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 method that can help you gain advantages against a potential adversary.
Your posture can improve your longevity as a martial artist and improve your life. Keeping a balanced and relaxed posture is essential for 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 on whether you are standing, sitting, or in motion. It can also vary when you attempt to mislead or confuse a potential adversary. In this latter case, you might 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 want to position your vertebrae such that each is above and in alignment with the next vertebrae below. The coccyx (tail bone) tucks inward (forward) so that the small of the back is straight and flat. Your chest presses forward (without exaggeration) to help minimize the curvature in the middle of your back. The chest should not puff out forward but pull forward rather than pushed out. You should relax your shoulders so they curved downward and inward. This will make the chest appear somewhat sunken. Your chin, and therefore your head, pull back and the head raises as though 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 transfer down through your hips and into your legs. The knees should have a slight bend so you can absorb minor changes in your balance. Your balance and posture should project down through your two feet, focused at the K1 point. This is a point on the Center Line of the foot just behind the ball of the foot (and at the front of the arch in your foot).
Aikido practitioners call this “stacking”. Stacking is an essential part of the Taijiquan structural alignment and its practitioners promote it 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 without training. Our rear sticks out behind us, our shoulders rise because of stress and the small of our back has a deep forward curve. This makes pushing or lifting difficult and leads to fatigue. It may also lead to lower back problems and potential back injuries.
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 well along your spinal column. Force vectors operate in straight lines. So force may move along your back in a straight line, but when your spine 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.
While seated in Seiza you would keep your upper body in a position similar to your structure when standing. The back should be straight and the head should remain erect with the shoulders relaxed. The palms of your open hands should rest 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.
Sitting in Kiza is like Seiza, with the exception that the balls of the feet, rather than the tops of the feet, remain on the floor. In Tensoku Ryu we prefer Kiza to Seiza because it provides a 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 an activity.
If seated in Agura (informal sitting) one sits on the rear, the legs cross in front, and the upper body posture remains erect. Your hands rest on your thighs, shins, or knees. You should 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 they consider it informal in Japan and many Dojo. You should sit in Agura only when a venue allows informal sitting.
Japanese society considers the cross-legged sitting position inappropriate or immodest for women when wearing skirts or traditional Japanese garments. 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 know some other martial arts systems or some situations in Japan may require this posture. In Tensoku Ryu, women may sit in any posture suitable for any other practitioner.
While 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 sprawl on the floor with arms and legs projecting in random directions as this may represent a tripping hazard for others. There may be occasions when it is impractical to sit like this for lengthy periods. You will receive dispensation by whoever is running an event to sit in alternate positions when appropriate.
Posturing uses your posture to confuse, disorient, or trick your opponent. It often involves making your opponent believe that you occupy a position somewhere other than your actual position. There are many ways to accomplish this. You should strategize and practice a variety of approaches to see what might work for you. Here are a few to consider, but please try to invent some of your own.
To use this deceptive posture, maintain your weight over your hips, legs, and lower torso and then lean your head and upper torso to one side. This is likely to cause your opponent to think your head shows your position when in reality your hips define your actual position.
If your opponent attacks you, they might strike to your head or upper torso. There are no guarantees here but you may entice them to strike toward your head with other expressions or movements. If the opponent strikes to your head, you can now rotate your center, pull your head back over your structure, and move to the side of your opponent. If your lean is subtle your opponent is unlikely to notice that you are leaning, making this simple trick useful. It is a very effective means of appearing to be somewhere that you are not.
If you suspect your opponent will attack you in the next few moments, you can rotate your ankle such that the heel of that foot moves inward or outward. If your heel moves inward, you will establish a misaligned Teiji Dachi. Now you can shift your weight onto this foot, but maintain a posture that looks as though your weight is on the opposite leg. It requires subtle movements to make this work. Most people who plan to attack are not all that observant. After accomplishing these shifts in your posture, you are already behind your opponent, even before they have moved.
As the opponent attacks, you lift your non-supporting leg as you press the toes of your supporting leg into the ground. This action will press you back and to the side of your opponent. You can change this direction so you move off to local angle 5 or 7. This will place you behind your attacker if you end up on his or her Ear Side. If you end up on the opponent’s Face Side then you will find yourself to the side or somewhat behind your opponent.
You can mask these movements by raising your hand near your face; say to rub your nose or chin. The opponent will track this movement and might miss a concurrent subtle movement of your feet and weight distribution.
If you first 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 start a multiple-step pattern that places you behind the opponent.
By rotating your hips, you are rotating your center. When doing this before an attack you would rotate the hips but keep your upper torso and head directed toward the opponent. This masks the hip movement 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 realign with your hips. This will place you at right angles to your opponent and move you off of his or her Center Line. You may need to move to the side or check and guide the opponent’s attacking arm or arms to ensure they move in front of you. With little or no movement at all, you have positioned yourself 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 while engaged in combat, but it promotes general health and weight-bearing purposes. In this posture, your center focuses forward. Any movements you perform with your hands or feet should occur within your Center Triangle.
If you are in a stance such as Sochin Dachi, you will want to maintain your upper torso much like you would structure yourself while seated. You will benefit by maintaining a straight vertical alignment such that you establish an even weight distribution over your hips and legs. If you lean forward or back, you will create a significant structural misalignment that an opponent might use against you. Your feet will point 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 focus on angle 1. Your feet would point toward angle 7. You have established Hidari Sochin Dachi facing angle 1.
Using this same example, you may observe that you can 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 these stance transitions occur using only center rotation. This gives you tremendous flexibility in movement throughout this full 90° of rotation.
But maintaining a perfect vertical alignment is not always practical. During events in a conflict, you may need to move out of this rigid structure. You might need to bend forward, to the side, or even backward. This may prove beneficial, depending on the situation and your intent.
When you lean forward or back, your center triangle might point downward or upward. This can offer benefits if the focus of your current or expected movement is in that direction. It is bad if movement in that direction is not your intent. In an instant, your opponent may capitalize on your misalignment. Because of the way you postured your body, you will find the opponent’s actions painful and/or 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 involves 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. This might occur if Tori grabs Uke and then Tori rotates his or her center but does not also move his or her hands. This creates a substantial benefit for Uke, who can now escape, resist Tori’s movements, or move to strike or throw Tori. Your hands, head, and Center Line should move as a unit. Moving one without the other leads to a disadvantageous misalignment.