Balanced stances, traditional techniques

Keeping a balanced stance is fundamental. Without your foundations secure, you cannot attack with any power nor defend with any confidence. This is especially true when we change our focus or direction.

Box Patterns

One of the best ways to develop a rock-solid stance that is robust when changing directions is a set of exercises that I refer to as ‘Box Patterns.’ In our training, these are generally introduced just after the two-directional footwork exercises (Shuffle and Changeover, forward and backswards with the respective permutations) have been internalised by students. These exercises are very traditional in form, based around repeating specific techiques to the front, right, back and left sides of the room, generally in clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. From the most basic, here are some of the ones that we might use:

  1. Changeover, Turn.
  2. Shuffle, Changeover, Turn.
  3. Shuffle, Turn, Changeover back.

Note: in box patterns, “Turn” refers to pivoting on the balls of the feet 90 degrees.

This morning, for example, we practiced the Changeover-Turn Box Pattern, starting with just the footwork, then adding a punch with the changeover and a chudan uke with the turn. We extended this by moving to #2 and adding a jab with the shuffle.

In each case, increasing complexity is designed to stretch the mind so that the more simple body movements require less or no conscious attention to execute precisely, thereby making the techniques more robust and the technician more effective under stressed or when otherwise impaired (such as by alcohol, fatigue, stress, multiple opponents, extreme conditions… when you actually need to use the techniques!).

If I may add to the comments made in class last week:

  • Legs like Earth, solid and strong.
  • Body like Water, fluid and dynamic.
  • Arms like Fire, fast and powerful.
  • Mind like Air, omniscient and adaptable.
  • Spirit like Void, aware and unattached.

On the topic of traditional techniques, we spoke a little on traditional blocks today. Traditional blocks are useful for two main reasons:

  • Building focus and mental discipline
    As you are drilling your traditional techniques, you can develop strength and robustness in your mental focus… the focus and discipline necessary when stresses reduce the effectiveness and value of your conscious mental state.
  • Developing strength in a compound motion
    Although largely impractical for street applications in the form that they are most commonly taught, traditional blocks are very effective when applied in different contexts. There are many applications of these blocks, though some appear below.

High block/ Jodan uke: Defence against single lapel grab by trapping the grabbing hand and striking the jaw with the lower forearm or hammerfist.

Mid-section block/ Chudan uke: Defence against wrist grab by rotating the arm around as you move blindside and dislodging the grip. This is most effective if you are moving your body also.

Basic stances

Students are expected to have a basic understanding of stances and balance. Precision and depth in stances is valued, though less formality is demanded than at higher levels. Fluidity between movements is generally more important at this stage.

Stand tall with you heels directly beneath your shoulders. Turn your toes inwards so that you are slightly pigeon toed, with your knees bent. This is designed to protect the groin.
Pull your shoulders back, with your arms straight. Clench your fists and point your knuckles downwards, the back of your fist facing directly outwards and your thumb touching your pants.
Breathe strongly and deeply. This is a powerful stance, though can be used as a semi-relaxed position due to its greater comfort over the Attention Stance.
* Fists pointing towards ground * Heels shoulder width * Slightly pigeon-toed * Knees bent * Stand tall

Bring your left foot towards the right so that the heels are touching, and a right angle is made between the feet. As the heels touch, the knees should be slightly bent. Hands are in the knifehand position (fingers pointed, together and thumb tucked in). Place your right hand in your left hand and the palms facing upwards, with arms almost straight and making approximately 45° beneath horizontal.
Hand position Fingers cross so that the thumbs do not overlap (for myself, this means that the middle knuckle of my index fingers are on top of each other).
Take a deep breath in as you raise your hands together by bending your elbows at right angles and pushing your elbows forward until your finger tips are just below eye level. At this point, your lungs should be filled with air.
At the top, pivot your hands at the palms and keep them together as you exhale. Breathe out forcefully, pushing your hands to 15-20cm away from your groin. Hold this position for an instant, then place your hands at your side, with your hands and fingers straight. Your middle finger should run along the middle of your upper leg. Keep your arms straight, head tall, shoulders back and maintain a sharp focus beyond a point on the wall directly ahead at head level.

From attention stance, put your weight onto your heels and bring the toes together.
This stance generally follows Attention Stance, for bowing.
When bowing, simply bend from your waist, keeping your head tall, and looking forward.

From attention stance, with your hands tense and straight at your sides, bring your hands to your front. This position is the same as where your hands were before being placed to your side when getting into attention stance.
It is from this position that all kata begin. You should keep your head tall and your focus laser-sharp.

Shoulder width, shoulder deep. Heel of the back foot off the ground, with hips (and back foot) aligned towards the front. This enables maximum flexibility and mobility for techniques from either leg.
The hand position is high, with the forward hand being extended to slightly more than a right angle, along a line between your eyes and the mouth of your opponent. The back arm is bent to slightly less than a right angle and kept back, with the palm as high as the cheekbone.
Both hands are in fists initially and aligned perpendicular to the opponent. The shoulders should be kept as high as possible to provide extra head protection.
Variations on the fighters stance are many and varied: increased distance to an opponent tends to promote a longer guard; decreased distance (eg punching range) promotes a closer guard. Open hand postures are also possible, though this increases the possibility of damage to fingers.

Stand with your feet together. Move your legs apart until you can bend your knees and stand with your lower leg vertical and your upper leg approximately horizontal. Check that your feet are angled out at 45°. Keep your back straight, head tall, and your knees directly above your ankles.
In training, you may be asked to stand in this position for a few seconds or a few minutes.
This can develop excellent leg strength.

Practising moving through your traditional stances is a powerful way to develop your stability, and work on your leg strength. Simply move slowly, around two seconds per stance, between each position, for several minutes.