On the competition circuit and in classes I have taught over the years, common failings I’ve observed in students are poor stances and posture. I have seen these failings in both stand up and ground styles and in both cases the poor stances and posture led to bad technique and sometimes injury. When we are tired or careless, it is easy to start developing bad habits including bad stances and posture. Stances and posture with the associated balance and muscle engagement permeate all of martial arts, including kata, sparring, grappling and stretching. Stances and posture are important for a number of reasons.
Stretching – Sometimes we can be so focused on milestones that we forget our form and technique. People curve their spine to give them more range of motion when stretching. All this does is to fool the person into believing that they are more flexible than they really are. When I correct this in classes, the first comment I usually get from students is ‘keeping my back straight hurts more’. That is the point. To stretch large muscles safely one needs to have the muscles engaged in the stretch. Loosening the muscles by bending joints or curving the spine reduces the efficacy of the stretch. Stretching that way gives a false sense of flexibility and will leave the practitioner open to pulling a muscle and does not help improve flexibility.
Kata – Traditional Kata are a series of moves imitating a fight. If you perform your Kata incorrectly, you are programming your mind to operate incorrectly in a fight. Stability is reliant on your base and center of gravity. A proper stance offers you a strong base and proper posture puts your center of gravity in the best place for stability. In addition to stability and injury preventions, proper stances and posture look better. This is especially important in testing and sport karate. One thing I hate to see is a front stance with bad posture. A front stance with a straight back looks so much better. When testing or competing, you want to look like you are executing your move, not reaching down to tie your shoes.
Sparring – The mistake I see in sparring is stance, feet too close together or too far apart. I also see people with their feet in a straight line like they are walking a tightrope. This leads to poor balance and reduced speed in execution, which leads to poor performance in the ring. A proper stance improves balance and strike execution.
Grappling – Having knee on belly or full mount on an opponent is only useful if one can stay in position until ready to execute the next move. On the ground posting a leg or an arm is included in the conversation on stances. Posting properly provides the balance to apply body weight with the most effect without sacrificing stability. Getting thrown out of an advantageous position does not help win matches. Having the right posting and posture will make you heavier on your opponent and reduce the chances of being thrown.
Balance and stability are important in all martial arts as well as every day activities. Keeping your spine properly aligned when lifting, stretching or fighting keeps your center of gravity in balance and keeps muscles in the correct position to reduce the risk of injury. Having good stances will keep you stable whether you are executing a kata or standing on a moving train. When practicing your techniques, make sure to keep your posture and stances in mind.