Teaching Stances

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What I’ve put together here is a quick guide on how I instruct students on proper stances at Red Dragon Karate in San Dimas. Along with the basics of each stance, I’ve also included my notes on how to help students adjust their stances and make them better. I’ll eventually have articles with video showing each stances so take this as a quick set of notes for now.

GUIDE TO TEACHING COLOR BELT STANCES

1. Horse Stance: The foundation stance of karate.
Both knees bent – width should be about twice shoulder width.
Drop body straight down – keep weight low and level
Feet in a straight line, all 10 toes facing forward
Back straight
Hips engaged (pushed in/forward)
Weight distribution is 50/50

Ways to tweak stance:
Tell student to try and push their belt knot to the ceiling. This straightens their spine and provides more stability.
Don’t let the student go into the splits. The horse stance is about control, power, and conditioning. Force them to use their thigh muscles to remain in place. Inner and outer thigh muscles are what keep the stance stable. Feeling the “burn” is a good thing. It let’s a student know they are building muscle and strength. This will lead to more powerful legs and kicks.

Use games to help students stay low in their horse stances. Lock good habits in early on.

2. Forward / Front Stance: Easily the most common stance in RDK katas, especially for color belts.
Begin with feet together and slightly bent, c-step out and forward with first leg
Front leg bent
Back leg straight / locked out
All 10 toes facing forward
Feet/heels flat on the ground
Back straight
Hips facing forward
Weight distribution is 70 (front) / 30 (back)
Stance should be 1.5 – 2 shoulder widths

Ways to tweak stance:
Have student look down at their front foot. If they can see their toes, their leg isn’t bent enough.
Stance should be wide for stability – tell the student their legs should be far enough apart for a bowling ball to be rolled between them.
Shallow or thin stances will cause the student’s back foot to veer off to one side or their heel to come off the ground.
If a stance is too shallow, it takes little effort to push a student off-balance. Keep them from “walking a tight-rope.”
To gauge weight distribution, have students perform snap kicks. Proper distribution should allow the kicks to go off without much trouble. If a student has too much weight on the back foot, it will impede their kicks.

3. Natural Stance:
Back and Legs straight
Feet at shoulder width
All 10 toes facing forward
Hips forward
Weight distribution is 50/50

This is the simple one. Have a student stand there, at ease. The variations of this (left or right natural stance) have the lead foot placed slightly forward and angled out at about a 45% degree angle. Most kicks and all punch should be practiced from this position. This stance allows a student the ability to form any attack or defense from a non-ready (or “natural”) position.

4. High Dragon: A defensive stance, allowing the student to angle away from an attack.
Legs 2 shoulder widths apart
Front leg straight
Back leg bent
Toes of front front should make a straight line to the heel of the back foot
Hips/Torso facing sideways
All 10 toes facing sideways
Torso should lean towards back leg and away from the front/attacker position
Weight distribution 30 (front) / 70 (rear)

Ways to tweak stance:
Have student look down at toes of rear leg. As with forward/front stance, they shouldn’t be able to see their toes.
Alignment of front toes and rear heel is the best guide for leg width.
“Test” the student by having them lean back and away from an “attack” (hand paddle, etc)

5. Back / Check Stance: The back stance is a common defensive/guard stance. With most of the weight placed on the rear leg, it allows ease of movement in the front combined with the ability to launch forward explosively off of the back foot.
Front leg bent
Back leg bent with knee at a slight inward angle
Feet/heels in line
5 front toes facing forward, 5 back toes facing at 90 degree angle (perpendicular to front)
Back straight
Weight is 30 (front) / 70 (back)

Ways to tweak stance:
Have a student start in a horse stance and then turn the front foot perpendicular to the back. This will automatically shift their weight to the back leg.
Properly done, the student should have the ability to push quickly forward off of the back leg. Have them practice pushing forward into a back fist (with lead hand) or reverse punch (with back hand)

6. Cat Stance: A transition stance – for moving from one stance or movement into a guard/check or into another movement.
Back straight
Feet about a shoulder width apart
Both knees bent – rear knee should be bent slightly inwards. Front knees should be facing forward.
Feet perpendicular – 5 toes forward, 5 to the side
Front heel off the ground
Weight is 10 (front) / 90 (rear)

Ways to tweak stance:
Make sure the back leg is planted under the body. Student should not be off-balance in the stance.
Sweep the student’s front foot. With proper weight distribution/placement, the foot should come up without disrupting their balance – realistically, he/she should be able to easily lift their foot without disrupting their positioning.
Make sure feet aren’t too close together…conversely, make sure the front leg isn’t “stretched” out too far.

6. Box Stance: Students often confuse the box and back stances because of their similarity in name and appearance, although the box stance has more in common with the horse and front stances. Students become familiar with this stance in both Wan-su and Nunchuck Kata Shodan.
Feet 1.5 to 2 shoulder widths apart
Both knees bent
5 toes facing forward, 5 to the side
Back straight
Weight low
Torso at a 45 degree angle
Hips engaged / pulled in
Weight distribution 50/50

Ways to tweak stance:
Have students check their toes as with the front stance – if they can see them, then their knees aren’t bent enough.
Heels should not be in a straight line the way they are in the box stance. Back leg should be “off the line” by a shoulder width.
Easiest way to check width/position is to have the students rotate their hips/feet forward into a forward stance. It should be easy with little repositioning of feet.

7. Snake Stance: Defensive stance. First ground-based stance learned by RDK students.
Cross one leg behind the other and sit down to ground.
Front foot on floor, with leg bent towards ceiling
Rear leg folded onto ground and behind front
Rear arm straight, with hand bracing body upright
Front hand in defensive position – ready to block or strike

Ways to tweak stance:
Make sure student isn’t sitting down on rear leg.
Rear arm should have most weight on it. Arm should be ready to push student up.
Have students practice kicking from the prone position, as well as getting up into a high dragon stance quickly.

8. X-Stance: A transition stance.
Front leg planted, with knee bent
Rear leg bent, with knee pressed up back of front knee
Front foot planted solidly on the ground, with 5 toes facing forward
Rear foot up on ball, with heel off the ground
Weight distribution 90/10

Ways to tweak stance:
Stability comes from pressing the rear knees into the cup behind the front knee. Locking them together gives balance.
Make sure student places very little weight on rear foot. They should be able to quickly and easily step out into a new stance.
Students need to practice staying low and level when moving out of the X-stance. The key is keeping the front leg bent and transferring weight from whole foot to ball when shifting out to a new stance.

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Karate Geek
Mat Nastos is the Karate Geek, Amazon Best-Selling Author, writer for film/tv/comics, with black belts in American-form karate and aikido.

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