut or strike. Kneel on the rear leg. with front leg bent. The distance from back to front foot is one shank length plus one fist length, and is typically one fist width wide.
Iaigoshi dachi (kneeling stance) demonstrated by
Hanshi Neal Adam, 8th dan, at Seiyo Hombu in
Mesa, Arizona

Stances are the foundation of good martial arts and self-defense. As one begins a journey in martial arts, they must first learn to walk and stand. In Shotokan karate (mainland Japanese branch of Shorin-Ryu), students are taught exaggerated wide and deep stances - which are good if you are young or middle aged. But, nearly all Shorin-Ryu systems teach students to stand in more upright, positions. 

When you practice kata, learn which stances are emphasized in each kata bunkai. Some techniques and stances are best for attacking, and some are better for defending, some are better for more than one opponent, others are good for groin protection. Remember, there is a lifetime of learning martial arts, so if you don’t have it right yet, there is still plenty of time.

"Secret to punch, make power of whole body fit inside one inch, here.” - Mr. Miyagi

There are many different stances in karate. It is most important to practice kata and bunkai in proper stances so that your muscles memorize stances so you do not think about them when you defend yourself. Is there a perfect fighting stance? The answer is yes, it is the one that makes your opponent run away. 

"Punch! Drive punch! Not just arm, whole body! Hip, leg, drive punch!” - Mr. Miyagi

As a teenager, I used the perfect stance many times to avoid altercations on the street. Preparing myself, I stepped into a fighting stance (kumite dachi) and nearly every time, my stance defeated my opponent! How?

In these situations, my potential opponent was shocked and typically asked - "What's this? Karate?” My answer was "Yes"! And just like that, the fight was over with comments from the aggressor stating that he did fight people trained in karate. Or even more interesting were comments about not fighting someone whose hands were registered (not sure who started the rumor that martial artists had to register their hands, but it came in handy [pun intended]). Hopefully, all of your battles will end as easily as many of mine.

One of the favorite battles happened when I was working as a lecturer at the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City as a college student. This event occurred when two female employees from the planetarium walked out to get into their cars one evening and were stopped by two aggressive males who would not allow them to close their car doors and leave. When I walked out into the parking lot, I challenged them. As they walked towards me, I stepped into kokutsu dachi, and like magic, their eyes swelled in their sockets and both turned quickly and ran away. My thought was - wow, my stances are getting really good! But then reality hit me when my co-worker, Louis Williams, ran past me chasing the two thugs with a 2” x 4” in hand.

I remember an interview with Bruce Lee – I don’t remember where it took place, but it was the talk of the dojo in the 1960s. Some Chinese martial artist was interviewed with Bruce Lee. The individual indicated he had a strong immovable stance; so strong that it was impossible to push him off balance. Lee accepted the challenge. The martial artist took his stance and Lee walked up to him and kicked him in the groin! Not fair, but it moved him. Whether a true story or not, it provided a valuable lesson: block! There is much more to a strong foundation than just a stance.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Karate Stances

Stances are the foundation of good martial arts and self-defense. As we begin our journey in martial arts, we start learning how to walk correctly and how to stand correctly depending on if we are attacking or defending. In Shotokan karate (the Japanese branch of Shorin-Ryu), students are taught that wide and deep stances are important - which is good as long as the person is young. But in the precursor of Shotokan, nearly all Shorin-Ryu systems teach students to stand in more natural stances and recognizes there is a difference to the knees of a young deshi verses that of an old bugeishi. The Shorin-Ryu styles are more about the individual's needs, while the flashy Shotokan is much more like military marching. In my opinion, both have its benefits, but after studying both styles for many years, I personally like the Shorin-Ryu over Shotokan - but this is my personal preference.

When you practice kata in a dojo, be aware of what stances are emphasized in which kata and with which techniques. Some techniques and stances are best for attacking, some are better for defending, some are better for more than one opponent, others are good for protection of the groin area, etc. And remember, there is a lifetime of learning martial arts and it is not just about breaking bricks. Actually, tameshiwari - breaking techniques - are a very minor part of karate. However, it seems that the students of kyokushin kai karate excel at this portion of the art because of their original sokeshodai - Mas Oyama, as do many of the goju schools of karate. Part of the enhancement of breaking was due to Oyama's early association with goju karate.  The years I studied both Kyokushinkai and Goju-Ryu, we focused on breaking rocks - simply because they were inexpensive and could be picked up almost anywhere.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Arizona Hombu - the Best Traditional Martial Arts School in Mesa, Arizona

The Arizona Hombu (aka Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Hombu)was the top martial arts school with the top martial arts instructor in the Phoenix valley until the school closed in March 2022 because of the plandemic - a scam by the CDC, Fauci, Gates, and likely many corrupt politicians. One day, we will pay our respects to these corrupt people.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Traditional Okinawan Karate Stances

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Soke Hausel demonstrates yoko geri kokomi (side kick) on the 1.4 billion year old Sherman Granite near Happy Jack, Wyoming.

Kokutsu dachi (back stance) performed during kata training at the Seiyo Hombu. Some members of the Utah Shorin-Kai visit the Hombu of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai to learn karate from Soke Hausel.
Ryan Harden takes on a good stance (shiko dachi) to strike opponent with tonfa.
Eddie Begaye stands in zenkutsu dachi to defend yoko tobi geri in New
Mexico against Sensei Hausel in 1975.
Yan Ma from the University of Wyoming Campus Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo Club demonstrates kokutsu dachi (back stance) during demonstration of Pinan Godan kata.
Tonfa jutsu training in Mesa, Arizona.
Good stances are required in nage waza (throwing) techniques as demonstrated by Luis on Todd at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, Arizona.

During all training, such as here using bunkai from Pinan Godan kata, emphasis is important
to place on focus, power and stances. The stance must be perfect to train proper muscle memory

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Karate's Perfect Stances

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.

Many of us are taught stances until they start to come out of our ears. Make a perfect, immovable stance, and you cannot be moved- nice and deep, feet apart!

I remember hearing about an interview with Bruce Lee – I honestly don’t remember where it took place or if it even occurred, but it was the talk of the dojo in the 1960s. Some martial artist was being interviewed with Bruce Lee. This individual indicated that he had a strong stance; so strong that it was impossible to push him off balance. The story goes that Bruce Lee accepted this challenge. The martial artist took his stance and Bruce Lee walked up to him and easily moved him. How? He kicked him in the groin! Not fair, but it moved him. This person focused so much on his stance that he forgot to block. Whether a true story or not, it provides a valuable lesson: block! A stance is not going to provide much defense.

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.

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!

Follow Me on Twitter. Well, maybe not. I'm a proud American and like many Americans, twitter banded me for telling the truth at about the same time the deleted President Trump. Actually, do everyone a favor and dump twit, farcebook, and Finked-In. These social media sites do not represent your better interest, unless you are hoping to be depopulated.

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.

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.