Friday, October 16, 2009

Stances launching pads or landing gears

"Beginners must master low stance and posture, natural body positions are for the advanced". Gichin Funakoshi 

Stances in my opinion are the most misunderstood aspects of the martial arts, people that are not familiar with them often say that you cannot fight with stances like that, OR from the other side of the fence in some martial arts they try to use very deep stances when sparring, both are wrong and have missed the point imo.

I have not read any article written by the founders of shotokan karate that state we have to fight in deep stances, karate masters like Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama both talk about maintaining elasticity and flexibility during free fighting, which is impossible from very deep stances.

Stances are not fixed positions that are held when you are free fighting.

They are the base or foundation for continually changing combat postures in constant motion and in free fighting are anything but static.

It could be said that anytime that the human body is being held upright it is because of the base, stance or foundation which enables it to do so, whether you are standing in a natural position or one that lowers your centre of gravity, it’s still a stance.

The stance provides the body with a firm base and it enables you to maintain a combat posture with stability and balance.

Practicing stances in static and dynamic environments helps to reinforce the body with the ability to control its centre of gravity and execute offensive and defensive techniques with power accuracy and smoothness that can only come from a stable base which is provided by some sort of stance.

Whether you are launching into an attack or landing from one, or avoiding one or shifting the centre of gravity of another body, without a firm base your balance and stability could suffer and leave you at a disadvantage.

Kiba Dachi

So what are some reasons we practice stances,

1. To enhance our strength and speed.
2. To bring the core muscles of the body into play.
3. To understand balance and mobility.
4.To establish a solid foundation with the ground.
5.To practice our technique from this foundation.
6.To provide resistance to impacts and take downs
7.To generate the maximum available power that our bodies can transmit
8. Aids in sequential linking of all the body parts as one synchronised unit
9.To be able to create the stances under pressure subconsciously.
10. To control one’s own centre of gravity and your body’s inertia during acceleration, deceleration, changing direction, moving other body masses, performing athletic feats.

The stances that we practice in kihon (basics) and the static positions we find ourselves in at the end of every technique that is performed to a count are actually the desired final position of the execution of that stance and technique in the dynamic environment, these desired final positions are held for less than a second in live sparring, just long enough to deliver the payload.

For example let’s look at gyaka zuki from zenkustu dachi, when performed to the count we complete the technique and remain in the static position waiting for the next count, so here we are practicing the final position of the technique or the desired ending upon impact over and over.

In a free fighting situation you will not be in a static zenkustu dachi, to start with you will be moving around in a free fighting stance as the situation demands lowering and lifting your centre of gravity, laterally, in and out, up and down.

As an example let’s say your opponent has left an opening whether intentional or accidental and you have decided to launched a gyaka zuki with zenkustu dachi attack to that opening.

The position you would like to achieve as you complete the technique upon impact for 100th of a second is the static position you have been practicing in your kihon (basics), yep that’s right no matter which position you may start from the gyaka zuki-zenkustu dachi finish will try to be as close to the basic form as can be.

This ability to go from a very upright position to the final executed position as per the basic posture found in kihon and then back to the upright position in an instant is what sets apart beginners intermediates and advanced students.

With the big difference being you will be in and out like a flash there will not be any static positions held here for both zenkustu dachi and gyaka zuki it will be one dynamic technique.

To sum it up I would say when you are practicing kihon (basics which include stances) it’s the final position of the technique in the live free fighting format that you are practicing and in free sparring this position (found in kihon) will only be held for 100th of a second to deliver your payload.

So we spend hours practicing techniques and postures that are only held for less than a second in real combat, stances are the vehicle that deliver every single one of our techniques in a dynamic and live environment so it makes sense to devote training time to your stances.

Comparison of the mechanics of shotokan karate fighting stance to boxing stance.

The only real difference between the two imo is that in boxing you lean your weight and centre of gravity alittle to the front, this distributes your body weight more to the front foot maybe at a ratio of 60:40 to the front leg.

Boxing coach Russ Anber below shows us the the fundamentals of the boxing stance which when combined with foot work is great in dealing with "punches only" and helps to protect the head by sinking it between the shoulders.

MMA champion and karateka Lyoto Machida below shows us the shotokan fighting stance where the weight distribution and centre of gravity are in the middle and not slightly forward as in boxing, the spine is perpendicular to the ground, this stance is more flexible for mobility and maneuverability since weight is distributed evenly on both feet and the cog is in the centre..

Karateka need this extra flexibility in their stances because they deal with more than just punches and have to take into consideration kicks sweeps and takedowns, also from this stance any type of attack, kick, punch or other maybe be launched by any limb at the opponent.

In the end i think if the boxer straightened himself out and had his spine perpendicular to the ground there would be minute differences between shotokan fighting stance and boxing stance OR if you start of from a shotokan fighting stance and lean your weight and centre of gravity slightly forward with your hands up then you will be in a boxing stance.

Both shotokan's fighting stance and boxing stance have their merits at the appropriate time and place, switching from one to the other is easy since both share common ground.

Shotokan fighting stance with Lyoto Machida

Boxing stance with coach Russ Anber