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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Norman Robinson’s Effective Karate – Part 2

by Norman Robinson

 

Sensei Robinson with Sensei Tanaka

 

Basic karate – static balance

 

This is the second in a series of articles aimed at publicising the foundations of what Asai Sensei referred to as “effective karate” i.e. karate aimed at developing effective fighters.  The essence of this philosophy is captured in, and our training focused on, the concept of “ikken hisatsu” (the one shot killing blow.  In reality the “effective blow” or executing the blow as well as possible to achieve maximum possible effect).  The previous article touched on two fundamental stances in shotokan karate – namely zenkutsu dachi and kokutsu dachi. 

 

This article will extend the discussion to kiba dachi, neko ashi dachi, sochin dachi and sanchin dachi.  The foundations for these stances are identical to the first two, just slightly modified to reflect different weight distribution, foot position and ultimately the intended uses for these stances. One additional concept is the difference between inward stressed (neko ashi, sanchin dachi) and outward stressed stances (zenkutsu, kokutsu, sochin and kiba dachi).

 

Understanding movement requires real insight into the dynamics of technique:

Correct starting and ending points (the stances), fluent transition and movement, eliminating superfluous movement, intent, effectiveness and economy of motion.

 

Effective karate the Norman Robinson way (which Norman Sensei will say is traditional shotokan karate) has four pillars: knee-over-toe; early preparation; posture and isolation. The integration of these will form the basis of the third article in this series.

 

 

Side stance (kiba dachi)

 

As with many modern shotokan stances, this is a low rooted stance, principally to develop strength. 

 

What makes a good JKS side stance?

 

  1. Each foot carries 50% of the weight
  2. Both knees are over the ball of the foot
  3. The outside edges of the feet point directly forward
  4. The heels of the feet are flat. For many people this is very difficult and requires flexibility training of the ankles and hips
  5. The upper body is kept upright, with the eyes level
  6. The front of the pelvic girdle is pulled up to ensure that hips are level and that the buttocks are not protruding to the rear (reflecting on ankle / hip flexibility)
  7. The legs are ‘solid’ and stable in all directions, especially laterally. This is achieved by exerting outward pressure that prevents the knees falling in
  8. During kicks the hips are kept square whether for front kicks or more typically side kicks.  It is important not to allow the hips to open for side kicks.
  9. During all kicks the knee must be chambered high into the chest before extension
  10. A good test for kiba dachi is to raise one or other leg for a side kick with as little body shift as possible.  As much as possible, the upper body should not tilt to accommodate the leg lift.

 

Why this is a good basic stance?

 

Developing the side stance in this way leads to improved stability, mobility and ability to respond (Fig 1).  It is a potentially useful stance in kumite (Bill “Superfoot Wallace”) and can be an effective lead into spinning kicks or disguised front foot kicks.

 

  1. Knee-over-toe ensures that the muscles in the legs are stressed and ready to react forwards, backwards or laterally, without having to first move into the correct position.  If the knee is behind the foot then one or some combination of the following will be needed to be able to effectively move in any direction.
  2. Lateral movement requires the knee to be flexed further to prevent the hips rising as the weight moves over the supporting leg.  This is a good training aid in developing smooth transitions.
  3. As a training stance, kiba dachi contributes to upper body flexibility i.e. the ability to rotate the upper body to either side without the legs changing position (e.g. tekki shodan kamae to either side)
  4. Straight limbs are rigid, and rigid does not react very quickly.  Achieving lower stance heights by spreading the stance is like a giraffe drinking water – not a good place from which to attack or defend.  In order to achieve the training benefits, explosive strength and flexibility through lower stances in training, it is better to simply lower the hips by bending both knees deeper rather than lengthening the stance.

 

Shotokan tends to substitute kiba dachi for shiko dachi.  The difference in the position of the feet, parallel in kiba dachi but splayed in shiko dachi, produces different stresses in the body, particularly in the upper legs and hips.  Aside from the obvious application of shiko dachi during follow up to take downs i.e. the ability to reach a prone target while retaining upright body posture, shiko dachi has an important training role.  Proper shiko dachi assists in the development of hip flexibility – specifically opening the angle between the upper legs in straddle stance.  This improves the ability to perform kicks like mawashi geri and yoko geri.

 

 

Cat stance (neko ashi dachi)

 

Cat stance appears to have enjoyed greater popularity in other styles than in shotokan.  With the introduction and/or re-introduction of a number of katas into JKS by Asai Sensei, the importance of neko ashi dachi has been reinforced, both as a training and effective fighting stance. 

 

What makes a good JKS cat stance?

 

  1. The stance has 90 % weight on the back foot.  The back foot traditionally is turned out by approximately 45o.  In JKS, the foot points more directly forwards.  The front foot rests on the ball of the foot approximately half a normal stance length.
  2. In contrast to the traditional cat stance, the JKS cat stance has inward tension between the knees to close the gap between the thighs.
  3. As always, the posture of the upper body must be vertical with the eyes level.
  4. The rear knee must be over the ball of the rear foot.  A common fault is for the knee to fall to the inside of the foot.
  5. The hips should be in a natural hanmi position and level, with the buttocks tucked in - there should be a feeling of pushing forward through the supporting leg and hips.

As always the test is to be able to lift the front leg without body shift and more importantly retain stability i.e. not have to fall forwards or backwards because

Why this is a good JKS stance?

 

The cat stance is extremely useful both as a training stance and for effective karate.  Similarly to the back stance, it can be used to create distance by riding an attack.  Proper body posture ensures maintenance of balance during motion, leading to continuity.  It provides a very stable platform for the delivery of counter attacks – either front leg kicks or switch and stepping punch (see Tanaka Sensei and hiki komi counters).

 

As a training stance, neko ashi dachi is extremely important in developing strong single leg drive and the necessary ankle and hip flexibility for dynamic stepping / shifting.  Analysis of many stance transitions illustrates the importance of neko ashi dachi as the intermediate stage of these transitions.  In almost any step or shift, there is a stage at which one leg is carrying the load.  The stronger this leg and the more compression it is able to carry, the stronger will be the subsequent drive off that leg.  Having strong drive off the supporting leg does away with the need to use the momentum of the upper body to initiate movement – it becomes a pushing rather than pulling movement.

 

Factors to ensure that it can be used effectively:

 

  1. Upper body kept upright throughout, maintaining body posture in transition.
  2. The supporting leg must be bent as much as possible while maintaining good posture.
  3. Movement should be initiated by driving the hips through leg extension.
  4. The leg extension should not produce any upward movement of the hips  – rather horizontal translation.
  5. Discipline on the hikite hand is essential – don’t allow the rear hand to flare or flop
  6. Modern JKS karate incorporates neko ashi dachi in many katas, often with spins and rotations to ensure the development of balance in motion.
  7. For all of these points, it is absolutely vital to keep the hips level – failure to do so degrades the stability, speed and smoothness of the movement.

  

Rooted stance (sochin dachi – also fudo dachi)

 

To all intents and purposes, sochin is the fighting stance of shotokan karate and can be thought of as the fighting version of forward stance.

 

The same rules apply to posture, eye level and hip stability. Differentiators from forward stance are:

 

  1. The weight distribution is 50:50 between front and back leg.
  2. Both knees are flexed.  The deeper the stance the greater the knee bend.  As with other stances, lower stances should be obtained by bending the knees rather than lengthening the stance.
  3. The knees are strongly stressed outwards although the rear knee does not point outwards.  It should align with the rear foot and hip position.
  4. Sochin dachi is often taught as a rotated kiba-dachi with the feet turned 45o.  This is not strictly true – it is better to think of it as a modified forward stance.

 

 

Why this is a good JKS stance?

 

Sochin dachi is extremely useful both as a training stance and for effective karate.

 

  1. Deep sochin stances aid in the development of strong legs, strong leg drive as well as forcing improved ankle, hip and lower trunk flexibility as demonstrated clearly in the kata Sochin.
  2. Radius of motion increases if techniques are properly executed from sochin e.g. the 45o hip rotation that accompanies gyaku-zuki from sochin dachi to zenkutsu dachi.
  3. As a fighting stance, the 50:50 weight distribution combined with flexed legs allows for rapid response in any direction.

 

Side stance (kiba dachi)

 

As with many modern shotokan stances, this is a low rooted stance, principally to develop strength. 

 

What makes a good JKS side stance?

 

  1. Each foot carries 50% of the weight
  2. Both knees are over the ball of the foot
  3. The outside edges of the feet point directly forward
  4. The heels of the feet are flat. For many people this is very difficult and requires flexibility training of the ankles and hips
  5. The upper body is kept upright, with the eyes level

 

Hour-glass stance (sanchin dachi)

 

This is perhaps a non-typical shotokan stance, more often associated with goju ryu than JKS.  It has characteristics of an introverted stance and in profile resembles the classic egg-timer or hour-glass from which the English name is derived.

 

What makes a good JKS hour-glass stance?

 

  1. Each foot carries 50% of the weight
  2. Both knees are over the ball of the foot
  3. The toe of the rear foot is almost in line with the heel of the front foot.  For taller karateka the stance may be lengthened slightly.
  4. The rear foot points inward approximately 30 degrees – the front foot points inward 45 degrees.
  5. Importantly, the knees are pressed inwards as tightly as possible so that the thighs are almost touching and are parallel.
  6. The front of the pelvis is pulled upwards creating tension throughout the glutes, thighs and core abdominal muscles.
  7. The heels of the feet are flat. For many people this is very difficult and requires flexibility training of the ankles and hips
  8. The upper body is kept upright, with the eyes level

 

 

This is an important training stance in JKS, developing core strength as well as illustrating clearly the concepts of contraction/expansion.  It provides a stable platform for close quarter, short range techniques including elbow and knee strikes as well as deflections / parries.

 

Together with zenkutsu dachi and kokutsu dachi discussed in the first article, these stances form the core of our training curriculum i.e. in any of our classes you will see a preponderance of zenkutsu dachi, kokutsu dachi, sochin dachi, kiba dachi and neko ashi dachi.  The emphasis in our training is smooth movement between stances coupled with effective delivery of techniques.  This requires stability in stance as well as movement which requires:

 

  • Upright posture
  • Stable hip platform
  • Flexible hips and ankles
  • Strong legs and leg drive
  • Understanding of contraction and expansion
  • Isolation so that only the necessary body parts are recruited for specific actions
  • The ability to initiate movement without compromising either the stance or the body posture

 The next article in this series will deal with the interaction between these good JKS stances and relaxed, smooth continuous movement leading to effective karate.

 

Norman Robinson