Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Whats the fuzz about stances anyway?

The "horse stance". Perhaps
South east Asian martial arts
most famous stance?
Besides pulling our non striking/non blocking hand to our hip and leaving us completly open to (counter)attack, our great arsenal of unrealistic "blocks" (think blocking two attacks at the same time), one of the other major "faults" with Taekwondo as an effective combat system is all its seemingless static and unusable stances. This is somthing we share with our sister martial arts Karate. It is no coincidence that we share this with Karate as we share a lot of history with the Okinawan/Japanese martial art (click here for more info). The hand that we pull to our hip has allready been covered here, and allthough I have not really plunged myself into my view of "blocking techniques" I have presented them briefly in earlier posts. So this time I would like to explore our "unrealistic" stances and hopefully show that the stances are not really that unpractical after all.
First of all we must as always explore this from a form versus function point of view. I often find that the misconseptions that sourround my art (Taekwondo) are the result of people that are extremely familiar with the form but do not have a clue about function. And so they make up their own "function" purely based on form. Another common source is the same scenario, but now it is the students of the original people who never questions what they have learned. And so we end up with so many different myths and missconceptions that it is damn funny:)

Stance used to awoid leg sweeps, it can be a low knee strike, or simply a part of a kick.
It could also be used as a leg sweep as it is seen doing in Poomsae Keumgang. 
For me the word stance is very wrong itself, and it does not convey the true meaning of our "stances". When you hear the word stance you think of something static. I looked up the word "stance" in the dictionary to see just what the word "Stance" implies and this is what I found:: a way of standing or being placed, : posture b : intellectual or emotional attitude <took an antiwar stance>
a : the position of the feet of a golfer or batter preparatory to making a swing b : the position of both body and feet from which an athlete starts or operates.
So in the English language stance is something you "step into", or some posture you perform before doing somthing. In Taekwondo "Stances" is not static. The most important part of what people think of as "stance" and "technique" is not the end of the tecnique. It is more important "how you get there" or the mid portion of the stance and technique that are important in term of Taekwondo stances and strikes. The stances in Taekwondo is not merely static postures or prepatory stances that you have to do before doing something. They are:
  • A means to teach the students how to control their body weight
  • To damage the oponent with the stance
  • To help facilitate a take down
  • To increase leverage and biomechanical advantage over the oponent
And probably I have forgotten a few other funtions, but the only limits of the stances are your imagination.

This stance can be used
to make you oponent trip
or as an attack to his legs
as well as pushing, punching
etc etc
Lets look a little closer to each of the points mentioned above. First of the stances are a means to teach the students how to control their body weight. It is simply easier to teach them how to glide from one stance to the next than to teach them how to move their center of gravity (it is located about 5 inches below your navel). Is it easier to say to a student learning the lunge punch that he/she must move forward in ap koobi (long front walking stance or forward inflection stance) or to say move your COG (Center of gravity) forward as fast as possible and punch? Or how about a basic armlock: "sink your COG forward and low into your technique to really make him hurt" vs " drop into ap koobi to really make him hurt". There are other examples too of course, but I think I made my point.

For the second point "To damage the oponent with the stance", I must admit that I never personally learned this in "my" regular Taekwondo class. I was first shown this by a Moo Duk Kwan Soo Bahk Do stylist and later at a Keysi fighting method seminar I attended. You can use stances like ap koobi (long front walking stance) and Joochum seogi (horse stance) to hurt your opponents leg by crashing into his "stance" at a slight angle while hurting his upper body simultaniously by punching him/her. It is hard to describe in words but it is extremly effective. In sparring I have sometimes used "horse" stance to take down my oponent with this method. I did it very softly but he slamed to the floor like I had kicked him to another planet. I am convinced that it would seriously hurt and damage my training partner if I did it with any power.

Beom seogi / Cat stance/Tiger stance anyone??
Who knew Thai boxers knew Karate and Taekwondo?:-p
The other aspect is that in application the length or wideness of the stance is of little importance as long as it get the job done. For instance in a lunge punch the objective is to reach the oponent with your fist right? So what if the stance becomes a little longer (or shorter if the oponent is nearer), as long as you get to punch him hard? The stances you do in basics are just a master(s) idea of how you should do it in practise to ensure you get the practical meaning of power generation, length and control of body weight. In actual application the stances will be used in accordance to the oponent and situation. When you practise alone you do it the way your "style" dictates as this ensures you get what you need from them without having to think too hard on visualisation.

Simular to the above the next point "To help facilitate a take down" focus on using stances as trips, or to sink your body weight into takedowns so that you not only use your muscles but your whole body to put your oponent to the ground. This also applies to many grappling techniques wich brings us to the next point: "To increase leverage and biomechanical advantage over the oponent".

This stance is great for pulling applications,
for tripping applications, or simply to get
away from a punch/kick. COG is low and back.
But how can you deliver a knock out blow from tiger/cat stance (Beom seogi), or kick with your front foot in ap koobi? Or be mobile when you are in hakdari seogi (Crane stance)? These and questions like them are often asked but the people who ask these questions simply does not understand the purpose of the "stances". They are not something you stand staticly in. They are not something you asume before doing something. They are brief snapshots of how to control your bodyweight etc in accordance with my points above. You use the stance in a fraction of a second before moving on to the next. If you think about it you will rarely see many techniques done from the same stance in Poomsae. Most often it is one or two techniques and then you move. Once the "stance" has done its job you abandon it and do something else.

There are stances in every martial art, but in martial arts from the south east asia region (China, Japan and Korea) there is an extreme need to put everything in a neat little box and organise every little detail. In sports fencing for example a "riposte" is just a way to "lunge" toward you oponent and touch him with the tip of your sword. This would be an ap koobi in Taekwondo. But unlike Taekwondo in sports fencing no one cares of how long the "lunge" is or how many degrees their toes are pointing or anything like that. The lunge is a lunge toward your oponent. Either your sword makes contact or it dont. Simple as that:-)

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