The fighting stance is the most fundamental position that you will ever learn in any type of martial art. A proper stance allows for strong, effortless movement and an easy transference of force from body to extremity. Furthermore, having a good stance allows you freedom of movement that directly translates into the individual expression of the practitioner’s style. Whether you are a martial artist or an athlete of another physical discipline, there is no disadvantage in having a good stance. It will only make you a better at what you do.
Frequently in the gym I see people sacrifice their stance in order to land a blow or to get a specific grip on their opponent. While it would seem to make solid sense to attempt such an action, remember the goal of combat is not just to hit your opponent at all costs. It’s to do so in a way that weakens their position while at the same time strengthening your own.
The stance is the starting position for all martial movement. I feel that the stance nowadays has lost importance in many styles of martial arts and combative sports. It is still taught, but within the student population there seems to be a lack of information as to why certain actions are performed. In order to perform at your best it is absolutely necessary to find, perfect, and understand your starting position. Can you imagine what would happen if you attempted a max deadlift without knowing how to properly secure yourself in the beginning of the lift? The same principle applies to martial arts and, for the sake of this article, muay Thai.
In muay Thai there are several stances you can adopt during your training. Everyone is built slightly differently and these differences will determine what is the optimal stance for you. I personally feel the stance you adopt should be the one that allows for maximum ease, fluidity of movement, and transference of force.
The great Bruce Lee put it best: “The arms and kicking leg are important only because they are the vehicles of body force. They, the tools, only give expression to body force when the body is in proper alignment. The position of the hands and arms and of the legs and feet that facilitate easy body expression is important.”
Below are five tips that will help better your stance:
1. Foot Position
The feet are the most important factor in determining your balance. The more the martial artist can feel and control the position of the feet the better he or she will be at expressing intention (punching, kicking, moving, etc.).
The feet should be staggered and placed slightly wider than the hips (but for muay Thai no wider than the shoulders). The weight distribution between both feet should be fifty-fifty. Both feet should be angled slightly to the side and the knees should be facing in the same direction of the feet. Having the feet and knees aligned will minimize any leakage of force and provide a more stable base for the athlete. The rear heel should be raised with the weight placed on the ball of the foot. The elevated heel acts as the trigger for the majority of your striking arsenal and it allows your feet to be alert and move quickly. Never stand flatfooted on both feet as your movement can easily become sluggish.
2. Abdominal Tension and Hip Position
Whenever you are in a fighting stance you want a small amount of tension kept in your abdominal muscles. Also it is important that your pelvis be positioned directly underneath your shoulders. This will allow for a stronger defense, assist you in transferring force to your extremities, and improve balance by keeping your spine in an optimal position.
Take my word for it; you do not want to be hit in a relaxed stomach. Body shots have a nasty way of stealing the life from you, especially when they are met with zero resistance. Think of abdominal tension as your armor. Don’t go to battle without it! On a scale of one to ten, you want your tension level at around a two. This amount of tension will aid your movements but will not subtract from your ability to move or breathe effectively.
3. Arm Position
The placement of the fists, forearms and elbows is extremely important in muay Thai. Having these three things in the proper position can greatly add to you offensive and defensive capabilities.
The right (or rear) elbow and forearm stays close to the body and protects the solar plexus, the liver, and the ribs. Note: I said that the elbow stays close, but it is not glued to the ribs. Allowing the elbows to protrude an inch or two can discourage your opponent from kicking to the body as they may smash their foot into your elbow. That being said, do not flare your elbows out to the side and open up the ribcage. The right (or rear) fist stays close to the face and is positioned on the jaw or cheek bone. This protects the face and gives your fist the appropriate path to attack your opponent.
The left (or lead) arm is placed slightly in front of the body to act as a first line of defense and offense. The forearms and elbows aid in protecting the solar plexus and the ribcage. Unlike the rear arm, the lead arm is going to be very active during combat and therefore should be placed away from the centerline. When finding your optimal arm position make sure the arm is not extended to far away from the body so that the position exhausts your shoulders and prevents the generation of force. The left fist should be held at nose level. This will help protect your centerline while not obstructing your vision.
4. Head Position
The position of your head it also very important in martial arts. A bad head position can lead to knockouts and broken noses. In every gym you will hear trainers yell at their students, “Chin down! Hands up!” The head should be slightly tilted forward with the chin practically glued to your collarbone. Keeping the head in this tucked position will aid in protecting your nose and the soft tissue of the eyes. Under no circumstances must the head move from this position.
5. Movement in the Stance
Even if you have the perfect stance, for it to be effective in combat movement must be introduced. Standing perfectly still is going to make you a sitting duck for your opponent. Moving targets are hard to hit. If you don’t move, your opponent could close his eyes and still manage to hit you square in the face.
There are many different cadences fighters can adapt and in my experience everyone has their own different “swagger” while fighting. To adapt a cadence, I recommend watching fighters you enjoy and take bits and pieces from their movement patterns to add to your own style. Whatever your cadence may be just make sure that it contains no rhythm (constantly repeated movements). If it does, it becomes easy for your opponents to time you with counter shots.
Photo 2 courtesy of Orion Lee.
All other photos courtesy of Shutterstock.