Many karate schools teach the basic punches, kicks and blocks from a neutral stance (horse stance). Some say the value of practicing the basic techniques from the horse stance is to allow you to focus fully on your techniques without confusing you with footwork. But since we hardly ever spar from the horse stance, consider whether it might be beneficial to practice the basics from a left or right fighting stance instead of a horse stance.

Practicing the basics from the stance you will use in sparring facilitates learning, because it eliminates the extra step needed to transition from your 52 Blocks practice stance to your sparring stance. All schools have their own ideas of how to teach and maintain the tradition of the art, but here are some things you might want to consider when learning stance:

1. You will learn to protect your centerline by training from the stance you will use in sparring.

2. If you are doing the 52 Blocks basics from a horse stance, consider using a non-rigid stance that permits rotation in your hips and body. This will help you learn correct mechanics for powerful striking from the start.

3. When practicing 52 Blocks from the horse stance, we often bring our hands down to our hips between strikes and blocks. If using a high guard in sparring, it may also be a good idea to use a high guard when practicing the basics.

4. Identify the value of the stance and explore the difference between a stable and an unstable one. How can you maintain the stance when moving? How can you switch stance and direction with ease?

Most of the time, you will probably train and fight from either a left or right stance . Some arts emphasize placing your stronger side forward, particularly if you rely on speed or touch sparring to score a point. The full contact arts tend to emphasize placing your stronger side to the rear, so that your rear hand has sufficient distance to build momentum for powerful striking. You will also see fighters who switch stance often and attempt to develop equal proficiency with both sides. Your stance is valuable because of the speed, power and strategy it gives you. The primary reason for learning stance is to develop balance and movement, without which you cannot throw or defend against powerful strikes and kicks.

Exercise 1—Mechanics When assuming your stance, take a moment to check your balance. You determine the correctness of your stance partly through feel, and partly through learning about correct distance and positioning of your feet and upper body. Can you take a step forward, back, or to the side with ease and efficiency? If not, how can you adjust your stance to facilitate ease of movement? Can you shift your bodyweight to your lead or rear leg without feeling awkward? What would be a reason for wanting to shift your bodyweight? If you had to assume your fighting stance with your eyes closed, could you do so comfortably? What are the benefits of practicing your stance through feel? The position of your feet is important, but what about the position of your hands? If your school recommends a specific hand position, can you identify the reason for it? What are the benefits and drawbacks of the recommended hand position? When assuming your stance, do you automatically place your hands in the proper position or do you need to think about it first? When are you the most likely to get caught off guard with your hands in a position that your opponent can take advantage of? Identify a situation when this could happen and determine what you can do to remedy the error. Explore the stability of your stance. How high or low should it be for maximum stability? How wide or narrow should it be? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each position? At what point do you have to make a trade-off, such as stability for mobility? If you lose your balance—for example, if your opponent pushes you or you throw a complicated spinning kick—how can you move to regain a solid stance that also benefits you in sparring? If you are an advocate of the low stance, when might you find yourself in a stance that is too low? Or is lower always better? Why? The martial artist needs to be flexible both in body and mind. Can you think of some situations when it is okay to use a stance that deviates from the one you have learned? If you deviate from your fundamental stance, are you aware of it and do you have a specific reason for doing so? How can you use a less solid stance without jeopardizing your bal- ance or safety? When facing your opponent, pay attention to how comfortable he is in his stance, and whether you can disrupt his balance or take advantage of a stance that is less than ideal.

Exercise 2—Imminent Threat When threatened by an opponent in a street scenario, is it a good idea to assume a 52 Blocks fighting stance right away, or is it better to wait? Why? Determine how your opponent might react if you assume a threatening stance. What are the drawbacks of failing to assume your stance quickly? What are the benefits? When a threat is imminent, how does your body naturally respond? Does it make you more alert? Does it make you more or less likely to carry out your defense? Identify how to move to avoid getting cornered or ending up with your back to a wall. If you do end up in a bad position, what can you do to regain mobility and a good stance?

Exercise 3—Limitations of Stance Explore the depth and width of your stance and identify which type of stance gives you the best protection. Which targets on your body are the most important to protect through a proper stance? Why? How does your stance change in relation to the type of attack you are facing? How can you use your stance as a barrier against strikes and kicks on vital targets? When striking or blocking from your stance, how could you move or change your stance in order to facilitate power and reach? What types of strikes or kicks are most limited by your stance? Why? How can you be flexible with your stance without jeopardizing your safety? What are alternative ways to protect vital targets when switching your stance is impractical?

Exercise 4—Targets When engaged in sparring, pay attention to how well you maintain your stance. When is it necessary to deviate from your stance in order to serve a greater purpose? Name some situations when you were unable to maintain your stance and your opponent took advantage of you. Name some situations when you deviated from your stance by choice, and how it benefited you. What are the advantages and drawbacks of exposing one side to your opponent? Discuss the possibility of switching stance. What targets do you expose through the process of switching stance? How can you protect these targets?

Exercise 5—Switching Stance How can you switch stance without jeopardizing your balance or exposing vital targets? Is it easier to switch your stance while moving forward or backward? Why? Which is safer? What are the drawbacks of switching stance while moving back? If your opponent maintains a defensive stance that protects most of his vital areas, how can you exploit his stance and still penetrate a tight guard? How can you take advantage of the need to switch stance? Explore whether it is practical to throw a strike or kick simultaneous to switching your stance. Which strike or kick would you throw? Why? How can you conceal the fact that you are switching your stance? If you were to distract your opponent’s focus away from your legs, how would you do it? Spar and pay attention to when and how your opponent switches his stance. How does it affect your ability to execute offense and defense?

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