March 9, 2012

Postured stance is for beginners; later comes naturalness

Kamae wa shoshinsha ni atowa shizen-tai

This is Master Funakoshi’s 17th entry in the Niju Kun, and this principle relates very well to training attitude and application.  This is only one potential interpretation, and the beauty of the Kun is that they apply to many aspects of life and training.  This Niju Kun principle can also been translated as “Formal stances are for beginners; later, one stands naturally.” 

When we begin instruction, we generally start from the most fundamental stances.  We learn zenkutsu dachi, kokutsu dachi, and kiba dachi.  These three stances in particular form much of the foundation of our training, and are essential for creating the proper building blocks for future training. 

We need to consider these formal stances not just for the traditional “beginners” (white, yellow, and orange belts).  The idea of beginners can (and should) be extended to a much broader range of karateka, including everyone from the new student to the high ranking black belt.  We are all constantly learning slight nuances of stances that are essential to proper movement, avoidance of injury, proper connection, stability, and power generation.  Due to the intricacies of movement and the cyclical nature of our training, we must always return with the mind of the beginner to examine movements with a fresh perspective.  We take a new look given our current knowledge to further our development.  Each time we examine the fundamentals of stances that are essential to proper technique, and every time that we learn and try to process additional information, we feel like a beginner all over again.  It is only through the humble attitude and willingness to learn that we have as a beginner that we can continue to improve.  

As we progress through training, additional formal stances are added, including inward tension stances.  As we learn more about these stances, we learn more about various connections to our bodies, different strategies for movement, strengths and weaknesses, and nuances of these techniques. 

So, when then, do we get to stand naturally as this Niju Kun principle states?  When is “later”?  This does not mean that brown and black belts get to raise their stances, or that as we get older we get to slack off.  True, we do need to make adjustments for our bodies, but during training we always need to be rooted back to those fundamental stances and make sure that our connections are correct. 

The natural movement starts to come when we look at applications.  When you have practiced a technique enough to understand where you can apply it, then the movement becomes more natural.  Particularly looking at kata application, we can apply this principle.  One idea is to practice kata applications starting from a natural stance.  Any time that you will need to use these techniques, you will not be ready and waiting, but will need to move from a natural position. This concept epitomizes this Niju Kun principle. 

In practice we train our fundamentals in a basic and formal matter.  This engrains the movements in our minds and bodies, so that we learn how to make proper body connection and how to generate power.  We can then apply this knowledge when we practice using these techniques in a more natural manner.  A similar principle can be applied to kumite, where we start off formally in basic stances with predefined movements, then gradually advance to more natural movements where we can make adjustments.  In self-defense scenarios, we again start off formally with single, pre-arranged techniques until we can progress to a free-form scenario.

While this Niju Kun principle specifically refers to stances, this same approach can be taken to any karate movement.  Having the attitude of the beginner opens our minds to new possibilities and allows us to always strive to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today.

Our training in Shotokan karate is both progressive and cyclical.  No matter where we are in training, it is important to always consider ourselves as beginners – to always be learning and analyzing the nuances of every movement and trying to improve our skills.  As we progress, and especially as we apply our techniques, we learn to free up our movements and move more naturally.  Then since we have trained so strongly in the foundational movements, our natural movements can be strong and effective. 
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan