You would think the concept of front and back would be quite straight forward. Unfortunately, it can be confusing. Within Tensoku Ryu we have established well-defined practices for carefully noting what is the front and what is the back. Why do we get so involved in defining what should seem pretty obvious? Look at the picture above. Which students have their back arm raised?
When you stand erect with your hands at your sides you can pretty readily identify what are the front and back parts of your body. Your shins, knee caps, stomach, chest wall, and face all are located at your front. Similarly your calves, buttocks, shoulder blades and the crown of your head are all located on your back side. So what’s the problem?
Let’s perform a simple experiment. Stand so that you are near and facing a wall. Have your right leg back (there’s that word again) and your left leg forward, perhaps adopting Hidari Sochin Dachi. Now raise both hands up to establish an effective guard position. In all likelihood your left hand is closer to the wall than your right hand. This would be a pretty natural position.
In this position your left hand would be considered your front hand, while your right hand would be your back hand. This seems pretty straight forward and logical.
Now, without changing your stance in any way, pull your left hand inward and extend your right hand forward and toward the wall. If you move both hands far enough your right hand will eventually be closer to the wall than your left hand. Now the question becomes, is your right hand now your front hand? Or is your left hand, which is now back, still your front hand?
If you rotate your torso slightly to your right (clockwise) without moving your hands or feet you will see that your right hand now moves away from the wall as your left hand approaches it again. Now which hand is the front hand? If you are moving in a dynamic manner where your relative positions change a great deal how could one possibly describe which hand is the front hand and which is the back hand? This positions are likely to change constantly.
We resolve this issue primarily by noting which is the back leg. If one leg is forward of the other, then that is the front leg. The opposite leg is then by definition the back leg. The back arm, regardless of its current position relative to the body, is the arm on the same side of the body as the back leg. The front arm is on the same side of the body as the front leg. So in the above example the right arm was always the back arm.
If both feet are placed together then there is technically no front or back arm. This is seldom an issue because you are unlikely to remain in this position for long. As soon as one leg moves you can then readily identify the front and back arms.
We seldom experience these naming issues with the front and back surfaces of the torso or head. Indeed this is seldom an issue with talking about the surfaces of the arms or legs either. The front of the lower leg is always along the shin, while the back of the lower leg is represented by the calf.
This use of front and back is important when writing about which arm to move. It is not always appropriate to say “now punch with the right arm.” It is often better to be able to say, “now punch with the back arm.” It works better when describing movements that can be appreciated by both right and left handed martial artists.
The concept is always used when working directly with students. When students are working with complex movements it helps if the instructor can say, “pull in slightly with your front hand.” As students become familiar with this terminology it is always clear exactly what is intended.