Following on from (and inter-related with) Part 1, we are now going to look at body alignments, in particular with legs and stance.
Mechanics Of Normal Walking
Normal walking is a continuous fluid motion with one step merging into another step. When we walk normally, our body weight moves directly over our knees and feet. When viewed from the front, our ankle, knee and hip joints all in complete alignment and our feet pass each other no further apart than our hip joints. That is where the femur locates into the pelvis, (not the outer surfaces of the hips).
This is logical as when we walk our weight is supported on just one single structure (one leg) then transferred onto another single structure (our other leg). To support a weight on a single structure, physics dictates that the most efficient way is for the supporting structure to be directly below the main weight (in this case – our body).
Physics also dictates that the weight is most easily supported when the supporting structure is straight (which our leg is as the weight passes over it). To test this, try standing on one leg for a minute. Then try it again with a bent leg. You can do it with a bent leg, but you’ll tire much more quickly.
How The Karate Step Differs From Normal Walking
Taking Forward Stance (Zenkutsu Dachi) as an example, our feet are shoulder width apart when viewed from the front (rather than hip joint distance as in normal walking). This extra width of stance gives much more stability and “root” from which to deliver our technique and to absorb and rebound the reaction forces from the impact of that technique.
As mentioned above, when supporting a weight with a single support then the support should be directly below the weight. However, if you can have multiple supports (using both legs in a stance at completion of a step) then the most stable structure is a pyramid shape (broad base, small on top). We can’t really make our torso smaller, but the broader stance (feet shoulder width apart) does form a shallow pyramid structure, giving us maximum stability for that split second of impact.
Putting Natural Alignments Into Your Stance
In my early days of training we were taught to push the knees outwards. In Forward Stance the front knee would be pushed outward, in Back Stance (Kokutsu Dachi) the back knee would be pushed backwards and in Horse Stance (Keba Dachi) both knees would be pushed outwards. I realise that many teachers and associations have moved on from this practice, but it is still worth mentioning. Pushing the knees outwards puts unnecessary pressure on the outside of the knee joints and will damage them over time. Many senior instructors have had to have knee and hip replacements. Many others have just had to give up their training.
Pushing the knee(s) outward is like bowing the leg and distorts the natural pyramid shape structure, thus weakening it. This not only damages the knee over time, but it creates extra tension as your muscles around the knee tighten slightly in order to try and keep the knee joint in place (so as to prevent the damage). Tension of course just slows us down, so it is bad from a self defence point of view as well as for our health.
When looking at the front of the leg the ankle, knee and hip joints should all be in alignment (as with normal walking above). For this purpose I would like to define the front of the leg as being viewed from the direction that the foot is pointing in, as the legs can rotate at the hip joint (hence in back stance the feet point at about 90 degrees to each other).
It may not be the same for everybody, but I find this alignment is most easily achieved when the weight is balanced on the base of the big toe, rather then spread over the whole foot (as per Part 1).
Again, if you know anybody who suffers from hip/knee problems, please forward this post to them.
4 FREE Unique eBooks
“Whip” Like Impact & The Best Fight Finishers
✓ Multiply your impact for less effort
✓ Correct breathing to move faster
✓ Letting go of tension to conserve energy
✓ Why good structure requires less strength
✓ Best knock out points for pain-resistant opponent (drunk/high/adrenalised)
✓ Level the playing field with larger stronger attackers
Bonus: Historical look at Bassai Dai, one of Karate’s most pivotal katas