By Phillip Starr
The legendary Tadashi Yamashita (10th dan, Kobayashi Shorin-ryu karate) once said that one of the great “secrets” of karate was in the correct training of stance, but very few people do it anymore. And he is 100% right.
First, we must determine just what is the purpose(s) of a given stance? Think about it for a second, I’ll wait……
First and foremost, a stance is a stable platform from which we can deliver powerful blows (bearing in mind that the platform must be capable of withstanding the force of said blows). Secondly, some stances are stable positions from which we can move quickly and easily in a firm, contolled manner. And that’s it. They do not exist for purposes of aesthetic appeal.
In so far as issuing power is concerned, we must consider the proper (leg) tension that is to be used and there are only two; inside tension and outside tension. Inside tension involves contracting the adductors (muscles of the inner thighs) to “lock” you into place. Styles such as Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu karate as well as Chinese forms such as Wing Chun (should) utilize this principle a great deal; they are “in-fighting” styles and as such, they must be able to lock themselves into place when delivering close-quarters techniques.
Footwork is what happens in between stances, moving from one to another in various ways. It must be balanced and controlled. But footwork and stances are two separate subjects…
Additionally, stances such as the empty-leg stance (aka., cat stance), the sancai stance found in internal forms of gong-fu, the pigeon-toe stance, and hook stance use inward tension to stabilize the stance.
Outward tension involved tension in the legs in opposite directions. This is used for longer strikes and thrusts. For instance, in the forward stance (aka., zenkutsu-dachi, bow and arrow stance) the front leg presses forward while the rear leg thrusts down and back – opposite directions. This helps stabilize the position and even adds some impetus to the blow.
The only stances that don’t use either inward or outward tension are those that involve standing on one leg only. To create inward or outward tension in a stance, it’s necessary to have BOTH feet planted on the ground.
In any case, you must not simply “sit” in your stance, leaving it devoid of proper tension. I call this a “dead stance” because once you assume such a position, you can neither move as quickly nor strike as powerfully as you could from a properly “loaded” stance. And in a life and death struggle, that can mean the difference between life and death.