When learning a traditional martial art, stance training is a HUGE part of training in the beginning. There is the front stance, side stance, cat stance, horse stance and depending on the style, many more. The stances need to be done a specific way and done pretty much perfectly because they will need to be done correctly when learning the forms (hyung or kata) which are pre-arranged patterns of movement that mimic a fight against imaginary opponents. They enable a martial artist to train self defense combinations and situations solo.
When learning techniques for self defense on the street and to just keep yourself safe, all of those stances are not necessary, but are two or three basic ways to stand that will place you in a better position to defend yourself.
The last thing you want to do if you find yourself in a confrontation on the street is break into a stance like Daniel-san in the Karate Kid, standing on one leg with your hands above your head, or some other martial arts stance! For starters, you tip off the enemy that you may have had some training and he will be that much more on guard and prepared for you.
Secondly, there are always people around these days with their cell phones at the ready and will record everything so they can post it online. Rather than be useful and try to diffuse the situation, they will egg it on or just stand there and film it so it can be shared everywhere, even the police! For this reason, you do not want to look like the aggressor. Even if the other person gets in your face and instigates the whole thing, if what people see is you getting into a fighting stance and then soundly thrashing the guy to end the encounter, it will be you defending yourself in court as well, especially if the other guy was injured.
The best way to position yourself in an encounter is to take a quick look around you, 360 degrees to assess your surroundings. Then take a small step forward with your left foot (right foot if you are left handed) turning your body 45 degrees to the right. This turns the centerline of your body slightly to the side so that your vital targets are less accessible from a straight on punch or kick. Your knees should be slightly bent and the heel of your right foot (rear foot) should be slightly off of the ground, ready to spring forward.
You are basically standing in a boxing stance except for your hands. You do not put up your hands as a boxer would, with fists clenched, ready to fight. Instead, you bring your hands up in front of you, about shoulder height, with your palms facing your attacker. In this position you do not look threatening and you can talk to the person stating “I don’t want any trouble, I don’t want to fight, just leave me alone.” You are saying these things to try and diffuse the situation, but also for anyone who may be watching (and filming). With your hands up like in the above photo and stating that you do not want any trouble, you look like you are refusing to fight and are pleading to be left alone.
While in this stance you are ready for anything. Some say to watch the eyes, but I like to watch the chest while taking in the attacker’s whole body peripherally. If the attacker is going to punch or reach out to grab me his torso has to twist and his chest has to turn in the direction he is reaching. By looking at the eyes you run the chance of becoming intimidated or fixed on the eyes, losing sight of the fist that is coming from your side.
Your hands are ready to deflect, parry or block an oncoming punch or grab and strike as well. Whatever defense or attack you employ must be done quickly and decisively, attempting to end the encounter in seconds, not standing around trading punches. This isn’t a 12 round championship fight and there are no belts or trophies going home when it’s over. You are leaving with your life and safety and there is no time to play. If there are witnesses to the altercation they should see you with your hands up, pleading to be left alone and if the attacker attacks you they should see a couple of quick movements and you walking away. They should be wondering to themselves “What the heck just happened?”
That way if police get involved the story they would get should be along the lines of “The guy had his hands up saying he didn’t want to fight and asking to be left alone. All of a sudden the other guy swung at him and the next thing I knew he was on the ground and the other guy walked away.” You should not look like the aggressor or that you are ready to fight and “take him on.”
The theory behind this stance is exactly the same as the first, to not look like the aggressor to bystanders or to tip off the attacker that you have any training. The only thing that changes in this stance is your hand position. Your feet and torso are positioned exactly the same, but your arms are folded with one arm placed ON TOP of the other, NOT FOLDED! If you cross your arms in the traditional manner with your hands tucked into your arm pits or elbows, you will have to unfold them if the attacker suddenly punches at your head. Chances are you will not be fast enough and get clobbered.
Instead, your hands should be independent of one another, not intertwined, and ready for anything. In the photo I have my one hand up around chin level as I am talking to the attacker, trying to reason with them and diffuse the situation. It appears as if I am using my hand to express myself, but in actuality it is being used to defend myself, ready to stop anything at face level, strike out with a punch if need be or pivot downward to ward off a lower level strike.
Again, and this cannot be stated enough, I am NOT looking like the aggressor or that I have any martial training. Why would you want to tip the other person off? Let them find out they chose the wrong person when it’s too late! Maybe next time they will think twice when they want to start trouble or attack someone.
You are in your stance, ready for anything, but you need to move. How do you step? Assuming you are standing with your right foot forward, if you wish to move forward or to your right, you will step in that direction work your right foot.
Your step is only long enough to move you as far as you need to go while still keeping your feet underneath your shoulders. You aren’t taking a really long step so that you end up off balance and over extended.
Once you step in the direction you wish to move in, you will slide your rear foot in the same direction, resuming your ready stance. So it is a step-slide movement, always maintaining your balance and meeting your feet under you.
When stepping to the left or backwards, you will step in that direction with your left foot first, followed by your right foot sliding into place to resume your ready stance.
You never want to cross your feet while moving. Having your feet crossed and suddenly needing to avoid a strike or strike your opponent places you off balance and unable to attack or defend effectively.
Smart fighters will watch you move around and if they see you cross your feet, will wait for that precise moment to rush at you head on. You will not have time to regain your footing, will stumble backwards and possibly end up on the ground with your attacker on top of you.
Always remember to step and slide, never cross your feet while moving around.
The clock principle is a tool used to explain where to move in relation to your attacker. It puts a visual in your mind so that you can learn more easily. Using the clock principle, you are always the center of an imaginary clock and whatever way you are facing is twelve o’clock. Your attacker, most times, will be in front of you at the 12 o’clock position. If the attacker strikes straight at you, you have two main options to avoid the attack and start your defense. They are stepping to 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock. Whichever way you decide to step, you will use the corresponding foot to step with. For example, 10 is to your left, so you would step to 10 o’clock with your left foot.
Below is a video which explains in detail, proper movement and the clock principle. Take your time, watch the video and practice moving around and stepping to the different directions on the clock.
Once you feel comfortable with moving around and feel balanced, move on to Basic Hands. DO NOT rush through any step! You are building a solid foundation, remember?