Your fighting stance is one of the most basic, yet most argued body positions in the martial arts. Every style of martial arts has their own variation of how to hold your hands, where to place your feet, and how to angle your body. And every martial arts practitioner will attempt to try to convince you why their stance is better than yours.
To a degree, each of these variations has it own merits, and fits nicely within the style and techniques of said art. However, many of these traditional martial arts do not translate very effectively to confronting an opponent on the street. I have practiced sport Tae Kwon Do for many years when I was a teenager. It was lots of fun, a good workout and I won lots of ribbons, medals and trophies.
While sparring in a tournament ring for points, you may lose a match and not get a prize. In a life threatening street fight, you could be seriously injured or lose your life. Don’t think a Billy Blank’s Tae Bo workout position will help you much. Sure it is great for cardo, not so great for real self-defense.
So let’s start with the basics. Turn your body to the side, step back with one foot, knees slightly bent, and hands up. Sounds easy enough right? Well, let’s break it down and go into some more detail. We are going to base this version of a fighting stance on an American Kenpo Karate Neutral Bow, but go ahead and simply keep calling it a fighting stance.
Assuming you are right-handed, the first thing you would do is fortify your stance by turning your left foot 45-degrees inwards. Next, you will want to step your right foot backwards, putting your power hand and leg in the back (more on striking in a later post). Contrary to many 90-degree facing styles, you will want your body facing 45-degrees towards your opponent.
Imaging you are straddling a line on the ground. If you were to look down, you want your front toe and your back heel to roughly line up on opposite sides of the imaginary line at that 45-degree angle. If your feet are too far to either side, correct your stance. The more you practice, the easier this becomes and you will soon not even think about it.
Your feet will be shoulder width apart, with your chest, hips, toes and knees facing 45-degrees. Your head will be facing directly in front of you, eyes on your opponent.
Turning to the side will make your body an even smaller width target, but staying at a 45-degree angle keeps more of your weapons available. This stance is slightly more of an open stance than turning completely sideways, but is far more functional with less wasted motion when using your rear arm or leg. Remember you have two feet, two hands, two knees and two elbows at your disposal.
One of the most important pieces of this stance is having a strong foundation. Bend your knees slightly and keep your feet approximately shoulder width apart. You do not want your feet too close or too far apart and throw off your balance. You want to feel comfortable and be able to move around freely and quickly.
Do not lock your knees and stay on the balls of your feet. This will help your speed and help prevent injury from a low kick. Bent knees still have some give; a locked leg has nowhere else to go. Keep this in mind when striking your opponent. If an attacker’s knee can no longer support him, he will be unable to fight or chase you. Two-way concept here.
Your weight should be distributed 50/50 between both of your feet, with your heels only slightly off the ground. Your shoulders should be square over your hips and your back should be straight. If you feel any twisting, leaning or other discomfort, you are probably out of position. Once you settle into it, this should be a very compact, comfortable and natural feeling stance.
The last major component is your hand positioning. You want to keep your guard up to protect your face, without losing protection to your body. Your front fist should be just below your eye level, with your arm bent at a 90-degree, but cocked at a 45-degree angle. Your back fist should be closer to your chin, with your elbow about a fist width from your body, arm also cocked at a 45-degree. Keep your pinkies facing towards your opponent; don’t twist your hand into an awkward position.
Resist the urge and correct any chicken flapping of the elbow. You will need to be able to block shots to your side, rib cage and other vital areas with minimum movement. Your front arm needs to be high enough to protect your face, but not obscure your view. Each arm will accommodate the slight adjustments needed to go up or down depending on the incoming attack, while still protecting your opponent’s main targets.
Remember to keep your hands close enough to your body so that you can properly block, but not too far away, leaving other parts of your body open for an attack. This will take practice, but eventually become instinct.
Don’t chamber your rear hand. If you don’t know what this is, good. There is no practical street application for this. Seriously. Also, if you are left handed, follow the previous directions in mirror image. Once you get good at one side, you will also want to practice your off side too. No exceptions, you do not want to be one sided.
There are many other considerations, especially when adding other stances, moving around, blocking and striking, but we have to start somewhere. “Putting up your dukes” is about as basic as we can get. Practice, practice, practice.
That is it in a nutshell, Fighting Stance 101. As I said earlier, there are several variations, some with minor tweaks, and some with major differences. The best fighting stance you can possibly use is the one you are most confident with and are successful at defend yourself with.
If you had to emulate the fighting stance of a famous martial artist, at least pick a successful UFC Mixed Martial Arts fighter with good form. Stay away from the Hollywood movie actors that have cool looking choreographed fight scene moves and crazy stances. I liked Kung Fu Panda as much as the next guy, but I’m not trusting any of his self-defense moves on the street.
In addition, the Karate Kid’s crane stance only worked once, and that was back in the 80s. Although if you busted it out on the street, your attacker might fall to the ground laughing and you might be able to get away. Not suggested however.
Remember, there is no shame in getting away, you know the saying, to live and fight another day. Nevertheless, if push comes to shove, and shove comes having to defend yourself, make sure you are ready.
It also wouldn’t hurt to sneak a canister of pepper spray, a stun gun or telescopic steel baton into your fighting stance. In fact, get yourself two steel batons and you can go all Jeff Speakman on an assailant. It would take some practice, but Jeff Speakman (American Kenpo Instructor/Actor) is the man. If you can find it, buy or rent The Perfect Weapon (1991). Last time I checked it was only available on VHS though. You can probably YouTube all the good clips if you want.
Like I said previously, there are as many fighting stances as there are martial arts or fighting systems. Your basic goal is preventing your opponent from hitting you in the face, while allowing you to strike them in one of their vulnerable areas. If you can do that standing square forward with your arms at your side, more power to you.
Be Safe, Be Prepared.
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