Musubidachi, or the attention stance

Italiano ♦ English

Usually, the first japanese word you learn when you join a Karate class is Musubidachi. Every Karate lesson, right after the warm-up exercises, begins with the salutation ceremony (Rei) and, however you do it standing (Ritsurei) or seated on your knees (Seiza), you have to start it from the Musubidachi stance, anyway. Musubi is a japanese verb stating the act of uniting or putting together, while dachi simply means stance. Hence, we could translate it as united stance or, maybe a little bit awkwardly, putting-together stance. Accordingly with the oriental attitude and mentality (that doesn’t conceive a real separation between body and spirit) this Japanese word doesn’t describe the mere act of linking your legs and feet close together, but also that you’re preparing to connect yourself with the master, with the discipline, with your own spirit, with the whole universe. Therefore someone (Shingo Ohgami sensei, for example) translates Musubidachi simply with attention stance.

This stance may look even too much easy. You just have to stand with your chest upright joining your legs together and taking care to keep your heels in touch, shaping a sort of V with your feet. If you have ever been in the Army, it’s almost like standing at attention. But, if you look better, it’s easy to realize that it ain’t really that easy. And it isn’t.

Often you can find people standing in Musubidachi with their legs completely outstretched and with blocked knees, sticked out chin, forward or backward tilted head, raised and tense shoulders (if not even sloping), neck buried in the chest and randomly opened toes, with a variety going from an almost-heisokudachi to a duck-like stance.

Mosubidachi. A: Larghezza del proprio pugno.
Picture 1 – Musubidachi. A: Fist width.

But Musubidachi is a very well-codified stance in Wado-ryu Karatedo. My old master Gianni Mosconi (3rd dan Wado-kai in the ’80s) used to say that you can easily identify a good Karateka just by watching at his Musubidachi stance. He said Musubidachi is the brick (even spiritual) you have to use to build all the other Karate stances and techniques. He usually started explaining it from the bottom.

First of all, he said, we have to estabilish the toes’ angle. Some masters, like Suzuki, Ohgami and Toyama, used to refer to angle’s degrees to fix it: when standing in Musubidachi the angle formed from toe to toe has to be set somewhere between 50° and 60° (absolutely not 90° like too many people even think). Unfortunately, often there are not enough goniometers in the dojo. Therefore Mosconi sensei suggested a simple solution: the toes’ angle has to be open enough to let you put your fist between them. Put your fist inside the V shape described by your feet at the level of the Koshi (metacarpus and big-toe joint): your fist has to fit in well (look at Picture 1). If you do it this way, your toes will tend to diverge from each other about 50°-60° depending on your body measures. Only after that you can deal with your legs.

They never have to be tightened and outstretched, with your knee joints never blocked. Actually, they always have to remain slightly bent, just to let them do their work: sustaining the body in a way that, even if stationary, it could remain reactive and ready to move. Shoulders have to be relaxed, as much as the arms do, which have to drop naturally along the body, just thanks to the gravity. Also the hands are relaxed and naturally opened and hung. Concerning the chest, the neck and the head, instead, a further explanation is needed.

We have to picture an imaginary thread running through our spine just coming out from our head like if we were marionettes. The thread is tense as much as to hold us upright without lifting us off the ground. This way, our chin moves back, our neck softly stretches, the vertebras extend aligning themselves and our chest comes slightly forward without letting the shoulders to contract pulling backward. We can also picture it like the Taiji Qi Gong stance called Sustaining the Heaven with the Head. Imagine we must sustain the weight of the skies using the top of our head, having our feet well anchored to the ground. This way, from the legs up, our position is identical to Musubidachi. If we really want to sustain the heaven, our knees and legs have to be slightly bent, our back extended and aligned with the neck, chin back, straight head aligned to the back and spine too.

So we are now ready. Our attention is activated and stimulated. Our body finally relaxed but still receptive and reactive. And our head is touching the sky. Musubidachi. The unite stance. The stance of linking heaven and earth together. ♦ Leggilo in italiano

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