In the second of five volumes by Ed Parker, "Infinite Insights into Kenpo", Chapter 6, the founder discusses stances. Each of the common stances that are encountered by the student are presented here, starting with the Attention stance. In Kenpo, stances are not a fixed size because
"...the Art must be made to fit the individual in order to produce maximum, as well as, positive results. Therefore, the width, depth and height of a STANCE must correspond with the dimensions of the individual."
Ed Parker, Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Volume 2, page 55
Wherever necessary, Mr. Parker details how the student may size a stance to fit themselves. A summary of those pages is presented here for
your reference. For each stance, the placement of the feet is shown in a simple diagram.
The first phase of any self defense is to "Establish your base" by adopting a stance that supports your response (a good phrase to memorize). Mr. Vigoroux mentioned this principle in his lecture on Delayed Sword in his seminar on June 14, 2014. The other principle he suggested as fundamental to improving Kenpo in general is to bend the knees in each stance, to sink into a stance lowering the body's center of gravity and to maintain that height throughout a confrontation to reduce power loss by bobbing up and down. Other visiting instructors (such as Sensei Jason Arnold) have echoed these principles. In the diagrams that follow, the black feet icons indicate the starting position while the red feet icons indicate the final position of the feet.
The Attention Stance
A student must assume the attention stance whenever the instructor calls "Attention". In this stance, the feet are placed together, toe to toe and heel to heel. The hands are placed at the student's side, the student fixes his gaze straight ahead, and is ready to accept instructions.
For developing proper posture, balance, and strength, there is no better stance than the training or meditative horse. All of the forms begin from the horse stance. The stance is called the horse because it resembles the position of a rider on the back of a horse.
The Horse Stance
This stance must be sized to fit the student. The diagram above shows a method for sizing the stance, starting from the attention stance. The position of the red footprints in step 5 indicate where the student should stop. According to Ed Parker's description, the textbook position would be the black footprints in step 5 - slightly pigeon-toed, with the pressure on the outside edge of the feet. The body's weight should be centered between the feet, side-to-side and front to back. The back should be straight, the shoulders thrown back and the hands chambered at the hips. The easiest way to do this is to pretend that the there is a rope attached to the top of one's head, and that a slight bit of tension is being applied upwards, keeping your head from drooping. In class, when an instructor asks for everyone to assume a horse stance, it is the left leg that moves so that an entire row of students moves together without injury.
The Neutral Bow Stance
The neutral bow, and its sister stances, the forward and reverse bows are the most common stances in Kenpo. The neutral bow is the beginning
footwork for each of the Yellow belt self-defenses, and the forward bow figures prominently in the Orange belt self-defenses. The neutral bow is
the starting stance for all of the freestyle drills.
The neutral bow emulates the act of walking. With your feet placed under your shoulders, slide your left foot back until your left heel leaves the floor. Turn on the balls of your feet toward 10:30. As in the horse stance, your feet remain parallel. Bend your legs and drop your weight, lowering your center of gravity. Your torso will turn with your feet so that your shoulder faces towards 12:00. Your right hand extends forward and your left hand can either be chambered at your waist or positioned to check in front of your sternum.
The Neutral Bow Stance (continued)
To check that the distance fits your body, drop your left knee towards 12:00 until it touches the floor. Your left knee should graze the back of your right heel. When you stand back up, if you draw a line through your median (the centerline of your torso) on the floor, your right toe should be on the line matching your left heel further back. Your weight is evenly distributed between your two feet and your knees should be over each toe.
The Forward Bow Stance
The forward stance starts from the neutral bow stance. The difference begins the rear hip being thrust forward to match the back-to-front position of the forward hip. To accomplish this change in position, the rear foot must be pointed at the front by pivoting on the ball of the foot and rotating the heel outward, and locking the rear knee forcing the leg to straighten. The shoulders are pivoted with the hips so that they are parallel to the front. The front foot and leg do not change position.
Rotating into this stance generates torque which may be applied to a strike. Because the rear leg is locked, the stance can also help to absorb the force of an opponent's attack, particularly for a push. It is a transitory position. The reach of the rear arm is extended because of the change in the hips. The weight of the body is split 60% on the front foot, and 40% on the rear. Despite the shift in weight, the back must remain straight - avoid the tendency to lean forward. Keeping the chin up will counteract the desire to lean forward.
The Reverse Bow Stance
The easiest way to form a reverse bow stance is to enter a forward stance and reverse your field of vision by turning head and hands to the rear. The feet remain where they were. This, however, is not the most useful method as a transition is normally made from the neutral bow stance.
To change from a forward-facing neutral bow stance, maintaining the line of site towards 12:00 requires a change of foot position or a
change in the line of site. The diagram above illustrates the problem. Note that in order to maintain proper balance, the rear foot must cross
the line of site. This action of crossing the line of site or your centerline is called "Moving up the circle". The circle is the area
established when one foot is used as the center and the body is rotated around it without changing the distance between the feet.
The reverse bow adds power to certain strikes (such as a downward hammer fist to the groin or a back knuckle to the face), increases stability and reach, increases the distance from the opponent, and can be used in a leg check, buckle or break. The weight distribution is 60% on the forward leg, and %40 on the rear leg (the rear leg in this case faces the opponent).
The 45° and 90° Cat Stance
The 45° and 90° cat stances place most of the weight (90%) on the rear leg - the student must learn to balance on the back leg. The rear leg must be bent for proper balance to be achieved. The stance is used to create distance (by placing the body above the rear leg), prepare to launch a kick, and avoid a leg sweep. The back foot is flat on the ground while the front foot rests only the ball of foot (or in some martial art styles, the heel or the flat). Because of the weight distribution, it is a transitory stance meaning that the student does not remain in the stance for more than a moment. The designation of the 45° and 90° refers to the position of the rear foot with respect to the front foot.
The diagrams show the formation of both stances from a neutral bow stance. The top diagram is the 45° cat stance while the lower diagram shows the 90° cat stance. The distance between the heel of the rear foot to the toes of the front foot is essentially two foot lengths. The stance protects the groin from a kick because of the placement of the front leg.
The Twist Stance
The textbook Front Twist Stance involves moving the rear foot of the neutral bow stance forward past the front foot, and twisting the toes toward the outside, parallel to the front. What is now the rear foot turns, points directly to the front and like the cat stance, rests only on the balls of the foot. The rear knee rests lightly on the calf of the front foot.
There is an alternate method for forming the front twist stance. From the right neutral bow, rotate the heel of the front foot towards the
centerline until the instep of the front foot is parallel to the front. Rotate the heel of the rear foot to the outside (away from the centerline)
until the rear foot points to the front. In this slightly faster version, the dimensions of the stance may not allow the rear knee to rest on
the calf of the front leg so it is not strictly a textbook approach.
To practice this stance, start in a right neutral bow, and move forward in a straight line, alternating between a right twist stance, a left 90° cat stance, a left twist stance, and a right 90° cat stance, and back to a right twist stance, etc. This drill may also be performed in reverse.
The Twist Stance (continued)
The weight distribution for this transitional stance is 50%-50%.
"Used in transition going forward or backward. Allows for a fast drop in height, used to stomp with, to conceal the rear leg prior to kicking with it; protects the groin, assists in breaking a leg, as a check or used with a sweep."
Ed Parker, Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Volume 2, page 86
These are all the stances that the student will use for their journey from White Belt to Yellow and appear at some point in the self defenses of Yellow Belt.