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Nekko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance)

Most styles of Karate use nekko ashi dachi (cat stance) in one form or another. In some styles, the weight is distributed 90% on the back foot and only 10% on the front foot (with the heel raised). The percentages may vary.

The usual explanation for the cat stance is that it makes it very easy to kick with the front foot, since it only holds 10% of the weight. Obviously, it is difficult to kick if that foot is holding a lot of weight. You would have to shift the weight to the other foot first. Essentially, the cat stance is a stance in which the weight has been shifted to the back foot.

So I was thinking: if the cat stance is used for kicking with the front foot, how many times does this occur in our kata? I realize that everyone's kata may differ, but in my own kata sylabus, the answer is... never. At least I could not think of even one instance in which a kick was executed with the front foot from a cat stance.

For Kishaba Juku people, have I missed one? Even if I did, there certainly are not many cases of this.

So why? Why do we put 90% of the weight on the back foot and then not kick with the front foot?

Here is my answer. The 10%/90% weight distribution is just one of many states of the cat stance. The weight distribution changes depending on what you are doing.

Take the Pinan kata. They all start with a left cat stance (turning to the left with the left foot forward). I used to do this with 10% of my weight on the left foot (front) and 90% of my weight on the right (back) foot. When I first went to Okinawa in 2002, I was corrected. I now do these stances, initially, with about 40% of my weight on the left foot (front) and 60% of my weight on the right (back) foot. Depending on the movements, my weight might shift back and forth. In the second movement of Pinan Shodan, for example, my weight will shift to about 75% or 80% on my left foot (front) during the right strike.

Again, looking at the first movements of the Pinan kata, how many are followed by a kick with the front foot? None.

In fact, when there are kicks from cat stances in the Pinan kata, they are done with the back foot! That's right. You take a cat stance to kick with the back leg, which supports most of the weight. So you have to shift some weight to the front foot in order to kick with the back foot.

OK, there are places where you kick with the front foot, sort of. We do kick with the back foot from kosa dachi (cross stance). But the back foot in kosa dachi is like the front foot in nekko ashi dachi (cat stance). If you take a cat stance and bring your front foot back, you will be in kosa dachi. We do tend to kick from this stance.

So here is my point, if cat stance is for kicking with the front foot, then why is it not more common in the kata? If cat stance is not for kicking with the front stance, then why do so many people use a weight distribution based on such a kick?

Why, why, why? I feel that it is good to ask questions.

Of course, and I know you have been thinking it... all stances represent transitions. They are not rigid and fixed. As we move and shift our weight and feet, the stances will change. Rigid, fixed stances only exist in books because photographs are two dimensional representations of a split second in time. As we shift back and forth, we will go through many versions of a cat stance, and the stance will change or morph into others. As we shift and extend forward, we take zenkutsu dachi. As we twist or shift back, we take kosa dachi. As we stand straight up, we take shizentai dachi. We can take many stances in just seconds.

There is not a single, rigid, fixed cat stance. A 10%/90% distribution represents one of many possible versions of the stance. The weight distribution will depend on what you are doing.

So what are you doing? That is a good question to ask. Whenever you perform a movement in a kata, ask yourself what you are doing? Then ask yourself, how does your stance help you to accomplish this? Or does it?

OK, I thought about the nidan geri (double kick) in our kata. We do jump from a cat stance, but in nidan geri you kick with your back foot first, no?

And, as a last thought, of course you can always kick with your front foot if it is opportune to do so. Just because it is not common in the kata does not mean that you cannot do it. If you are in a nekko ashi doing a shuto, for example, you can catch the attacker with the shuto and then kick him with your front foot (or your back foot). You can do whatever works best. Kata are not meant to limit your arsenal -- but for many people they do just that!


Charles C. Goodin