The Floating Tiger
If you’re tired of reading about stances in Karate, stop now. But…if you’re interested in connecting the lower half of your body to the upper half of your body during techniques, then read on. There isn’t a whole lot new here, but there may be something that resonates.
Recently, the grading videos of several of our brown belts were shared with Avi Rokah Sensei.
Why? Because the Power Karate Academy has a lineage: we have channel of expertise that we tap for two reasons: to keep traditional Karate true onto itself, and to collect knowledge from those that have generations of experience, and who have trained with the Karate masters of the past.
That way, we maintain the authenticity of the Art, and we are training those who will carry on – not only what we know – but what those who are still teaching us know.
A good stance takes effort, and oftentimes it is the first thing to suffer in training: It’s easier to be straight legged (It’s a human’s natural posture), and a well-defined stance takes energy and effort.
Note I said a well-defined stance.
In the past, plenty of Dojos were teaching ‘Make your stance lower! Lower!’ So, to get a lower stance you made it longer (and straightened your back leg), meaning even more of your weight ended up over your front knee. Moving from one place to another in these upside down checkmark-type stances was no friend of the hips and knees. I’m sure I could write a piece on the correlation between karate stances and hip and knee replacements.
We have evolved and we have evolved the language around stances. In our classes, and in Avi’s classes we are encouraging students to develop stances that are well-defined:
• Deep enough to get a feeling of pressure back from the floor
• Toes alive and engaged as they are critical to movement
o Engaged toes eliminate tell-tale signs of movement
• Both legs – no matter the stance - engaged ( Muscles alive)
• A mental feeling of pushing and pulling with your legs as a unit
o Both side of the body in cooperation
• Hips in the appropriate direction
• A feeling of power to the front – led by your Hata
• A feeling of Ukimi
Ukimi (Uki--to float, Mi-the body) is a concept that, even in a rooted stance, you must have the ability to switch stances, step, move, or parry without effort. You have to master the ability to define your stance so that it is strong, while also having the feeling of easy mobility. It is a dichotomy of a rooted stance and a feeling of floating in the hips which allows for bursts of movement. Ukimi allows you to use the energy you create by pushing into the floor with ease, and then translating that energy into brisk movement.
Siberian tigers are very mindful of what is underfoot so that they can spring to action in an instant. Interestingly, these tigers – weighing up to 600 pounds, can cover 18-20 feet in a single bound. Its no wonder many martial arts started by mimicking the behaviour of animals.
As a mental exercise in Ukimi, try this: Get in a front stance (well defined). Now, imagine someone puts a 75 pound bag on your back. Move around a little bit like this. Now, have them ‘remove’ the pack, but mentally retain the connection the extra weight gave you to the floor, but also think about the newfound freedom you have to ‘float’ in your movements.
Float here doesn’t mean levitate – it means maintaining the ability to move your feet with ease – in any direction.
The concept is that you have a natural mass keeping you well grounded, but for efficient (next-level) karate, you need to have a feeling of slight upward-ness in your pelvic region to allow you to move with ease.
All sorts of methods have been developed because Karateka didn’t understand Ukimi: bouncing up and down while in kumite, for example. Another is to be as grounded as a house in your stance and choose to defend or attack from this immobile position.
Both, of course, aren’t very effective when you are up against a worthy opponent who can time your bounce or can move quickly enough to capitalize on your flat-footedness.
Not acknowledging Ukimi in karate is like omitting footwork in boxing, or ignoring posture in archery: you can’t progress without it.