In Japanese the word Kamae (Gamae) means posture. It refers to not only how you stand and sit, but how you structure yourself before and during a conflict. In this sense it is a strategic methodology that can help you gain advantages against a potential adversary.
Your posture is critical for your longevity as a martial artist and in life itself. Keeping a balanced and relaxed posture is essential for nearly everything we do in Tensoku Ryu.
But what does it mean to have a good, relaxed and balanced posture? How is this achieved?
It depends a great deal on whether you are standing, sitting, or in motion. It can also vary if you are deliberately attempting to mislead or confuse a potential adversary. In this latter case you may intentionally adopt an imperfect posture because it makes your opponent believe your structure is in one orientation when it is in fact in another. This latter connotation refers to the art of posturing. There is both physical and psychological posturing. In this article we will cover some aspects of physical posturing and leave psychological posturing for future discussion.
When you stand erect you ideally want all of your vertebrae to be positioned such that each is directly above the next vertebrae below. The coccyx (tail bone) is tucked inward (forward) so that the small of the back is straight and flat. The chest is pressed forward slightly (not in an exaggerated manner) to help minimize the curvature in the middle of your back. The chest should not be puffed out forward but gently pulled forward rather then pushed out. Your shoulders should be relaxed and curved downward and slightly inward. This will make the chest appear to be slightly sunken. Your chin, and therefore your head, is pulled backward slightly and the head is raised as though it were being gently pulled upward by a string attached to the crown of the head. Altogether these small structural realignments will reduce the depth of the S-curve in your back resulting in improved overall posture and balance.
Your weight should be transferred down through your hips and into your legs. Your knees should be slightly bent so you can absorb small changes in your balance easily. Your balance and posture should be focused down evenly through your two feet, focused at what is called the K1 point, a point along the center line[/glossary[ of the foot just behind the ball of the foot (and at the front of the arch in your foot).
In Aikido this is frequently called “stacking”. This is also an essential part of the Taijiquan structural alignment and is stressed as the correct posture for both prolonged health and energetic movements. It is also the posture we use in Tensoku Ryu as our standard relaxed standing posture.
Few of us stand this way naturally without training. Our rear sticks out behind us, our shoulders rise due to stress and the small of our back has a deep forward curve. This makes pushing or lifting quite difficult and leads to fatigue. It may also lead to lower back problems and potential back injury.
If you push, pull, or otherwise stress your back while in a posture like the one just described the forces of stress do not flow cleanly along your spinal column. Force vectors generally operate in straight lines. So force may move along your back in a straight line, but when your spine suddenly curves inward or outward (or to the side) these lines of forces no longer move along the spine. They now move in opposition to the support provided by your spine and the potential for stress or injury increases as the spine and muscles in your back must take on and attempt to support unnecessary stresses.
When seated in [glossary]Seiza you would normally keep your upper body in a position similar to how it is structured when standing. The back should be generally straight and the head should remain erect with the shoulders relaxed. The palms of your open hands should rest comfortable on your thighs. Your elbows should remain close to your sides. In Seiza the tops of your feet rest on the floor and your big toes may cross slightly.
Sitting in Kiza is nearly identical to Seiza with the exception that the balls of the feet remain on the floor rather than resting on the tops of the feet. In Tensoku Ryu we prefer Kiza to Seiza because it provides better opportunity for rapid movement from a seated position. However students should be familiar with sitting in both Seiza and Kiza as there will be times when one or the other is more appropriate for a given activity.
If seated in Agura (informal sitting) one sits on the rear, the legs are crossed in front, and the general upper body posture remains generally erect. Your hands rest comfortably on your thighs, shins, or knees. You should generally try to minimize the amount of floor space you occupy while in this posture. This is a more comfortable sitting position than Seiza or Kiza, but it is considered to be very informal in Japan and in many Dojo. You should sit in Agura only when it is known that informal sitting is assumed or allowed.
In Japan the cross-legged sitting position is considered to be inappropriate or immodest for women. The informal sitting position for women is sitting on one hip with the legs pulled up to the side. In Tensoku Ryu we do not enforce this traditional way of sitting, but women should be aware that this may be assumed or even required in some other martial arts systems or in some settings in Japan. In Tensoku Ryu women may sit, when appropriate, on their hip or sit in Agura, as they prefer.
When in a Tensoku Ryu Dojo or at a Tensoku Ryu class, seminar, or other event practitioners should sit in one of the above postures as warranted by the situation. Practitioners should not be sprawled on the floor with arms and legs in random directions as this may represent a tripping hazard for others. There may of course be occasions when it is impractical to sit like this for long periods of time. You will be given latitude by whomever is running an event to sit in different positions if appropriate.
Posturing is the process of using your posture to confuse, disorient, or trick your opponent. It often involves making your opponent believe you are located or positioned somewhere other than your true position. There are a great many ways in which this can be accomplished and you should strategize and practice different approaches to see what might work for you. Here are a few to consider, but please try to invent some of your own.
To utilize this deceptive posture maintain your weight over your hips, legs, and lower torso and then subtly lean your head and upper torso off to one side or the other. This is likely to cause your opponent to think you are located where your head has been placed, when in reality you are located where your hips are placed.
If your opponent decides to attack you they will likely strike to your head or upper torso. There are no guarantees here, of course, but you may be able to entice them to strike toward your head with other expressions or movements. If the opponent strikes to your head you can now simply rotate your center, pull your head back over your structure, and move to the side of your opponent. If your lean is sufficiently subtle your opponent is unlikely to notice that you are leaning, making this simple trick quite useful. It is a very effective means of appearing to be somewhere that you are not.
If you are convinced your opponent will attack you in the next few moments you can subtly rotate your ankle such that the heel of that foot moves inward or outward. If your heel moves inward you will essentially be in a misaligned Teiji Dachi. Now subtly shift your weight onto this foot, but maintain a posture that looks as though your weight is on the opposite leg. Extremely subtle movements are required to make this work. Luckily most people who plan to attack are not all that observant. After accomplishing these shifts in your posture you are essentially already behind your opponent, even before they have moved.
As the opponent attacks you simply lift your non-supporting leg as you firmly press the toes of your supporting leg into the ground. You will be pressed back and to the side of your opponent. You can make minor changes in this direction so that you move off to local angle 5 or 7. This will place you behind your attacker if you end up on their ear side. You will be directly to the side or slightly behind your opponent’s face if you end up on their face side.
These movements are easily masked by moving your hand up near your face; say to rub your nose or chin. The opponent will track this movement and will usually completely miss a concurrent subtle movement of your feet and weight distribution.
If you initially moved your heal outward instead of inward then notice that you have set yourself up for an immediate forward movement to angles 5 or 7. This is a good escape strategy or a way to initiate a multiple step pattern that places you directly behind the opponent.
By rotating your hips you are rotating your center. When doing this prior to an attack you would normally rotate the hips slowly but keep your upper torso and head directed toward the opponent. This masks the movement of your hips and leads the opponent to believe you remain in front of them. You are no longer there.
As the opponent reaches forward in an attack you allow your upper torso and head to quickly realign with your hips. This will place you at right angles to your opponent and move you slightly off of their center line. You may need to move slightly to the side or check and guide the opponent’s attacking arm(s) to ensure they move directly in front of you. With little or no movement at all you have positioned yourself immediately beside your opponent.
Proper Body Alignment
Maintaining proper body alignment can be quite confusing and disorienting. But it need not be that difficult. When standing in a posture such as Heiko Dachi you will want to ensure you have established a standing posture such as that described earlier. This is not a practical position if you are engaged in combat, but it is good for general health and weight bearing purposes. In this posture your center is focused directly forward. Any movements you perform with your hands or feet should be done within your center triangle.
When in a stance such as Sochin Dachi you will want to maintain your upper torso much like you would structure yourself when seated. The upper torso is maintained in straight vertical alignment such that your weight is borne directly over your hips and legs. If you lean forward or back you will create a significant structural misalignment that can be used against you by an opponent. Your feet will be pointed forward but at 45° to your center line. For example, assume you have your left leg toward angle 5 and your right leg toward angle 6. Your center may then be focused toward angle 1. Your feet would point directly toward angle 7. You have established Hidari Sochin Dachi facing angle 1.
Using this same example, you may wish to notice that you can easily rotate your center clockwise. As your center passes angle 7 you will find yourself in Kiba Dachi facing angle 7. As your center rotates further clockwise you will find yourself in Migi Sochin Dachi facing angle 4. All without moving anything other than your center. This gives you a tremendous flexibility in movement throughout this full 90° of rotation.
But remaining perfectly aligned vertically is not always practical. During events in a conflict you will almost certainly have to move out of this fairly rigid structure. You may find that you are forced to bend forward, to the side or even backward at times. This can be good or quite bad, depending on the situation and your intent.
When you lean forward or back you will find that your center triangle points downward or upward, respectively. This can be quite beneficial if the focus of your current or anticipated movement is in that direction. It is particularly bad if movement in that direction is not your intent. In an instant your opponent may find a way to capitalize on your misalignment. Because of the way your body is postured you will likely find this to be very painful and/or very destabilizing.
During Nage practitioners often place themselves into improper body alignments that result in the inability to throw an opponent, the opponent’s escape, or the opponent throwing the practitioner instead. A common error is causing the center triangle to track the opponent to the ground. This is obviously called leaning, and your opponent is likely to pull you down with them if you lean.
Another common alignment problem during Nage is rotating your center without your hands. Commonly the Uke is grabbed by Tori and then Tori rotates his or her center, but does not concurrently move their hands. This creates a substantial benefit for Uke, who can now escape, resist your movements, or move to strike or throw Tori. Generally speaking your hands, head, and center should move as a unit. Moving one without the other leads to a likely misalignment that can be decidedly disadvantageous.