Karate Stance or Muay Thai Stance, the Difference is Activation

kata kick Karate Stance or Muay Thai Stance, the Difference is Activation

Static karate stance

The importance allotted to historical tradition by karate, and similar arts, results in something similar to the historical weapons used in battle re-enactments such as those of the sealed knot, i.e. sub-optimal in modern times. This post shows how karate’s emphasis on form over function results in a ‘flat’ inactive ‘fighting’ stance which is in stark contrast to the activated, primed posture of the Muay Thai stance.

The irony is that while traditional karate generally favours historically accurate technique, form, it fails to do so accurately. Karate progressed from the secret training in the back gardens of Okinawan masters to the universities of Japan where training methods were altered. In a nation preparing for war there was an emphasis for militaristic precision in technique.

mt stance Karate Stance or Muay Thai Stance, the Difference is Activation

Dynamic Muay Thai stance

Over time performance of the kata, which supposedly contain the essence of the karate fighting systems, was (and is) emphasised over the useful elements of the movements. The outcome is an emphasis of form over function and a perfection of that form. This is clearly a drifting of purpose from the martial to the art, with effectiveness being compromised for the sake of form.

In contrast the progression of Muay Thai technique reflects the requirements of the contest; damage your opponent or get damaged! These requirements ensure that essential elements, or function, are retained, at least potentially, rather than superseded by the need for perfect form.

Activated Muay Thai Stance

An example of this contrast, form v. function, can be seen in karate stances and Muay Thai fighting postures. While karate stances undoubtedly provide a solid base from which to fire off strikes they tend to hamper rather than support movement, while Muay Thai fighting stances deliver on both counts.

In addition, any decent Muay Thai fighter is activated in his fighting stance whereas the karate fighter in his traditional stance is not. This difference can be thought of as the difference between being ‘on your toes’ and ‘on your heels’. One is actively engaging the muscles while the other is rather flat footed.

cycling good poor Karate Stance or Muay Thai Stance, the Difference is Activation

Pedalling foot position

The traditional karate stances such as zenkutsu dachi and neko ashi dachi are like cycling with the saddle too low and the centre of your feet pressing into the pedals. To optimally transfer the force generated from the whole of the lower limb the saddle should be high enough to allow the leg and foot to extend with the ball of the foot pressing into the pedal. Try this on a bike and you will notice the difference immediately.

Humans tend to stand ‘lazily’ with body weight supported by bones rather than anti-gravity muscles. By standing back on the heels with the legs straight the thighs are soft and inactive, analogous to waiting at the bus stop. However, if the bus is in and you need to get on, you shift your body weight, bend the legs and activate the leg muscles to move.

Karate v MT stance Karate Stance or Muay Thai Stance, the Difference is Activation

Karate Stance v Muay Thai stance

Karate stances such as zenkutsu dachi and neko ashi dachi are not active in nature, like you’re waiting for the bus, while Muay Thai fighting stances are active and similar to getting on the bus. The anti gravity muscles in the legs are firm, ‘sprung’ and ready to produce force, as a runners would be at the start of a race, ready for the gun.

The structure of the Muay Thai stance is set up with the muscles activated, or spring loaded and primed for action,  while traditional Karate stances are somewhat flat-footed and static in comparison. This observation is clearly illustrated in the picture from the UFC fight between Machida and Shogun

Originally posted 2010-10-02 00:18:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

11 thoughts on “Karate Stance or Muay Thai Stance, the Difference is Activation

  1. Pingback: Jon Law
  2. Karate_Stylist (KS) on Karate Stance vs. Muay Thai Stance:
    “Form Over Function.”

    KS agress with the author, looking @ the issue from the author’s point of view. KS, however, believes the premise for the author’s view is wrong; therefore the author’s conclusion is invalid.

    KS is not questioning the effectiveness of Muay Thai as a competitive or combat art. KS, does, however, believe that karate, done the traditional martial arts way, is more effective than Muay Thai. KS’s view arises from two points on how the traditional martial art of karate trains the body physically, and more importantly, the person mentally.

    The author’s example of Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua illustrated above is an excellent discussion point. Many have properly questioned karate effectiveness after Lyoto’s recent (really 2 recent losses from a fighting perspective) to Shogun @ the UFC. And let KS add that many aspects of traditional karate have major weaknesses & drawbacks.
    As the author points out, it’s imperative to find out what those are & make necessary changes & adjustments

    The karate purpose of Lyoto’s stance is to generate power strike from the entire body. The author disputes the effectiveness. KS, personally, is able to generate considerable power from the standard karate or front stance seen above.

    A huge failing of Lyoto Machida in his fights against Shogun Rua, is an over-reliance on this oft-used stance, seen so predominantly amongst Shotokan Karate Point Fighting Kumite-Style Fighters, such as Lyoto. A further weakness of constantly using this stance is to become too stationary, which KS calls the ‘statue effect.’ Falling prey to the former and /or the latter & you become a predictable, stationary target for the aggressive, skilled striker like Shogun Rua. KS has been guilty of this & subsequently gotten ‘nailed’ himself.

    But this is not good karate. Traditional karate trains the stances first, which develops a strong, unified body the karate way–and it take time & dedication. Then, other parts of the curriculum introduce movement & variation among several types of stances. Once the karate practitioner becomes proficient here, the movement is both powerful & dynamic.

    To KS, the author’s criticism seems aimed at basic-level karate training & practitioners who are learning good form first, but who are not yet dynamic in their karate application. This good form, if done properly, will build & allow the practitioner to generate & apply significant physical power using the entire body. It’s more difficult to learn than the more athletic, sports way taught by Muay Thai, boxing, etc.

    And it takes considerable mental discipline. Don’t count out traditional karate. Instead, figure out how to unlock the secrets of it’s potential. A bona-fide karate fighter can go toe-to-toe with the best of Muay Thai, including from the traditional karate stances.

  3. KS thank you for taking the time to provide such a detailed and informative response.

    For me efficient “movement and variation”, as you put it, is absent from a lot of the karate I have witnessed, and that happens to be a fair amount. For me, this stems from the overuse of and emphasis on precise form. If this form is taken and adapted with function in mind you are onto something.

    If you look at the picture in the post of Machida and Shogun, Shogun’s stance resembles an adaptation of neko ashi dachi. This is something that thai boxing fighters use a lot. Point is there are similarities.

    Unfortunately, Karate stances tend to be more ‘waiting for the bus’ than ‘getting on the bus’ or in other words flat-footed rather than on yer toes. This is common and hinders movement. Maybe I had to wait longer than the twelve years or so I did before the juicy movement tips were explained…

    On the other hand I have come across Karate people who do know how to move and can teach distancing and movement skills above and beyond the horrible sanbon kumite or san dan ge. I have blogged about this here and in the follow up ‘on your marks’ series of posts; two and three.

    Your sentence “it’s imperative to find out what those (karate mistakes) are & make necessary changes & adjustments” is very encouraging to read. This is something that many karate people should heed, too often there is an over-reliance on so-called tradition which is at the cost of progression. This is not always the case and I acknowledge there are some excellent karate teachers out there who produce very mobile fighters. These are rare in my experience.

    Further, I do not doubt that you are able to produce great power from Karate stances, I’d suggest that this could more efficiently be generated using the methods of Thai fighters, in my opinion. There will be at least one more post on this subject following on from this which may be of some interest…….

  4. Karate_Stylist (KS) @ JonLaw re Reply.

    You cover quite a lot in your reply to my comment. KS wants wants to think your commentary over. Also, KS has begun reading your posts about, “on-your-marks.”

    You technical expertise is way ahead of mine. So, look @ paragraph #3 of your above reply. Taking your point about Shogun’s Muay Thai stance having similarity to a certain traditional karate stance. The black-belt curriculum @ my current karate school presents five commonly used stances:
    (1) front stance [lunge stance in Shotokan], (2) horse stance, (3) back stance, (4) cat stance, and (5) fighting stance. The back stance & cat stance are used somewhat interchangebly.

    Heavy reliance on any one stance, or remaining ‘planted’ for extended periods of time in a stance is, just as you say, done by karate practitioners. Using single karates stances, or always standing planted in stances this way during fighting, however, is a misapplication of karate. Traditional karate dictates that you move & shift among stances or remain in a stance when & how it enables you to defeat your opponent. You must adapt & apply the right stance & right combination of stances that lead to the opponent’s defeat. Do this correctly is called (a part) of traditional martial arts skill. Do it incorrectly and your karate will fail. Seems like a simple statement, but developing traditional martial art, here karate, skill is anything but simple.

    In closing, ‘waiting for the bus’ is a highly effective strategy. KS uses it all the time. My opponent tries to ‘get on the bus’ & finds he can’t–he’s defeated when he tries getting on. Maximum mobility is not the goal of karate training. Maximum effect at defeating your opponent is the marital goal.

    Karate_Stylist

  5. Karate_Stylist on “Waiting for the Bus as a Karate Strategy.”

    P.S. ‘Waiting-for-the-Bus’ is (can be) a highly effective karate fighting strategy. Lyoto Machida, IMO, is highly skilled @ using ‘waiting-for-the-bus’ against many of his his MMA opponent’s–until Shogun Rua, that is. The karate moral here is that no one strategy (just like no one stance) works or is applicable all the time. As JonLaw points out, ‘Getting-on-the-Bus’ (& as illustrated by the Muay Thai approach), may well be the better strategy to do.

    Naturally, KS has his karate-version of ‘Getting-on-the-Bus,’
    ready to go!

    Karate_Stylist

  6. Hi KS

    Haven’t you been busy! Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    My use of the ‘waiting for the bus’ or ‘getting on the bus’ analogy was an attempt to illustrate the difference between the rather static karate stances and the more mobile stances of other martial arts. It is supposed to represent a way of standing rather than a tactic or strategy.

    You can adopt a ‘getting on the bus’ fighting posture that supports movement AND still ‘hang back’ out of range ready to move forward rapidly to attack your opponent. The ‘getting on the bus’ fighting posture supports movement better than a ‘waiting for the bus’ fighting posture. I hope that is clear

  7. Karate_Stylist (KS) @ JonLaw re; “Getting on the Bus Fighting Posture Supports Better Movement Than Waiting for the Bus Fighting Posture.”

    The difference in views comes from my emphasis & believe in the traditional way of training in the martial arts. KS agrees & applauds what you are trying to accomplish, which is to keep the traditional martial artist from putting form over function. What KS is saying that traditional martial training, done Properly AND with a Progressive mindset, form will support function.

    For example, learning to use the varied stances presented in the traditional karate curriculum APPROPRIATELY. Some of the time, and your analysis of the Shotokan kumite post is another great example, conventions arise or are emphasized or adopted with stances as well as everything else, that as you have so rightfully stated, is just not practical or working towards function they way it should to have good effect. Karate (and those studying & interpreting it have) has faults, PERIOD. KS will say flat out that fighting from the Shotokan lunge or similar stance in a STATIC WAY & doing nothing else is essentially turning yourself into a target (Rua vs. Machida @ UFC 104).

    In defense of traditional karate, there is a progression in skill that builds consecutively on the earlier parts of the curriculum. The key is making that progression. KS believes that JonLaw has taken the path of looking outside traditional martial arts–KS acknowledges this is a valid path. KS is on the path of looking inward to the deeper meaning & understanding of the traditional martial arts training–looking past the flaws–looking through the weaknesses–to the underlying principles. Either way, KS stipulates that you can & must do anything in a fight to win.

    In relation to JonLaw’s point about certain-style stance supporting movement better, KS says, “What kind of movement?” IMO, traditional karate is concerned with, in many cases, rather limited movement–a single step into a certain stance or shifiting, pivoting among a stance in position; yet that postition enables you to perform effective defense & launch a devastating attack or counterattack very quickly & decisively in a dynamic way that the opponent cannot easily fathom.

    In karate-jutsu, KS is typically NOT trying to maximize movement or the ability to move far. Is this a bad thing?, NO! KS’s objective is to move EXACTLY, just to the right degree that position’s myself tactically to facilitate the fighting strategy I have deemed best or sufficient in order to defeat the opponent. LIMITED MOVEMENT IS NOT STATIC IF ITS EFFECT IS DYNAMIC.

    KS will close with the ‘Bus’ analogy of: ‘Waiting for the Bus’ BY “Selectively moving the Bus to the Optimal Waiting Position,” then “‘Again Waiting for the Bus;’ Yet maybe Shifting to another ‘Waiting for the Bus’ position or Back again.” Bear in mind since I am not so concerned with fancy, highly active, large distancing or complex footwork, KS is free to concentrate on defending against & focus lauching my own attacks on the opponent’s exposed targets–the latter which KS attempts to create by my own blend of [skilled] technique. The use of karate stances, as must be true for all karate, must become dynamic (by karate standards) for form to support function.

    JonLaw is looking outside of karate–KS is looking inside. The recent contests between Shogun Rua (Muay Thai) and Lyoto Machida (Shotokan karate), illustrates our respective approaches. Shogun Rua’s coach went public saying that Lyoto Machida’s karate cannot stand up to Muay Thai. HE WAS PROVED ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

    Many then, have said that Muay Thai is the way to go for full contact fighting. KS’s response is that Lyoto Machida’s own karate (basically his version of the Shotokan kumite competiton-point style), is not up to the standards of traditional karate kumite. In other words, Karate kumite proper encompasses a more dynamic karate than we see in THE SUBSET THAT IS Lyoto Machida’s personal style.

    Karate_Stylist

  8. “In relation to JonLaw’s point about certain-style stance supporting movement better, KS says, “What kind of movement?” IMO, traditional karate is concerned with, in many cases, rather limited movement–a single step into a certain stance or shifiting, pivoting among a stance in position; yet that postition enables you to perform effective defense & launch a devastating attack or counterattack very quickly & decisively in a dynamic way that the opponent cannot easily fathom.

    In karate-jutsu, KS is typically NOT trying to maximize movement or the ability to move far. Is this a bad thing?, NO! KS’s objective is to move EXACTLY, just to the right degree that position’s myself tactically to facilitate the fighting strategy I have deemed best or sufficient in order to defeat the opponent. LIMITED MOVEMENT IS NOT STATIC IF ITS EFFECT IS DYNAMIC.”

    I couldn’t agree more with this.

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