ISSUE 49 FEATURES
'Inside Tension Stances'. By John Cheetham.
OYO: Kata's abstract principle! By Simon Oliver.
S.K.I.F. Summer Camp - Japan.
Report By Richard Burns.
Letters to the editor.
Toru Shimoji - 'Lines of Energy'.
Interview By Sam Jaquinta.
Kanazawa on 'Shotokan and Tai Chi'.
Interview By Mike Clarke.
U.K.T.K.F. Senior Championships 1996.
Report By John Cheetham.
'A Mind Like Water' - Mizu No Kokoro. By C.W. Nicol.
Konjaku Shin Course.
Report By B.Hodgkiss, S.Bloomfield, L.Clarke.
Masataka Mori 8th Dan - Profile of a Master.
By David Palumbo.
'Lines of Energy'.
'INSIDE TENSION STANCES'
SANCHIN-DACHI - NEKO-ASHI DACHI - HANGETSU-DACHI
By John Cheetham
In issue 43 we looked at the 'Outside Tension' stances of the Shotokan system, namely the most practiced stances within our style, Zenkutsu dachi (forward stance), Kiba dachi (straggle stance) and Kokutsu dachi (back stance). These are the essence of the Shotokan style because of their mobility. Here we will focus on and discuss the opposite 'feeling' for the three basic 'Inside Tension' stances and why it's important to practice and understand these stances, which are generally not as widely used and practiced within the Shotokan school as are the 'outside tension' stances. This is probably why many people say that the Shotokan style is primarily a medium to long range system of fighting. The 'inside tension' stances are - Sanchin dachi (hour glass stance) - Hangetsu dachi (half moon stance) and Neko-ashi dachi (cat stance).
Although some of the 'inside tension' stances appear in several Shotokan kata - Hangetsu has hangetsu dachi and neko-ashi dachi, Nijushiho has sanchin dachi, Bassai sho has neko-ashi dachi and Unsu has neko ashi and sanchin dachi, it's fair to say that these particular stances take a back seat in most Shotokan clubs in general training! However, they are certainly very important stances and should be practiced and studied by all Shotokan students. The basic, fundamental difference in practical fighting terms between 'outside tension' stances and 'inside tension' stances is the distance you are from your opponent. The 'outside tension' stances are most certainly for medium to long range techniques, whereas sanchin, hangetsu and neko-ashi dachi are ideal for and were obviously designed for closer range combat. Also very importantly these inside tension stances are more suited to fighting on wet or slippery surfaces.
I'm sure you have all experienced training on a wet or very slippery dojo floor at some time! It's not much fun and very frustrating but we should look closely at what can be done about compensating for these conditions. Trying to make a decent forward stance or back stance on a wet floor is a nightmare and as I'm sure many have experienced, kiba dachi can end up in box splits!! Those stances were not designed for wet surfaces because they require 'outside tension' of the the leg muscles which means pushing the legs apart. This is precisely what you don't want to do on a slippery surface. If the floor is wet you would be much better off practicing every technique using the 'inside tension' stances, they lend themselves to these conditions. Of course, they lack the mobility of the other stances but again they were designed for fighting in confined spaces without the luxury of big movements and mobility.
I remember seeing an unbelievable fight in a night club where a little guy was jumping over tables, throwing chairs everywhere and causing chaos until a big doorman cornered him in a small space and it was 'goodnight' for our entertaining little speed-freak! Obviously we don't want to get trapped in a confined space or cornered but it can happen and the stances we are discussing here (inside tension stances) are designed for this job!
For students who don't really understand the idea and jist of what 'outside' or 'inside' tension in a stance is, or is supposed to do, or indeed what stances are actually for, here is a very good and highly technical explanation by Lester Ingber, PhD., from his excellent book, 'KARATE KINEMATICS and DYNAMICS' (Unique Publications Inc. ISBN: 0-86568-025-6).......
"The source of power needed to generate techniques in karate can be traced to proper use of the legs in a stance. Stance is the term used to describe the legs when they are in tension and connected to each other by the continuation of this tension through the centre of the body. The two basic types of stances are outside-tension stance and inside-tension stance.
The stance provides the forces and torques to move the torso, which in turn spins off the arms and legs. A torque, which is produced by two or more forces acting in opposite directions at each end of a lever, is necessary to cause the motion of the body along a given straight line in space. The forces from the stance are important to accelerate the limbs. Upon impact from a blow, the stance also provides rigid support to help establish a large grounded mass behind the technique. The proper stance is also necessary to acquire a smooth, quick start for most techniques.
Your hip centre must be properly tensed to transmit the forces and tensions between the legs, through the torso and out to the external limbs. The iliopsoas (short double muscle high on the thigh and hip), internal oblique (middle layer of abdominal muscle on the sides), transversus abdominal (innermost layer of abdominal region) and the sartorius muscle (long narrow muscle connected to the spine that winds downward and inward across the thigh) must be tensed so that the inside thigh muscles can bridge forces through the hip centre to the torso and limbs."
I remember being told by one instructor that the feeling of Sanchin stance, and Hangetsu stance was like trying to squeeze and crack a massive coconut between your knees and inner thigh muscles whilst at the same time tightening and squeezing the buttocks muscles as if you were about to receive a huge needle (in the backside) for an anti-tetanus injection!! Not quite how Dr. Ingber would describe the feeling but none the less, not a bad idea! It makes you think about the feeling and not the physical appearance of the stance.
The Goju ryu and Shito ryu schools use these inside-tension stances much more than we do in Shotokan and they appear in virtually all their kata. This is the essence of the Goju ryu style, close quarter combat with an emphasis on strong muscle contraction to be able to absorb blows. Master Nishiyama said, (interview in issue 45) ..."Shotokan has a more strong emphasis on dynamic body movements."
Neko-ashi dachi (cat stance), Hangetsu dachi and Sanchin have the feeling of compressive, squeezing tensions in the legs, lower abdomen and buttocks, but the hips and waist should still be and 'feel' soft and mobile for easy rotations which is very hard to achieve for most students but must be continually worked on. All the top Japanese instructors stress - strong, solid stances but soft hips to rotate the torso easily. Another important point which is also stressed for sanchin dachi and hangetsu dachi (and indeed all stances) is to keep the feet as 'flat' as possible to the ground. Don't arch the feet or come up on the outside edge of the feet in these stances. This a common tendency in sanchin and hangetsu stance where you are squeezing the knees inward. We are told to keep the body pressure pressing down hard into the floor through the heels with feet as flat as possible. Don't grip with the toes or curl them up (this arches the feet) and try and bend the knees deeply, feeling the tension forcing inward.
Another point is, that you often see students when performing sanchin or hangetsu stances squeeze their shoulders in, and compress their chest as if they were hugging something, which should not happen. The chest should be expanded as if the shoulder blades were trying to meet at the back and the head straight and pushing upwards. It's very hard to do all this of course but that's why karate is an art!
One very important point about stance tension for both outside or inside tension stances is the role of the body centre (hara) and tucking in of the tailbone (tightening the buttocks) to connect the legs to the torso for powerful delivery of karate techniques. In his extremely technical and excellent publication, 'ADVANCED KARATE-DO' (Focus Publications ISBN 0-911921-16-8) Dr. Elmar Schmeisser after discussing outside and inside tension in stances, explains......
"One other very important tension is required for a focussed stance: that of the link between the legs - the hips and buttocks. It is this final tension that is the critical factor in unifying the lower body and linking it to the upper torso. It is a combination of the Kegal exercise of the pelvic floor muscles in the perineum (including contraction of both the urethral and anal sphincters) and the clamp with the buttocks one involuntarily finds oneself doing in cases of diarrhoea (contraction of the gluteus muscles). This not only locks the legs together, but pulls the hips under to straighten the spine.
Unless the spine is straight, the shoulders will precess and swing out of the vertical plane with hip rotation, throwing off both balance and power. If all other tensions in the legs fail through fatigue, this one must not, or the stance will fall apart and will not support the flow of power into or the reaction back from the target."
I think one confusing point with many students is understanding that the feeling described above by Elmar Schmeisser is the same for 'both' types of stances, inside and outside tension. One point I've heard raised was, with regard to the feeling for outside tension in forward stance, "Shouldn't I be squeezing in, in the groin area for zenkutsu dachi?" The answer is yes, but the legs should be forcing outwards and pushing apart with outside tension. So, the point is that the student in question was doing a forward stance more like a longer Hangetsu dachi because they misunderstood the two feelings or rather could not put them together. I remember when we had KAGAWA Sensei (the famous JKA instructor and former Kata and Kumite Champion, based in Japan) at our dojo a couple of years ago and when we were doing gyaku zuki he kept saying, "Squeeze, squeeze, no open," pointing to the groin area in forward stance (in gyaku zuki position) but then he said, "Open," when in hanme (45 degrees or half on) with gedan barai. When I talked to him afterwards he said the feeling in the groin, lower abdomen and buttocks is like 'squeezing'. This applies to all stances, it's the tension and force direction of the legs and knees that change stances from outside tension to inside tension. The point being that Kagawa Sensei said that yes, you do squeeze-in, in forward stance (in the groin area) but the legs and knees do not (they push apart) and that is the fundamental technical difference between the outside tension stances and the inside tension stances (one forces the legs apart and the other forces them in) which we are discussing here with the three inside tension stances.
One or two styles of karate do actually use an 'inside tension' forward stance, Shorinji ryu, for instance, I know definitely do, but I think their forward stance is generally somewhat shorter than the average Shotokan forward stance, so that could explain that! Shotokan uses outside tension for forward stance and if you read what Lester Ingber says later on you will see that 'inside tension' does not really lend itself to longer stances because of the angles and forces involved. In fact, when we step forward with oie zuki (stepping punch) from a forward stance (outside tension) into another forward stance, at the mid-way point with the legs, (where they come together) the force at this point is 'inside tension' before we drive forward into the next forward stance. This happens naturally if we are doing the technique correctly.
I've been looking for good descriptions and technical explanations for the three inside tension stances in many books and I have to say, in all honesty that I have not found any mind-blowing explanations. It's the usual - Sanchin looks like an hour glass, Hangetsu looks like a half moon and neko-ashi looks like a cat doing something or other! The point being that most books only describe what the stance (posture - form) should look like and not what it should 'feel' like, which is far, far more important in real terms, which hopefully this article is trying to convey.
As would obviously be expected from the late Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Association, Master Nakayama's 'DYNAMIC KARATE' has one of the better and more detailed descriptions for sanchin dachi......
"Sanchin dachi -
The right foot is lightly behind the left foot so that an imaginary horizontal line would touch the back of the heel of the left foot and the front of the big toe of the right foot. Both knees must be bent and turned inward. As in all stances, keep the upper body perpendicular to the ground and tense the lower abdomen. Despite the relatively narrow position of the feet, this stance provides a strong base for defensive techniques. From this stance (sanchin) one can easily move into any other stance and go in any direction. The knees in this position are flexed inward, in contrast to the back stance and kiba dachi stance where the force is directed outwards.
Specific Points to Remember
1. Separate the feet by a distance equal to the width of the hips. Keep the heel of the front foot on the same line as the big toe of the rear foot.
2. Point the front foot inward at an angle of 45 degrees. Point the rear foot directly forward.
3. Bend the knees so that a plumb line dropped from the centre of each knee falls in front of the toes.
4. Tense the ankles and press the knees inward. Be especially careful to tighten the knees, because the feet are relatively narrowly spaced.
5. Tense the muscles of the inner thighs and buttocks.
6. Be sure the centre of gravity falls at a point midway between the feet. Body weight, therefore, should be distributed equally between both legs.
1. Do not bend the knees inward too much. Doing so will weaken the outside of the knees and reduce stability.
2. Do not lean forward, allowing the heels to leave the ground.
3. Do not straighten the knees, otherwise the hips will be too high.
4. Do not allow the knees to relax."
A slightly more technical description was given by Lester Ingber, (who incidentally is a Shotokan practitioner) with regard to sanchin dachi....
"When sparring at close distances, often the feet must be close together. At distances between the legs approaching shoulder width, the angle between the thighs in front stance (zenkutsu dachi) becomes to small too produce an effective horizontal component of force to push against the ground to derive strong body power. The hour glass stance (sanchin dachi) solves this problem. This stance is essentially the same as hangetsu dachi (half moon stance), except that the large toe of the back leg is on a line that passes under the centre of the body and through the heel of the front leg. The relevant angle that determines components of force on the floor is measured by intersecting lines along the lower legs that pass from the heels through the knees. This angle is much steeper than the angle between the thighs in a front stance with the same distance between the feet."
Generally speaking the half moon stance - hangetsu dachi is described in most books and by most instructors as a longer version of sanchin dachi with all the same points as sanchin. But most say that hangetsu dachi is 'shorter' than zenkutsu dachi in length (which ties in with why inside tension doesn't work for longer stances) but the feet are still the same hip or shoulder width apart.
In another classic Shotokan book by Master Nishiyama, 'KARATE THE ART OF EMPTY HAND FIGHTING' we are told how to make cat stance or neko-ashi dachi as follows....
"Tense the rear knee inward so that it points diagonally forward and is in a position slightly beyond the toes. With the rear foot flat on the floor and bearing most of the body weight, the front foot is free for kicking. By moving into this stance from a wider stance, it is possible to keep a proper distance from your opponent. In order to obtain the maximum forward thrust, it is necessary to bend the rear knee and tense it as much as possible."
You can get someone to copy the physical form of all these stances (a good dancer or gymnast for example) yet they will have no conception or remote idea of how the stance is meant to 'feel'. You see this all the time at the Sport karate competitions in the Kata events. These people might look good to the un-trained eye but it's purely cosmetic, with no real understanding of the particular stance and certainly no idea of the principles of outside or inside tension which is of the utmost importance in Traditional karate.
We will finish this hopefully, helpful technical article with a quote from Lester Ingber, with yet another very important consideration when studying the inside tension stances of our style. This ties in directly with all the points raised, especially in the short passage by Elmar Schmeisser earlier...
"As with all the inside tension stances, the tensions in the legs should be extended up to the solar plexus."
Good training! Editor.