November 11, 2020

Karate 4 Life
Karate 4 Life
Basic #2 - SOKU (足 ) Legs/Stance

In the episode we continue going deeper into ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi riki as we take a deeper look into the second element the legs (stance).

The stance is the foundation upon which we build, it grounds us and is the basis for all movements and actions that carry us forwards.

—- Transcript —-

Martin: Hey everyone, this is Martin & Sandra Phillips and welcome back to the Karate 4 Life Podcast.

Sandra: Today we want to dig a bit deeper into the basics of karate and life, taker a closer look at the second element of ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi rikithe stance.

Martin: We’ve noticed that everyone faces challenges in life, some big some small. But not everyone has a way to navigate these problems.

Sandra: It’s not always easy, but we’ve found that we always keep coming back to what we’ve learned from our years in the dojo.

Martin: And that’s what this podcast is all about…

Sandra: Helping us all find the solutions to life’s problems. Or even better yet, to remove the problems before they arise.

Martin: This is Martin & Sandra Phillips and welcome to the Karate 4 Life Podcast.

Sandra: We’ve managed to wrap up Ichi Gan, the eyes, Martin, and we do need to move on to Ni Soku. Before we do that, I wanted to share with you I had quite a few people come and talked to me about the Ichi Gan, the eyes segment, and are really interested to learn a lot more about Ni Soku now. They’re kind of hanging out.

Martin: The pressure.

Sandra: You’ve delayed this one coming out. You’ve had quite a busy time at the moment, but you should look at this a bit quicker I think.

Martin: We need to get it moving.

Sandra: Yes. Okay, so where should we start?

Martin: I think we’ll start the same way we did last time and look at Soke’s text, his teaching manual the Kyohon. I might show our video again to read it out.

Sandra: “The basis of all movement and posture. Always take care to unconsciously have correct and smooth stepping motion, stance, and way of evasion.”

Martin: That’s simple stuff, really. Isn’t it?

Sandra: You try and do that well. Maybe if you work it out you can let me know.

Martin: Yes. A simple idea, simple but not easy.

Sandra: Okay. Well, let’s see if we can break it down just a little bit more than that. When we were having a chat earlier, we were discussing three points as far as looking at the stance, looking at stability, mobility, and also power generation. Maybe let’s go to the stability first, and let’s see if we can unpack that just a little bit.

Martin: Stability, I guess, that gets back to what we do with our brand new beginner students. The first thing we do when we’re looking at stance is literally just getting the feet in the correct position. How wide is your stance? How long is your stance? How much do you bend your knees? Creating that position of stability, but, I guess, this is where we probably need to tie back to the eyes as well.

As we talked about last time with the eyes, that creates that posture and that structure, and then the stance builds on that creating a full body structure.

Sandra: Yes, so we have those little tests in class where there’s a big strike shield coming whacking at you or whether it’s a one-finger test on your belt, if you don’t have your eyes in the correct position, it makes it very hard to maintain a strong stance.

Martin: Yes, this is a bit of a paradox with teaching brand new students to get your feet in the right spot. Automatically most people look down at their feet. They look down at their feet, and they go, “Oh, okay. Are my feet in the right spot?” Then they might have their feet in the right spot, but because they’ve looked down, they’ve broken that structure. They’ve broken the posture. It kind of defeats the purpose of having their feet in the right spot in the first place because they don’t have that stability.

Sandra: Yes, so true. Then, as we tend to take people through their journey with their stance, we do find that they do, in time, get their eyes back up and get their posture.

Martin: After lots of reminding normally.

Sandra: Yes. I’m still working on that. I go through cycles, maybe. What happens though is often that we get so caught up on enjoying and embracing the structure and feeling strong and the foundations feel so strong that, I guess, in the stance, for a person coming through once they have the feet in the right position, they feel this sense of structure, they then get so grounded and they have the wrong muscles working, generally they create a tightness.

Then when we have that, we lose all ability to actually move which would be mobility.

Martin: You hit the nail on the head there. Most people when they think strength in the base, they think tightness. Like you said, they just get really tight and they can’t move, so what we’re going to try to do is to create a feeling of tension in the base. The difference between tension and tightness is if you think of your body, the way your body works, you’ve got opposing muscle groups.

Tightness, I think of as you’ve got the opposite sides both working, they’re both tight, they’re both contracting. That’s kind of like driving a car with the handbrake on. It doesn’t go so well. When you create tension, that creates a feeling of like a stretch, like a rubber band being stretched out. Then, you have the release. Tension in the body is like when you get the muscles holding to a point, and then one side releases, and you create movement.

Sandra: That preparation is so key, isn’t it? Because once you get beyond that point of just being strong and grounded and you want to get more mobile, you then start to play with the different muscles in the body, and as far as that muscle pairing, but then what we then find with people there’s a progression which then gets them to a point of starting to move more explosive with their step.

When they go to kick, for example, we can get them to get that foot off the floor faster, or if we go from a punching perspective, we can get that hand from the pullback position to be released much more powerfully and faster as well. But I guess what’s underlying, what I find for most people is that when you get that elasticity in the body, I find that for most people, there is no force required to get that technique executed if we truly have the eyes working well in our favour, aligning the posture.

Would you say that would be what you see as well?

Martin: Absolutely, it’s key. Again, there’s two parts coming back together, the eyes and the stance working together. If you have one working without the other, it doesn’t work. It literally does not work. You see people who’ve got that amazing speed, but if their body’s not aligned correctly, it becomes useless.

Sandra: So, preparing, so whether we’re in the phase of just getting started on a karate journey as a beginner, just getting those feet in place and then moving on to getting your intermediate and then trying to be really tight and strong and no one can move me kind of feeling, and then eventually going to the point of going, “You know what, it’s not practical to stay like this, I can’t move.”

Martin: If we get back to what we was talking about last time with the eyes, the first rule of self-defense, don’t be where the punches are, if you’re strong and stable, and can’t move, you’re going to be where the punches are eventually.

Sandra: It’s going to be very, very challenging. Then to obviously then develop your footwork in a way where you can truly apply some great self-defense strategies and some taisabaki (body evasion) you need to be able to get your footwork to be more mobile.

Martin: Absolutely.

Sandra: Just say we were doing some exercising the dojo for a self-defense situation and we’re getting people moving beyond being strong and tight, but they’re moving into the place where they can be more relaxed and get more mobile and they’re doing it with a great posture and eyes. What if they then were to let the eyes go? What would you normally see in a student that was getting more mobile, but then their eyes were to fail?

Martin: What we’d normally say is you have a loss in structure so the posture would drop, the accuracy of their techniques would disappear, so be the ability to actually hit a target with any accuracy goes out the window. Then you completely miss the third step, which is the power generation. If the body’s not aligned properly in the first place, then you can’t generate natural power. You might be able to generate power from physical strength, but the natural power that you can generate from a good structure just isn’t there.

Sandra: Let’s just say you had a person that was training and they’d obviously moved to the point of getting that mobility in their base and doing it for the most part at a reasonable level, and they also had the eyes also developing, so they create this always ready experience. Whether they’re studying their basics or kata or bunkai, kobudo, anything, they’ve always got this always ready feeling.

Do you find that when people find this in all that they do, all their time in the dojo, do you find that other things will change, so there’s some little things that will then enhance the effectiveness of their technique?

Martin: Yes, it adds into everything. This is why these are the first two foundational basics, the eyes and the stance, because it will literally affect everything else that you do. When you get those things working correctly, then you can start to build onto those next steps San Tan (grit & determination) & Shi Riki (technique & power) as well. That’s really where, in my mind, the third element of stance comes into this as you’re starting to move in towards that power generation.

Sandra: To help with that part, that process as well, there are things that we obviously do in the dojo to help people refine their stances that much more under pressure, of course. Can you share some of those thoughts?

Martin: Well, there’s a classic one that we did a little bit of work within the dojo just last week, is an exercise where as an individual when you’re practicing kata or a sequence, then most people tend to focus a little bit too much on stability alignment and the mobility goes out the window. They get really good at being grounded. They can move but they’re not necessarily as fast.

We had a little bit of an exercise where you had an individual doing a kata. We had multiple people around them come in and attack them partway through the kata, so they had to deal with the attack and then get back to the kata, and found over the course of doing this, the individual in the middle as their awareness opened up again, back to the eye focus connecting the eyes to the stance.

As the awareness opened up more and more through doing this, we found their stance change as well and they became a lot more mobile. They became a lot quicker to respond. That’s I think a really good exercise for helping to build the connection between those to a point where they get a good balance.

Sandra: Definitely, and so some people when they come through, they don’t tend to appreciate, suriashi. Do you want to explain what suriashi and what you see as the benefits of suriashi?

Martin: Suriashi is literally sliding feet. The goal is when you’re stepping in Chito-Ryu (the style of karate that we practise) is to slide the foot so the whole foot’s in contact with the floor, and the purpose of this is to create a structure with the rest of the body. If as you step you lift the heel up, what tends to happen is it tilts the pelvis forward, as the pelvis tilts forward, it weakens the natural strength within the body.

If one foot lifts off the ground when you step, it tilts the pelvis sideways, if you lift the heel up when you step, it tilts the pelvis forwards. As a pelvis tilts, it then in turn affects everything above that and it takes away from that natural power.

Sandra: Definitely, and it certainly creates a weakness within yourself, which then could obviously be taken advantage of.

Martin: Absolutely. This is when it’s fun and you start to look at this stuff in a partner context, whether you’re talking bunkai applications or your self-defense or kumite (sparring), then you start to look for these things in your partner or opponent and you look at does it present an opportunity for you to take advantage of.

Sandra: It all comes back to the stance…

Martin: It all comes back to the stance.

Interviewer: …how they’re moving their bodies, how they’re holiding themselves.

Martin: Again, it’s that combination of eyes and stance, so eyes is your perception of what’s going on in this case, in the partner context. And your stance in this case, you’re analysing your opponent’s stance. What are they doing? Are they presenting opportunities for you? Are they too grounded and not mobile that presents an opportunity? Are they not grounded enough and easy to take them down? What is the opportunity that this presented?

Sandra: That’s perfect. Well, look, let’s just move on really quickly. I know we can do a lot more with that, but people also ask us with Ichi Gan Ni Soku, we talk about karate for life. With Ni Soku, what do you see in your mind that at least would be a way that you would use this in your life?

Martin: Well, it’s again, a great metaphor for your stance is what carries you forwards in life. When we talk about goals or things that you want to achieve, you talk does this goal have legs? Literally, does it have legs? Is it something that has a path forward? Is it something that you can move with?

Sandra: So, you start first with the vision, the clarity of that with the Ichi Gan, eyes first, so know what you want, where you want to go, and be very clear on that, and then your legs then come into play to then carry you towards that.

Martin: Yes. It’s the difference between in this case, when you’re talking about goals, your the vision, the eyes, that’s like the thought of a goal, but thought alone is never going to get you anywhere. The legs is what carries you forward, that’s the action. When you got thought and action working together, that’s when you start going places.

Sandra: That’s really good. If you’ve obviously been exploring your stance to look at as far as the stability, mobility, and power generation along the way, you then take those same ideas into life and think as you’re moving through, could you be a bit more flexible here? Could you flow more here? Could you change direction with these if you needed to?

Martin: Or, do you just need to power ahead?

Sandra: Or, just power through and take control of that point in your life. I think that’s probably enough today. I don’t know how we’ve gone on the clock today.

Martin: Oh, we haven’t done too badly. I guess that’s it for this time.

Sandra: Thanks everybody.

Martin: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of the Karate 4 Life Podcast.

Sandra: If you found this episode useful, please comment on our website

Martin: Share it with your friends via social media and don’t forget to tag us #karate4lifepodcast.

And if you’ve got a topic that you’d like us to cover in future episodes or questions about karate or life…

Sandra: Please send us a message, we’d be more than happy to share our thoughts.

Martin: Coming up in the next episode we’ll take a deeper look at the third element of ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi riki – grit and determination.

About the author 

Sandra & Martin Phillips

Co-Founders of Karate 4 Life Online (established 2020) & Sunshine Coast Karate (established 2000).
Martin Phillips, 5th Dan, Renshi (Master Instructor) & Kobujutsu 4th Dan.
Sandra Phillips, 5th Dan, Renshi (Master Instructor) & Kobujutsu 3rd Dan.

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