Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How to find your correct front stance

 Photo courtesy of Tomer Gabel
One of the first postures that you learn in a karate class is the front stance (zenkutsu in Japanese). Virtually all karate schools I've encountered have some sort of standard beginners' instruction about front stance that is something like, "feet 2.5 hip-widths apart, front knee over big toe, back leg locked, 60% of your weight on the front leg." Some schools say 1.5x hip width, some say 2.5x hip width, but regardless of the specifics, where did these holy proportions come from?
Funakoshi, in his beginner's text, Karate-Do Nyumon, says the length of the front stance varies around an average of about 75cm (~2.5 feet) heel-to-heel with beginners needing a slightly longer stance. Rob Redmond, in his excellent article on front stance, says he prefers a front stance to be about 38" (3+ feet) heel-to-heel - but that's understandable because Rob is taller and longer-limbed than Funakoshi was. But still, where do you get these numbers?
They reference your own anatomy - your own height and leg-length and strength and flexability. That is okay, but it suggests that there is a perfect zenkutsu for each given practitioner based on their own anatomy  regardless of the situation or the characteristics of the opponent.
I prefer a different definition of zenutsu: a lunge long enough to place your hand 2-3 inches inside the opponent's body starting just outside of ma-ai (touching distance). Try this exercise to calibrate the length of your front stance:
  • Stand in front of your partner with straight arms palm-to-palm.
  • When your partner drops his arm, lunge into zenkutsu far enough to place your lead palm flat on his chest or face. This is the proper size of your front stance for this particular situation - a lunge large enough to put your fist 2-3 inches into his body.
So, if zenkutsu is slightly different for every opponent, how do you develop a standardized front stance that you can practice in kata?  Practice the above calibration drill a bunch with a lot of different people, and your body will sort of average the results to create a standard front stance that is about right for you for for most opponents. But more importantly, you'll also develop your intuition for when you have to lengthen or shorten that standard lunge or when you have to start from closer or farther to get the right distance for the particular situation.
Now that's zenkutsu!
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  1. Shoshin Nagamine, if I remember correctly, gave it in more individualized terms.

    If you kneel on the ball of the rear foot and have the front foot a fist distance away from your rear knee, that is the width of zenkutsu dachi. Simply stand up, and you're in it.

  2. That knee-to-heel width rule is probably the best, most reproducible rule of thumb for making a front stance. Of course, it requires you to have really long shins t obe a good Shotokan guy :-)

    But the real problem with it is the same as the 2x hip width rule - it's based upon your own anatomy and situation instead of your relationship to the opponent.

  3. Here is an interesting article about front stance from a body mechanics view.



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