Gravity Stances

When we first learn or teach stances, we pay attention to the shape and weight distribution of the stance.

  • Front stance – 60% weight on front foot, 40% on back, bend the front knee so you can’t see your toes, front foot and knee facing forward. Back knee locked foot mostly straight, slightly cambered outwards. Feet should width apart, hips and shoulders facing forward, back straight.
  • Cat stance – 90% weight on back foot, 10% weight on front foot. Front foot and knee facing straight forward, heels form a ninety degree corner, heels lining up, back foot pointed inside of 90 degrees from the the front foot. Back knee bent acting like a shock absorber. Hips and shoulders angled (depending on what angle your system points the back foot).
  • Horse stance – 50/50 weight distribution, feet/knees pointing straight forward, knees pushed outward – like riding a horse… etc.

We learn about how we stand on the ground, or how we fight/use gravity to stand in a karate stance.

Leverage Stances

If all we did was kick and punch in karate, then perhaps we could live with standing upon the ground and accept that stances provide different positions that we hold our weapons (feet, hands) changing the ma’ai / distance with an opponent.

As we study bunkai, or try to better answer questions such as “how low do we need to be in stance” (and why), stances become more than kicking and punching platforms. Many simple bunkai begin with the opponent stepping in and grabbing your wrist. Many Pinan kata will start with a step away in cat stance as the opening move. Why cat stance?

Scenario: Attacker makes a single hand cross hand grab

Attacker: steps in right foot forward grabbing your right wrist with their right hand (cross grab)

Defend: Steps away from attacker sitting into cat stance right foot back, right hand chambered, left hand come up in a shuto strike to attacker’s face.

  • Stepping away from the opponent allows us to use the front foot to push away from the attack
  • Bending the back leg lets us drop our weight further dis-balancing the attacker.
  • Turning the hip and shoulder away from the attacker slightly further stretches the attacker out, and at the same time brings the front attacking hand in position to strike the opponent.
  • Ma’ai changes enough to allow a counter while maintaining control of the movement – in Pinan 3 or 5 the front hand shuto could be a atemi to the face.

As we look at bunkai, we may find that stances may often generate power backwards as well as forwards. Often dis-balancing the attacker initially or after the initial atemi. Perhaps as well as striking forwards we also need to have stances supporting pulling backwards.

Cat Stance revisited- do we change the percentage of the weight on the front foot to accomplish the bunkai above? Not necessarily, we still keep the center of gravity 90% towards the back foot – however, as we bend our back leg and drop our weight, we push against the ground with our front foot. If we’re not moving backwards we counter the push backwards with the back foot and knee pushing forward and countering the push. By both legs/feet pushing towards each other they act like braces – so instead of standing on one leg and balancing the other infront – the two legs work together in an isometric type of bracing.

Why? In addition to the scenario above, what about the question about “how low is a proper cat stance?” If you get in to a sitting on a chair low, it’s hard to move, you must come up to move, if you’re too high it’s easy to topple, and if you’re standing too high and try to punch there is not a strong enough platform. If you were playing tug of war, you wouldn’t stand up and pull, you drop your weight and dig your feet in. Same idea, similar reasons.


All stances have a balanced tension between the front and back foot. For reasons of counter attacking for better preparedness to move, and to enhance the stance’s ability to support and generation and delivery of power.