Western New York Karate Center
June 3, 2016
The importance of one’s stance in karate is among the first lessons any student is exposed to and will be brought up repeatedly throughout the experience of training. For most students, however, the benefit that will be emphasized is only the physical one. But, as discussed last week in our examination of karadakitai, the benefits of one’s stance is not only physical but also mental and spiritual as well. We will look at all three aspects of the importance of one’s stance in today’s article.
The physical benefit of one’s stance should be familiar to all karateka: stability. Being in a solid stance when executing a technique will physically support the successful application of a technique whether one’s intent is offense or defense. Imagine a door; it can be used to keep the environment out and it can be used to let the environment in. If that door is part of a properly built house, it will open and close easily and provide the desired level of security. But, if that door is hung on a frame in a shoddily constructed house, it may not close properly or open easily. If one does not assume a solid stance before executing a block or a strike, that block will not defend you as hoped nor can that strike have the fully desired effect. The techniques will be undermined by the “shoddily constructed house” upon which they are based.
In addition to the physical benefit of stability, there is a mental benefit: heijoshin. Heijoshin is the ability to think clearly and make the most effective choices despite one’s circumstances. Quite literally, heijoshin can be translated as “always level mind/heart.” Maintaining a level head while having one’s life threatened would be essential to being able to use one’s martial arts training effectively to manage a threat. Recent research in psychology provides insight into how one’s stance contributes to heijoshin. It has been found that overactivity in the amygdala of the brain is associated with anxiety. Specifically, overactivity of the amygdala contributes to a state of hypervigilance, being more on guard than necessary, as well as an exaggerated startle response, displaying a reaction to a possible threat that is out of proportion with the nature of the threat. Exercises in “grounding,” directing a person to feel their connection to the ground through the soles of their feet, have been shown to significantly reduce the activity of the amygdala and thus reduce hypervigilance as well as the startle response. With this in mind, whenever one is even briefly in a stance, take a moment to experience that connection to the ground and thus achieve or maintain heijoshin.
Finally, there is a spiritual benefit that I will call, connection. In Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi in particular, the study of “Bu” is the examination of how qi can be accessed or dissolved based on the innate aspects of one’s stance. In other words, by employing a well formed and executed stance, one not only gains access to the qi of the universe that can be applied to one’s techniques, one also is granted the ability to place the harmful energy of an attack out into the universe.
The importance of the spiritual benefit of one’s stance cannot be stressed enough as it applies to one’s martial arts practice. As a person, one is finite. We not only have a distinct beginning and a distinct end, we also have a limit to our personal resources. If we depend solely upon ourselves, we will inevitably experience an end to our ability to respond to the challenges. We will become exhausted in a fight. But, if we tap into the qi available in the universe around us, our resources become as infinite as the universe itself. One’s ability to maintain oneself in a fight becomes inexhaustible; like the Terminator, you will not quit until your opponent is no longer able to oppose you. But, the spiritual benefit of one’s stance is not restricted to obtaining energy; one can also disperse energy. As a lightning rod protects a home, one’s stance connects us to the infinite. We can direct the energy of an attack from our body and into the universe similar to how lightning is channeled away from a home and into the ground upon which it stands. A karateka, connected to the qi of the universe through a proper stance, could conceivably not only continue to attack and defend inexhaustibly but also do so without taking any significant damage.
Stance is the key to invincibility. It supports our techniques through stability. It helps keep us level-headed so we do not panic in a fight. And, it provides us with access to limitless power for our techniques and an unlimited buffer against the damage attempted by others. As a final thought, it is important to note, that the key to success in conflict is not only attending to the quality of one’s own stances through a fight; one must also attend to disrupting the stances of one’s opponent and thus deprive them of all the benefits we know a proper stance provides.