Structure – Part 2

by Richard Conceicao Now that we have discussed structural basics common to all stances, but begin to examine each one in slightly more depth.

FRONT STANCE

The proper way to structure your front stance is as follows:

  1. The feet should be shoulder width apart.  This should be measured, although it is not necessary to be exact, when asked to place their feet shoulder widths apart, most people tend to keep them too narrow.
  2. The lateral (outside edge) of the foot should be facing directly forward. Visually this will give the appearance of a slight towing in all of the foot.
  3. The step length should be your normal stride +6 to 8 inches depending on your height.  The classical way of measuring this is to kneel forward on one knee and place your closed fist in front of that knee. You then place your other foot in line with the edge of the fist, and stand.

There is a widespread confusion between the formation of the stances that are taught to beginners, which tend to be very wide and very deep, and those that are to be actually utilized in fighting. The beginner’s stances were taught to develop a sense of stability, and to develop the musculature in the legs. We must remember Gichin Funakoshis’ statement “wide stances are for beginners, normal stances are for experts”. To put it another way, wide stances are a teaching methodology; they are not to be confused with actual combat use.

  1. The shin of the front leg should be directly vertical over the foot.
  2. There should be a slightly outward torque to the forward knee. One should visualize the sense that there is a band of energy radiating outward from the knee.  The combination of the foot placement and this outward force stabilizes the forward leg against attacks to it.
  3. The rear leg has to be slightly bent, as this is the only way to remove the curve from our lower back as discussed earlier. This is not an exaggerated knee bend, just enough to straighten out the spine.
  4. The hips have a slight oblique angle to the forward line of progression. By this we mean there is a slight side facing position to the hips as opposed to having them both point directly forward.
  5. The rear foot is only slightly toed out. A normal walking angle of approximately 10 to 15° is all that is really appropriate. Pointing your foot further to the side actually compromises your structural integrity.

BACK STANCE

  1. Lateral border of front foot faces directly forward, rear foot is placed in 90° angle to the forward foot.
  2. A line drawn from the inside border of the forward foot heel passes directly behind the back foots heel. This stance is commonly taught with both heels in line, however this is in a static position that unfortunately offers no lateral stability especially when blocking.
  3. There is approximately 70% greater leg – 30% front leg weight distribution. However, it is important to remember that this is only a static approximation. In actual use, the weight will shift forward and back as necessitated by attack and defense. For example, when punching with the rear hand from the back stance, the weight will actually shift forward to a midpoint between the two legs even though visually the foot placement has not changed at all. This is known as an equatorial stance.
  4. Again the upper body and hips are not placed directly to the side. There is a slight oblique angulation forward. Direct side facing posture, while workable, is a later aesthetic addition.
  5. Maintain an erect posture, and a straight spine. This is somewhat easier to do in a back stance as your rear leg is bent to begin with.

HORSEBACK STANCE

There are two types of horseback stances in common usage, one wide and deep, and one less wide and carried higher. Each has its place, and each has its function But. The foot placement, whether directly ahead as in Shotokan styles, or toed out as seen in Goju Ryu is relatively unimportant with regard to the actual dynamics of the stance.

  1. Wide stances— stand erect, and measure from your groin straight to the floor. Note that this is not the inseam of your pants; it is actually a larger measurement. Place the ruler or tape measure directly on the floor in front of you, the inside borders of your feet should lay at the dimensions that you measured.
  2. Narrow stance—As silly as it seems, start with your feet together and jump slightly into the air and separate them, almost as if you were doing a “jumping jack” without your arms. Your foot placement when you land is approximately slightly larger than shoulder width apart. This is the foot placement for your narrow horseback stance

Once you have the achieved proper width, we now construct the rest of the stance.

  1. As you stand with your legs apart slide your knees forward (not your rear end backwards) until your spine is properly erect and the curve of your lower back is straight.
  2. Wiggle your knees in and out paying attention to your ankle joints. What we are looking for is a leg placement that is midway between the extremes of your subtalar joint (joint in your ankle which allows you to move side to side while your foot is on the floor) motion.  If you move your knees outward eventually your ankle will lock and the inside edge of your foot will raise, if you move your knees inward too far, your arches will collapse and the whole structure will become weak. We want the point midway between these two extremes.
  3. As in the front stance, but this time with both knees, feel as if there is a band of energy radiating outward. At the same time feel as if there is a tension in the back of your upper thighs pulling your legs together. This combination offers a rigid platform for your upper body.If we wish to see what happens when we break any part of our structure, click on the following video:

Continue to Part 3

10 Responses to “Structure – Part 2”

  1. I just found this Richard and I must say that it is really impressive! I have not read through it all yet, but I know I will next time I get the chance to sit down and relax:-) Many interesting points being made here, but I do wonder how the “new” kukkiwon standard measures up to your points?

    I have only read the front stance (Ap Koobi). In the “newer” standard the width of the stance is one fist (you write one shoulder length is appropriate and I guess I am about with you there as I usually say one fist for competition or one foot using your own foot to measure if that is difficult). The theory I learned from the Kukkiwon masters is that the narrower the stance the more power you can focus directly forward (it is called the forward inflection stance). Putting your feet on one line is obvious bad but how do you feel about the one fist width?

    The Back foot in the “new” standard is maximum 30 degrees pointing out according to the Kukkiwon, many say that it is supposed to be 30 degrees but I think that they mean it as a maximum. I have around 15 degrees myself as that seemed to work for me and none of the Masters in Korea ever corrected that (and it is not like they did not correct me as they gave me plenty to work on after each session).

    The back leg slightly bendt is something I try to keep too but I must admit that in Korea GM Yoon used to test our back leg being straight and locked out by standing on it(!). He always said it was great and you got a pat on your shoulder if he could stand on your back knee. Obviously few people could support his weight though. He never explained why it was so important to keep it locked out but I guess he saw it as a way for decreasing the chance for loss of power. Personally a small and invisible bending of the knee is good for balance, hip involvement and health (locking out your joints can not be healthy in the long run?)

    I will have to read through your series on this thouroughly once I get the chance:-)

    • admin says:

      hello
      thanks for your interest. since the site got the links messed up, i don’t check comments with any regularity. with respect to your notes:
      1. a front stance one fist apart is way too narrow. look at any art and you will find that approximate shoulder width is the norm for all. it is the most natural. i think that the attempt to use a foot length for a measurement makes no sense. what are we to do with the short fellow with big feet or the tall one with small ones?
      2. i find that arts that are devoted to straight line attacks (xin-yi) will advance with both feet forward, those that deal with turning and angles (baqua, karate, some aspects of tkd) will allow stances that leave one foot laterally angled. if the rear foot is placed greater then 15 degrees outward you will break structure, no matter how well the rest of your body placement. it is easy to test and demonstrate.
      3. similarly, having the rear leg completely locked out is a follow through position, maximum power was with the rear leg bent and spine straight.

  2. “4.Again the upper body and hips are not placed directly to the side. There is a slight oblique angulation forward. Direct side facing posture, while workable, is a later aesthetic addition.”

    Actually in the “new” standard the slight oblique angulation of the upper body is correct and a direct side facing posture is wrong! I learned direct side in 2001 but later I had to relearn it as the “standard” changed. Maybe the Kukkiwon is starting to develop in the right direction??

    • admin says:

      i certainly hope so! they have done so much with no rational that is ever expressed. oh, and a lot that makes no sense to me.

  3. Horse stance in Kukkiwon is supposed to be “exactly” the 2 times the length of your foot:-) The knees are bendt pointing straigh forward (so not inward and not outward). I really enjoy your post. I should do something else but I have a hard time stop reading:p

    • admin says:

      here again what strikes me as an arbitrary measure that does not take into consideration differing body types. we should be concerned with placement of the center of gravity and structural integrity, which will of course, always vary from individual to individual.

  4. “i think that the attempt to use a foot length for a measurement makes no sense. what are we to do with the short fellow with big feet or the tall one with small ones?”

    I think that measuring with your feet is not that different than measuring your shoulders. They are only aproximates not definitive. What do we do with the short people with wide shoulders is the same as we will do with the tall ones with small feet; we correct them as instructors and show them how to stand. What I like with the foot measuring is that it is way easier for students to measure by themselves than using the shoulders as you can not really see your shoulders. I apparantly have small feet for my size as my own teacher adjusted my horse stance from two feet wide to two and one quarter feet wide. Now I know exactly how wide my stance should be.

    The Kukkiwon theory of having only one fist width between the legs in long front walking stance is that the force is more concentrated to the front. The masters demonstrated this by having a very wide long front walking stance and pushed them backwards with ease, they then narrowed the width some and did it again this time a lot harder for the “pusher” and then again with a third time with one fists width. This time it was impossible to push the “stander” backwards (that might be a placebo effect though). Personally I use one foot width for stability and that is inline with most other arts as you say.

  5. “i certainly hope so! they have done so much with no rational that is ever expressed. oh, and a lot that makes no sense to me.” (maybe kukkiwon is changing in the right direction?)

    Did you ever go to Korea Richard? I know you asked me about going once, and allthough you will be hard pressed to find most answers, the masters of Kukkiwon will gladly tell you or show you why they change stuff. They never seem to put it into writing or telling the world why, but they have in my experience reasons for changing them even though we might not understand.

    Some changes in the “2000s” has been narrowing and shortening the stances for mobility purposes, straight stepping instead of curved stepping for efficiancy (more as the fastest way between two points is a straight line), some hand movements have been changed for protecting the joints (I was told this I can not say wich ones so feel free to overlook that one) and some for better striking structure.

    I did not get all my questions answered but maybe you can phrase them better and get some of if not most of them answered:-)

    Dan Djudjevic has a great forum called traditionalfightingartsforum.com where we can discuss this more freely, there are also several other Korean stylists there. Another forum wich is much more lively (frequent postings) is Taekwondoforums.com. I like them both:-)

  6. “here again what strikes me as an arbitrary measure that does not take into consideration differing body types. we should be concerned with placement of the center of gravity and structural integrity, which will of course, always vary from individual to individual.”

    I made the point in an earlier comment that we should look at individuals and increase, decrease the lenght and or width apropriatly according to the individuals. This relates to any form of measurements being shoulders, feet, inches or cm. I like the use of feet for measurements and a general starting point and correct my students if I want the stances a little longer or shorter. I had a much harder time when we used shoulder lengths as we have no mirrors in our Dojang and confident students suddenly got very very deep stances as a result (thinking they were bigger then they really were).

  7. PS: Do wordpress have a maximum lenght of comments as blogspot have?:-)

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