Dr. Ronald W. Stone, Hapkido Instructor American Dragon Martial Arts Academies Clermont, Florida
Like any other technique in Hapkido, the importance of stance should be studied with regard to three factors:
1. Importance of the technique to a proper defence
2. Importance of the technique (stance) to a proper offense
3. Importance of the technique to the formation of the individual, the development of Ki energy, and the martial artist’s performance
The way we communicate with others can be broken down into the following categories:
Physiology (dilated eyes, breathing patterns, perspiration etc) = about 55%
Psychology (posture, body movements, fisting, gestures, etc) = about 35%
This illustrates that body language is often as important as verbal communication skills. The way a person positions himself (takes a certain stance) at any given moment is an expression of mental attitude as well as physical ability. This is one reason why the elderly, the infirm, or the weak minded are so often singled out by social predators for attack. The very nature of the victim portrays and projects an image of susceptibility, of weakness and of fear.
Most attackers are by nature cowardly and prefer to strike by surprise. They choose to win by stealth, intimidation or overwhelming force of numbers. If such an attacker has to choose between an old man walking down the street bent over or limping, or a self confident man who walks erect, is well balanced and exudes an aura of strength, the criminal will almost certainly attack the weaker target.
An attacker can read non-verbal cues. He can tell just by looking at someone and by the way they “hold themselves” whether that person is weak, frightened, confident, or alert. Hapkido stances should allow one to look like a victor not a victim. Predators always prefer to attack the weaker members of the herd. It is wise to remember the old axiom; “When you are strong appear weak, and when you are weak appear strong!”
This same non verbal communication effect is often noticed in martial arts tournaments at the start of a match. When two equally matched opponents face each other, victory often goes to the one who initiates the match from a power leg forward, chin tucked aggressive stance as practiced in Hapkido. This position will off balance the opponent who fights from a defensive stance. The effect is not only a physical one (positional advantage and speed) but a psychological one as well.
When studying the importance of proper stance for defense in Hapkido it should be remembered that its purpose is to create a physical barrier between yourself and your potential attacker without creating a negative image that might initiate a fight. A proper stance conveys the message that while you do not wish violence, you are clearly willing to defend yourself if you have to. Coupled with aggressive and confident verbal skills it is often all that is necessary to fend off an attacker.
The objective of the defensive stance in Hapkido is to protect as much of your body as possible, to prevent being thrown off balance, and to allow for an effective counterattack should the need arise. An example of this might be:
1. Tucking the elbows in to protect the mid section
2. Raising one’s hands to cover the face and chin,
3. Bending the knees slightly for enhanced balance and to fend off kicks
4. Turning the shoulder to form a tight and compact defense
5. Tucking the chin in for protection while at the same time lowering the head slightly and narrowing the eyes in order to create an aggressive attitude.
As difficult as it may be to properly relax the body into a well balanced stance during a stressful or dangerous situation it is vitally important. This seems to be a strange recommendation for dealing with a threat response. After all, many other martial arts teach their students to harden themselves at the first sign of trouble and to fight with as strong a body as possible. Hapkido however is best applied with a relaxed mental attitude and with proper utilization of Ki energy, speed and flexibility. As Grandmaster Hackworth once pointed out, no matter how strong one trains to become, and no matter how tall or hard one’s body is, there will always be someone born stronger, bigger or taller. There will always be someone else who started training earlier, trained harder or longer. You can’t fight genetics or the clock.
In other words, when hard body meets hard body straight on, both suffer damage. A proper Hapkido defensive stance should therefore allow one to both absorb the attack without suffering injury, and to rapidly counter. A good stance allows the practitioner to rapidly shift into another stance should it become necessary without loss of time and without making oneself more vulnerable. It is best to remember that Hapkido is at the same time both a hard and a soft martial art and is therefore not limited by mere physical strength. If Hapkido teaches us anything it is that speed, flexibility and quick thinking will always provide the superior weapons.
There are numerous Hapkido stances from which one can either attack or defend. All share similar characteristics. A proper stance must allow for balance, flexibility, speed and strength of attack or counter. The practitioner must understand the fundamentals of stance, since all other techniques flow from a proper base. Blocks, throws, strikes and kicks all depend on the martial artist having a proper stance. Correct body position allows practitioners to perform without fatigue, muscle cramping or loss of balance.
In a proper offense just as in defense it is important to first evade the opponent’s attack by avoiding, blocking, trapping or absorbing the blow or kick. Once the Hapkido practitioner has elected to take the offense with an attack or a counter, the technique, whether it be kick, throw or hand strike, must deliver Ki energy, speed, accuracy, power and focus directly into the target area. Most of the thrust of the attack will project from the legs and hips upward into the point of contact. Simply being off balance will jeopardize the effectiveness of any of these techniques. A proper stance in offense can provide a strong base from which to launch a powerful blow or perhaps create a springboard which will add speed and focus into a fast attack.
Learning the proper Hapkido stances will improve posture, temper our emotions and help control our thoughts. The mind doesn’t like to stay focused on one thing for very long, particularly if that one thing is difficult, painful, or unexciting. Stance training is an ideal way to calm and control the mind. Just like sitting meditation or concentration exercises, stance training correctly positions and stills the body and allows for more astute observations and mental control.
In meditation one tends to sit comfortably and forget about the body. Hapkido stance training is unique in that the body, though still and unmoving, quickly begins sending messages to the brain regarding muscular exertion and pain. With practice and patience this can eventually be overcome, thus bestowing greater confidence and self control.
Perhaps the greatest reason for stance training is to cultivate Ki or inner energy. While holding stances in Hapkido, you don’t need to consciously think about or manipulate your Ki; the process is automatic. Some martial artists believe that you have to control and direct Ki with your mind to make it flow through the body’s many meridians, reservoirs or orbits. While such control can be practiced by high level students to “fine-tune” the Ki flow, for most people this attempt at controlling Ki is both unnecessary and potentially damaging. More attention should be paid to correct posture, proper rooting, releasing the mind and body, and breathing naturally and correctly. If you follow these simple guidelines, an increase in energy and Ki will come naturally and in time will spread throughout your body of its own accord.
From a purely western medical standpoint we know that the leg and thigh muscles comprise the majority of the body’s musculature and make up a greater part of the vascular supply. An increase in utilization of these muscles will in fact burn off more fat and energy than upper body exercise training alone. It will also improve overall circulatory function. An example of this would be the current popularity of stair stepping machines which have been shown to have more benefits than simple flat treadmills.
The same effects can be achieved with correct Hapkido martial arts stance training. If one examines the horse stance for example it quickly becomes obvious that when correctly performed the back is straight, the pelvis is tilted forward, the legs move apart and the knees are bent. This stance aligns the Ki centers of the body, improves the posture of the spine, and strengthens the leg muscles supporting the knees.
Each Hapkido stance has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some stances are maintained by positioning the body into a low and wide base, such as the traditional low front stance. Others are created in a base narrow flexed position, such as the Tiger stance. Some provide strength and power from a side to side direction (such as the lower horse stance), while others offer better balance to counter a frontal attack.
Regardless of the benefits of each individual stance it must be noted no one position will offer a perfect solution for all threats or all directions. It is for this reason that Hapkido training emphasizes the development of strength, balance and Ki energy in an individual position while at the same time teaching the student how to rapidly flow from one position to another. Speed, inner strength, and flexibility must be the hallmarks of any stance training. The benefits will become immediately obvious whether one speaks of defense, offense, mental or physical health.
Whenever proper stance is discussed in the martial arts a reference to the tree and its roots is inevitably mentioned, and perhaps with good reason. Just as the roots must give solid support to the tree trunk, so must a good Hapkido stance allow for a strong base. It is wise to remember the adage however that the tree that doesn’t bend with the wind eventually breaks. The correct Hapkido stance must therefore not only provide strength and rooting, but also allow for flexibility. Hapkido is both hard and soft, just as is the proper stance.