Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Some thoughts on stances...

Neko Ashi Dachi
(Cat stance)
I’ve been thinking a lot about stances recently. I like to see good stances: correct feet positioning, strong bend of the correct knee (or knees), correct weight distribution, good back posture, head held up looking forward etc. Good stances look strong and stable.

Beginners find stances difficult to master; they generally lean too much with their upper torso, don’t bend their knees enough, have their feet in a line, have incorrect weight distribution or look down at the floor. I’ve been there; it’s hard to get it right or for it to feel natural. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get stances right and even longer to get the transitions from stance to stance smooth and quick.

A lot of people would argue that stances are for beginners or that they slow you down or are just too unnatural to be useful in real self-defence situations. I would beg to differ.

Stances are an essential part of achieving economy of movement when doing self-defence. Economy of movement is essential if you are to move swiftly around your opponent, getting yourself into advantageous positions to apply a technique, unbalance them or evade a strike. Good footwork is essential to achieving this; if you teeter around your opponent with lots of small steps, getting your legs crossed and generally wrong footing yourself you are likely to come a cropper.

Good use of stances helps you to:

…Shift your weight smoothly and quickly from one leg to the other as required.

…Maintain your own balance and stability by keeping your centre of gravity low but your posture upright.

…Unbalance your opponent either by directly using the stance to destabilise a balance point e.g. placing your knee directly behind theirs using a zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) or shiko dachi (sumo or horse stance) or more indirectly by using weight transference e.g. grabbing them and stepping back into a kokutsu dachi (back stance) or neko ashi dachi (cat stance).

…Quickly put yourself in the most advantageous and stable position to execute a restraint, takedown or throw.

…Move out of the way quickly and effortlessly if required.

Zenkutsu Dachi
(Forward stance)
Karate pays a lot of attention to stances. Most karateka will have spent many hours of their training going up and down the dojo in shiko dachi or neko ashi dashi with sensei picking up on the smallest postural transgression –“bend your knee more”, “stick your bottom in”, “turn your back foot in more”, “turn your back foot out more”, “put your weight back more”, “put your weight forward more”…….

It can all seem so picky sometimes and people will question the wisdom of needing to be so precise with your footwork and postures. After all, if you are attacked would it matter if you weren’t in the perfect cat stance?

Well, yes it would matter if cat stance was integral to the technique you were trying to execute on your assailant. If your technique depended on you suddenly shifting your weight backwards, pulling your opponent off balance whilst allowing your front foot to follow through quickly with a swift snap kick and then be able to spring forward off the back leg to land a punch; then being able to instantly get into a perfect cat stance may be crucial. Failure to achieve it may leave you unable to pull your opponent off balance and with too much weight on your front leg you won’t be able to kick effectively either and if your back leg is too straight you may not be able to spring forward for that punch – that could all lead to disaster!  

Stances are more than just good footwork, they involve the whole body. Good upright posture is crucial to a good stance. Without good posture you cannot engage the core muscles properly and without the core muscles engaged you cannot get any power in your strikes. Also, with poor, bent over posture you are liable to lose your own balance and be easily pulled over by your opponent.

Stances aren’t always an integral part of a technique; sometimes the situation may require you to be lighter and quicker on your feet. Evasion may be more important than getting a technique on your opponent. The art of tai sabaki (body movement) is an exercise in good stance work, except this time the stances are higher and lighter allowing quicker movements. Tai sabaki still involves attention to posture, feet positioning, weight transference and good transitioning so it is still stance work even if you don’t choose to call it that.

Shiko Dachi
(Horse or sumo stance)
I really feel that we neglect stance training at our peril. Without good stances our techniques will be weak and our movements clumsy. When you watch a senior black belt in action the thing that really stands out more than anything else is the way they move – it is precise and effortless. This is because of their use of stances; they always put their feet in exactly the right place with their weight distributed correctly and their posture upright and it all flows so smoothly and naturally.

So if your own or your student’s stances are poor and their movements clumsy get back to some formal stance training – up and down the dojo until their thighs ache; you’re actually doing them a big favour….

Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Do our training behaviours in the dojo reflect our behaviour in everyday life?

I read a blog article recently that suggested that the way we respond to our training partners in the dojo reflected the way we behaved towards others in our everyday lives. Here’s a quote from the article:

It’s interesting to train with people in the dojo – in time you can see the connection between their style of body movement (“taijutsu“) and their personal style of interacting with others outside the dojo. Those who engage with you as a training partner, giving you a realistic attack, going neither limp nor overly tense and rigid the instant that you start applying the technique, are often the ones that you will see actively engaging outside of the dojo as well, taking on responsibilities, not shying from making decisions and commitments. On the other hand, dojo training partners who try to thwart you by not letting you apply the technique correctly, jumping away unrealistically early, falling over when you didn’t do anything, flinching away when you haven’t done anything, quitting their own technique before it’s complete – these people are often the ones outside of the dojo who are afraid of commitment, flaky, indecisive, escapist, melodramatic or passive-aggressive.”

This is an interesting idea; let’s face it we’d all like to think of ourselves as the former person rather than the latter; though I suspect the degree of correlation between ‘dojo Joe’ and ‘everyday-life Joe’ is probably not as consistent as this author suggests. Or is it?

We like to argue about whether martial arts training reveals character or develops it. The idea purported above suggests that character is revealed in the dojo rather than developed: the person who can’t commit to things in everyday life won’t commit to a technique in the dojo (e.g. won’t attack properly or won’t commit to being thrown); the person who is indecisive in life will also be indecisive in the dojo (e.g. hesitates to choose an appropriate technique) whereas the person who in life is confident and self-disciplined will bring those same qualities to the dojo (e.g. will work hard, focus well and defend and attack with confidence).

Is it that straight forward? Is it possible that some people may be very confident, successful and committed in their everyday lives but be a little fearful and reticent in the dojo – afraid of hurting themselves or others? Or, be rather timid and under-achieving in their private lives but come alive in the dojo because they are comfortable with the people they mix with there?

If it’s true that people bring the same characteristics to the dojo that they display in everyday life then is it possible that those characteristics can be changed/developed in the dojo and then transferred back to everyday life?

I have more questions than answers here but my own personal viewpoint is that to a great extent people do display similar characteristics inside the dojo as they do outside. I know that I am pretty much the same person inside the dojo as outside and I don’t feel my fundamental character has changed much over the last 5 years that I have been doing martial arts.

What do you think? Does the way we train in the dojo reflect the way we behave outside in our everyday lives?

Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What exactly should a warm-up be?

The warm up is such a fundamental part of exercising that I think it is easy to overlook the exact purpose of doing it or what exercises constitute the best warm up activity. I even have my doubts as to whether a warm up is really necessary.

Last week we started the class with breakfalls. No warm-up. I was dubious about the wisdom of this at first, thinking that we might get some injuries but I actually enjoyed breakfalling from cold – it warmed me up much more quickly than a usual warm-up and I felt ready for action all session. No one suffered any injuries or pulls. So did the breakfalling constitute the warm-up?

Last night I arrived late for class and the other students had already done their warm-up. I arrived just as the class was about to start a round of breakfalls, so I just did them – from cold again. They went well and I felt fine – I felt warmed up and ready for action. So does this mean that breakfalling was my warm up again?

Usually our warm-up consists of either running around the hall for a couple of minutes or jogging on the spot, star jumps, press-ups, burpees, sit-ups and straight leg raises followed by a few dynamic stretches. This lasts between 5-10 minutes. Occasionally we warm-up with some fast kihon moves or sparring moves followed by stretching. When I used to do my kobudo classes the warm-up was similar.

When my husband used to belong to a jujitsu club the warm-up lasted for 45 minutes and consisted of many static stretches as well as a cardio-vascular warm-up.

Whichever way I have been asked to warm up I have not suffered any injuries as a result of not warming up sufficiently. However, I usually feel more ready for action if I have ‘warmed-up’ doing the activity I am participating in (i.e. karate moves/breakfalling) than if I have warmed up doing ‘warm-up exercises’ (i.e. running, star-jumps, press-ups, stretching etc). This begs the question – what’s the purpose of the warm-up?

My understanding of this question is that the warm-up is designed to prepare the body for action by increasing the heart rate and warming up the muscles. Well, I don’t need special exercises to increase my heart rate – just doing karate does that. Also, my muscles are at a constant 37 degrees centigrade whether I’m exercising or not – it’s called body temperature. So perhaps I’m trying to increase blood flow to the muscles rather than increase their temperature…

Doesn’t it make more sense to increase the blood flow to the muscles you’re actually going to use rather than a random selection of them? I mean, if I’m going to punch and kick doesn’t it make sense to warm up my punching and kicking muscles? I don’t need to isolate them out with special exercises I just need to start punching and kicking – but more slowly and carefully until the blood flow has increased. If the session is going to be mainly a throwing one will breakfalls warm me up better than jogging and press-ups? If I’m doing a kata based session then wouldn’t doing some kata warm me up best?

Runners run best when they warm up by jogging a couple of rounds of the track. It has been advocated that weight trainers warm up by lifting the empty bar or going through the range of weight exercises they propose to do but without the weights first to warm up the correct muscles. They should then add half the weight they want to lift and repeat the range of movements before finally getting onto the full weight they intend to work with.

In other words, you warm-up best by getting on with the activity you intend to be doing but at a slower and gentler pace until your heart rate has increased and the blood flow to the correct muscles has increased.

This makes more sense to me. I don’t feel I get any real benefit from jumping and jogging around doing ‘warm-up’ exercises, despite what conventional wisdom tells me.  I’m all for starting my karate sessions with a round of breakfalling, kihon, kata or kumite – starting at a steady pace and increasing the intensity as I warm-up.

What about you? Do you swear by your warm-up routine or does it just get in the way of doing your main activity?

Bookmark and Share
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


Related Posts with Thumbnails