Is it generally expected in martial arts systems that all training stances/positions (horse stances, front stances, drop stances, etc.) will have direct fighting applications?

Questions such as Is the following position realistic in any fight?, What's this posture called, and does it signify something, and Isshinryu karate - seisan kata - opening move bunkai seem to start from the presumption that there are direct fighting applications that are a primary goal for training certain positions/stances. Is it generally an expectation that there are such applications, and the stances/positions are trained to achieve those applications?

  • 1
    This might be closed as too broad although personally I think it is on the fine end of the boarder. I would hate to see this degenerate into a "we do this in $style" type of answers. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 9:24
  • @Sardathrion I tried my best to ask this in a non-polling manner. Please suggest improvements if you can.
    – mattm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 12:48
  • I think it is fine as it stands but I am but one of many people on this site. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 13:01
  • Maybe this could be improved if you specified which system you're talking about. I could go on from the HEMA perspective, but you may not be looking for that.
    – PipperChip
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 13:45
  • @PipperChip This is almost a meta question; I am trying to understand what others are looking for in their questions. I don't have a particular system in mind.
    – mattm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


In general you will do a lot of things in training that may not be directly applicable in a fight. This does not mean that they are not helpful.

For example: what is the likely practical fighting application of a press up?

This can also extend to Stances - some stances are designed to work your leg muscles and increase your balance. My experience comes from Tae Kwon Do and many of the stances would not be used in a fight, however, understanding the purpose of the stances and how they work help in delivering more powerful strikes as well as staying balanced and giving yourself better movement options.

  • 3
    This is pretty much my opinion on the issue. Not everything within a martial art will have direct combat application, but it should in some way contribute to the practitioner's overall martial prowess. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect every nuance of training to be directly translatable to combat effectiveness.
    – Zen_Hydra
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 16:30

Is it generally expected in martial arts systems that all training stances/positions (horse stances, front stances, drop stances, etc.) will have direct fighting applications?

Generally expected... No.

In reality. Yes. All stances have fighting applications. All movements in kata or forms have direct fighting applications.

They may not be immediately obvious depending on the type of fighting that you are familiar with.

Horse stance has a couple of applications. It drops your body weight, for example if you have someone in a standing arm bar it puts pressure on the arm and drives them down. It can also be used to break someone's balance.

The problem with the way that stances are taught today is they are seen as static. i.e. a way to stand... It's a profoundly incorrect view of what they are. They are not static, you would be in stance for a fraction of a second. Taking stances out of application, out of context is a good example of poor teaching.

Here's a great example of Machida applying horse stance. It's an application taken directly from the kata Pinan Nidan and one he's gone on to use in other venues.

Application of zenkutsu dachi forward or lunge stance and kiba/shiko dachi horse stances.


Add in a belt and you have obi-otoshi.

Without seeing the movements in the respective forms they're taken from, the first and second examples you give are the same application. Catch a kicking leg, lift it up, push opponent over backwards. The second example it looks like he's also being pushed backwards over the extended leg, there are a number of ways to complete it.

Here is a video example of exactly this application: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGix-z9tlYw&t=9m30s

Looking at the text of the second question example, the teacher was obviously told what the application of the movement is; "push opponent away", "block a kick" but failed to understand or pass it on.

Is it generally an expectation that there are such applications, and the stances/positions are trained to achieve those applications?

No, in my experience, the general expectation from martial artists as conventionally trained today (in many schools and systems) is that stances have no purpose and that kata or forms are "dances" which have little to no value.

Personal opinion: I see this as a failure of training and understanding, rather than a failure of the originators of the forms. The quality of teachers of systems which teach martial arts based on solo forms is on average abysmal.

  • If I reworded the question to "should it be expected", then your answer is yes?
    – mattm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 13:01
  • Yup. Should it be expected? Yes it should. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 13:45

For Historic European Martial Arts (HEMA):

Just about every stance or guard is meant to be used in combat.

While some of them may seem odd, like Ochs/Ox (or Finestra/Window); Actually Quite Useful

... or the reverse grip (from German Longsword):

Look at his hands!

... or may seem to leave you vulnerable, like Long Tail (notice how he's looking to our right, his left);

Also Quite Useful

... or just don't seem intuitive, like you find in i33;

Awkward? But It Kills People!

HEMA will almost always give you a stance that you can use in combat. People were using these technique to fight and gain victory. All the stances shown here are actually used to great effect. The battlefields of Europe were the proving grounds, and the styles which were preserved were the effective ones. Europeans in the middle-ages did not bother with things that did not work.

For instance, Ochs can be used after passing under a blow (or yielding), or to catch a sword blow going for your head. The reverse grip actually helps you control individuals when they bind your sword, and can be used to give good thrusts. Long tail gives you immense power to swing, and can be used to deceive opponents into thinking you're defenseless. The sword-and-buckler play shown above is an individual in grey countering an opening from the individual in yellow. The bottom two stances show an individual charging in a stance which obviously delivers a strong cut, and another person warding that individual off.

If you take a look at people fighting, such as these two fighters at swordfish 2015, you'll see them use stances and techniques from the treatises. (You may also catch the commentators talking about what they're using, etc., if you're not familiar with the source texts.)

  • As a side note, and not really part of my answer: From talking with various practitioners, it seems the practicality of training stances, etc. depends on the objective of the martial art. HEMA systems focus purely on combat; there is no religious element like that found in some eastern martial arts. Eastern martial arts may therefore do things that make sense in a spiritual, not martial, perspective.
    – PipperChip
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 19:10
  • From the video: they need to mark the competitors more conspicuously. The red competitor's arm band is visible, but not as visible as his blue legging. The blue competitor's arm band is only visible after you know where to look, and the contrast against black is poor.
    – mattm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 23:23
  • @mattm take it up with the people at swordfish. In any case, they do use identifiable stances that people train in.
    – PipperChip
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 6:00

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