Why do we have so many stances in karate? Why do we learn so many impractical-looking stances that we never use in combat situations? This type of questions has been bothering me for a while and, in this post, I will share with you my understanding. I could be wrong, but I don’t claim to be a karate expert, this is just my understanding at this stage of my karate journey.

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What Are Stances?

In karate, stances refer to the physical postures that one assumes with their feet, legs, and torso.

Stances are categorized based on the overall body alignment, the positioning of the legs and feet, and weight distributions. Below are a few examples:

  • Front Stance (zenkutsu dachi): In this stance, one leg is positioned forward with the knee bent so that the front knee is in line with the big toe. The other leg is extended to the back and is almost straight. The weight distribution is roughly 60% on the front leg and 40% on the back leg
  • Back Stance (kokutsu dachi): In this stance, the back leg is bent and the back foot faces outward forming a right angle to the front. The front leg extended to the front and is slightly bent with the foot facing straight forward. The weight distribution is roughly 70% on the back leg and 30% on the front leg
  • Horse Stance (kiba dachi): The feet are placed about one and half shoulder-width apart, with the knees bent and the hips lowered. Both feet should point forward. The weight distribution is 50:50
  • Cat Stance (neko ashi dachi): In this stance, the back leg is bent and point forward at a 45-degree angle. The front foot is bent and pointed forward. The front foot is rested on the ground using only the ball of the foot. The distance between the front and back foot is about one-foot length. The weight distribution in this stance is 90% on the back leg and 10% on the front leg
  • Natural Stance (shizentai dachi): In this stance, you stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. There is about one foot of space between the heels, and the feet are pointed outward at approximately a 30-degree angle.

Why Does Karate Have So Many Impractical Stances?

Karate does have a lot of stances compared to some other martial arts.

Boxing, for example, has only two basic stances: orthodox and southpaw. The orthodox stance is for right-handed boxers and in this stance, you place your left hand and left foot in front of you. The southpaw stance is for left-handed boxers and is the mirror image of the orthodox stance.

Judo has only three basic stances, including right stance (right foot forward and left leg back), left stance (left foot forward and right leg back), and square stance (legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart).

Shaolin Kungfu has five core stances, including horse stance (mabu), bow-arrow stance (gong bu), false/empty stance (xu bu), crouch stance (pu bu), false-leg/rest stance (xie bu).

Goju Ryu, however, has around 20 stances and Shotokan has a similar number of stances.

I think the main reason that karate has so many stances lies in its kata.

Kata is a collection of combat techniques that may include long-distance fighting techniques as well as close-range techniques and throwing and grappling techniques.

When kata is taught to students, instructors therefore use posture names, i.e. stances to refer to the physical posture students need to assume when performing techniques or transitioning between techniques.

So, most karate stances are actually only moment-in-time postures and there can be many different types of postures (i.e. stances) due to the wide ranges of techniques and fighting situations embedded in karate kata.

If you take a hundred snapshots throughout a competitive free fight or a messy street fight, you’ll find that the fighters may be assuming many different fighting stances, just for fractions of a second.

And if you are to show someone those stances or try to teach them those stances, they will probably laugh at you, saying how impractical those stances are and that nobody would fight in those stances. They, like many in the martial art circle, have confused between two things:

  • Primary fighting stances that fighters assume at the beginning of a fight or during a fight (when they are not defending or launching an attack) or return to it after a fight is temporarily stopped, and
  • Moment-in-time stances that fighters assume temporarily in the middle of a fight.

If you watch a sports karate match, a karate combat style match, or an UFC bout, you’ll see that fighters generally assume a practical, high, and natural stance at the beginning, in-between techniques, or when the fight resumes after it is temporarily stopped. This is their primary fighting stance.

However, when they are launching an attack or defending an attack from a distance, or engaging in a grappling situation, they will assume many different impractical looking stances like a long zenkutsu dachi, a kokutsu dachi, a low shiko dachi or even a neko ashi dachi. Forward stances are generally used for powerful forward strikes and movements whereas backward stances like kokutsu dachi or neko ashi dachi are suitable for defensive actions and counterattacks or quick evasive movements.

These stances are not their primary fighting stances but the techniques and the fighting situations dictate that they need to be in those “impractical” fighting stances. They are never frozen in those “impractical” fighting stances, instead, they are moving to and through them as the fight progresses.

It is true that those stances may not give you the best stability, the best mobility, the best speed or the best power, but sometimes in a fight you may end up in those situations and you just have to adapt and do the best you can.

In training, we do practice those impractical fighting stances too for a reason. For example, we often march up and down the dojo floor in deep and long zenkutsu dachi, performing basic striking techniques. It’s true that we certainly don’t fight this way. However, for instance, if we are to face a taller and bigger opponent, we generally need to keep a good distance from them. When we decide to attack, a momentarily long zenkutsu dachi will help get us to a right distance in order for our attack to be effective.

Marching up and down the dojo floor in a deep-rooted stance doesn’t look like anything in real fighting but it trains us so that when we, for a brief second, need to be in such stance, we still can deliver effective techniques. If you can’t deliver a good kizami tsuki from a stationary zenkutsu dachi, there is no chance that you can deliver a good kizami tsuki with good balance and stability when you are mobile.

The same approach is used in other combat fields. For example, in archery, you first learn to shoot a fixed target from a close distance in a stationary, natural stance. You do not start by learning to shoot a moving target while you yourself are moving. Similarly, at the beginning, soldiers learn to shoot a fixed target from a stable base. However, in actual combat, they will most likely have to fire their weapons while being mobile.

Why Good Stances Are Important?

Stances are extremely important in karate because good stances provide a strong foundation for power generation, balance, mobility and overall effectiveness in combat.

It is not an exaggeration to say that your techniques are only as strong as your stances. If your stance is weak, your foundation will be weak. And when your foundation is weak, no matter how perfect your hip rotation is or how swift your movements are, the strength of your technique won’t reach its maximum potential. This is why even cars with the most powerful engines can still get stuck in mud. It’s just pure physics.

We cannot walk, run, or jump from thin air; we need to press our feet against the ground. In response, the ground pushes back with an equal force, enabling us to propel our bodies forward or upward. Likewise, in karate, when we execute a punch, for example, we must exert force through our feet into the ground. Consequently, the ground reacts with an equal force. Thus, if your stance is not well grounded, delivering powerful and effective techniques will become a challenge.

During your training, you probably have encountered situations where your instructors ask you to practice stances and then go around checking everyone’s stances for structure and stability. They are doing this for a reason: they’re assessing whether you’ve established a solid base for your techniques or not.

Take a look at the kata performance by these world kata champions or this karate master. You’ll notice how well-grounded their stances are, and that’s one of the reasons why their techniques appear clean, crisp, and powerful. Also check out other less polished performances, for example, this one and this one, where stances are not that solid. You can see the wobbly knees in the first video and the ungrounded and almost floating stances in the second video and understand why their techniques don’t look as powerful.

You might like to read: What Is Kime and How to Achieve It?


In summary, karate has many stances, and while some may appear unrealistic, we do engage in combat using those stances, even only for brief moments. Solid stances establish strong foundations for effective techniques. Therefore, it’s important not to overlook drills involving these so-called ‘unrealistic’ and ‘ridiculous’ stances in your training.

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