Martial Art Stances

How to Stand like a Ninja

Horse Stance Application by Sensei Rick Tew Martial Arts and Adventure Camp Thailand

Stances, are important in learning any new martial art style or practicing the art of the Ninja. They are essential and begin to offer a foundation for your training. How to stand, move, and fall are important tools for any martial arts beginner.

Stances are your first step towards mastering the beginning physical levels of the Martial Science and Ninjitsu. Too often students rush through the early skills only to end up with a sloppy and less focused development.

Just because you can stand in a particular position in less than an hour, does not mean that you have learned the stance. Learning requires many hours of practice until that skill becomes a part of you. As time passes and your lessons increase, your skills will improve.

Another important concept to keep in mind is that you are also going to be growing mentally. Just because you are learning to maneuver the body, doesn’t mean you won’t be developing the mind. Concentration, technique and discipline are just a few of the skills you will enhance through your training.

Building a strong base
In order to build a solid structure in the Martial Science and for your Ninja Training, you need something to start with. It is important that you develop the habit of beginning each training session with a review of your stances. This can be done right after your warm up stretch.

Even though you will learn most of your techniques on one side of the body or the other, it is important to increase your skill at being ambidextrous. This means, don’t over train one side on any particular technique. This is an easy mistake to get into, since we usually favor the right or left side. Break this habit early on and be sure to practice your stances by reversing the feet.

Along with training both sides of the body, you want to add variety to your Ninja training. Nothing hinders development more than a boring routine. So when you train, have fun and be flexible with your approach.

Try changing the terrain – practice on grass, sand, dirt and when you advance – cement. Also, add some spice to your training by practicing at different locations. Train at the beach, in the mountains, at a park, in front of a river or deep in the woods. Try to get as much variety with environment and terrain as possible. These classes will be great memories and offer more than the traditional, (on the mat in a box) approach.

This isn’t something that most martial artists think about, but it is a key factor in the development of a Total Warrior. With most training, techniques are taught in a linear, forward and back concept. For example: you roll forward and you roll backward. Changing the angle is simply the concept of changing directions. Instead of doing all your stances facing one direction, try twisting and turning. This is more realistic to how you move in real life. Also, try some techniques with a partner and see if you can develop some new training ideas.

Many ninja students find stances boring and repetitious or perhaps even too basic. It is true that they are basic, but this is why they are so important. Basics supply us with a foundation to stand on. Stances, are often overlooked as minor principles. Yet it is the utilization of these simple principles that allows us to perform complex procedures. As I like to say: “You have to go to Simple-City to get the key for Complex-City.”

The Stances
In the Martial Science, we use a set of ten stances to teach an overall concept of good fighting positions. The first of these is the horse stance. It simulates the position you form when riding a horse. Many stances were developed from the movements and attitude of animals. This is especially true in the Chinese martial arts. This is also how we first began to develop many of our strikes and kicks. Maybe you have heard of snake, monkey, dragon, crane or tiger strikes, stances or movements. But what exactly is the purpose of a stance?

It is important to know the best stance to take during a situation that requires self-protection or self-growth. If you want to be mobile and quick, it is important to get into a fighting stance where you will be light on your feet. If you want to have stability, then it is wise to use the combat stance. The situation will determine the stance.

Stances and States of Mind
Every stance is an attitude. If you want to have a specific feeling, you change your stance. Remember, stances are nothing more than physiological changes. Change your physiology and you change your mental attitude along with it. Thus, we can use stances to determine our states. What state of mind do you want? We all know that when someone is depressed, they change their physiology to match their emotional outlook. The same rule applies when someone is happy and enthusiastic. Have you ever seen a joyous motivated person with their head down, shoulders slumped and a barely audible mumble of, “I can do it?” It is totally incongruent and impossible to succeed in this way.

Our mind and body are linked; if you change one, you will change the other.
This is how we use our stances. If we want a feeling of power, then we stand in a power stance. It is much faster to change your physiology than to meditate over your emotions, especially in a combat situation. Can you imagine asking your opponent to wait a minute while you mentally prepare for the situation? It is much faster to simply drop into the correct stance and use it like an anchor. When you drop into a power stance and yell (kiai) while you’re breaking a piece of wood and you do this over and over, whenever you drop into the power stance, that mental attitude of breaking through is going to be triggered. This way you don’t have to think about it. It is an automatic reaction.

Once we know this, we can begin to build our physiological arsenal. By having ten different stances, each with a given attitude and purpose, you will have enough postures to adapt to almost any situation.

The Elements
The four most popular stances are those that relate to the elements. These stances are important because they teach us the basic reactions with a variety of attitudes. The mental strategy and states concerning the four elements are:

Earth Strength and Control Neutral Combat
Water Adaptability and Flow Defensive Defensive
Fire Aggression and Speed Offensive Fighting
Wind Compassion and Sensitivity Passive Open

Each stance provides us with a different attitude. This is important in communication as well as in self-defense. Most people fit into one of the elements at any given moment in time. If you wish to build rapport, then it is wise to adapt the same or similar element in use. If you want to compare this with the three modalities: site, sound and feeling then:

Fire would be the visual.

Water would be the auditory.

Wind would most likely be the kinesthetic person.

It is best to use these elemental states when the person in question is in that particular element, “in his element,” so to speak. If someone is reaching out for someone to listen, then it is wise to adapt the element of wind. If someone is screaming and shouting, then you can adapt the element of fire. If someone is being stubborn, you can adapt the element of earth. If someone is leashing out for self-protection, then you can adapt the element of water.

Once you have entered into the same element as another person, it is possible for you to lead them into another element. First you pace, then you lead. Remember that people will respect you when you enter their element. If you try to motivate a person in the earth element with an attitude of fire, they may get upset with you. You first must have rapport and one of the easiest ways to do this is to get into that person’s element.

In combat, this might be a little different. Most likely you will need to adapt the physiology of fire if you have no time to negotiate. If you see an upcoming attack following a verbal assault, it would be wise to use this verbal moment for getting into that person’s element. In kickboxing, a fighter can quickly change from one element to the next to keep his opponent from being able to adapt and learn his strategy. This is fighting from the void or all of the elements.

These elements are also used when determining a proper attitude for self-defense techniques. If you are facing a dangerous opponent, then
you would use a fire technique to stop your attacker. However, if this person was simply drunk and not quite aware of the mistakes he was making, you might use a wind element to evade his assault and leave him out of harms way. The element you choose depends on the level of intensity and the type of situation at hand. As you can see, there are many variations and applications for the stances in combat and in life.

In the Martial Science, stances are very important. Different postures are associated with different mind sets or feelings. The same is true in our life.

Next is the elemental age.
When we are children, we start off with lots of energy and we can be very aggressive. This is the fire stage. We then get a little older and begin to learn a little about life. We take some risks, but we also pull back. This is the water stage. When we become adults, we often become reserved, take fewer risks, and attempt to stabilize our lifestyle. This is the earth stage. As we become grandparents and senior citizens, we begin to be more sensitive to our surroundings, we tend to care and listen more. This is the wind stage. Of course we all have moments where we pass through different elements. But overall, there can be some logical classifications. Using this information, which element should one be in when speaking to the kids? Which type of element should one adapt when speaking to the elderly?

When you practice your stances, you start off in one and then adapt from that position into the next. It should be a smooth transition. The goal is to be able to go from one stance to the another with fluidity. When you can do this, you become more flexible with your surroundings and when change is necessary, it doesn’t take you off guard and knock you to the ground. You simply adapt and go with the flow.

Make sure that when you go from stance to stance, you are also practicing your mental attitude and state of mind. By doing this, you will anchor (mentally program) that response to the change in physiology.  This is called “Mind Control.”

The Kiai
During some of the stances, we also practice a loud shout or yell. This yell comes from the lower area of the belly or hara. We usually practice this shout directly after horse ready stance. This gives the instructor a chance to see if you are performing it correctly.

Understanding the Stances
As you now learned, there are 10 basic stances. We teach these ten to offer a well rounded approach to learning body postures. Now that you are familiar with some of the stances, let’s talk a little about classification. Not every stance is the same and each has their own application. We can pretty much break up a stance into one of four categories: Offensive, Defensive, Training and Technique.

(stances that are combat and attack oriented)

(postures used for defensive purposes)

(positions that assist in developing balance, strength and control)
Horse / Elephant
Kick knee


(body skills that are used for non combative purposes)

Classical / low

Although Ground, Crane, Elephant and Kick Knee are not one of the primary 10, we do teach these and a wide variety of other stances. Many of the stances can be used in more than one category – yet each has a primary classification.

Applications and Response Theory
Another thing you will need to know about stances, is how they are used as reactions or responses. In many cases, this will also break the stances into another two parts:

Stationary and Mobile
When most of us think of a stance, we think of standing still in a certain posture, like that of a statue. In the Martial Science, the movement to and from a stance is just as important as the stance itself, if not more so. We can better understand the movements involved when we talk about the applications of each stance specifically – so refer to the individual stance lessons for details.

Horse Stance by Sensei Rick Tew

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