“What is the best fighting stance?” is a common question that karate practitioners and other martial artists have. In this article, we cover the characteristics of a good fighting stance, what fighting stance you should adopt in street fights vs competition bouts, and why a good fighting stance is more than just physical form.

What Are the Characteristics of a Good Fighting Stance?

The best fighting stance in general is the one that allows for quick and efficient movements, provides stability, offers good protection of vital areas, supports power generation, and facilitates the execution of both defensive and offensive techniques.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what the best fighting stance is because different fighters with different body types, strengths and weaknesses, and technique preferences may find different “best” stances.

One can find one’s own best stance by looking at the common characteristics of a good fighting stance below:

  • Feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your feet too wide will hinder your movement while keeping your feet too narrow will adversely affect your balance
  • The body should be bladed sideways or at an approximately 45-degree angle. In this position, the opponent will have a smaller target area and you can better protect the vital area from attacks
  • The dominant side should be at the back of the stance, for example, if you are right-handed, you should have your left shoulder and left foot forward
  • The knees should bend slightly which will allow fluidity of movements and help you to get in and get out more quickly. This also protects your knees somewhat from knee strikes that will disable you instantaneously
  • Weight should be on the balls of your feet and roughly evenly distributed. This allows you to move around and launch strikes a lot quicker than when you are flat-footed
  • Your hands should be somewhere between the cheeks and the chest area to protect the most vital body parts. The lead hand should be a few inches in front of your head and the back hand should cover the chest area
  • Keep your eyes on the opponent and make use of your peripheral vision to keep track of the opponent’s overall movements
  • Elbows should be kept close to the body, this will provide extra protection and improve power generation for hand strikes
  • Chin should be tucked in to protect against uppercuts and attacks to the throat
  • Keep your mouth closed, a hit to an open mouth can cause a lot of damage instantaneously
  • Keep your shoulders down and your back straight
  • Keep the whole body relaxed as much as possible.

The above are considered characteristics of a good fighting stance because they reflect a very natural human position that requires minimum effort to maintain but allows the body to move freely and effortlessly.

Fighting Stance in Competition Bouts

Unsurprisingly, in competition matches (e.g. sport karate competitions or UFC events, see video links below), competitors generally adopt more or less the same fighting stance as described above because this fighting stance provides balance, minimizes the risk of getting hit, and supports mobility and power generation.

This natural stance is a good starting posture and a good base to return to. However, fighting stances are not static. In a fight, you will find yourself momentarily in different stances (e.g. zenkutsu dachi, han-zenkutsu dachi, shiko dachi, etc.) depending on the situation and the techniques being deployed. It is the fighting situations, the opponent, and the techniques being deployed that dictate the appropriate stances and not the other way around.

Gold medal bout between Rafael Aghayev of Azerbaijan and Omar Abdel Rahman of Egypt (Male Kumite, 75kg) at the 2016 World Karate Championships.
Michael Bisping vs George St Pierre (UFC 217) on November 4, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Lyoto Machida vs. Rafael Carvalho (Bellator 213)

Fighting Stance in Street Fights

If you find yourself on the street having to rely on brute force as the last resort to defend yourself, it may not always be the best thing to do to assume your preferred fighting stance in the dojo for this could work for you but it could also work against you.

If you have your hands in guard position as described above, this will signal to the attacker that you know a thing or two about self-defense or martial arts. This is a threatening pose and if the attacker is sensible, he or she may back off rather than venturing into the unknown and taking a chance with you. But if the attacker is foolish, has a big ego, or is an experienced street fighter who is out looking for the next victim, you will put him or her on alert and lose your surprise advantage.

Chōjun Miyagi (1888-1953), the founder of Goju Ryu, changed the kamae at the beginning of all kata in the Goju ryu curriculum for this reason.

After a lot of research, Chojun Miyagi decided to change the ready position at the beginning of all Goju Ryu kata from having the arms at the side and the hands balled up tightly into fists to having the left hand crossed over the right hand covering the groin area. Chojun Miyagi believed that this is a non-threatening posture but still allows you to respond immediately to attacks if you have been practicing your kata diligently.

It is up to you to judge the situation and decide what stance you should assume in a street fight situation. Personally, I wouldn’t want to put my hands up in a ready position when facing an attacker on the street. The less they know about me, the better it is for me and I believe the element of surprise is very valuable in those circumstances. If they underestimate me and let their guard down, I would have a better chance of landing a decisive punch before them in the temple, on the nose, or in the throat and then running as fast as I can.

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak”

Sun Tzu

George St-Pierre, widely regarded as the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts history, said that in a tense street encounter that has the potential to break out into a fight, he’d have one hand up touching the chin and the other crossing the chest and never show his center line. This posture looks casual and non-threatening but allows him to protect the vital area as well as react quickly if he comes under attack.

Fighting Stance: Beyond Physical Form

While the physical posture is important, I think it is probably overrated and what is even more important than the outer physical form is your state of mind.

The best fighting posture is of little use if your mind is not fully present but cluttered and filled with anger, tension, hubris, hate, fear, or other similar emotions. In this state, you cannot focus fully on the situation at hand and react instantaneously to your opponent’s moves.

For example, if your mind is busy judging the opponent’s capability, guessing about the opponent’s first move, or planning what techniques you should use, there will be a momentary lapse of concentration which will affect your ability to respond timely to the opponent’s advance.

On the other hand, if you have been training diligently on not just the outer form but also how to silence your inner voice and let go of your emotions, your body can respond instinctively without thought or planning.

When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, regardless of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes

Zen master Takuan Sōhō

Achieving this state of mind in combat (called mushin no shin or “mind without mind”) is much more difficult than mastering the physical form of fighting stance. However, there are many opportunities in and out of karate training that you can use to develop mushin. Meditation is one common way to empty your mind but you can consciously do so with kihon training, kata practice, and partner sparring as well as through daily activities like driving, cooking, fishing, walking, or gardening.

Always focus on your task at hand, no matter how mundane it is, and let go of your worries, thoughts, and emotions. This is simply living in the present and it is also how we should all try to live our lives. If you manage to achieve this, you can do the same when you face an opponent on the mat or on the street.


When you perform a karate technique, it is not just about where your hands and feet are and whether your elbow is tucked in or which way your head turns, but it is also about whether you feel the connection between your center and your limbs, whether a kinetic chain is established and whether energy is being transmitted efficiently. It is more about how you feel internally than how the outer physical form looks.

Similarly, a fighting stance is more than about where you place your hands and your feet, it is also about whether you are fully present and whether your mind is at peace. Mastering the mushin state of mind is a lot more important and more difficult than mastering the outer physical form but is achievable through daily practice.

In the case of real combat, if a person says you should always adopt the posture like this or like that, I would object and say that there is no fixed outer form in postures. I argue that this is because posture is a state of mind (and not a mere physical outer form). It is always important to be prepared to deal with the requirements of the moment, that is, in case of being attacked in an instant situation.

There are various types of what is usually called posture (kamae) but I want you to know that these are just outer forms. Nevertheless, it should not be neglected at all.

Therefore, it should not categorically be said that “this posture is good” or “that posture is good” judging only from its outer appearance. In short, you should pay attention to the fact that posture is a matter of training your martial strengths every day and, coincident with it, to train your mind and spirit.

Motobu Choki

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