騎馬立ち (Kiba-dachi – the ‘horse riding stance’) is a centralized stance with 50/50 weight distribution on both legs; furthermore, it works to maintain this centralization of weight in movement. It is most strong to the side and also functions as an exaggerated horizonal transition/step/movement in application. Often kiba-dachi gets compared to shiko-dachi. This is understandable due to them both being centralized; however, they are very different in functionality. Shiko-dachi is superior for making techniques downward. Whereas kiba-dachi is superior for making techniques and movements to the sides. Sure, this is perhaps an oversimplification, but it vividly elucidates their prime strengths in Budo/Bujutsu.
Kiba-dachi is less natural than shiko-dachi largely due to the direction of the feet in relation to the knees; furthermore, this effect on the posture of the pelvis. Nevertheless, the direction of the feet is very important. Whilst shiko-dachi is a stance/position for application just as kiba-dachi is, kiba-dachi is representative of something more: an attack with sokuto (the sword foot, which comprises of the outside edges of the feet. This application is obvious when we consider sokuto gedan yoko-kekomi/kansetsu-geri in the various kata and, even more obviously, fumikomi.
This is not to say kiba-dachi is a better stance than shiko-dachi, no stance is better than another (except in a given circumstance). This is why we have it in Shotokan, but not within the 'standard kata'.
Before I move on. Try dropping otoshi enpi-uchi onto an opponent or punching a ‘downed opponent’ after a sweep, takedown or throw. Which is better shiko-dachi or kiba-dachi? Certainly, in this case, us Shotokan practitioners tend to use fudo-dachi, but that is not the point here. Now try side stepping in jiyu-kumite, which of the two is better? The answer, for the first, is of course shiko-dachi; and, for the second, clearly kiba-dachi.
Lastly, I need to mention Naifanchi-dachi. Obviously in the case of our Tekki kata, which originally come from Naifanchi, one could say that kiba-dachi is not necessary. In many ways, I have no complaints towards this standpoint: if one is not a Shotokan practitioner (or does not train in a style that has Shotokan influences). That being said, by practicing kiba-dachi “…one’s naifanchi-dachi will be better, but, interestingly, not vice-versa”. Unfortunately, this does not completely apply to shiko-dachi, which requires distinctively different training.
To wrap up I’d like to provide seven brief comments on kiba-dachi, which I hope will be of use to you in your training…
FIRSTLY, pushing the knees outward. Yes, this is important, but if the knees go too far out one will: (a) distort the stance and make it unnatural for movement; (b) unless quite flexible ‘lose sokuto’; and (c) put the knees under unnecessary pressure—'potential injury in the long-term’.
SECONDLY, according to Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei, kiba-dachi is the main stance of the ‘Big three’ in standard Shotokan-Ryu: which comprises of kiba itself, kokutsu-dachi and zenkutsu-dachi. Indeed, this also includes fudo-dachi, zenkutsu and hiza-kutsu also. This also highlights why Asai Sensei placed such high importance on nekoashi-dachi.
THIRDLY, heiko-dachi and uchi-hachihiji-dachi also have special relevance in the training of kiba-dachi and natural application.
FOURTHLY, shomen and hanmi must be properly applied in kiba-dachi just like other stances. This means maintaining the stance whilst using ground power and using the correct axis points based on the technique being applied.
FIFTHLY, when moving in kiba-dachi the coordination of the foot, ankle, hip and technique is optimal. For example, when advancing with the three teisho-waza in Jion the lead foot/ankle/hip must remain facing shomen until the very last moment. Likewise, when turning/spinning, for attack, the power is not only rotational but also ‘forward’.
SIXTHLY, the ‘standard’ basic of kiba-dachi is to have the pelvis slightly tucked for the perfect alignment of the hips, back and head/neck. Nonetheless, one must also be able to fully apply—outside of the ‘standard form’ allowing the pelvis to be tilted rearward; thus, tilting the upper body forward. This position is quicker for maneuverability (footwork, ducking and slipping) and provides a bow like position when driving the hips forward into shomen. In this regard I would like to again reference Asai Sensei’s teaching here.
SEVENTHLY, like all other things in Budo/Bujutsu, don’t worry what you can or can’t do based on your physical limitations—WE ALL HAVE THEM! Also, changes with aging. Also injuries! With kiba-dachi and all other karate ‘waza’ GO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE GOT!!! This is ‘the best for you’ and just as good as anyone else. Always remember “…In Budo/Bujutsu Karate we train for effectiveness, and the beauty of karate is seen in this, rather than superficial form or modern trends”.
EIGHTHLY, and lastly, 鉄騎 (Tekki) and 騎馬拳 (Kibaken) help us to ‘specifically refine’ our kiba-dachi and, in doing so, perfect our balance and centralization. Only by coming to the center can one fully harness their power via the seika-tanden. To conclude, kiba-dachi is an unparalleled ‘kihonwaza’ in regard to this foundational aspect of Karate-Do (and, certainly, Karate-Jutsu as well).
To conclude, in Shotokan KIBA-DACHI is our main 'centralized stance'; that being said, we also use Shiko-dachi when appropriate. Neither is superior, rather, they just serve different purposes. The 'seika-tanden' kata of many other styles is Sanchin, so sanchin-dachi is central for them. For Shotokan, the seika-tanden kata is Tekki (and for IKS: Kihoken, Tekki and Kibaken); hence, kiba-dachi is imperative for us. I hope that this article finds you well and moving forward in your training. Greetings from Kyushu, Japan.
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).