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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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The “Standard” 45 Degrees
by Jon Keeling

I am generally very supportive of the idea of setting and maintaining standards. I am also known for my ideas on experimenting with variations. This article is meant not as an exploration into variations. But rather offers an opinion as to when to consider a “standard” something that should not always be considered the goal but rather a “minimum acceptable level.” I would like to use two examples here, both dealing with “45 Degrees.”

“Hips 45”

We will first look at the hip positioning as we move in front stance between hip front position (“shomen”) and hip open position (“hanmi”).

When we pull the opposite hip back for blocking, in certain strikes or in preparation for a punch, most instructors seem to advise students to have their hips at “45 degrees.” While this is not bad, I think most of us can do better, and should. I think 45 degrees should be considered the minimum, for those who lack flexibility.

Are you stopping at 45 degrees? Can you go further? Try this:

Hold a staff (bo) or some other long, straight stick or pole (a broom should work fine, for example) at your hips, parallel to the floor. If you do not have such a staff or stick available, place your hands on your hips or stretch your arms out straight to the sides. This will help you more accurately determine the placement of your hips as you move. Start with your hips straight ahead (“shomen”)(photos A & 1). Pull your hip back to 45 degrees (photos B & 2). Bend your back knee further to make sure the hip does not rise or go back while you push your hip back past 45 degrees (photos C & 3). You may not be able to go much further. But every inch can make a difference. 60-65 degrees is probably about as far as most people can push it without distorting the stance and/or posture.

Photos A & 1:

Photos B & 2:

Photos C & 3:

By bringing your hip back further, the hip can move a larger distance, which can help in generating more power. If launching a punch off this hip, the fist will travel a greater distance as well. Not only does the hip move further, as well as the fist launched from it. But it can also be a more powerful movement due to that the rear leg should be bent further (photo 4). The stretch of the leg from this “loaded” (bent) position is the primary driving force behind most techniques that involve a change from hanmi to shomen hip positions.

Photo 4:

One must be careful, however, when testing the limits of this hip turn. The knee of the front leg may have a tendency to turn in and the rear knee may turn out. Alignment of the knee and other body parts is not only better for your health but usually better for making stronger and/or more efficient/faster movements as well.

Some positive points related to larger hip movement:

  • Bigger hip movement => more hip in the technique
  • Bigger arm movement
  • Greater bend of back leg gives more power

Points to watch when trying to maximize this hip movement:

  • Without sufficient flexibility and muscular development/control, the back hip may poke back/up, compromising posture and overall body control.
  • Increased range of movement may result in longer execution time
  • Watch that the back knee is not turning off to the outside and is not overtorqued (Photo 5)
  • Be careful not to let the front knee turn in (Photo 6)

Examples Photos 5 & 6:

“Back Foot at 45 Degrees”

Now let’s move on to the position of the back foot when in front stance. Most instructors seem to be telling students to situate the back foot at 45 degrees. Not bad. But again I think most of us can do better.

Of course few people are flexible enough to be comfortable (or even capable) of placing the back foot straight forward while in a reasonably deep, correct front stance. But I think we should do what we can to work toward this goal.

Self-examination:

Get into a good front stance (as wide as your shoulders, twice as long, with front knee over the toes). Look at your back foot. Also look at your back knee. Are they pointing the same direction? If not, your misalignment could be causing your body harm over time. If you are driving forward with a deep stance and your back foot is off to the side too far, you could be hurting your knee. You could also be slowing yourself down by effectively dragging your back foot. If your back knee is pointing in the same direction as your back foot and your back foot is pointing too far to the side, you can also be damaging your knee and/or other parts of your lower body.

Try pointing your back foot as far forward as your flexibility allows. If your heel rises, that is too far. Notice that your alignment should be better; your knee and foot should be pointing the same direction (or at least closer to it). This should reduce injury to yourself. But pointing the foot more forward should also be more conducive to a fast/efficient movement forward and back.

Some positive points related to turning the back foot more forward:

  • Better alignment helps reduce harm to your joints (particularly the knee)
  • More efficient stepping forward/backward
  • More torque of the back leg

Points to watch when trying to maximize this forward turn of the back foot:

  • Heel rising
  • Over-torque of the back knee
  • Limits on hip turn due to lack of flexibility


Please note that the above is offered as suggestions to consider as goals when performing basic front stance. Other stances involve different points and self-defense obviously does not require such attention to detail and the above is primarily suited to direct forward/back movement with a single opponent in mind.

There are many other areas in Shotokan where our “standards” should be considered “minimums” rather than “ultimate goals.” We should set our goals high and not always settle for the “standard.”

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