Thursday, 21 October 2021


By request from one of my deshi I was asked to write an article on stationary zenkutsu-dachi. I thought that I'd keep it really simple and highlight the most basic points in the most simplistic manner possible. Overall, I hope that this is useful for everyone, even my seniors here in Japan who conversely want to convey their teachings into English for the next generation. One of the good points of having English as my mother language and Japanese, is that besides training itself, I can get lots of information then translate that, when I teach.

Basic zenkutsu-dachi in a transitional period after shomen.

   So here we go! BASIC ZENKUTSU-DACHI

(1.0) Formation of zenkutsu dachi (shomen) 

The usual width of the stance is that of the hip joints, to be specific, the inside edges of both feet are the same with as the outside edges of the hips.

The length is dependent upon, and dictated by the flexibility of the ankles and hips. These dictating factors are firstly that rear foot can point more to the front than the side. Ideally this is about a 30 degree angle, but no more than the less ideal 45 degree; furthermore, that the outside edge of the foot can be made completely flat. Secondly, that a perfectly aligned shomen (frontal/forward facing) position can be achieved. This also includes pelvic, back and head/neck alignment. Thirdly, the straight expansion of the rear leg and ‘rolling over of its respective thigh’ with harmony of the knee, upper leg and corresponding hip joint. Keep in mind not only the frontal alignment of shomen but also the lateral alignment; that is, tilting the upper body to either side.

 The front foot is pointing approximately one toe-width inwards. To be more specific, the outside edge of the foot is facing directly forward as opposed to the toes. The knee head of the front leg is usually directly above the tips of the front foots toes; furthermore, the front knee must not be allowed to collapse inward nor be pushed outward unnaturally. Accordingly, there is a very subtle inward squeeze so the outside of the front knee and corresponding thigh are in perfect alignment. This methodology makes a strong connection between the thighs of both legs which feels like the formation of metaphorical triangle. Like the rear feet, the front foot is completely flat on the floor


(1.1) Rotating into zenkutsu dachi (hanmi)

Once the zenkutsu-dachi shomen position is acquired one is equipped to utilize koshi no kaiten (hip rotation) to transfer into hanmi or the ‘half-facing’ position. Whilst this position is not as strong as shomen it is elusive for defense and allows for a strong counter rotation.

To make hanmi, push from the heel of the lead foot and rotate the hips diagonally towards the rear leg. The degree of the rotation is variable but typically ranges between 45 and 90 degrees. More subtle turns of the hips are also utilized. The key points in this rotation are as follows: firstly, keep the front knee and leg as set as possible—no pulling back or wobbling sideways, likewise keep the head set and facing directly forward; secondly, when rotating into hanmi the axis of rotation should be the rear shoulder and rear hip—imagine a pole from pointing perfectly straight down through these joints; thirdly, keep the hips perfectly level at all times; fourthly, required to achieve the previous point, without any changes below the rear knee, slightly contract the rear leg by bending and rolling it outwards. Without this point the waist bio-mechanically cannot be kept on a perfectly level plans, moreover, the imperative drive of the rear leg cannot be fully applied in the counter rotation; fifthly, be conscientious about the contraction of the rear legs gluteus-maximus muscle. To clarify this, it should be slightly contracted/tilted under and a little lowered, but not enough to make any change in height whatsoever.

It is important to conclude that when utilizing this action, with lead arm techniques, use the hips/waist as coordinated unit to hurl the limb.

(1.2) Counter rotation from zenkutsu-dachi (hanmi) into zenkutsu-dachi (shomen)

To counter rotate from hanmi to shomen in zenkutsu-dachi, in contrast shomen to hanmi one must use kakato-chushin driving with the rear heel to expand (stretch/straighten) the rear and roll it inward and downward. This is, of course, subtle tai no shinshuku (the contraction/compression and expansion/stretching of the body). Again, the front leg should be made as still as possible, in particular, the front knee must not be pulled back. This elucidates the meaning of zenkutsu-dachi, which translates as the ‘forward leaning stance’; nonetheless, carefully insure this forward leaning does not involve any forward bending of the upper body, which must remain perfectly upright irrespective of the rotational action.

Expanding on the rotational action be sure to not only turn the hips but also drive them towards the target. That is, drive from the rear heel, thrust of the back, rotating then forward thrusting of the hips. This is the first variation of this action—one line from the ground up. The second way is start at the center to establish a line of power via two lines starting from the center; that is, the power is sent in two directions. In this case, the rear leg is thrusted from the top down to the corresponding heel and coordinated with respective waza. Put another way, the first methodology is pushing with the rear kakato and sokuto; whereas, the second method is pushing the kakato and sokuto into the floor/ground.


(1.3) How to make zenkutsu-dachi (gyaku-hanmi)

Whether in zenkutsu shomen or hanmi to make gyaku-hanmi (the reverse half-facing position) is same with the exception of the scale of rotation. From shomen this rotation with naturally be less. Also, irrespective of the preceding position, unlike hanmi, the rear leg position must be like that of shomen; that is, straightened to propel the hip of the rear forward and beyond the position of shomen. The stance here is very important to highlight, as while it is a form of zenkutsu-dachi it is in fact simply called (migi/hidari) ‘zenkutsu’ or by Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei and the older generation of instructors here in Japan (migi/hidari) ‘shokutsu-dachi’. Irrespective of the respective term used, this variation of zenkutsu-dachi is shorter and narrower than the regular version. The length of this position is dependent on hip flexibility, the main point being the maximum extension forward of the rear legs hip. The width has the rear legs heel in line with the inside edge of the front foot; nonetheless, a fist width wider than this is also accepted as correct form. Keep in mind when attacking with this position aim is to get as much hip power into the technique as possible; whilst, when defending the application is avoid the respective attack as much as possible. In either case this action uses the hips to the limit. It is also worth noting that many Japanese masters teach that knee can pass the tips of toes in this stance.

When making ‘techniques in a different direction from zenkutsu’ this variation is termed as ‘(migi/hidari) ashi-kutsu’. A quick an easy example of this to avoid a long explanation is movement 11 of Heian Yondan Kata and all the rearward gedan-barai in Enpi.

(1.4) Movement in zenkutsu-dachi

Obviously I could on and about this subject, however, I want to keep it simple today and focus on what is critically important. With that in mind "...Irrespective of the movement, the aim is to “…optimally move the center for attack—to use maximum mass in one’s attack"; also, to move the center for optimal defense." The relationship between kakato (the heels) and tsumasaki (toes)—in Shotokan—plays a very important part in kihon. In fact, this is a very central point, in the karate I’ve inherited, and to be frank is 'a very deep well’.

From this point we can readily see the famous maxim: ‘attack with your stance and defend with your stance’. Moreover, this highlights that the stances in karate, in application, are not static positions but, rather, active and transitional; that is, pragmatic/functional.


One point I need to reiterate is the use of the kakato (heels) and tsumasaki (toes), which in my coaching/teaching I have dubbed ‘The kakato—tsumasaki relationship’. Depending on the waza, and its application, the heels and toes are used optimally. This optimization, in budo karate, is not merely for good form or demonstration; rather, the objective is optimal effectiveness in actual self-defense. Zenkutsu-dachi is powerful attack as it allows one to fully apply their mass into a target; hence, its high emphasis not only in Shotokan but the majority of other kaiha and ryuha as well. My biggest advice here is not only make it a position or a movement; instead, make it ADAPTABLE in accordance with spontaneity in relation to the situation at hand. This, of course is not only for zenkutsu-dachi, but for ALL EFFECTIVE KARATE.

 押忍 – AB.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

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