One thing a lot of combatives practitioners like to shout from the rooftops is that stances are not workable, they aren’t real, etc… but have you ever tried fighting with your feet together and your hands at your side? Oh, you wouldn’t fight like that….you’d have your hands up and your feet at least shoulder-width apart….well I hate to break it to you, but that’s a stance!
What most don’t realize is that stances in the traditional martial arts are mostly transitory, hence most have a base fighting stance that flows between them all. Throw a reverse punch, that power is amplified by forward-driven force, so by throwing the technique in a front stance, you essentially throw every bit of body weight into the blow. Dodging a hard swung straight punch is easier when you lean back and can control how far back and downward you lean, hence a back stance is thus warranted.
You don’t take a front stance and start inching your way towards an opponent, you don’t chose your stance like choosing a random pair of socks…like a kung fu move “I choose tiger style waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” it doesn’t work that way…. nothing works that way.
Stances have a purpose, their purpose isn’t to stay static, it is to move and flow during combat. No one stays in a front stance or back stance to fight, they move back and forth through every stance as needed in a dynamic fashion. As Bruce Lee so famously said, “If your opponent contracts, you expand, if they expand, you contract,” this isn’t done by jumping around like a lunatic coming off of a bender, this is done through the proper utilization of stances.
Boxers, kickboxers, Karateka, MMA fighters, Jiu-Jitsu/jujitsu fighters, kung fu fighters, wrestlers, and just about every form of combat throughout history….has stances and methods of movement. Without some reasonable form of stance, you have no means to retain balance, no means to quickly and adequately defend your three sectors (head, body upper, body lower) and no means to coherently move.
Military combatives have stances, every branch even the most elite branches do, police combatives have stances…. civilian combative, especially “tactical,” the buzzword of the last decade, claims to not have them…..odd…. and highly unlikely. They can talk horribly all they want about every martial art, but if they actually understood any martial art beyond the most basics, they would realize they have them too.
Mobility in combat is paramount and in the martial arts, stances and footwork is the very foundation of good technique and skill. Taking angles, stepping inside, retreating, circling out, bobbing and weaving, establishing a firm base to strike and kick from and so much more.
Stances and proper footwork give balance, speed, strength, and mobility to the exponent and allow better defense and response as well.
A proper fighting stance with equal weight distribution in the legs and hands at the ready to guard, can move in any and all directions. If I were to throw a punch, I might opt to lean into it with a front stance, just as if I were preparing to utilize a combination of kicks and punches, I might use a cat stance. Evasion is made easier by widening a stance to allow you to duck, bob and weave, and utilizing the back stance is perfect for making an opponent miss.
Once that is understood and established, you can begin utilizing the square, circle, and triangle to allow for mobility and transferring weight. It is very helpful to use tape to form a circle, triangle and square on the ground, to begin working stances and footwork within those constructs. Why those three shapes?
The square, circle, and triangle are the basis for nearly every stance and movement one could need in the martial arts, they are used in striking as well, but that’s best saved for another article. The circle allows you to move around the opponent, also to quickly evade attacks thrown by them. The square allows you to bob, weave and avoid or counter-attacks, while the triangle provides you the footwork to quickly launch attacks.
In most martial arts systems, even modern systems, the footwork and stances can fit into the three shapes mentioned. When you look at boxers, for instance, they “circle around” looking for an opening, “square up” to attack and switch stances from southpaw to orthodox in a triangular pattern. The aforementioned is one example of hundreds of examples that could have been given, from countless systems of combat.
Good footwork is the difference between a good sparring session and getting tossed onto one’s keister over and over again. Stability is paramount, if you feel off alignment, your stance and therefore footwork will be incorrect and you will not be able to perform techniques properly or with the correct power and speed.
Every stance has its own means of movement into, out of, and moving while entering and exiting it, this is because stance work is dynamic and not static and is an integral facet of proper footwork.