Stance- the first fundamental
Your choice of stance ought to be a function of the circumstances. When you are further away and your intention is to charge your stance will look different than when you are right on top of your opponent in the thick of things.
A narrow linear stance, akin to a sprinters starting posture allows you to move forward quickly. A three quarters stance allows you to move foreard and backward but also side to side. An hourglass stance is good for infighting and a horse stance, squared up to your opponent is for wrestling. As you optimize one aspect of a stance other aspects are often compromised. For example, a leaning forward stance that is used in rapier fighting optimizes reach but compromises stability and power.
Posture is a synonym to stance in some respects. We use posture when we are talking about how to sit in front of a computer desk and stance when performing martial arts. How you carry yourself physically links your mind and spirit to your body and vice versa. If you stand with a poor posture, shoulders rolled forward and slightly up you express fear and submissiveness. What is more, holding yourself in this posture can make you feel fearful and submissive.
Try this: Remember the old superman commics where superman stands upright, hands on hips, head up, eyes clear. Adopt that posture and hold it for a few minutes. Breath deeply in and out and keep focusing on this courageous posture. Do this prior to doing anything scary or challenging. See if it makes a difference.
Balance and Base
Your centre of gravity has to reside above your base in order to possess balance.
Your base is the region circumscribed by your feet and all the space between them. If you are on your hands and knees then your base becomes the region circumscribed by your hands, knees, feet and any other body part touching the ground.
If your centre of gravity moves outside of your base you will lose your balance. When in your stance, your head and shoulders will generally be above your hips. If you are in an upright stance, then your head and shoulders are almost directly above your hips. As you crouch more deeply, your hips may squat back a bit as your head and shoulders move forward relative to your centre but your centre of gravity itself will stay in the same place relative to your base.
Your head and neck will adjust as you assume a lower stance. A low but strong athletic position is when you are moderately crouched with your head nestled back into your neck, chin shifting up a bit. When you are in an upright stance you will want your chin to be in. It all depends on how crouched you are and what you want to accomplish.
In an upright "ready" stance, The core of your body will be slightly firm as your lats (latissimus dorsi) conract slightly. Your shoulders will be down. Your back will be straight with a lumbar arch to very slightly rounded.
As you become more combative your back becomes more rounded. Elbows stay close and move a bit forward. Your tailbone becomes mildly tucked. Your legs may tense slightly with the feeling of gently pulling your feet together.
Elbows should be in and close if not tight to your ribcage. Be aware that you must extend your arms out to strike but as you do so you become vulnerable to locks and breaks.
If you squat down really low, your hips and lower spine may begin to curl under you more than they should. At this point you are being limited by hip rotational flexibility. This defines the limit of your functional squatting range. Hamstrings, Psoas, and Gluteus muscles may be what is limiting your hip flexibility. Work on eliminating flexibility limitations to squatting.
Your body has three centres. The centre of movement lies at a point about three inches below your navel. This centre is often considered the pre-dominant centre in martial arts. It is a place where the will resides and it is near your centre of gravity. The second centre is in the middle of your upper chest within the shoulder girdle. From this centre we control and manipulate weapons. From here we take actions. It is near where our heart resides and our emotions take hold. The final centre is in the middle of your head. The head is the repository of our senses and of our intellect. These three centres are metaphors for body, mind and spirit. In combat, you move according your first centre, act with the second, and sense with the third. If you arrest the first centre of your opponent they cannot move. The second and they cannot act, the third and they cannot sense or make sense of what is happening.
Your connection to the ground is settled on a region between the balls of your feet and the middle of your foot. This area of your foot is called the "bubbling well" in Chinese martial arts. It is important in martial arts and athletics in general. When you resist a push you do so by connecting to the ground with a standing leg. This root connection also happens when you try to strike or push in return.
Your body has a natural structure, an architecture that is further modulated by your stance and overall posture. Not all postures are created equal however. Some body structures are weak and unstable while others are inherently efficient and powerful.
"Mastering Stance" is when you learn to optimize your posture for whatever situation you are in. This requires an open mind. Its funny. The word "Stance" implies a static structure but Stance is anything but that. It ought to have been called "Dynamic".
Lines of Power
Even bio-mechanically sound and efficient body architectures have strong and stabile orientations and weak, unstable orientations relative to a push or a pull. How you orient yourself relative to your opponent is important when holding a weapon or when empty handed when you are not yet touching and also once you have made contact.
A person in a good stance can easily resist forces along his or her “strong line” and they will succumb to forces that either push or pull along their “weak line.” Determining the strong line and weak line of a stance is clear when you are standing statically and separately out of the context of combat. In the constantly changing context of combat, orient your strong line towards your opponent's centre. Its even better when you orient your strong line into their weak line.
Stand in place and then have someone push on you. If you can resist the push or pull effortlessly you have discovered a strong line. If your structure collapses easily or it requires great effort to maintain then that push or pull is along a weak line.
The lines of force that define strong and weak lines are both external and internal to the body and are constantly shifting amidst the dynamics of combat. When you make contact with and hold fast to your opponent then what is a strong or a weak line becomes more complex and internal. If you allow yourself to adjust to a push or a pull then your stance becomes a dynamic thing, transforming in the moment with “weak line” flowing into “strong line”.
When you are grappling, your “structure” actually includes the body of the other person because you can utilize their form for support and energy transfer. In essence you become a four legged "beast" with two minds. Each mind is vying for control of the beast as they manipulate strong and weak lines.
And when you move, circle with shuffled steps. Incorporate forward and backward motion, body fakes, sprawls, sit outs and circle to the feet. Use the “circle drill” to build agility while maintaining a good stance. All the while find your strong lines.
Capturing the Centreline
The Centerline is the line between your centre and your opponent's centre. If your opponent and you both orient your strong lines along this centreline neither of your will have a dominant position. If you "capture the centreline" by orienting your strong line along the centreline while your opponent does not then you will be in a superior, more dominant position.
When weapons are crossed, the weapon most central will capture the centreline. For example, if you place your sword on top of your opponent's sword with your strong line cutting across their strong line you will capture the centre. If, however, you and your opponent are crossing at a high line, that is your sword bind is occuring above the shoulder height, then the sword underneath will have the advantage when capturing the centreline.
When you capture the centreline, you can more easily acquire a "True Place" (see below).
Power is defined as the amount of work done per time. Power defined more personally is the capacity to do what you want to do. In swordfighting and in martial arts in general we want to be able to hit hard or manipulate our opponents efficiently. I know that I am being efficient when I hit hard and effectively and it feels light and relaxed. How do I do that? A simple answer is to hit fast or hit with something big (with a lot of mass)
Speed and Mass
Kinetic energy means "energy released" as opposed Potential energy which is "energy in reserve. We can explain how to hit hard using this concept. The more kinietic energy you transfer to your target the harder you are going to hit. The formula for kinetic energy is:
Kinetic Energy = 1/2 mass x velocity ^2
Translated into the perspective of martial arts, you can hit harder by increasing the effective mass behind the strike but you can also can hit faster. Which is better to optimize, mass or velocity? Both are important but which counts more and further, how do you optimize your martial techniques in this manner?
Of the two, increasing the speed of the attack increases kinetic energy much more than increasing mass does. Doubling mass will double the kinetic energy delivered. Doubling velocity squares the kinetic energy (KE) delivered. A simple example: increase the mass of an object from 10 to 20 while keeping its velocity constant will increase KE from 500 units to 1000 units. Increasing its velocity from 10 to 20 will increase KE from 500 to 2000 units. Being fast is more important than hitting with a more massive weapon.
We still want to optimize effective mass and speed though because both are necessary to make an impeccable attack.
To optimize effective mass of a weapon you need to connect the weapon to your body and to the ground using sound biomechanical architecture at the moment of impact. If you just throw your fist at someone without good biomechanical connection all the way to the ground, the effective mass is just the mass of your fist. When you line your body up according to your strong line, use effective biomechanics at the same time, and finally you root yourself to the ground with your standing leg you can vastly increase your effective mass. It is as though you have the mass of the earth behind you.
To optimize velocity of your attack you have to learn to be biomechanically efficient. First study what muscles you need to relax and which one are important for the technique. In addition, analyze your biomechanical structure to optimize speed. For example, your front knee must be forward of your front ankle in order to step quickly.
Optimizing mass: using leverage and gravity
Your body is a dynamic structure with an architecture that includes strong and weak lines. Some postures are inherently weak while others are strong. Just like the structure of an efficient building or bridge, our bodies make use of inherently strong architectural shapes such as triangles and spheres. For example when you hold your sword directly in front of you, your hands meet at the hilt and your two arms, together with your chest form a triangle that is naturally strong. If you move your sword far to your side, one of your arms will collapse while the other is over extended and this triangle shape is lost.
If you lean forward when trying to strike, you will compromise the effective mass of your attack for reach. (see the diagram)
The importance of sound biomechanics and leverage is even more apparent when grappling. For example, bridging, sprawls, and arm bars are all examples of leverage.
A dominant position is often one where you are on top of your opponent. Placing your sword on top of your opponent's sword thus claiming the centre will win a bind. Allowing your weight to hang from your opponent as you pummel for control will tire them out. These are all examples of using gravity to augment your power.
It is one thing to demonstrate an efficient stance and a strong line of power when you are not moving. When interacting with an opponent, you need to manifest a good stance with a strong line at the right place and the right time. To do this you must maintain awareness and biomechanics under dynamically changing circumstances. For example, a "front stance" long, low and narrow, is designed for charging in quickly. The superficial posture of a front stance does not assure that you will be fast. Often we characterize stance as a static posture, arrived at or leaving from. What happens in between a starting posture and an ending posture is more properly called the "dynamics" of movement. These dynamics characterize a living stance...a stance in action.
To be fast, you have to understand the dynamics of a stance. What is your standing leg? Standing leg is the leg that you are using to support yourself at any given time.
When you are standing at rest, legs shoulder distance apart you will often support yourself through both legs.
Qualities of the Ready Posture when you are "double weighted" through both feet:
"The calm condition prior to extending, contracting, open, or closed. This is a condition of meditation, awareness, and unity. It is the condition that you wait in, poised to act but not yet acting. It is the place where you can foresee." from Liang
As soon as you move, however, you will support yourself with one leg at a time. The leg that connects you to the ground through which you generate a line of power is called the standing leg. When you want to attack quickly, create a standing leg ahead of time.
In what ways is your posture not ready?
Once you have created a standing leg by either forward or back weighting your posture becomes very important. For example, if you want to attack quickly, you need to have your front knee and hip forward enough that you can root through your front leg into the ground. Generally, this means that you center of gravity has to be in front of your ankle. If your knee and hip are too far back, then you must push them forward before you can even transfer your weight to the front. This creates additional motion which slows you down and telegraphs your intent to attack.
What muscles are necessary to complete the action and what muscles are not?
When the sages say "Relax" they do not mean that you ought to become limp and flacid. They mean that you should eliminate all unnecessary muscular tension. This tension will actually oppose movement and therefore slow you down. For example, if i want to perform a downright stroke with my longsword, what muscles do I actually use? Are my deltoids, triceps, pectoralis, latissimus, and biceps all equally involved?
The answer is, no they are not equally involved. For each motion that you make you will eventually determine what muscles are needed and which ones get in the way. You will develop body awareness such that you can intrinsically determine this "on the fly".
People vary according to how many muscle fibers they have that are dedicated to moving quickly and powerfully. The genetic differences between people matters far less than understanding the nuances of dynamic stances...stances in motion.
Think of how fast you can sprint. When you measure speed in sprinting it is relative to the ground. For example, perhaps you can run 8 m in 1 second. In combat, if you can charge at an opponent at 8m/s but your opponent is moving backwards at 4m/sec, the speed relative to your opponent is 4m/sec (8m/s - 4m/s). By jogging backwards your opponent can slow you down. If on the other hand, yoour opponent runs towards you as you attack then your relative speed becomes 16m/sec (8m/s+8m/s). I am assuming that my opponent can run forward as fast as I can. That is quite a difference in relative speed.
As an attacker, when I decide to attack I am going to do so as quickly as I can much of the time. As a defender, I can decide to move backward or forward. Because of the psychodynamic aspects of the measure and the defender's control of their own motion, the defender is in control of the timing of the attack so long as your opponent is not too close.
To further the example, your attacker charges at their top speed of 8m/sec. You step back at 4m/sec slowing down their approach, but then you reverse direction and move forward at 8m/sec when you decide to engage. Your relative speed goes from 4m/s almost immediately to 16m/sec.
Remember: the receiver of the attack controls this.
Connecting to the weapon
Ultimately, the speed and the apparent mass of the weapon and not your whole body is what matters if you want to hit hard. How you hold the weapon and how you move it will affect the connection of the weapon to the rest of your body and this affects apparent mass of the weapon. Exactly how you move the weapon affects the weapon's speed. Generally, hold the weapon so that the structural line of power can be maintained through the weapon. Move the weapon beginning with your hand motion and culminating with motion of the hips.
Ways to Move
Your opponent will try to attack along their strong line directly toward your centre line. All possible movement directions are defined relative to to this primary attacking line. You may move almost directly into this direction, into one of the front quadrants, into one of the rear quadrants, or at right angles to the attackers line.
There are only so many different ways to move your feet. Move using simple shuffling steps forward and back and side to side. A shuffle always leads with the foot closest to where you want to go. Do not let your ankles cross when close to an opponent and you are moving side to side. Stepping is simply walking, swinging a foot through a full range of motion. You can move in a straight line, along an arc or a spiral, and up or down. You can turn your bodies orientation by stepping, by spinning around an axis, or by pivoting. Combining all of this, movement flows along a dynamic path as you continue to orient along your strong lone and inexorably into your opponent's weak line.
Finding the measure
“The Proper Measure" is the distance that a technique is supposed to work. Measure is different from range.
Range is mechanical. Its a function of the weapon. A rifle has a range, as does a spear, a sword and a fist. Its how far you can reach. Find the range of your fist. Ask a partner to stand still. Adjust your distance so that you can strike them with a given technique properly, that is, at the distance where you arae neither too far or too near. That is the range of that technique. Each technique or weapon has its own range. Look at how range changes when you move only your arm and hand, then with a weight shift forward, then with a shuffle forward and then with a full step forward.
The Speed of the Technique
The relative speed of the technique is a function of quickness born of biomechanics but also the distance between you and your opponent. The further you are from your target the longer it takes to get there. George Silver talked about this back in the 1500s. He classified attacks according this relationship between speed of a technique and distance.
If you are out of measure, none of your attacks will reach your opponent without taking multiple steps.
When you at the outside edge of measure your long distance techniques come into play. An example of a long distance technique is one that you employ as you pass (take one full step)
A little closer and you can reach your opponent with a simple shuffle.
A little closer still and you can reach your opponent by simple shifting your body forward.
Finally you can be so close that you can strike your opponent simply by moving your hand.
George tells us that:
The timing "of the hands" is the fastest, then the hands and the body, then the hands and body and foot, then the hands and body and feet.
Realize this: If you are in the timing of the hands...that is so close that you and your opponent can reach out and strike one another without moving anything but the hands, things happen so fast that your chances of being struck are high.
A True Fight and a True Place
Distance and timing interact in a dynamic way to create the measure. However to truly find the "measure of the man or woman" depends on psychology, relative skill, and the circumstances that you and your opponent find yourselves in as well.
In a fight, where are you safe? You can be out of range. You can also be in range but you can position yourself such that your opponent cannot strike you. Lastly, you can be in range and in a position such that your opponent can strike you except that you can shield yourself with your weapon or body to stifle their attack.
“A True Fight” is a fight where you do not get touched by the other weapon. To be touched by a sword means injury and, to one degree or another, loss. The idea of the True Fight is broader than simply avoiding injury though. A True Fight is about being in control at all times. It is about doing things in such a way that you are never caught.
“A True Place” is when and where you can touch and injure your opponent but they cannot touch or injure you. This sounds simple enough but it is not simple. It is sublime. To be out of range is not the True Place because you cannot act from there. You can obtain the True Place by timing and positioning.
To step from the edge of measure into a True Place is called Entering.
Here is a practice:
Find the inside and the outside edges of the measure.
The inside edge of the measure is as close as you can get without being at risk from your opponent. Your opponent is poised to attack. Approach them and set a distance between you such that you are as close as you can be and still get away. Try this many times. You will begin to sense where that distance is for that opponent. Then change opponents.
The outside edge, on the other hand, is as far away as you can be and still affect your opponent's mind. As you approach the outside edge of the measure you can watch your opponent begin to coil up in preparation. They may even be moved to attack you first if they are aggressive. The outside edge almost always occurs further away than the inside edge. Between these two edges, you can manipulate your opponent with distance. If they are aggressive they can be moved to attack. If they are caustious they can be pressed into retreat or defense.
Entering and exiting the true place
In order to strike you have to get close enough to your opponent by finding the “True Place”. How do you find the True Place? You do so through timing and distancing.
"To find the void" means to find the convergance of timing and distancing that enables you to enter into a True Place.
Further, the True Place is momentary. If you think that you can stand in a True Place with impunity, attacking away at your opponent then you are incorrect. Your opponent will adjust and respond to you as rapidly as they can. Move into the True Place and strike then either "fly away" or enter more deeply to smother their attacks.
The measure itself is a psychodynamic quality. It involves timing, distancing and the deeper sensations of fear and aggression. The Japanese combine an understanding of timing and distancing together and call it “MA-AI” The saying goes:
“The Ma-ai requires advancing and retreating, separating and meeting.”
It acknowledges the finiteness of the moment when you find the True Place.
Finding the Voids
"Techniques will occur when the void is found" from the Bubishi
Three Timings and More
You find the true place by Entering at a time when your opponent is unable to attack you. Broadly speaking there are three opportunities to do this. Here they are:
To attack first you must sense when your opponent is not aware. Your opponent may have lost their concentration or they may be poised to attack and they are preoccupied by that fact.
To attack during requires some form of crossing. A crossing is when your sword acts to protect you by preventing the other’s sword from touching you. This timing is when block/attack responses occur.
To attack after the attack of the opponent has occurred. Your opponent may have swung at you and in the aftermath of that swing before they have reset you attack.
Some fighting manuals and disciplines break timing down into more categories. These categories are:
BEFORE they attack as an attacker taking the initiative
JUST BEFORE, right as they decide to attack
JUST AFTER, right after they decide to attack
IN THE MIDST, during the attack
JUST AFTER, the opponent has not yet realized that they have missed
AFTER, the opponent realizes that they have missed and have not yet recovered
George Silver’s Words
George Silver describes three defensive actions:
- To strike simultaneously as your opponent comes in to attack
To ward, and afterward to strike
To slip back and strike
George Silver's four chief actions describe the timing of motions:
First-an action that initiates an assault
Before-an action that is timed to finish before a specified action of the opponent (such as a counterattack) can be completed
just-an action that is timed to complete at the same time as some other specified action of the opponent but, due to superior positioning, will achieve its goal
Afterward-an action that will complete after the patient agent has completed, but due to superior positioning will achieve its goal
Silver also refers to the four states of motion: bent, spent, lying spent, and drawing back.
Bent means chambered or in a posture poised to attack
Spent means released such that your sword is extended
Lying Spent means a form of hesitation after release
Drawing Back is when you are spent and returning to bent.
When to attack is sometimes addressed using the concept of tempo. One way of exploring tempo is by setting up a flow drill of attacking while an opponent defends and then defending when they attack. Such a pattern possesses a rhythmic beat. Occasionally try to attack "off the beat" to get an idea of how changing tempo obtains the True Place.
The timing of attacks is more than just tempo. In all cases you are looking for a lapse in awareness within your opponent. When you attack with good timing, your opponent will not expect to be struck.
Combat is largely an anaerobic activity. Sparring in earnest, with full gear and in the heat of a summer day, is an intense endeavor. Fitness matters but so does efficiency. If you are adrenalized and excited or fearful and stressed you will tend to tense up. Your muscles will oppose one another rather than working together.
Becoming more efficient is a multifaceted project involving the mind, body, and spirit. Beginners often think "too much", that is, they try to rely on logic and reasoning in the midst of learning something that is physiokinetic. They ponder things even as an opponent is careening towards them or the next count of a drill is happening. Stop thinking so much during practice. Instead, let your awareness bolstered by your emotions and spirit connect directly to your physicality.
Your mind is essential to understanding. But the time to intellectualize is after practice or during discussion. At those times you can consider the why of a technique and catch your rational mind up to your spirit and your body.
One way to quiet your mind is to study breathing. In the martial arts, abdominal breathing is most often used. To breath using the abdomen, keep your shoulders down and quiet the movement of your chest. When you inhale imagine that you are filling your abdomen with air. When you exhale allow your abdomen to collapse.
In addition to quieting the mind, breathing properly has other benefits. It is a more efficient and controlled form of breathing that will see you through the exertion of most combat. By breathing properly and by maintaining a dominant posture you can literally prevent the release of stress hormones. Finally, this abdominal form of breathing coupled with posture provides a means of managing fear and other emotions.
Reverse Abdominal Breathing
There are times in combat of great duress. For example, your opponent may have thrown you onto the ground and is actively trying to overcome you by grappling. At those times of great stress, you may need to rally even as every fiber of your body is resisting the efforts of your opponent. A second kind of breathing helps in these situations. It is called "Reverse Abdominal Breathing" or "Chest Breathing". Instead of breathing with the abdomine you breath with your chest. When you inhale, expand your chest and allow your abdomen to collapse inward. When you exhale, allow your chest to fall inward as your abdomen expands.
Try this: Breath this way for approximately 10 breaths. Inhale and exhale rapidly as though panting like a dog. You may notice that this way of breathing results in a feeling of tingling or light headedness but there is also a sensation of "gathering energy" in your midsection.
Use this form of breathing for short periods of time when you need to "find your breath" when under stress or to gather energy before a trial.
Breathing helps you to develop efficiency and self control. To focus on breathing is to learn about yourself. To study the eyes is a way of learning about your opponent.
It is not necessary to look at someone's eyes when you fight. You can look at their chest, at their feet and even at the ground. You can even close your eyes and rely on touch when you are grappling. Nevertheless, the saying goes that "The Eyes are the Mirror of the Mind"
When you are practicing look squarely into your opponents eyes. Look deep and stay aware because as you look into their eyes they will look into yours. You can see when your opponent is empty or full, open or closed, aware or unaware. You can see when they decide to attack and when they are uncertain. Become a student of the eyes and you will gain insights about the inner workings of your oppoenent.
You can use the eyes to deceive your opponent as well. Once you learn just how sensitive we all are to reading the eyes, you can purposely project information that conceals your true condition and intent.
When you put a fencing mask on, you will notice that you can still read and project in the same way. The eyes are not necessary to do this but they are the most apparent and clear way to study this skill of reading your opponent.
The sages said that there are four pathways to maximum effectiveness. These are:
Emptiness and Fullness
By Physicality I am including fitness, size and strength. It is clear that size matters. There are physical and psychological aspects to facing a person much larger than you that cannot be denied. Differences in size can be mitigated if you are more fit and strong than your opponent. All of this is in the same category of Physicality.
Knowledge of vital areas is extremely powerful. Train yourself to target the most vulnerable areas on an opponent. Know in detail what the effect of a successful strike on target will be. Use knowledge of vital areas when grappling, with unarmed striking, and when striking with weapons. If an opponent is armored then the vital areas will be different- a function of the armor as well as the physiology beneath it.
Mastering biomechanics, as I have alluded above, is a way to multiply power and efficiency.
Emptiness and fullness describe aspects of both spirit and mind. For example, when you decide to be a student you make a decision to be "empty" otherwise you will have no space within you to take in any learning. When you teach you must be "full" even if you feel humble about waht you know otherwise you will not project what you are teaching with truth and passion.
In combat, if you become intimidated you will be empty. Your body language will shift and you will cast your eyes to the ground. Your opponent, if they are full, will assume a dominant posture with chest thrust out and chin jutting. You can lose a fight on this basis alone, having already given way to your opponent by beign empty in the face of their fullness.
You can fight this by maintaining your own fullness. You can also manipulate a weaker opponent to submit without fighting or prior to fighting.
The sages have said that to be maximally effective, you really only need to have two of these qualities. This you can be large and intimidating, or small but with a superb knowledge of vital areas and biomechanics. Or you can understand biomechanics and have an indomitable will. All of these combinations will make you dangerous.
If you possess three of these qualities thats great! Possessing all four is almost overkill.