I think this stance is one recognised easily by Kung Fu and Karate practitioners alike.
It is the mother of all stances. When you want to teach someone proper posture for Chinese, Japanese or Okinawan martial arts (okay- Korean martial arts as well), the Horse Stance is an excellent place to start.
In sparring context both Karate and Kungfu uses the stance facing forward for stationary practice. Punches and strikes are practiced while the legs get a workout and the student starts to develop the rooting necessary for effective technique.
Once Horse Stance is mastered other stances follow with very little difficulty as the relaxed shoulders, low centre of gravity and upright back are things essential to all other basic stances that follow. It is true that one starts learning ducking and leaning at an advanced stage, but that would be useless without the foundation laid by basic stance training.
Ask a Karate master the value of Kiba Dachi-or Horse Stance- in Karate and the answer you would get shall involve the hara, which in Japanese can mean "stomach", but in martial arts it refers to the centre of gravity. Martial artists agree that this centre is in the abdominal region of the martial artist's body. Proper placement of the hara is essential for having speed, power and balance when executing martial arts techniques. This is especially true for Karate.
In Chinese Horse Stance is known as Ma Bu- which translates to "Horse Stance" or "Horse Step". The latter translation seems to be a reminder that a stance is not a fixed position to maintain in a fight, but merely one of the many steps that you take in fighting.
When used in stationery practice the aim is to teach a student to lower his qi. This in essence has the effect that effort is concentrated within the hara, to which the Chinese refer as the dantian. While we might not all agree on the process, all can experience the effect of having strong firm legs while the head and neck are calm and relaxed while the shoulders are light and "floating" (if we say "relaxed" we may find people pushing their shoulders so far down that they actually hunch over and develop bad posture. That was never the idea. You just want to remove tension and rigidity, not really having them hanging to the ground!).
Students of some of the more Okinawan based styles of Karate will tell you, however, that they do not use the Horse Stance- or Kiba Dachi, but that they have the Square Stance, also known as Shiko Dachi.
Now- Horse Stance comes from Shaolin.
Where does Shiko Dachi come from?
I have said earlier that the assimilation of Kung Fu techniques into the Ryukyu Te-systems was not due to these fighting systems lacking any techniques to make them complete. Believe me- every civilisation found its own ways to fight and the Okinawans were no exception. Long before the Chinese showed up they knew how to punch, kick and wrestle.In fact- Okinawa has its own version of Sumo as well.
Being very similar in language and ethnicity the Okinawans had some similarities with the Japanese in their fighting methods. Because wrestling/grappling was one of the corner aspects of Japanese unarmed combat, the Square Stance played a central part in the learning of these arts. Sumo, after all, was the precursor of Jujutsu which would in turn give rise to Judo...
This is why, when we look at Okinawan styles like Goju and Shito Ryu- which we expect to have more Chinese elements than Shotokan- we find that they do not even bother with Kiba Dachi. They have Shiko Dachi and are quite content with it.
Some very knowledgeable Karate Nerds, thanks to awesome sources of Karate knowledge like Sensei Jesse, will tell you, however, that Shotokan DID in fact have Shiko Dachi in its early years under its founder Gichin Funakoshi.
It was only under the stewardship of his son, Ken, that Kiba Dachi got adopted into the style to replace Shiko Dachi.
The obvious difference between Shiko and Kiba Dachi is the way the feet are facing. Ever wondered about the significance thereof? (Quiet, Taiji people! I want to give the Karate people a chance to guess!)
Well- I take things like this as examples of a nation's anthropological traits that get developed. In Asians I find it the most interesting. In Japanese martial arts, standing with the feet facing apart like this means that the fighter is relaxed. Alert, yes- but relaxed. This is the posture in which he stands when nothing serious has happened yet. Not even the abs are tightened. Well- if you bear in mind that in Japanese martial arts history the assailant was most likely to use a katana, then you can agree with me that tightening your abs won't do much good against that...
Now- in Chinese martial arts, standing like that allows for a lot of energy (for the physicists out there I shall say "potential energy" so that no one gets any Dragonball Z ideas...) to get lost. Standng with the feet facing forward and presing outward on their outer edges build up tension that makes the fighter sturdy and immovable, but also gathers potential energy which can be released when the fighter has to move suddenly. It is interesting to note that styles of Karate that stand in yoi (ready posture) with their feet facing forward do not regard this stance as mere neutral standing, but regard their yoi as a kamae or fighting stance. The abs are tightened, hips push forward and the knees press outward. This yoi is in fact a high Kiba Dachi.
So- an over generalised expression would be: Feet facing away from each other = Hakuna Mitata
Feet facing forward = Serious Business
That's it for this post.
During this week I realised that I have forgotten to mention a very significant move. With this post being the second last I shall save this particular move for the last post next week. It is called "Twin Dragons Shoot out Pearl".
Until next time!