The word literally means posture both mentally and physically and is a prerequisite to success in Budo. The setting of the mind and the body to receive and deal with an attack is and often will be the difference between success and failure. This understanding can take its meaning into a more profound usage in life but perhaps this should be left for another time.
In both Karate and Kobujutsu the readiness and correct Kamae is very important and yet this is left to a secondary thought and the exponent is already thinking of the counter and the next move. However, setting the body position in readiness will make the block or counter delivery more efficient, more powerful and create more speed.
The fundamental issues to consider are relevant to the actions you wish to undertake. For example, the tension in the body can be wound up like a clock spring by the use of the ankles and the position of the hips. Stance work (Tachi Kata) plays a big part in this and is often regulated by style rather than correct selection or necessity.
Koshi No Chikara (power of hips) is often misunderstood against the usage of upper torso. The hip spring and power is more often than not delivered into the floor by stamping or can be seen dragged through the final part of the technique rather than loading and assisting its delivery. Remember that before the technique there is hip and after the technique there is hip.
So what positions should you be looking for? The delivery of speed creating more power can as mentioned be increased by the lower body usage. Start by using the tension Zenkutsu dachi creates in the ankles to set the spring in the lower body and set its preparation. Experiment with the hips from Shomen to Hanmi and feel the tightening of the posture. It should be ready to burst and this junbi (preparation) will assist in your speed and counter delivery. Work form Shomen Koshi in Zenkutsu Dachi to Hanmi Koshi in Fudo Dachi when using Gyaku Gedan Uke or Soto Uke. The arm position is also of the utmost importance moving from an open position to a tighter closed position. Utilise the benefit of the InYo(opposites) in the Hiki (pulling in movement) against the Oshi (pushing out movement), which is critical in unification with the foot shift and hip delivery. Then upon commencement of the block close the hips again and drive the hip in Shomen Koshi and Zenkutsu Dachi again for Gyaku Tsuki. Work also on the rotation of the arm at the time of the spring and power delivery and the closing of the fists to get full use of Barai and Kime. The final piece of the jigsaw is kokyu (breathing), which needs to unite in contraction of the abdomen at the time of blocking with tension and striking with tension. Remember not to let your energy lift through the shoulder rising otherwise you will lose much of the hip development you work on.
Try the same combination with an open Fudo Dachi and feel the difference in energy created by spring and the need into an open posture to use upper torso and maximum Ude power. Experiment with each Uke Waza and you will quickly understand what posture accommodates what block. The relevance is also to the counter and again the use of Shomen Koshi and Hanmi Koshi are of the utmost importance.
In summary I have listed the important points for Kamae and actions that come from this as follows:
- Correct mental and physical position for preparation for blocking or attacking
- Zanshin at all times
- Feet positioned to allow the explosive delivery of the hips
- Hips positioned to allow the open and closing motion
- Arms set in right position to accommodate the action
Connecting actions from good Kamae
Rotation of the arms to maximise Barai
- Pull push of the arms to maximise Kime
- Utilisation of the open and closing of the fists
- Breathing to allow explosive tension in the abdomen
Remember that it is through the unification of all these elements that maximum speed and power can be attained.
The mental state is just as important and will be a portent of Zanshin. Never underestimate your partner or opponent and never train with a lazy or relaxed mental approach. It is in these moments that avoidable injuries occur and you pay the full price of complacency! In training the need for mental urgency and full awareness are just as important as the technical delivery and should never be discarded for over confidence. The appearance of creditable opponents can be found as much in the white belt as the apparent physical inferior! Nature teaches us to look large under threat but a tree that grows low but is the same in size, as the tree that grows high does not attract the attention of the woodcutters axe!
Kamae in Kobujutsu
The same points for Karate also apply exactly the same for Kobujutsu. The additional challenge is the incorporation of the weapon into the body movement to create a oneness retaining the natural feel open hand skilled students show. This is a key challenge when studying Kobujutsu along with the difficulty of distance changes i.e. Bo and Sai whose effective distance usage is very different.
With Bo you always look for preparation through the wrist position in addition to the hip and footwork positions as previously mentioned. This is the same for Sai where the added difference is the elbow position, which points at the opponent very much like the use of Uraken (back fist) in Karate. Each weapon uses the fundamental principles of Karate with the added tokui (special) postures each weapon offers due to its diversity and use.