On your marks 2

In the last post I likened the three phases of the sprint race start to the initiation of movement or attack in martial arts. I proposed that the ‘get set’ position was the better of the three, with the ‘on your marks’ phase being unprepared and the ‘GO!’ phase being over committed. Put simply it’s better to be ready to move than not but not at the expense of over committing.

The grisly old clip in that post provided an example of the ‘on your marks’ phase in action. The stiff, robotic, linear movements in this clip are practised in a lot of ‘traditional’ martial arts but  is a very crude example. The Karateka are ‘stuck’ in a long stance and can barely move as a result, the weight is centralised with the legs so wide that ‘stance’, as in a way of standing, is indeed an appropriate word.

Often in karate people are told that movement comes from the hara/tanden or the centre. Pure nonsense of course, ask any child how they move and penny to a pound they’ll say with their legs or feet. The trouble is, when starting from a position that does not support free movement a preparatory movement is required, which could come from the core. Of course the core plays an essential part in the process of movement, linking the top and bottoms sections of the body.

Clearly, if you adopt a fighting posture analogous to the ‘get set’ position, i.e. ready to go, you have an advantage over someone in a posture synonymous to the ‘on your marks’ phase, i.e. requiring a preparatory  movement before you can move. Put simply, if you start from a position which allows you to move you have an advantage over an opponent who isn’t ready to move, that’s obvious.

Of course the old clip is karate at its most crude, here’s a more dynamic clip of two karate men training in a ‘traditional’ format, ippon kumite (one step sparring) and so starting from an ‘on your marks’ start.

The video shows the attacker and defender switching roles scrolling through a number of pre-arranged attacks. They start and finish in a long stance that fails to facilitate movement, clearly a huge flaw in the drill which leads to some rather peculiar adaptions to the standard model in the old clip. The bloke on the left has a tendency to ‘flail’ with his back leg when retreating in an attempt to move quickly, while both ‘bounce’.

Despite showing far better movement than in the old clip, including lateral retreats, the whole premise is to block and counter. This manifests in the competition version of karate, thus…..

These are elite level karate athletes, moving much better than the blokes in the old clip, freed from the restraints of formal training but still not as well as they might. Starting from a position that is sub-optimal for movement, synonymous to ‘on your marks’ position rather than ‘get set’ the movement options are limited. The rules of the competition don’t help and other factors contribute to creating a fighting environment that does not support free movement; if something goes wrong they cannot get out of the way again. For example, once they commit to a movement, if it doesn’t work they get hit, via block and counter even. If they feint a movement and the opponent reads it they are in trouble because they return, or are in the process of returning, to the starting position. The whole moving in stance premise is flawed, with the stance being a huge part of the problem.

As these fighters adopt similar movement strategies they start on an even playing field. If a fighters were to adopt a ‘get set’ posture that fighter would be set for movement and would have an advantage over the others, but the years of training sub-optimal movements make this radical adjustment unlikely.

2 thoughts on “On your marks 2

  1. Hmmm. What I see are fighters who are fighting in the Shotokan style in a Shotokan tournament. And, each fighter is exhibiting good Shotokan technique while still landing some FAST kicks and punches. I am a Kyokushin guy myself and see some great traditional Karate in the video you chose. Lyoto Machida is a Shotokan trained MMA fighter who I often see in a similar stance – and it seems to work OK for him. It seems to me that it is more about who you are fighting in what context than trying to find the “perfect” position to fight from. Would love to see a video demonstrating your preferred stance…

    Keep up the blogging!


    John from Massachusetts

  2. Hi John, thanks for taking the time to comment, mate. I purposely chose elite level karate tournament fighters in order to show that fast techniques can be used from the most mobile version of the stance used in sanbon and similar training. Often people will justify retention of the ‘traditional’ training methods saying that it can be adapted for fighting. In the context of the Shotokan tournament you get an adaption that allows a freer form of movement relative to that in sanbon and the like, but I’d contend that the fast techniques are being delivered in spite of the stance rather than being assisted by it. Surely the role of a fighting posture is to allow free delivery of techniques and free positional movement as required whilst allowing optimal power and force generation, the stance used in the clip does not fulfill these criteria, IMO. That’s the crux of my point.

    There will be follow up posts mentioning Machida which will include clips of ‘my preferred stance’, or at least something along those lines. Watch this space….. Suffice to say it should allow rapid positional movement ‘out of the blocks’, if we are to use the sprint analogy….

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