Karate has many different stances, each used to create power, flexibility and movement. Some stances focus more on mobility than stability, and vice versa. These are the most common stances in karate:
In all these stances the knees are bent very slightly. There are no stances where weight rests on a leg with a completely straight knee.
Heisoku-dachi (閉足立, Feet together stance)
Feet together. This is usually a transitional stance, although it is used as the ready stance in some kata.
Musubi-dachi (結び立, Knot stance)
Heels together, toes open at about 45 degrees. This stance is used to perform the formal respectful bow, rei (礼).
From musubi-dachi, open heels until both outer edges of feet are parallel. Some styles don't distinguish this stance from heiko-dachi.
Hachiji-dachi (八字立, natural stance, literally "stand like the character 八")
The feet are shoulder width apart, toes open at 45 degrees. Sometimes this stance is called soto-hachiji-dachi (外八字立). This is the basic ready stance in Karate. The karateka stands upright, facing straight forward. While in hachiji dachi, the karateka is usually in a yoi (ready) position. Different styles may vary slightly.
The yoi position is a preparatory position that gives a clear starting point for execution of other techniques. The main version of yoi means the arms are slightly moved forward, with fists closed. The fists point slightly to the centre line and are roughly half a shoulder width apart. The elbows should be bent very slightly.
There are many variations to the movements leading to the yoi position. Note that some kata have very different yoi positions. The basic Shotokan kata all start at the stance and with the yoi position described above. Examples of basic kata are Heian shodan, Heian nidan and Heian sandan. Other yoi positions are found mostly in intermediate and advanced kata.
In English, hachiji roughly translates to "the character for eight," but in context means something more like "shaped like number eight." Note that this refers to the shape of the kanji for the number eight: 八, not the arabic numeral "8". Dachi (立:だち), the pronunciation of tachi (立:たち) when the word is second in a compound, translates to "stance," referring specifically to the body's position from the waist down. The term "hachiji dachi" is frequently used interchangeably with "shizentai" (自然体：しぜんたい), or "shizentai dachi", which translates to "natural stance" (literally, 'natural body,' or 'natural body stance'). In most styles, shizentai is identical to hachiji dachi.
Uchi hachiji-dachi (内八字立, literally "stand like the upside-down character 八")
The feet are shoulder width apart, toes facing inwards at 30-45 degrees, knees tense. This stance is used in some formal exercises, for example the tsundome. Also called Chun'be or Naifanchin-dachi.
Heikō-dachi (平行立, parallel stance)
The feet are shoulder width apart, and their outer edges are parallel. This is a common transitional stance in many kata.
The feet are shoulder width apart, as in Heiko-dachi, but one foot is forward to where the heel is parallel with the big toe of the back foot
SIDEWISE HIGH STANCES
Renoji-dachi (レの字立, stand like the character レ)
Feet are at the shoulder width. The foot in the front is fully frontal (toes facing forward), the rear foot is turned 90 degrees out, and is positioned in such a way that if the front foot is brought back, its heel will touch the heel of the rear foot. Thus the foot print is shaped like the character レ (or letter L). The weight is kept 70% on the rear foot.
Teiji-dachi (丁字立, stand like the character 丁)
Similar to renoji-dachi, but if the front foot is brought back, its heel will touch the middle of the rear foot, thus the foot print is shaped like the character 丁 (or letter T).
Like the forward-facing Seisan stance, the feet are aligned the same but pointed off to the side at a 25-30 degree angle.
SPECIAL HIGH STANCES
Sagiashi-dachi (鷺足立 Heron-foot stance) also known as Tsuruashi-dachi (鶴足立 Crane-foot stance)
This is the stance on one leg, where the other leg is raised and bent so that its foot touches the knee of the base leg. The exact form of contact between the foot and the knee depends on the style or even on the particular version of the kata where this stance is used. For example, different versions of the kata rōhai use different sagiashi dachi.
MIDDLE HEIGHT STANCES
Middle height front stances
The feet are wider than the shoulder width, with their outer edges parallel. Legs and buttocks should be tensed upwards, while keeping the weight low and the knees bent inwards. This stance has strong tension in the legs and is the basis of the kata Naihanchi.
Sanchin-dachi (三戦立 Three Battles stance)
The stance is fixed and tensed in the same way as Naihanchin-dachi. It can be described as Uchi-hachiji-dachi with one foot moved forward until the toes of the rear foot are on the same horizontal line as the heel of the front foot. This powerful stance is used in the multitude of katas attributed to Kanryo Higashionna, from Sanchin to Suparimpei. Many advanced breathing techniques are exercised in this stance.
Sanchin (サンチン Sanchin) is a kata of Southern Chinese (Fujianese) origin that is considered to be the core of several styles, the most well-known being the Okinawan Karate styles of Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu, as well as the Chinese martial arts of Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, Pangai-noon and the Tiger-Crane Combination style associated with Ang Lian-Huat. Tam Hon taught a style that was called simply "Saam Jin" (Cantonese for "Sanchin"). The name Sanchin, meaning three battles, is sometimes interpreted as the battle to unify the mind, body, and spirit; however, there are other interpretations of it.
The version of Sanchin used by most styles of Karate was developed by Goju Ryu founder Chōjun Miyagi and uses a very strong, tense closed fist "push". In Uechi Ryu and in Ryusei, the practice of Sanchin is closer to the Chinese version with faster spear hand strikes that are more snake like.
Only one stance is used—the sanchin (meaning "three battles") stance, from which a name of the kata is derivative now (initially it was named as Peppuren. Sanchin-dachi is a practical stance, and yet is the most difficult stance to master. The legs protect the body from sweep kicks; the thighs are to trap low kicks. According to a tai chi manual (Zhengzi 13 postures), the punch draws its power from the earth through the legs—the flip of the hips enables the strength of the whole body to be channeled and focused into one punch.
When properly executing Sanchin kata, all the muscles are to be flexed and tensed throughout the kata. Most styles of martial arts employ a version of Sanchin kata that follows the "hard" style of karate. This hardness contributes to the belief that Sanchin is one of the most strenuous katas in martial arts.
In Goju-Ryu, the idea is to remain soft until a hard motion is executed, and then tense briefly at the right moment. This allows for better overall movement since continuous tensing is not conducive to easy or speedy movement. Sanchin is often practiced as a means of developing hardness of the external muscle sheathe of the body, making it easy for the practitioner to withstand solid, powerful blows from an opponent. But the steady tensing used by some styles, e.g., Goju Ryu, in its practice tends to slow one's movements if the practitioner doesn't learn to turn the hardness on and off easily. There have also been claims that the isometric method of practice can have long term deleterious effects on practitioners' blood pressure and circulatory systems. Styles like Kyokushin often incorporate sanchin method of practice, as seen in the Goju version of the style, in everything they do. Many who have seen the Okinawans performing Sanchin have accepted a notion that the form requires hardness and tensing in its very nature but practicing in this manner can make it difficult to learn from the kata, to achieve a better understanding of the techniques it contains, when it's performed in a state of constant strain and tension.
Some exceptions to this occur in the Okinawan style Uechi-ryū where a balance of tension and softness is employed. In the Uechi-Ryu form of Sanchin all muscles are tensed like Sanchin in other martial arts most of the time; however a brief softness and looseness is employed for the muscles being moved to make explosive strikes and movements, while the rest of body remains tense to protect vital organs, and weak spots in the body. Therefore sanchin in Uechi-Ryu is considered more of a combination of "hard" and "soft".
As the foundation of Uechi-Ryu unlike most other styles, sanchin kata is the first kata that new Uechi-Ryu students learn, practice, refine, and develop as they gain experience and rank.
This type of strength training is only recently understood in Western science and is known as "isometric training" in bodybuilding. (This is incorrect. The type of strengthening used in Sanchin kata may best be termed "dynamic tension".)
In Chinese training, sanchin kata (known as sanzhan) also introduces the student to the use of "qi" (Japanese "ki") for training and fighting applications. It can be understood to be a form of "qigong" as employed in Chinese Wushu. In qigong, the hands are not closed into a fist as it would be deemed as restricting the flow of chi. The focus in qigong is on the controlled breathing to generate chi in the body. Many western interpretations of qi/ki explain it as an enhanced understanding of internal body dynamics and muscle control through repeated and strenuous training. The Chinese form San Zhan, which is apparently the ancestor version of modern Okinawan and Japanese Sanchin, can look quite different from the later versions seen in classical karate.
In Gōjū, there are two sanchin kata: the first one, Miyagi's sanchin (or "sanchin dai ichi"), the most widely taught as initial and Kihongata, was created for such purpose by Chojun Miyagi, and has no turns so the karateka goes forward and then backwards. The second sanchin, Higashionna's sanchin (or "sanchin dai ni") is a full-version Sanchingata and is older and was taught by Higashionna Kanryo. In this kata the karateka always goes forward, but turns 180 degrees twice. Initially it was taught with open hands, as sanchin-kata still is in Uechi-ryu, but later it was also revised to closed fists by Miyagi's co-student Juhatsu Kyoda, founder of To'on-ryu, and adopted by Chojun Miyagi as well.
This kata was adopted by other styles such as the later Okinawan style Isshin-ryū and Kyokushin, a later Japanese style created by Mas Oyama, a Korean-born immigrant to Japan. Oyama's style, emphasizes the hardness and body toughening of classic Goju with the forward moving, aggressiveness of Shotokan, generally thought to be the earliest Japanese style and tracing its roots to the Shuri te school of combat in Okinawa rather than to the Naha te school which formed the basis of Okinawan Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu.
Some say the meaning of sanchin ("three battles") relates to the three journeys of life: Developing body, mind and spirit. Through proper martial arts training, one properly learns to develop her or his body through exercise and practise of kata/forms. Later, one begins to understand the true meaning of one's training and develops an understanding of bunkai and history, developing the mind. Spirit is developed much later in life and is only understood by those who have achieved this.
The Sanchin routine uses only its namesake stance and is carried out with controlled breathing (ibuki breathing). Inhalation and exhalation are performed in unison with the various blocking and striking movements. In the most commonly taught versions, emphasis is placed on the tension of the practitioners' muscles, and movement of the body as a solid, stable unit. The Chinese and Uechi-Ryu version uses open hands while other Okinawan and Japanese versions tend to use closed fists. Certain schools of Five Ancestors kung fu, most noticeably those hailing from the Chee Kim Thong lineage, employ minimal tension during execution. This is intended to facilitate the correct training of qi (or ki).
The following description does not apply to the Chinese Sānzhàn stance.
The narrow (shoulder width) upright "pigeon-toed" foot position of the Sanchin stance (Japanese: sanchin dachi) balances stability in two directions (front and side) with the flexible waist rotation needed for strong punches and kicks. The toes attempt to "grip" the floor, attempting to turn the feet outward while actually turned inward, creating a rooted stance, whilst the pelvis remains tilted upward along with the turned-in position of the front knee and the bent back knee help protect the groin from kicks.
Some styles use Sanchin as a method of checking strength and posture, as well as concentration. All hits directed towards the karateka are done at the end of the punch, when they are in their most tense position. Most Goju-ryu schools use the following checking procedures:
- Light to heavy slap down on the shoulders. This checks that the shoulders are in a natural position, yet tense.
- Light to heavy strikes (generally a ridge hand) to the lats. This is to check if the lat muscles are tight. Light trapping of the elbows with a hand or fingers check that the karateka is holding proper form with their arms and elbows, and using full strength to strike.
- Checking the legs. From behind, slapping the sides of the knees to make sure the legs and stance are solid.
- Fingers to the back of the neck. This is a reminder to fix posture.
- Groin and pelvic tuck(tilt). From the front or rear, kick or raise arm to the groin. If the karateka is in proper Sanchin stance and the pelvis is tilted, he will trap the kick or arm with the inner thighs.
- Breathing check. Light to heavy striking of the stomach. This could be a standard punch or a ridge hand from the side. This will check for proper ibuki breathing.
- Concentration check. The person performing shime should not strike in a specific pattern, allowing the karateka to anticipate the strikes. He should strike randomly, allowing the karateka to focus on the kata itself and not on the strikes. This may involve occasionally "faking" a strike in view of the karateka to check that he does not react to it. This is a portion of the "mind" part of "mind, body and spirit."
- Concentration check. Some styles will test a karateka's concentration by breaking a board across a strong point of the body, such as the leading upper leg.
- Posture. Check the strength and posture by hooking, open palmed, the wrists, and guiding the punch, while applying resistance.
In Uechi-Ryu, the practitioner stops the kata for each sequence of shime checks, then the kata starts up again - stopping and starting for each series of checks; as opposed to the kata being done continuously without regard to the person giving shime. Also in Uechi-ryu, the practitioner is open handed and the shime involves roundhouse kicks directed to the legs and occasionally the arms. Shin conditioning is checked by toe-kicks directly to the shins.
Traditional Okinawan schools will vary on their application of shime.
There is a style of martial arts that originated in the United States, called Sanchin-Ryu. This style was developed by Chief Grandmaster Robert Dearman in the 1980's, in the State of Michigan.
Hangetsu-dachi (半月立, Halfmoon stance)
A version of sanchin used in some karate styles, particularly Shotokan. This stance is longer than sanchin-dachi, but retains the same tension and inward rotation of the knees. It is the basis of the kata Hangetsu.
Moto-dachi (基立, Foundational stance)
The stance is shin length and around two fist widths wide, with both legs slightly bent, the front foot facing straight forward and the back foot pointed outward at about 20-30 degrees. The body should be squarely forward unless a half-turn han-mi is applied. The basic ready stance for kumite is Moto-dachi.
Kosa-dachi (交差立, Crossing stance)
From Moto-dachi, bring the back leg forward so that the back knee is tucked in to the back of the front knee, with only the toes and ball of the back foot on the floor. Depending on the style, the back foot may be directly behind the front foot, or out to the side of the front foot, so that the legs are crossed.
Han Zenkutsu-dachi (半前屈立, half zenkutsu), also known as Sho Zenkutsu-dachi (小前屈立, short zenkutsu)
Shortened and raised zenkutsu-dachi, this stance is slightly lower than moto-dachi. The rear leg is straight at the knee just like in the regular (low) zenkutsu-dachi. This stance is sometimes seen in kata, for example in Matsukaze.
Han-Kokutsu-dachi (半後屈立, half kokutsu), also known as Sho Kokutsu-dachi (小後屈立, short kokutsu)
Shortened and raised kokutsu-dachi.
The height of all these stances is, ideally, exactly the same, so that the transitions from zenkutsu to kokutsu (defense) or kokutsu to zenkutsu (attack) happen without loss of energy which would be necessary to move the body's center of mass up and down.
Low Frontal stances
Kiba-dachi (騎馬立, horse stance or rider stance)
Feet are parallel and wide, weight is central and low, with the back straight and the knees and feet pointing slightly inwards. This stance is not used in all styles of karate because of strong tension that it requires, instead it is often replaced by Shiko-dachi.
Shiko-dachi (四股立, square stance, often called horse stance where kiba-dachi is not used)
Same as Kiba-dachi but the toes face out at about 45 degrees.
Zenkutsu-dachi (前屈立, forward stance)
This is a long frontal stance where the weight is mostly on the front leg. It has exactly the same height as shiko-dachi, but the rear leg is completely straight at the knee and extended back. The front foot is placed frontal (toes facing forward), the rear foot is turned out 30 degrees, just like Moto-dachi, but never 90 degrees as seems natural to new practitioners because this precludes any forward motion. The heel of the rear foot rests on the ground. Zenkutsu-dachi is one of the most common stances in kata.
Nekoashi-dachi (猫足立, cat foot stance)
All weight rests on the back leg, which is bent at the knee. The rear foot is turned at about 20-30 degrees out and the knee sits at the same angle. Only the toes of the front foot rest on the ground, positioned in front of the back heel at about the same distance as the front foot of moto-dachi. There is no weight on the front foot, and there is no bent in the ankle joint - front knee, front shin, and the rise of the foot (but not the toes) form a single line, vertical in Shitō-ryū, tilted in Shotokan.
Iaigoshi-dachi (居合腰立, Kneeling stance)
Kneeling on the rear leg. Distance from back foot to front foot is one shank length plus fist length. Stance is one fist width wide.
LOW SIDEWISE STANCES
Fudō-dachi (不動立, unshakable stance) also called Sōchin-dachi (壯鎭立) after kata Sōchin
The body is positioned similar to shiko-dachi turned either 45 or 90 degrees to the side, except for the head which still looks forward. The front foot moves one foot-length forward, increasing stability and making it possible to perform a strong attack with the rear foot.
Kōkutsu-dachi (後屈立, back long stance)
This is a mirror image of zenkutsu-dachi, where the rear leg is bent strongly at the knee and the front leg is either straight or slightly bent, depending on the style. The rear foot is turned 90 degrees to the side. The body is turned 90 degrees or more away, except for the head which looks to the front. Kokutsu-dachi is a great defensive stance because of the amount of energy stored in the rear leg, ready for a counter-attack.
Sōkutsu-dachi (側屈立, side long stance)
Often conflated with kōkutsu-dachi, this is a variant of kōkutsu where the head faces the direction perpendicular to the line on which the feet stand.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia articles "Karate Stances" and "Hachiji dachi", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.