Movement, balance, and range are crucial parts of sparring and training in martial arts. These things are all tied into stance. Without the correct stance, you cannot move correctly, position yourself for strikes, or use your range most effectively.
When we discuss the importance of stance with our students, do we really review it all? I know personally during kata practice I may say to a student: “Watch your stance!” Or, during line drills: “Keep a strong stance!” but do we take the time enough time to break down for our students what it means to have a good stance?
In this article I will provide a brief outline of the basic stances my school uses in our karate. I’ve realized that I use certain minimal phrases to describe them, when a more detailed definition is called for.
What we say: “Stand with your feet a shoulder width apart side to side and front to back.”
The missing details: We tend to forget mentioning this, but it’s important to clarify for our students: This stance is meant to allow you to move in or away from an opponent without stumbling or getting wrapped up. Your feet should be at the aforementioned distance, but your knees must be slightly bent, also. This will allow you to move in all directions, forward, backward, left and right, and to switch feet easily.
Forward Leaning or Zenkutsu Dachi Stance
What we say: “Stand with one leg forward and the knee bent. The rear leg should be kept straight.”
The missing details: As we know, the details of this stance in kata and fighting are crucial. A small but critical detail to note is that we should sink down a complete head-height lower, and our legs should be as wide as our shoulders to help maintain stability. This will help to keep us from falling over if pushed.
Horseback or Kiba Dachi Stance
What we say: “Stand with your feet a shoulder width apart and bend your knees as if sitting upon a horse.”
The missing details: We overlook that even this seemingly simple stance can be performed incorrectly. You can tell this stance is wrong if you appear to have an “A-frame” stance. The A-frame stance is when you are not sitting low enough in your stance. In the A-frame, your knees will barely be bent, and your hips not pushed back.
Back Leaning or Kokutso Dachi Stance
What we say: “Keep your rear leg bent with most of the weight on it, and your front leg straight.”
The missing details: The specifics of this stance are important. You should have 90% of your weight on the rear leg and 10% on the front leg. You should be sitting back on the rear leg, with that knee bent. The small amount of weight on your lead leg should be in the ball on your foot, not your heel. This allows that leg to move and kick quickly.
Hourglass or Sanchin Dachi Stance
What we say: “Stand with one foot forward and your knees pointed slightly inwards.”
The missing details:Sanchin Dachi isn’t as common as the others, and often, it’s forgotten about altogether. However, this stance does have some benefits, like a good lower center of gravity and the ability to defend yourself better in a cornered situation. The forward foot is turned with toes pointing inwards and the heel pushed out. The rear leg does the same, but the toes should line up with the heel of your forward foot. Both knees should be bent slightly inwards, but not so far that it causes discomfort to the joint (because of this, I’ve heard more than one person refer to this as the “potty stance” – hey, whatever gets your students to remember it!).
I hope you found this article useful! You’re welcome to use my descriptions, or, if these aren’t stances your school teaches, I hope it inspires you to take a similar look at your own explanations of the stances you do use! Remember, our students want to do their best, and giving them all the details will help them grow.