Any new endeavor has to begin at the beginning. The beginning of martial art training is learning how to stand and how to move. Next month we’ll talk about movement. This month: Stances.
Speaking from experience, the best thing a new martial artist can do for themselves is to work hard on their stances. There are four basic stances that I teach to new students:
- Gimah Jaseh (Horse Stance)
- Gong Kyeok Jaseh (Offensive Stance)
- Jeon Gul Jaseh (Long Stance)
- Crane Stance (Hak Jaseh?)
Stance training has several benefits. For beginning students, those are primarily: leg strength, mobility, self-discipline, and balance. Let’s look at each position in detail.
Gimah Jaseh or Horse Riding Stance is a training stance common to most Asian martial arts. Beginners should stand at attention (feet together) and step out with the left foot to about one-and-a-half times their shoulder width. As they drop into the stance, the hands make loose fists and come, palm up, to the sides of the rib cage. Toes should point directly forward, and knees should remain behind the toes. Your goal is to have your femur (bone between the hip and knee) be parallel to the floor. Back should remain erect with the low back relaxed (not hyper extended) and shoulders should not travel forward of the hips.
Gong Kyeok Jaseh and its opposite Bang Eo Jaseh or Offensive and Defensive Stances are starting positions for self-defense techniques, sparring, and other activities in Kuk Sool. The best way to learn Gong Kyeok Jaseh is to make a line on the floor and get into a good Gimah Jaseh with your toes on that line. With your right foot, step forward until half of your foot is past the line. Pivot the left foot on your heel until your toes are 90° from their starting position.
Once your feet are in the right position, your back hand (right in this case) is open, palm down, and in front of your navel with about a fist-width of distance between your abdomen and your thumb. Your left hand is extended in front of you with your hand palm down, fingers closed, at shoulder height and the elbow almost straight. Just reverse the directions for Bang Eo Jaseh.
Jeon Gul Jaseh or Long Stance is very similar to Gong Kyeok Jaseh. The key differences are that the back foot is farther away from the front and the back knee is straight. The distance will depend on your mobility and anatomy. Your front femur should be parallel to the floor and shoulders will be forward of the hips to keep the low back relaxed. To attain the proper depth of the stance, you will need to learn to relax your hips (hip flexors, glutes, adductors, etc.) This position is done on either side.
Crane Stance – I’ve never heard the Korean for Crane Stance, but the Korean word for Crane is Hak, so it might be Hak Jaseh. To practice Crane Stance, stand with your feet together and lift one knee until it is above your belt. The toes on the raised leg should point straight down. The standing knee should be slightly soft (not bent, but not locked either.) Hand position in this stance varies. If your shoulders are tight, practice a Long Block (Gam-A Mak-Gi) with the hand on the same side as the lifted leg in a fist, internally rotated so that the elbow is out, and thumb is roughly in front of the groin, and the opposite hand in a loose fist in front of the nose below the level of the eyes. Elbows should be nearly touching but with as much space between them and your body as you can make. Alternatively, you can block high and low by using an open hand block on either side, hand on the lifted leg side above the eyes with the palm facing out, and the opposite hand, palm down, with the middle finger almost touching the inside of the lifted knee.
A fifth stance that’s not strictly for either self-defense or training is Cha Ryeo or Attention Position. You simply stand with your feet together, hands clasping your belt with index fingers making a triangle under the knot of the belt. When you get into your Attention Position, check your posture from top to bottom, making sure that you are lifting the back of your head, not the front, shoulders are relaxed, hips are level (low back comfortable), knees soft, and feet (heels and toes together).
Remember that the Korean philosophy of Um and Yang applies to stance training like everything else. As a refresher, Um is the soft, dark, female energy and Yang is the hard, bright, male energy. In Western culture, we tend to exhibit more Yang energy and less Um, so don’t be surprised if you need to focus more on that aspect of your training, or if it comes harder to you than the more physical Yang side. Practice your stances so that your body becomes strong and pliable, stable and relaxed, immovable and mobile (um and yang).
Practice your stances until you know the names of them without stopping to think. You also want to be able to measure your stances (by checking visually) and know where they need improvement. Practice moving from stance to stance smoothly and cleanly. Make adjustments when you need to, but make it your goal to hit your stances correctly.
There are other stances that we learn in Kuk Sool Won™, but these are the ones that I focus my White Belts on. They are the easiest to understand but offer some good physical challenges to beginning students.