by David Gimberline
Re: Matt D’s questions about Hangetsu.
Warning: this is a long post, but if you have ever read any of my other posts, you will know this is normal.
Before I start, I should tell you Hangetsu is considered by most to be a pretty advanced kata. However, I do feel all levels can benefit from it’s practice.
Of all the Shotokan kata, Hangetsu is my favorite. Throughout my karate career I have been plagued with being too tight (excess tension.) and too slow. Hangetsu taught me to relax and be sharp (relatively speaking :-). I first learned it at 5th kyu level, because it was my instructor’s favorite kata. I liked the insights it offered to expansion/contraction and breathing, so, although I knew it was advanced, I worked on it every once in a while for the next few years.
When I passed shodan, I decided it was time to work on it for real and dedicated the next year or so to working on it consistently in preperation for my ni-dan (we have a two year minimum between shodan & nidan exams). One day my instructor (a different and more senior instructor) had us all working on our own kata and was walking around giving us feedback. After watching my performance his comment was, “Are you just learning this kata?” Not quite sure how to answer, I came up with my usual brilliant response, and kinda said “Ahh…”, seeing my hesitation he then prompted, “you’ve been working on it for about a year?”. I nodded and said, “Hai”. “You’re just learning this kata”, was his pronouncement. This was a clue. Maybe this kata was still a little beyond me and maybe I should pick something else to work on. So I did. After passing nidan, I again started to work on Hangetsu, (thick headed Due to injury, family and work conflicts there was actually about 10 years between my Sho dan & San dan exams. I performed it for my San Dan exam and passed on the first try. (Somewhat unusual where I come from).
I still love it, even though I’ve been working on others, I still come back to it.
So, finally in response to Matt’s questions:
- explain the alignments of the feet, legs and hips for this stance.
- what I understand, it is 2 shoulder-widths in length and 1 shoulder-width
- in depth, with both knee’s bent in and the feet turned in as much as
- possible so it feels uncomfortable. Apparently if practiced over a long
- period of time it can cause knee pains to develop. I’ve also heard that
- this stance is associated with inner tension. Could someone please explain
These days it is sort of trendy to teach the hangetsu stance as sort of a front stance with your front foot turned in. I do not do it this way. To me it feels more like an elongated sanchin dachi, but it has it’s uniqueness also. My stance ends up a couple inches shorter and sometimes a titch wider than zenkutzu. As is true with many karate techniques and concepts, many of the feelings and positions and movements are difficult to write about, but I will try. Also, with time, each individual must find the positions and tensions that are right for them. YOUR KNEES SHOULD NEVER HURT from doing this kata. If they do, it is coming from a misunderstanding of the leg/hip/feet angles and their related pressures.
To find hangetsu stance start from a front stance inside block (uchi uke?) position, so your hips are at a 45 degree angle. This is important, and I think most people miss it. Shift your weight back to 50/50, turn in your front foot about 45 degrees, and squeeze in with your knees. This is the inner tension they are talking about. It is huge, especially at first, when compared to a front stance, but if this remains the dominant feeling of your stance, you will probably hurt your knees. I am tempted to say that the back leg from the knee down is the same position as the front stance, but standing next to my computer now (in my office, where no one has yet paid any attention to the weirdo shifting position from front stance to hangetsu stance, and occasionally sanchin 😉 I find that my back foot is actually turned in a little more than front stance position, if my front stance rear foot position is about 60 degrees, then hangetsu is about 65 or 70 degrees.
After squeezing in, you must relax and sink. The inner tension tends to lift you up, and isolates pressure in your knees. As you sink into a better position, the pressure goes out, especially from your knees to the floor. This is where you can really feel the “hour glass” concept. It is narrow and pulling in at the top and then widens dramatically and pushes out at the bottom (basically from the knees down, although this isn’t quite right either.) The pushing out actually starts above the knees and pushes out through the knees along the center of bone to the floor. So, from one point of view, the inner pressure really just sets your bones into position, and with in this new framework or structure, you try to get pressure from your center to flow through your legs to the ground.
Stay in this position and slowly try to counter punch. You will find your hip rotation is slightly limited. It will not go completely straight (like in zenkutzu) with out changing the position of your front leg. Don’t do this. Try to learn the new position.
Most people think the stance is confining and rigid. It is a little confining at first, but if you learn to work within this new framework, you will discover new relationships, with their own freedoms and advantages. IMHO no stance should ever be rigid. Many people make this mistake. If you can’t feel the energy flowing, sinking, and transferring through your position, it is wrong.
A GOOD EXERCISE for learning the stance, and for getting a better idea of front stance too:
Get a partner and an extra belt (or one of you take off yours). Loop the belt around your waist (low; at the hip/leg joint) and have your partner stand behind you holding both ends of the belt. Assume a front stance (zenkutsu dachi) and have your partner pull straight back (behind you) and down towards the ground at a 45 degree angle or so. You should be able to resist this pressure, not by directly pushing against it, but by increasing the pressure from your center to the floor, and sinking into your stance. Now have your partner stop pulling and move around to the front. When your partner applies pressure forward and down, you should be able to resist it the same way, do not switch your position and try not to lose the pressure to the back leg (very difficult). In your front stance you should be able to handle a lot of force straight from the front or back. Try to keep the pressure from your center to UNDER your hip.
Standing either in front or in back, if the pulling partner moves off to one side, even a little, you will either lose your balance or be forced to change position to maintain it.
Now start in the hangetsu position. When your partner starts to pull from behind, you may have difficulty maintaining the position. This is actually a weak spot in the hangetsu stance. Pay special attention to squeezing in and tucking in your butt cheeks. Try to keep the tension flowing along the bottom of your legs to the floor.
After you have this position, have the person start to circle around you and maintain the pulling pressure. This is where you can start to feel the pressure shift in the stance even the position doesn’t change. When you start to lose it, push down harder from your center and inner thighs and grab with your toes. You will start to get an understanding of new connections.
Try to recreate this feeling when ever you do the kata, even without the person pulling on you.
Next try performing the kata with this type of resistance. The first move is one of the most difficult. The squeeze in between moves is VERY important. Start with straight in, straight out elbow motion. It may evolve to slightly circular. Make sure to get your elbow past center when coiling.
At first when performing the kata, try to focus each move completely, release completely and move on to the next move. Eventually, the release of one move IS the beginning of the next, and each focus has a direction; when released, naturally moves towards the next position.
Observations from the kata Hangetsu:
- Hangetsu stance utilizes multidirectional stability
- Teaches how to create a base using indirect pressure and use this base to operate from
- Teaches how to separate squeezing and expansion/contraction from breathing
- Your elbow and knees sort of match (and the pressure along inner arm and inner leg)
- Your front foot position is already set to be the back leg if you were to shift to the inside, i.e. if you are in a left foot forward hangetzu stance, the angle of your knee and foot is such that you can shift directly to the right (moving in and out with your foot work) without losing any drive or requiring any reposition of the structure to move. This is a huge advantage over the front stance where this is not possible. Try both by having your partner pull from the side.
- Both of your front two hip joints should have pretty sharp angles in relationship to your legs. If they start to become smooth, you are over-tucking.
- It is better to start in this stance a little too short, rather than a little too long. Being too long increases the chance of knee injury. You can only go as long as you can maintain positive pressure on the joints. Compression rather than pulling apart.
- Training in this stance and kata teaches you more about all stances and kata.
Even for me, this is a long post. I have to get back to work now. As always, I appreciate any feedback in private or on the list.
Dave in Minnesota