There are many types of stances used in Karate. They vary from very easy to very difficult. There are general fighting stances and there are very specific stances.
All stances have two characteristics: stability and mobility. Generally, the more stable the stance, the less mobile it is. The front stance (zenkutsu dachi) is a stable stance for reverse punches. It has poor mobility, however. The natural shoulder stance (heiko dachi) is not a stable stance but it is mobile in nearly every direction. What a stance gains in stability, it generally loses in mobility.
A low stance, or one in which the feet are farther apart, is more stable and less mobile than a high stance. When in combat, a stance must be used which satisfies the needs of the situation. If stability is required, a low stance with the feet spread far apart should be employed. If mobility is required, a high stance with the feet close together should be selected.
Frequently the question arises, “Why do Karateka practice in low stances in which they are not freely mobile?” Low stances teach how to apply power through stability and they prevent the habit of weak stances. Low stances also develop strength which leads to greater stability and better mobility. The purpose of practicing karate with low stances is not that low stances are the best stances in which to fight but that low stances develop strength, a requirement for stability and mobility. Low stances are not mobile. They require considerable effort to initiate movement. If one develops the strength necessary to move in a low stance, one can move more easily in a high stance. High stances do not lend themselves to the development of strength. In order to develop the strength required for stability and mobility, one should practice in low stances.
The purpose of a block is to deflect an opponents attack away from vital targets. If a punch is directed to the chin, one should deflect it to either side or above the head. There are many different types of blocks. Effective blocks all have one thing in common: They prevent the force of an opponents strike from hitting some vital target. If they fail to do this, they cannot be considered effective.
In order for a block to be effective, it must have sufficient power to deflect the strike and it must hit at exactly the right time. An incoming strike cannot be neutralized if it has already struck. In addition, if the block has insufficient power to deflect the incoming strike, the force will hit the target in spite of the blocking attempt.
In order to maximize the power of a block, the whole body must be utilized. The legs must be firmly planted on the ground and the stance must be stable enough to sustain the block. The torso must form a stable connection between the legs and the arms. The arms must be strong enough to withstand the force of the block. Working in unison, the body can form an effective block against a powerful strike. If the body fails to work in unison, the block may be ineffective.
Both arms form an important part of the block. The arm which meets the incoming strike must be strong. Part of its strength is gained by the opposite arm. Each block has a preparation which allows both arms to become involved in the block. Without the proper preparation and pull-back, it is difficult for practitioners to utilize their full power in a block. Full power comes from both arms working in unison.
In preparing for a right hand block, the left hand should be extended along a line pointing directly at the opponent. Even after a 90, 180 or 270 degree turn, the left hand should extend straight towards the opponent. The purpose of the preparation is two-fold. First, the left hand forms a barrier, which decreases the opponent’s possible targets and second, the left hand is placed in the proper position for a strong pull-back.
The blocking arm, in this example the right arm, is only a part of the block. The left arm pulls back towards the body as the right arm executes the block. The left arm creates additional power for the block by aligning the shoulders and tightening the shoulder and back muscles. When applied correctly, the shoulders work as a unit and the power thereby created is utilized at the block.
During actual combat, there may be insufficient time to actually perform a complete preparation. This does not mean that the proper preparation should not be executed in practice. In desperate combat, the proper preparation may be deleted. The block will thereby lose a great deal of its power. If practice has been done with preparation, then some of the benefits of the practiced preparation, such as tightening of the back, shoulder and abdominal muscles at the instant of contact, will be performed automatically. Although the block will not be as powerful, as if a complete preparation was used, it will be more powerful than if during practice, no preparation was used at all.
It is a well-known fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When there is an unintentional opening in an opponent’s defense, the most direct attack is the best.
Applying a punch, however, is not a simple procedure. The human body moves by angular action. Joints do not expand and contract. They rotate. The rotation implies that a round action is feasible and a straight action is not. This is true for any joint acting alone. In order to have a straight action, there must be more than one joint involved. During punching, the elbow neutralizes the shoulder’s angular rotation and permits the fist to travel in a straight path. It takes considerable practice to develop a straight punch because the elbow must compensate for the shoulder at exactly the same angular rate. Punching is complicated by the shoulder having abduction (the ability to carry the elbow away from the body), as well as extension (the ability to carry the elbow forward).
In a punch, the shoulder should carry the elbow forward as close to the body as possible. When the shoulder is abducted, so that the elbow is away from the body, the punch loses considerable power.
The reason for the loss of power can be found in an analysis of the center of gravity. The further away the elbow is from the central axis of the body, the more torque is applied by the reaction force of the punch. When the target is hit, torque determines the recoil through the puncher and the less force applied to the target. The solution to the problem is to punch with the elbows as close to the body as possible.
Strikes are angular, that is to say, they do not follow a straight line but rather a curved one. The traditional boxer’s “hook” is an example of the curved path the strike follows.
One of the principle disadvantages of a strike over a punch is that it takes longer to execute. The straight, explosive, piercing capabilities of a punch make it extremely fast, hard for the opponent to recognize and respond to. The strike, on the other hand, has greater potential for detection and neutralization. The old western “haymaker” roundhouse swing is almost comical in its slowness and ineffectiveness.
Nevertheless, strikes can be very useful when properly practiced and carefully applied. Situations may occur in which a straight punch would have unlikely success since all frontal targets might be thoroughly protected. Vulnerable targets might very well present themselves from the side. With the proper distraction, an opponent may be overwhelmed by a carefully placed tettsui (bottom-first strike) to the temple, a chop to the neck, or a back-fist to the bridge of the nose. One of the principle advantages of strikes is that they carry with them a certain element of surprise, since they approach the opponent from somewhat outside his direct line of vision. As such, he may not notice a quickly delivered strike until it is too late to respond.
A second advantage of a strike is that it is powerful. Since the line of force for the strike may be through the opponent and beyond, a strike can result in extensive damage to the opponent when the follow-through is fully executed.
If you compare a punch to a stab with a knife and a strike to a slash across the body with a knife, you can perhaps more clearly understand the fundamental difference between the two distinct upper body techniques.
KICKS (Geri or Keri)
A kick is a strike with the leg. There are four basic kicks:
front (mae geri)
round (mawashi geri)
side (yoko geri)
back (ushiro geri)
In addition, there are many specialized kicks.
A kick has some special considerations. The first is that a kick is generally more powerful than a punch. It is lower to the ground, does not have the torque problem at the torso that a punch does, and is delivered by a larger delivery system (the leg). The second consideration is that a kick is less stable and less mobile than a punch. During a kick, only one leg, or no leg, is attached to the ground. The possibility of escape is poor. Stability is also lost because balance is less likely when a person stands on one leg.
It is imperative that the foot return to the ground as soon as possible after a kick. The longer that a foot remains in the air the greater the chance of an effective counter-attack by the opponent. In any kicking technique, the return of the foot to the ground is very important. Never should the foot be left dangling in mid-air or resting on the opponent.
The best way to get a foot to the ground is to return it to the cocked position immediately after the kick. The main body action required occurs at the hips and the knees. At the point of impact, the leg should be completely extended and the hips brought forward of the center of gravity. This entails an immediate and short term loss of balance in the direction of the opponent. Bringing the foot back to the cocked position immediately after the application of the kick, whether the target was hit or missed, restores balance by centralizing the body around the center of gravity.
After balance has been regained, one can step forward, backward or to the side. If the leg remains extended after the impact, the body will fall forward, because the center of gravity of the body is forward of the supporting foot. The advantage of returning the kicking foot to the cocked position is that balance is quickly restored.
Once balance is regained, the foot must return to the floor immediately. Only from a stable stance can a variety of effective strong attacks be launched. If the foot is off the ground, the opponent has the advantage in stability and mobility. The opponent can easily apply an effective counter to a kick when one foot is in the air even in the cocked position.
The correct application of a kick requires that the direction it travels be perpendicular to the surface it is to hit. Any other angle will cause a loss of incoming power much the same that a bullet can be ricocheted off an oak tree rather than penetrate it.
When two opponents fight, there is a distance between them. When they are close, the distance may be appropriate for elbow strikes but not for long-range kicks. When they are twenty feet apart, the distance is inappropriate for any karate technique.
Distance is how far apart opponents are. Range is the correct distance for any specified strike. A front kick always has a range of about five feet, although the range can be changed slightly by changing the position of the hips. For any given person, the most effective range for a technique will not vary. A front kick always has a range of about five
feet. Only distance varies, as opponents can choose how far apart they wish to be. In order to apply a specified strike, the distance between opponents must be brought to the range for that strike.
When two opponents have the distance of 20 feet, a front kick cannot be applied because the range for a front kick is only about five feet. In order to apply a front kick, the distance must be close to the range for a front kick. When the distance apart is appropriate for the front kick, it is said that the interval, or distance, is correct. Setting the interval, or distance, is the process of bringing the distance to the appropriate range for any specified technique or combination of techniques.
The distance between opponents may vary continuously in a fight. The application of any technique requires an immediate recognition and response when the interval is correct for a strike or a combination of techniques.
Opponent #1 attempts to evade Opponent #2’s attack. The distance is varied in order to prevent #2 from setting the interval for a technique #2 is capable of executing. At the same time #1 attempts to set the interval for a technique he is capable of executing.
Neither #2 nor #1 should allow the interval to be set which gives the advantage to the opponent.
There are various ways of movement, called ashi, which allow a karateka to set the interval for a technique quickly. These techniques are alumiashi (stepping), sliding, side-stepping and skipping.
In each case, a forward or backward shift in distance can be executed. When learned correctly, the interval for strikes may be set and the strike may be applied before an opponent has time to counter. The application of one of the ashi depends upon setting the interval for a strike correctly and quickly. If the interval is incorrectly set, the strike will not reach the target. If the ashi takes too long, the opponent will move away from the strike, block it or counter-strike.
The discussions on interval and movements may appear to deal mostly with the application of the initial strike. Interval and movements are required for all strikes, initial or otherwise. Without setting the interval, no strike will hit the target unless the interval was correct to begin with. Setting the interval and selecting the strike work hand-in-hand. If a strike can be selected for which the distance to the opponent is correct, it should be applied. Similarly, if a slight change in distance will allow the correct interval for a strong strike, it should be done.
Combinations are series of strikes and movements that allow several techniques to be applied within a short time. Any technique which requires a large body movement in order to set the interval may take so long that the opponent may escape or counter the technique.
The success of combinations depends on timing. The shortest possible time may be used in combinations which already have the correct interval. Techniques in which the interval is correct alleviate the necessity of continually setting the interval. Combinations in which the interval is incorrect require an adjustment in position before the techniques can be successfully applied. This adjustment, called setting the interval, requires time and may allow an opponent to counter-attack.
A technique has four components: 1) a place where it begins, 2) a path that it follows, 3) a place where it ends and 4) a path that it returns. Frequently, in combinations when one technique is returning, another technique is beginning. The return position should be the beginning position for another technique. Time is saved by combining techniques so that the returning path of one strike is the executing path of another strike. Any time saved without sacrificing the effectiveness of a technique increases the value of that technique.