Shiko dachi, a forgotten stance in Shotokan? 四股立ちは忘却されたのか？
Have you ever used shiko dachi 四股立ち in your kihon or kata? If you are a shotokan practitioner I assume you have not. Do we find this stance in our katas? No, and as a result we do not use this stance in our kihon. Haven’t you ever thought it was sort of strange? I did. No one, as far as I know, has ever bothered to explain if there is any good reason why. If shiko dachi was there from the start what had happened to it? Isn’t it an interesting question and wouldn’t you like to find out? Let us investigate together and try to find the answers.
First, we need to look at the shotokan history by reviewing the textbooks. I always refer to two of the shotokan classics; Funakoshi’s Karatedo Kyohan 空手道教範 (2005 Neptune Publications Incorporated) and Nakayama’s Dynamic Karate (1966 Kodansha). I believe these two books are the foundation of shotokan karate and the best references. I have a copied version of Japanese Karatedo Kyohan (1935 Kobunsha) but for our discussion I will use the translated version which was translated by Harumi Suzuki-Johnson.
In Chapter 3 of Karatedo Kyohan, pages 22 and 23), Funakoshi listed seven stances, namely Hei soku dachi, Hachi ji dachi, Tei ji dachi, Zen kutsu, Ko kutsu, Neko ashi, and Kiba dachi. He stated, “There are seven general stances.” I am a little surprised in the incompleteness of the list as it misses the very popular and important stances such as musubi dachi, fudo (sochin) dachi, hangetsu dachi, tsuru ashi dachi, sanchin dachi and kosa dachi to name a few. So, it is not a surprise that shiko dachi did not make it in this list. I will explain extensively why shiko dachi did not make it as a popular or key stance in shotokan later in this article.
How about with Dynamic Karate? Its Chapter One is “Stance and Posture”. In page 27, Shiko dachi is listed among other key stances such as Kiba dachi and Fudo dachi. Then in page 37 Shiko dachi is shown again by occupying the entire page with a photo and some explanation. However, the explanation by Nakayama 中山正敏 (1913 – 1987) is very short, “This stance is just like the straddle-leg stance except that the feet are turned outward at an angle of 45 degrees and the hips are lower. A plum line dropped from the center of the knees would hit a point midway between the feet.” That is all. It does not say why it is included and how it is used. It is introduced twice but you would wonder why bother. I will share my understanding regarding this subject towards the end of this article.
Now let’s look at the other styles and see if they use Shiko dachi. It may be a surprise to some readers that this stance is a very popular stance. It is found in many katas from the other styles. Probably the most representative one with the shiko dachi stance may be Seienchin which is one of the Shitei katas in the mixed style tournaments like WKF, WUKF and WKC. This kata is one of the kihon katas practiced by the Nahate styles such as Goju ryu and Uechi ryu as well as Shito ryu and Kyokushinkai.
Here is a video of Seienchin performed by a Shitoryu competitor:
Here you can see that this kata is really based on shiko dachi. Though I am not familiar with the details of the Naha-te katas, I know shiko dachi is so popular it is included in almost all katas (ie. Seipai, Saifa, Gekisai, Sanseiru, Seisan, Suparinpei, etc) and on the other hand, kiba dachi is not used in them. It is almost like a mirror image of shotokan. How interesting.
So, let’s get back to the fundamental question, why we do not have Shiko dachi in our katas?
First we must all remember the following fact. When Funakoshi 船越義珍 (1868 – 1957) learned his karate in Okinawa in the late 19th century, the Okinawan senseis had not needed to use any specific terms for the stances and the techniques. The only terms they had were the names of the katas. An Okinawan instructor had only one or two students. Sensei showed the techniques with his body and did not give out any explanation nor needed to put the terms to different techniques. He would say, “Watch this kata” or “Do this technique like this.” My assumption is that Funakoshi was taught the katas but did not have the distinction between kiba dachi and shiko dachi. Thus I assume he probably allowed both stances; kiba dachi and an open toed stance (shiko dachi). He might have considered it as a relaxed stance of kiba dachi when one cannot do a tight kiba dachi stance. To have a perfect kiba dachi you really have to pull your toes in and the inner muscle tension in the thighs. I am sure you have experienced that as soon as you relax the legs your toes point out easily. In fact, look at the stance of Funakoshi (photo right). This is from Tekki and his stance is definitely not a strict kiba dachi as we know it. I say this is much closer to shiko dachi. Some people try to give him an excuse that he was old and he could not hold a good kiba dachi. But here is another photo of Funakoshi doing Tekki when he was younger. I think that is very disrespectful to Funakoshi sensei if we said he was too old for kiba dachi as he was only in his 50s in this photo (left). So, in the old shotokan training, I assume he allowed shiko dachi like kiba dachi in different katas.
We no longer practices this stance and we wonder why. Was this stance considered by someone else other than Funakoshi as an unnecessary or even a bad stance? OK we will continue our investigation.
As I pointed out above, Funakoshi himself used shiko dachi in Tekki and I assume he did in other katas such as jion, jutte and gankaku. Thus, I do not think Funakoshi considered open toed stance, shiko dachi as unnecessary nor bad. I am sure Funakoshi taught this stance to Nakayama because he added this stance in his book.
If so, was it purposely dropped from or changed in the Shotokan syllabus by someone else?
I believe so. You naturally wonder why. Let us look into this further. You must know the history of early shotokan, namely before WWII (specifically in 20’s and 30’s) to understand what has happened to the karate Funakoshi originally brought from Okinawa. He started to teach karate in Tokyo in 1922 when he was 54 years old. He was not the first Okinawan to bring karate officially to the mainland Japan. In fact, Choki Motobu 本部朝基 (1870 – 1944, photo left) moved to Osaka Japan in 1921. His karate level was excellent and was very agile, which gained him the nickname Motobu no Saru, or “Motobu the Monkey.” His existence was almost unknown for three reasons. He could not speak Japanese well and he had no influencial connection in Japan. In addition, he was reputed by some to have been a violent and crude street fighter. His training was so severe not too many students could last out and continue to be his followers. Eventually he decided to return to Okinawa without having made much impact to the karate world in Japan. But he was a big opposing factor as he openly criticized Funakoshi and claimed his karate was poor.
Funakoshi moved to Tokyo in 1922 and to his credit he was successful in promoting karate in Japan. He could speak Japanese and he was lucky to make a good connection with Jigoro Kano 加納治五郎 (1860 – 1938), the founder of Judo. So, he was the only karate sensei in Tokyo then but soon other Okinawan masters started to arrive in Japan. The most notable one was Kenwas Mabuni 摩文仁賢和 (1889 – 1952), the founder of Shito ryu. He visited Tokyo in 1928 and decided to move to Osaka in 1929 to live there. Funakoshi‘s profession was a school teacher and was not a full time karate practitioner when he lived in Okinawa. He learned from two teachers, Azato and Itosu but he learned only Shuri-te style of Okinawa karate.
On the other hand, Mabuni (photo right) was a policeman he had a lot of time to practice karate. In fact, he trained almost full time and had two famous teachers: Itosu from Shuri-te and Higaonna from Naha-te. So, Mabuni learned Okinawa karate in a very comprehensive way. As a result he became legendary for his encyclopaedic knowledge of kata and their bunkai applications. By the time he arrived in Japan, he was regarded as the foremost authority on Okinawan karate, bunkai and karate history.
So, what had happened here with Funakoshi teaching in Tokyo? Most of his students were the young students from various universities in Tokyo. However, some adults from other martial arts such as judo, jujitsu (Otsuka, later founded Wado ryu) and kenjutsu (Shimoda and Konishi, later founded Jinen ryu) also joined to learn karate on the professional level. So far so good. However, he faced the first problem as the students became more advanced. They wanted to know a lot more about bunkai and to practice kumite. Ever since he arrived in Tokyo, he only taught kata and some bunkai explanation but there were no kihon or kumite. He was very adamant about sticking to only kata training and prohibited any jiyu kumite. In fact, he resigned from one of the university karate clubs as he found the students there were secretly practicing jiyu kumite. It is clearly recorded that many of his students were very dissatisfied with the way Funakoshi trained them.
On the other hand, Mabuni had a different attitude. He welcomed jiyu kumite and went as far as a full contact karate using the protectors (photo left). Many young university students became curious about Mabuni so they along with Otsuka and Konishi visited Mabuni dojo to learn about kumite. Moreover, Mabuni knew more advanced Shurite-kata such as Unsu, Sochin, Gojushiho, etc.
So, what did this mean to Funakoshi? In the 30s he faced the serious competitions from Motobu, Mabuni and other Okinawan masters. What did he do? Now what we have to put a spotlight on Funakoshi’s talented son, Gigo or Yoshitaka 義隆 (1906-1945) who moved to Japan with his father when he was only 17 (1923). By 1930 Funakoshi senior was over 60 years old while his son was 24 years young but had been practicing karate for more than 12 years under his father (Gigo started the official training when he was 12 years old). Gigo was not an expert yet but he proved to be very talented and strong.
In 1934 Funakoshi’s number one assistant instructor, Shimoda died from an illness. After this Gigo took over the position and started to make a strong influence on Shotokan karate which his father brought from Okinawa. Funakoshi Senior believed the basic 16 katas or even fewer were enough. Gigo disagreed as he was young and wanted to learn more katas. What did he do? He went back to Okinawa to learn more kata and bunkai. He also visited his ‘competitor‘, Mabuni to learn more Shurite katas. Gigo is also credited with many different kicking techniques such as mawashi geri, ushiro geri and yoko kekomi. He also believed in the low stances (photo right) and did not like the high stances such as neko ashi and sanchin dachi. I also assume Gigo changed from the moving techniques using high stances to the still ones with low stances such as kiba dachi and zenkutsu dachi.
You also know it is easier to move if the toes are pointed outward like shiko dachi. So, when you do the body shifting from one kiba dachi to another in a kata like jion and jutte, your stance becomes more like shiko dachi. Gigo Funakoshi also shows that this is true (photo above). I know your instructor will tell you to pull your toes in. You also realized that you can squat deeper if your toes are pointing out and it is extremely difficult to lower your hips when you have a perfect kiba dachi. This is natural when you consider how your leg bones and the hip joints are constructed.
So, Gigo thought shiko dachi was a defective kiba dachi and decided to drop it from the syllabus. In all katas, the stance was limited to kiba dachi and shiko dachi stance was discouraged or even prohibited. Funakoshi Senior was not happy with all the changes his son was making. Why was he quiet? It was mainly due to the period the Japanese society was going through in 30s and 40;s, the war period starting with China in 1937. Gichin must have compromised and allowed those changes as long as Gigo did not bring in the jiyu kumite and the tournaments.
We know that Gigo had a big influence on both Egami 江上茂 (1912 – 1981, kumite with Gigo who is on the right of this photo), the founder of Shotokai 松濤会, and Nakayama, one of the key organizers of JKA 日本空手協会, until Gigo’s passing in 1945 at the very young age of 39. It is very interesting that two organizations, despite the same origin (Funakoshi Sr and Jr) developed their own techniques including the stances so differently in such a short period of time. I will not go into the details of the differences between Shotokai and JKA Shotokan in this article but look at shiko dachi in Shotokai (photo left). The feet are pointing outward on a straight line which is very unique and it does not look like the stance we know. Try to stand in this way. You will find it is very unbalanced and will not be able to keep the stance if you are pushed from the front or the back. A quick lateral body shifting is possible but I am not sure why they chose this stance and called it shiko dachi. Maybe a Shotokai practitioner can enlighten us.
So where did shiko dachi originate? Many readers may already know that it is from sumo 相撲, the traditional Japanese wrestling. The exact period of origin is not know but it could be traced back to the 6th century or earlier. Prior to becoming a professional sport in the Edo period (the 17th century), sumo was originally performed on the grounds of a shrine or temple. It is still popular in Japan and it is broadcasted on TV as a tournament of 15 days that happens six times per year. It keeps some old traditions such as throwing the salt in the ring which is supposed to purify the ground. Women are barred from the ring so the workers have to be all male. There is a controversy regarding this policy at the sumo association and many people both men and women have protested but so far this policy has not been changed.
More on sumo if you are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumo
The most popular stance in sumo is called shiko dachi (photo above) in which one can take a very deep squatting position. The rule for winning and losing in sumo is pretty simple. A sumo wrestler must either push his opponent out of the ring (4.55 meter diameter) or throw him (no body parts except the feet must touch the ground of the ring). In the ancient time, they were allowed to hit and kick even if it could hurt an opponent. One famous story tells that one sumo wrestler killed the other by kicking him and he won. Nowadays these two techniques are prohibited, however, an open hand slapping is still permitted though it is not considered as an honorable technique in the modern sumo.
In fact, shiko dachi is so popular in Japan because many athletic coaches believe this is the best stance for their athletic activity.
For example, you will find the warm up and the leg exercise using shiko dachi in a basket- ball training (photo left above) and a soccer practice (right). I do not need to show the photos of the practitioners in judo and western wrestling but they also engage in the exercises such as deep squats using shiko dachi. I want to show one more example. One of the most popular sports in Japan is baseball. The photo left below shows the kind of exercise the Japanese high school baseball team members do (below left).
The photo right, shows the famous Japanese baseball player, Ichiro Suzuki 鈴木一郎 who now plays for New York Yankees. One of the exercises he does on the field as shown in the photo is his stretch using wide shiko dachi.
So what had happened to shiko dachi when Nakayama formed JKA in middle of the 20the century?
Nakayama was not only highly trained in karate, he also was aware of the modern science and the medical aspect of the human body. He knew the great benefit one can get from training shiko dachi. To show the respect to Funakoshi he did not change the stance from Kiba dachi to Shiko dachi. What he did was to keep this stance for the leg exercises. We practice the deep squats often in our training in Japan (photo right) to strengthen our legs. Nakayama added shiko dachi in his book, Dynamic Karate. Unfortunately, he failed to put the explanation of how this stance should be used and what are the benefits in his book. I wonder if this omission was intentional or not. Regardless, as a consequence, I am afraid that the importance and the necessity of shiko dachi has not been relayed and taught enough to the western shotokan practitioners.
Then what are the benefits of shiko dachi specifically? There are two major benefits that I can quickly point out. One of them is the training of the inner muscles that connect the thighs to the pelvis. Training these muscles is not easy but it is extremely important for karate. I have mentioned these muscles in my previous articles on Weight Training and Relaxation. I will not explain these muscles again but I ask you instead to read those articles as you can get the full story behind this subject. One thing you can do is to do the slow and deep squats using wide shiko dachi. You will feel the tightening or the tiring of the muscles that are located inside of your thighs. You may wonder if the same muscles can be trained by using kiba dachi. Try the deep squats using kiba dachi. Where do you feel the pressure? Do you not feel it mostly on the front of the thighs? Of course, you will use the hamstrings and the rear muscles (gluteus maximus) too but you will use the quadriceps the most. In shiko dachi even though you will use the quadriceps you will use the inner muscles such as adductor longus, adductor magnus, etc (see the illustration). I have mentioned in the past that strengthening these muscles are very important to any of the athletic activities including karate. The inner muscle exercise cannot be maximized if you practice with kiba dachi alone.
Second benefit of shiko dachi is its mobility. In seienchin kata you will see the practitioner moves from shiko dachi not only sideways (back and forth) but also towards the front in an interesting way. Of course you can do this with kiba dachi but you can do it easier with shiko dachi as your feet are pointing outward which makes the stance less restricted. So, kiba dachi gives you more solid or stable stance but shiko dachi can be more mobile. You can keep a steady kiba dachi when you are in that position without any body shifting. However, when you body shift regardless of moving towards left or right in kihon or katas such as Tekki, Jion, Jutte, etc. your feet will naturally open up, though your instructors will yell at you to keep your feet parallel.
Then the natural question may be, “If this stance is so beneficial, why didn’t Nakayama explain more about shiko dachi?” My answer will be only my guess. I did not hear the explanation directly from Nakayama when I met him before his passing. However, I know that he had a great respect to both Funakoshi senior and junior. He was sort of sandwiched between these two instructors. So, he believed shiko dachi could be used in the katas interchangeably with kiba dachi but he did not want to put it in writing. He only added this stance in the Tachikata (stances) list without any explanation. He intended to explain the importance to his students in person and I know that he had done so to the JKA instructors. However, this omission in his book resulted in one of the shotokan’s mysteries.
It is widely known that to supplement shotokan kata, Sensei Kanazawa 金沢弘和 (1931 – present) practiced seienchin himself. I am sure one of the reasons to practice this kata was to get familiar with shiko dachi. I suspect his followers must be aware of or practice shiko dachi kata such as seienchin. Here is a video of Kanazawa performing Seienchin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0U7KPaiZJ08
Here is a sample video of this kata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McVf2bTvqSs#t=13
If this is the case, the big question is why didn’t this information spread more to the western world? I cannot answer that question but I wish to recommend strongly to all Shotokan practitioners that we will add this to our standard training syllabus now so that we can enjoy the benefits from this excellent stance.
Shiko dachi was a part of original shotokan karate that was brought from Okinawa by Gichin Funakoshi. Shiko dachi was used almost interchangeably with kiba dachi in the shotokan katas in the early 20th century.
Gichin’s son, Gigo being physically strong emphasized the strong and steady stances such as low zenkutsu and low kiba dachi. He not only discarded or ignored the high stances such as neko ashi and sanchin but also shiko dachi as it is less stable (though more mobile) than kiba dachi.
Nakayama, knowing the benefits of shiko dachi kept the stance in the syllabus. However, he did not push this stance as he decided to keep all kiba dachi in the JKA katas. He wanted to use it only in the leg (mostly squats) exercises. He failed to write the benefits and its use in his famous book, Dynamic Karate. We do not know if the omission was intentional or unintentional. Unfortunately, it resulted in the general omission (forgotten) of this stance from the standard shotokan training.
If you have a problem making the strict kiba dachi because of the lack of flexibility or whatever the reason, now you can relax. You no longer need to feel depressed or discouraged. You found that Shiko dachi is an excellent stance and it is more flexible than kiba dachi. I will not go so far to recommend replacing kiba dachi with shiko dachi in our katas, as I believe the kiba dachi requirements of the inner thigh tension and butt tucking are important and necessary for us to master. Since you can use shiko dachi in your shotokan katas such as jion and jutte, learning a Naha-te kata such as Seienchin is not necessary to practice shiko dachi. Including the exercises both in kihon and hojo undo 補助運動 using shiko dachi is, I conclude, critically important and necessary for any shotokan karate practitioners to improve their karate.