The notion of stances in karate has always intrigued me.
The shape of these distinct postures are what most people tend to hold in their mind when they think about karate, with their very silhouette becoming a feature on logos, club badges, websites and advertisements all over the world. However from a practical standpoint, nothing could be more problematic than losing the ability to move freely and becoming consistently malleable to the situation at hand.
Thus, the stark difference between the inherent staccato rhythm of classical kata performance and the vital requirement of total fluidity for their combative application is for me thought-provoking. What is it about the synergy of these two contrasting qualities that when combined together, provides us (the karate-ka) with greater value than the sum of its parts?
The human body may expresses itself according to two states - either static shape or dynamic movement - and most qualities can be represented by both. The expression of physical strength and power for instance may be portrayed through the static shape of a magnificent stone statue or through the dynamic performance of an Olympic weight-lifter.
Indeed, our posture, body language and gait speaks silent volumes to those who look toward you and from a personal safety perspective cold make all the difference as to whether or not a potential attacker may strike. Simply put, how we stand (posture) and how we move (transition) are both vital to expressing our body. In karate, we tend to make use of the terms dachi (stance) and tenshin (body movement) to represent these two physical states.
Dachi may be thought of as the static 'snapshots' of potential combative function. On their own they are practically useless, but when considered as way-points along a dynamic plane of movement, their usefulness (and reason why they are so emphasised in karate) become much more apparent. So in this respect, dachi do not tell you what's occurring at that particular point in time, but more so, what has already occurred. Furthermore, we must also consider that dachi are made with every part of the body, not just the legs. Everything combines to tell us the the combative story from a mere moment ago.
The dynamic nature of stances is in some ways, a matter of perspective and it depends entirely on what your reference happens to be. For example, assuming cat stance from a high natural position such as at the beginning of Pinangata cause a transitional transfer of body weight downward and back towards the rear leg. However, that same cat stance (shape) used when stepping forward such as in Chinto Kata or the like creates an entirely different combative potential. In addition, we also have to consider what the shape of stance allows for. In the case of cat stance for instance, the front leg is free to kick without any transfer of body weight. This may also be a clue to help determine its practical use.
The quality of the physical transition may in some ways be confirmed by the accuracy of the stance. But if you are looking for the meaning of a particular stance in kata, then I would recommend you take your attention away from that static representation and lean more towards the transition of movement immediately before and after. The movement beforehand helps determine the potential you've just created. The movement afterwards helps determine the potential you're about to create. Addressing both will help you understand how that particular stance works within the fluid shifting of energy within the form.
The above is important simply because in reality, dropping into numerous stances staccato fashion like we do in kata when performed junjo (by count) is not how we would act in application at all. The body needs to constantly move and specifically, the body weight needs to constantly shift according to the developing situation being presented. So one one hand we can say that in reality, NO stances are used. But on the other hand we can also say that ALL stances are used. We are no sooner into them than we're out of them again. Of course, we may bed down at times for a short period of stability, but for the most part, stances in application are fluid, transitional and the body weight is constantly in motion.
The relationship between the various dachi in karate, how they are constructed, their distinct shape coupled with the way in which the body (weight) is transitioned between them, provides the dynamic chassis from which we perform and subsequently apply kata. And whereas performing junjo (by count) may shows us the 'dots' to aim for, it is the smooth connection of these dots with that injects life and potential. Therefore, how we achieve this seamless interconnection should become a serious subject of study for those karate-ka wishing to delve below the superficial of kata.