A stance is the position of the feet of a fighter, while a guard is the position of the arms. The combination of stance and guard is usually referred, confusingly, as position or, even more confusingly, as stance. To avoid confusion, Shisakuteki karate calls the combination of stance and guard kedudukan which is the Malay word for position.
A kedudukan is a position from which a fighter performs techniques. It is the starting point from which attack and defense begin, a snapshot of the position of the body in space. There exist many applicable kedudukan, each with their distinct advantages and disadvantages, and each used in specific situations by fluidly transitioning from one to the other as the situation changes.
Shisakuteki karate only teaches one stance and one guard, called the basic stance and the basic guard. The combination of basic stance and guard is called the basic kedudukan and it looks similar to the basic position taught in Kenshinjuku and Tomoi. The advantage of the basic kedudukan is its versatility as it allows all basic techniques to be utilized relatively quickly with no major drawbacks.
In order to understand the basic kedudukan we have to define more terms. These terms are often used in training to give clues on how to adjust a students techniques, undestanding what these terms mean in their context is useful for all students.
The terms squared and bladed refer to the direction of the hips. If the fighter’s hips are at an angle to the person in front of him, then the stance is bladed otherwise it is squared.
The terms long and short refer to the distance between feet on the saggital plane. If the fighter’s feet are close (on this plane) the stance is short, if they are distant the stance is long. Narrow and wide refer to the distance between feet on the frontal plane. If the fighter’s feet are closer together on the frontal plane, then the stance is narrow, while if they are further apart it is wide.
The adjectives tall and low refer to how high the hips are resting and how bent the back is. Whether a stance is tall or low is often just a result of the above choices.
Guards can be described as short and long. A short guard has both arms resting close to the body, while a long guard has the arms extended forward.
Guards can also be described as low and high. A high guard can be identified by the arms resting at or above eye-level, while a low guard is identified by the arms resting low and closer to the legs.
Shisakuteki karate’s basic stance and basic guard
The basic stance can be described as shoulder-wide and one step long, slightly bladed with the front foot pointing forward and the rear foot pointing outwards by about 45 degrees. Medium height with an even weight distribution between front and hind leg, both legs are slightly bent. The basic guard is identified by the hind arm is resting on the chin while the front arm is floating forward with its elbow locked at 90 degrees.
The basic kedudukan allows for all basic techniques to be used effectively without emphasizing any of them. The hind arm is resting on the chin to protect it and to protect the body, the front arm can perform fast jabs and can also quickly catch or deflect kicks. With slight adjustments, this kendudukan can adapt to the varying distance between fighter and opponent in order to emphasize some techniques over others without switching to a more specialized kedudukan.
As previously mentioned, Shisakuteki karate teaches to fight aggressively by draining the opponent’s energy and by pressuring the opponent psychologically: dodging a strike without stepping back is the course of action a fighter should take as it prevents the opponent from calmly changing his plan but instead having to deal with the consequences of his actions in a short amount of time, pressuring him to commit mistakes.
Rather than stepping back, kicking the opponent away is always preferred. Defensive techniques should inflict damage and leave the opponent without will to attack. When strikes are received, no signs of pain shall be shown in order to make the opponent’s attacks seem ineffective.
The objective of the fighter at a long distance is to move closer to the opponent in a controlled manner, then to inflict damage with elbow and knee strikes before throwing the opponent to the ground. To implement this strategy the basic kedudukan must change slightly depending on the distance between fighters.
At a long distance, the fighter should keep his stance narrow, short and tall. This allows him to quickly block kicks using his knees and punishing the opponent for attempting to strike at a distance, or to quickly kick the opponent to inflict damage or to push him away and draining his stamina and will to fight. The guard used at this distance should be longer (but not as long as the so-called long guard) to quickly intercept punches and to easily move lower in case the opponent were to leap downwards for a takedown, but also to quickly grab the opponent and transition into a clinch were he to move closer.
As the distance shortens, the guard should become shorter to allow blocking punches with elbows to punish the opponent if he tries to strike. The likelihood of the opponents trying to reach for a takedown increases while the likelihood of having to deal with the opponent’s kicks decreases, therefore the stance should widen and lengthen.
If the opponent gains distance, transitioning backwards from a wider and longer stance to a narrower and shorter one is the correct course of action. A fighter should keep close to the opponent but if doing so causes to break stance and guard, it would result to a dangerous situation. The focus should remain to pressure the opponent by punishing their attacks and closing distance in a controlled way without taking unplanned risks.
The only acceptable reason to step back is to prevent being taken down to the ground by a fighter that goes to the ground on purpose, as to not engage in the game that the opponent wants to play.
Switching stances: orthodox and southpaw
When people mention switching stance, they are generally talking about turning the front leg into the hind leg. An orthodox stance is when the left foot is the front foot, and a southpaw stance is when the right foot is the front foot, regardless of limb dominance.
Some fighters do not practice switching stances and only practice techniques in an orthodox stance. Their argument is the that because they fight almost exclusively in orthodox, there is no point in wasting a large amount of time practicing in southpaw. Some fighters switch stances and practice techniques in both orthodox and southpaw stances. This is because being proficient at fighting in both situations grants more options and ways to land and evade hits.
There are successful fighters in each group and students of Shisakuteki karate can choose which approach to take, I do not force anybody to take any of these approaches but it is important to note that mastering techniques in both stances takes a significantly longer time compared to mastering them in the dominant stance alone, it is also important to note that not all techniques are used in both stances the same way.
I suggest to master the basic tachniques in either orthodox or southpaw, depending on limb dominance, and some techniques can be mastered in both stances as they certainly can offer an advantage to the fighter. However, all fighters should learn to switch stances and keep an effective guard in both of the stances as it significantly enhances the fighter’s ability to evade hits and to move faster safely.
A note about stances and guards
There is no single best stance, the "weaknesses" of each stance are irrelevant for the purpose of the stance itself and the given situation. There also is no such a thing as a single best guard, for the same exact reason. Each fighter also may have a specific strategy that best fits his own unique abilities, and which may exploit weaknesses of a guard or stance to gain an advantage.
Popular opinion is that a perfectly bladed stance exposes the fighter to a high risk of being kicked to the back, but such a stance is not meant to be used in situations where the opponent has been observed to kick in such a way. Similarly, if the opponent is afraid of kicking because it has been conditioned previously not to kick, a bladed stance becomes a viable option in that situation.
Particularly when competing with MMA rules, a fighter should have knowledge of many stances and guards and should be able to transition between them quickly and at the most opportune moment. Notice also that there are hundreds of hours of recorded fights on the internet showing how selecting the wrong stance or guard can still lead to a victory: mistakes happen and not all of them are exploited by the opponent, and even when they are exploited they do not often lead to losing the fight. Getting hit happens and adjustments can be made.
Choosing the correct stance and guard at any moment is a complex problem that needs to consider several variables, many of which are individual. Fighters at any level, elite professionals, may be unable to figure out what the best choice should be for them: martial arts are the pursuit of these kind of truth, only by fighting one may find the answer.