Balance is so important in life
We hear this all the time. There are quotes by many famous people that illustrate this concept. Here are just a few examples:
The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.Euripides
Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward.Maxwell Maltz
It was all balance. But then, she already knew that from surfing.Eve Babitz
Balance is something we should all strive for in all aspects of our life. Mental balance, physical balance, work-life balance, and the balance between whom we wish to be and who we need to be.
Balance is also vital to success in Karate
An old friend of mine, Charlie Taylor, used to repeatedly say to me, “it’s all about standing on stakes.”
Charlie was an excellent martial artist. He had studied some Vietnamese martial art he called Nguyen-Ryu, and he also knew several of the Isshin-ryu katas. I was teaching him our version of the Wansu kata at one time.
Charlie did have a great understanding of technique, balance, and body mechanics. Moreover, he had an understanding I have seen in very few modern karate practitioners. A notable exception to that would be my late Sensei, Sherman Harrill, and several of his students I am privileged to call friends.
Anyone who has studied karate seriously for any length of time should understand the role balance and body mechanics play in executing proper, well-focused techniques.
Just a quick word on stances
Unfortunately, too many karate practitioners today do not understand stances. Far too often, you hear comments like, “I like to fight from a cat-stance” or “I like to fight from a horse-stance.” You have to understand that the transition into the stance makes karate techniques work. You don’t fight from a stance. You transition into the “stance” as you execute the technique.
The story is the same for ballroom dancing
Although I have understood this for some time, its importance was really nailed down to me when I spent some time learning to ballroom dance. All the stances in karate can be found in ballroom dancing. Why is that, you may ask. It is because, like karate, ballroom dancing relies on balance and body mechanics. The dance comes out in the steady transitioning between the stances.
The best structures are built on a solid foundation
How do we start to build this solid foundation? One answer, and the method I use, is to have new students practice “standing on stakes.”
Standing on stakes
To begin practicing “standing on stakes,” stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your weight evenly distributed on the balls of both feet.
Your heels should be lightly touching the floor, but with the feeling that you could slide a sheet of paper between your heel and the floor if you wanted to.
Unlock your knees and straighten your lower back by tucking your pelvis forward.
Your weight should feel under-sided, meaning that you should feel like your body mass is hanging from the framework of your skeleton.
Breathe! Breathe in through your nose, into your diaphragm, and out through your mouth.
Hold this position as long as you can … a minute … a few minutes … 5 minutes … 10 minutes … 20 minutes.
This exercise will strengthen your base and the core muscles important to balance, movement, and properly utilize your stances.
When this way of standing feels natural and comfortable to you, it should be applied to your practice of crescent steps and carried through into your kata.
Over time, standing on stakes will greatly improve your balance
It does not take too long to see results if you practice a little every day. Long term, the benefits to balance, both in karate and life, are pretty astounding.