All Stances are Directional
If you adopt any stance you will find it is strong in one or more directions, but weak in other directions. The Kiba Dachi is a commonly cited example. When in Kiba Dachi you can resist a push or pull directly from the side with relative ease. But someone standing directly in front of you can push you directly backward with very little effort. All stances exhibit this characteristic. Some stances are more robust than others and have fewer weaknesses, but they also have fewer areas of focused strength. The Sanchin Dachi is a perfect example. It can resist an attack from many directions, but it is only focused on one.
You must ensure you pick the correct stance for the current situation. In a conflict, having the wrong stance at any given moment can cause you to lose your balance, succumb to a destabilizing jostling action, endure a successful throw, or find it difficult to handle some other form of attack.
The concept of adopting a different stance when your opponent has moved is particularly important if your opponent is trying to initiate Nage. The opponent is almost certainly relying on your current stance (or one they induce you to adopt) to facilitate his or her throw. If you rotate to a different orientation or stance then in many cases the throwing attempt may be negated. This is why it can be very difficult to throw an experienced Judo practitioner. They immediately notice what type of throw you are attempting and simply reposition themselves to make the attempted throw ineffectual.
All Stances are Transitional
We have discussed this before but it is worthy of repetition. In a dynamic situation like conflict, you will not want to be in any particular stance for more than an instant. If your opponent moves in any way your current stance is probably no longer correctly oriented on the central plane. If you have rotated your center substantially, been forced to lean forward or backward, discover you are imbalanced, find you must reach beyond your center triangle, notice a developing void, or discern that you are improperly rooted then you need a different stance or stance base. You must transition to a different stance position immediately. This needs to become second nature.
There are two fundamental issues I see with students who are engaged in exercises with their Uke. The first is that there is a tendency to hold onto an existing stance as though it were a precious gem. Students will twist and distort their bodies during an exercise all in an attempt to perform the required movements without having to move their feet or realign the center. If during such an exercise you feel the least bit awkward or ill-positioned this should be a mental trigger for you. You need to adopt a different stance.
The second thing I notice is that students will ignore fundamental concepts such as centering, the central plane, rooting, and balance while focusing on the mechanics of a new skill. When they ignore these fundamentals practitioners very quickly find they cannot perform the essential skill movements or they have adopted or been placed into a particularly vulnerable position. As an intermediate student, you can no longer allow this to happen to you. You must keep these fundamental concepts in mind and be willing to immediately transition to a new stance when any one of these concepts is challenged. This is much more important than the mechanics of any skill.
Every stance you adopt should have a purpose. Once you have accomplished that purpose your current stance is no longer relevant or useful. You must undertake a new purpose, and that new purpose will likely require a different stance. This suggests that you are always in the process of adopting and then almost immediately abandoning a sequence of different stances. Often these transitions will occur with little actual movement – they involve shifts of your center or changes in the distribution of weight over your legs. But you should recognize that each such movement is a stance transition. You must be willing to make such transitions, even those that require movement of the feet, in a constant and never-ending sequence of new purposes.
Stances Should Be Fluid
When in a conflict you will want to utilize stances that you can move into and out of in a fluid and rapid manner. Complex stances that require a great deal of time or energy to establish might be useful in specific situations, but generally speaking, the simple and direct stances are the most practical.
Complex stances require time and energy to establish. They also require time and energy when you find you must transition out of these stances. Time and energy are finite resources. You do not want to squander them.
It is not accidental that within Tensoku Ryu all of our primary stances are centered at 45° to our foot positions. This makes it very fast and easy to shift into and out of Zenkutsu Dachi, Sochin Dachi, Kiba Dachi, and Kokutsu Dachi without having to move your feet in any way. These stances can also be used to immediately rotate and focus your center at 90° to your current orientation without having to step. It is possible to move into and out of these stances in a very fluid, consistent, and reliable manner. Intermediate students should appreciate this intuitively and be able to readily shift among these stances without much thought.
But even beyond these specific Tachi, you should be able to shift into and out of most common stances without having to think about it much. If you find your current stance is no longer viable then you need to move into a different stance in the same way that you would walk across the room – smoothly and naturally with no conscious thought.
All Stances Need to Consider the Central Plane
Whenever you transition into a new stance you must have the Central Plane in mind. Commonly you will want to move so that your center remains focused directly along the central plane. This will provide you with the most benefit for common striking and manipulative activities. This is especially true if you have moved or have positioned your opponent such that his or her center is not focused on the central plane.
There are times when it is appropriate and useful to place your center away from the central plane. You will find you do this all of the time and for a beneficial purpose. This usually occurs when you have planned some form of manipulation of your opponent. Let’s consider an example.
Assume your opponent is striking with a Migi Oi Tsuki. In response, you step to the opponent’s ear side and focus your center directly to octagon angle one as you move. You are not focused on the central plane as you perform this movement – but you want to keep the central plane in mind the entire time.
Once you have moved to the ear side you establish Hidari Zenkutsu Dachi. Now you immediately rotate 90° turning toward your opponent to establish Migi Sochin Dachi while using your back checking hand to rotate your opponent’s center away from you. You are aligning your center to the central plane while concurrently shifting your opponent away from the central plane. So while you did not initially focus on the central plane you had this in mind as your ultimate goal the entire time.
You have likely done this sequence of movements many times in the past. But you should now begin to fully comprehend what is occurring. During any stance transition, you need to consider how it will ultimately benefit your use of and alignment toward the central plane. There is probably nothing more fundamental within the conceptual studies of Tensoku Ryu.
Stance Transition Vulnerabilities
Moving from one stance to another is not without risk. If you keep your feet stationary and transition from, say a Sochin Dachi to a Zenkutsu Dachi, then there is a typically brief period where you are somewhat weightless or vulnerable to motion interruption.
You are a bit more vulnerable if you rotate, again without stepping from a Hidari Sochin Dachi to a Migi Sochin Dachi. It should not escape your attention that during this transition you will pass through Kiba Dachi where you are vulnerable to direct frontal pressure. These issues can be mitigated to one degree or another by making your transitions rapid, well-balanced, and with a sound center of gravity. It also helps if while you are rotating you are placing your opponent in an even more vulnerable position.
If, however, you must move your feet to change stances then you are much more vulnerable to disruptive influences from your opponent. Lifting either foot as you move to another stance makes you incredibly vulnerable to any form of bumping and colliding action from your opponent. You are also at a dramatically increased risk of Nage or impact forces from Otoko No Atemi Waza.
By moving without raising your foot off the ground you have increased stability from both an improved center of gravity and the ability to immediately employ the moving foot since it has remained in contact with the ground. Most disruptive movements can thereby be countered or dealt with expediently and effectively. Any attempt to destabilize you can be immediately countered by using your semi-rooted moving foot. But the moment you lift your foot you have become much more weightless and vulnerable. You will then find it very difficult to stabilize yourself if you are pushed, struck, or jostled.
This is why we practice Kata such that our feet remain, except when kicking or jumping, in constant contact with the floor. You should also develop the habit of transitioning stances in this manner when performing any skills or movements, whether or not you are practicing with a training partner. This practice will help you deal with the situation where, when in contact with an opponent, you must move your feet while your opponent remains in a position to impart some form of destabilizing action against you.