Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kata Bunkai - Stances

Okay, so I have decided to write some about how I teach Kata Bunkai, this is a great place to start.  This information comes from my own experiences, years of practice in Shotokan Karate and several other martial arts forms, some great instructors, seminars with other incredible martial arts instructors, and lots of books.

Stances form the foundation of movement or the transfer of energy.  During the performance of kata a stance is essentially a snapshot of motion.  As much as stances appear static they are not.  There are no pauses in a fight and a kata's movements are supposed to mimic the movements of a fight.  Stances are essentially the best possible position for your body to be in at the moment of energy delivery. 

(To take that a step further, Aikido and Aikijutsu systems as one example use the same stances as Karate, as do all fighting styles really, just because the movements are natural even though they may not seem to be when you begin practicing them in earnest.  I am working on a book that will be a better job of explaining this idea as it relates to the Aiki arts.  Yes, this is a shameless plug!)   

Zenkutsu Dachi
So there are three primary stances, many other stances used in Kata are a variation on these themes.  The first stance called a Forward Stance, in Japanese the stance is named Zenkutsu Dachi.  The purpose of stance is to drive energy forward.  Think of someone trying to push open a heavy door.  One foot in front of the other usually feet set at approximately shoulders width apart.  If you watch a boxer throw a strong right cross and could stop him at the apex of the power of his swing you can see the foot and body position of something that closely resembles a reverse punch (Gyaku Zuki) from Kata.

Kokutsu Dachi
Next is the Back Stance (Kokutsu Dachi).  This stance as with all stances can have a variety of uses.  In particular, the best way to see this stance is from the perspective of pulling energy out of a system.  If you have ever played tug-o-war, where do you put your feet?  Generally, one in  front providing an anchor against the pull and the other placed in back providing stability.  Just an example of course and there are other applications exist beyond this explanation.  One example might be the use the front leg to bend the knee of an opponent as you use your hands to pull that person off their feet.  Might not be the best example without pictures but I will come up with some for you next time. 

Kiba Dachi
Last of the three stances.  The Horse Stance (Kiba Dachi).  In a work place if you have to pick something up or put something down you generally put feet about shoulder width apart and bend your knees to move vertically.  Heavy box, dropping a co-worker, etc...  In the case of a throw or take down, same thing, move up to reduce the friction of someone' contact with the ground or throw down to drop someone on their head. 

Another arguement I have heard over time is, where should the pressure of the stance be?  Should I grip the ground with my feet?  Should I pull in with my feet and press out with my thighs.  Should I...blah blah blah.  Honestly, this is all going to be true at some point or another.  Stances should be mutable, adaptable.  Fights are a mess.  They rarely go the way you hope they would and no amount of planning will prepare you for the shock and chaos of the event.  Okay, not entirely true but trust me when I say, if you have never been there before it will be eye opening. 

So stances need to adjust to chaos, to be adaptable.  Perhaps the stance needs to be narrow one moment and wide the next.  Mobility and stability are inversely proportional in my opinion.  The more stable you become the less mobile you are.  Thus one stance could be either or a middle ground making you not particularly stable or mobile.  In that case you would have stability and mobility in equal parts.  Why does that matter?  Throwing someone is going to require some stability or else you could go down with the person you throw.  Could be okay in some cases but sometimes it is a VERY bad idea.  Imagine a law enforcement officer going to the ground when surrounded by multiple assailants.  Might very well be the last time he does that...  He needs to focus on staying upright.  In this case he might still be in a lot of trouble but if he is on the ground escape is not much of an option anymore. 

So, find the purpose of the stance.  Find ways to challenge the strength and integrity of the stance.  Playing tug-o-war, sparring, hitting a heavy bag, and there are other alternatives to testing a stance too.  I will list them some other time.

Next, the first move of Heian Nidan/Pinan Shodan.

Some other topics I want to cover:

Defensive conditioning taught in the Heian/Pinan series.
Application of Hikite.
Techniques hidden in your "Block".
Much more....


  1. Oooo, FINALLY! A Martial Arts post, AND its not by me!

    Speaking of kata and stances, we worked on walking kata 1 in class yesterday. We discussed stances and how they are fluid, when you are moving from place to place you want to be in this stance for this part of the kata, etc. How you want to be moving off line and not just straight forward and such. Jared is doing a great job with the class and I am learning lots of new things and making small adjustments to improve on things I already know.

    Looking forward to more posts! :D