Hachijidachi Shizentai: the rectangle of Tanden

Italiano ♦ English

The second Japanese word I’ve ever learnt is yoi, the command our Sensei used to make us standing in hachijidachi shizentai stance. Yoi, in many Karate dojos, is usually translated as the exhortation be ready or simply as ready, but it actually means good or pleasant. Maybe they originally meant both that hachijidachi shizentai is a good position to prepare ourselves to start the Karate techniques (because it actually makes us ready) and that it is also a pleasant position, that is a comfortable stance to start with. Whether it is it or not, Hachijidachi literally means eight-shaped (hachiji) stance (dachi). Hachi is the Japanese word for the number eight and it is written this way: . Shizentai literally means natural, comfortable (shizen) body position (tai). Therefore, hachijidachi shizentai means eight-shaped stance with a natural and comfortable body position.

This stance is very well codified in the Wado-ryu Karate-do, showing some eye-catching differences whether compared to other Karate styles. Hironori Ohtsuka, founder and Grand Master of Wado-ryu, finally took its definition literally, rearranging the stance he had previously learnt from Gichin Funakoshi just after his studies with Motobu Choki, making it consistent to the Wado philosophy of mudana dosa (no unnecessary movements allowed) and the Budo principle of sei ryoku zen yo (maximum results with minimal efforts).

Shizentai - A: Larghezza delle spalle; B: Lunghezza del piede; C: Tanden; D: Baricentro
Picture 1 – Hachijidachi shizentai. A: Shoulders’ width; B: Foot’s lenght; C: Tanden; D: Barycenter

Let’s take a glance at Picture 1. When standing in hachijidachi shizentai our body’s configuration is quite similar to the musubidachi stance, but legs and feet are open rather then linked together, hands are closed (but not clenched) to fist rather then opened and the feet’s toes tend to stay a little straighter. The inner gap from heel to heel must be as wide as one’s foot lenght. In this way the whole outer width will be approximately as wide as one’s shoulders.

So, the whole body appears inscribed in an imaginary rectangle whose center corresponds to the Tanden (or Dantian in Chinese). In the Japanese, Chinese and Okinawan martial tradition the Tanden is the point placed in the low abdomen where one’s vital energy lies and from which Kime and  Kiai are originated, coinciding with the body’s gravity center. If your obi (belt) is traditionally tied (around your hips rather than around your waist), your Tanden lies right behind the knot. Many masters grasp their scholars’ knot just to drag them ahead by the belt when they want to show and let them experience the correct way to move forward when performing a Karate technique like, for exampe, junzuki. As showed in Picture 1, the reason is that Tanden corresponds to the body’s center of gravity. Moving your tanden all your weight and energy will move together, making any technique more effective. The Hachijidachi shizentai’s purpose is sustaining one’s Tanden putting it in the body-configuration’s center just to make it correspond to the barycenter. It helps us to focus on the Tanden, increasing its (and therefore our) energy. But to really make possibile an energy increase, first of all, we need to keep it.

La posizione dei piedi è Hachiji dachi, ma la postura generale non è Shizentai
picture 2. Legs and feet stance is hachijidachi, but the whole posture is not shizentai

Here we come again to the mudana dosa and sei ryoku zen yo principles. Standing in hachijidachi is not enough: we have to let the whole posture be shizentai, in order to minimize the energetic consumption. Take a look at Picture 2. It shows the hachijidachi stance of a different Karate style. Legs and feet positions are actually hachijidachi, but the whole posture doesn’t look that much natural to me, forcing the karateka to a muscular contraction hindering that state of relaxation that in the Wado-ryu has always to preceed every technique’s execution.

Pay attention, please. I am not saying that that stance (Pic. 2) is necessarily wrong or ineffective. I’m just saying that it is not consistent to Wado-ryu philosophy. Possibly, in the others’ styles intent, the arms stay leaned forward and outstretched before the body just to support the Ki-focus in some other way. If you noticed it, the fists stay hung before the abdomen as if they could hold an invisible brazier where the flowing out Ki energy would pour in. If you’re involved in a Budo philosophy aiming at the Ki’s cultivation through the muscular contraction (Goju-ryu and, partially, Shotokan and Shito-ryu), that’s great. But Wado is a soft style striving for harmony and balance between naturalness and Kime. Or rather, striving to express the whole inner energy through the naturalness itself. In the Wado-ryu hachijidachi stance body and arms are totally shizentai. Indeed, in the dojos, we often omit the first term just to say Shizentai.

Just a final consideration. Roberto Danubio sensei often repeats that, first of all, we must not give any advantage to our opponents. Leaning our fists and arms before our body uselessly decreases the distance from our opponent, who could more easily grab us. These too are the little details that make me love so much this Karate style. ♦ Leggilo in italiano

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