Today we’ll be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of being high in your stance vs low. For this post, we’ll consider a low stance to be one with your feet double shoulder width apart and knees bent. This stance would require shifting your weight or taking a step to be able to kick. Conversely my criteria for a high stance is one where your feet are roughly shoulder width apart, and either foot could be picked up easily.
This is a mobility stance – you can kick, step, dodge, and jab very easily from here. This includes stances where your feet are lined up sideways (as seen in kicking styles) or if your stance is more open (like in boxing). Regardless of the angle, the height and width are the same.
Speed is the biggest advantage of having a more mobile stance. If your opponent rushes you, you can pick up your lead leg to sidekick them quickly. If you see an opening, you can easily step forward with your lead leg and throw a jab to the target. Because you do not need to shift your weight, nothing should give away your moves as you throw them. This sneakiness makes it especially useful in point sparring.
In full contact, being in a higher stance also means it’s easier to incorporate lateral movement on defense. If a powerful punch or kick is coming for you, being light on your feet means you can sidestep more easily. For those situations, you’re trying to always evade, not block.
Picture a mountain. Now imagine kicking the mountain. The mountain does not care. This is what a low stance should feel like. It shouldn’t feel like you’re so low you can’t move, but it should feel like you’re sturdy, heavy, and powerful.
The lower your stance, the more body weight and therefore power you can put into your strikes. With your legs apart and knees bent, you can channel more hip rotation into your punches. Also, when you kick from a low stance you need to explosively move your whole body forward – thereby putting more weight behind the kick.
Stability is especially a factor if you practice full contact, ground fighting, or self defense based fighting. In a point sparring match, if you’re light on your feet and get knocked over likely all that will happen is you and your opponent will reset and start over. In the other scenarios listed above however, you could end up injured by being knocked off balance (or worse). Having a lower center of gravity means you’re harder to push around.
Know When To Go High, and When To Go Low
Knowing when to be in a high stance and when to be in a low stance is very important when you face an opponent. Clearly both have advantages and disadvantages. Even in the same style (or even in the same class) there will be occasions for both.
When I spar, I try to never fight my opponent the way they want. If they’re a kicker, I punch, if they can punch, I use my legs to keep them away. The same is true for stances. If someone is lighter and faster than me, I try to win on stability. I work on getting low and sturdy, and then jamming them when they try to kick. If someone is bigger and stronger, I get light, try to dance around, and not let them get too close.
Picking one (high or low) per opponent is the start of stance strategy, but it’s not the end. One school of thought is that the closer you are, the lower you are. If I’m far enough away from my opponent, I’m light on my feet and dancing around. I want to be quick if I need to attack or retreat. When we’ve crossed into striking distance (or “in the pocket”) I need to get more stable so my moves have power and I don’t get pushed around. If we get even closer into grappling distance, having the lower center of gravity makes all the difference in the world.
Other Times to Get Low
• You’re Tired – You don’t have the endurance to dance, kick, or jab. You need to make each move count because you don’t have many left.
• You’re Bigger – If you weigh more, use it!
• You’re slipping – The mat is slippery with sweat, or you’re defending yourself in the rain, snow, or ice. Now is not the time to dance around and do a jump kick.
• You don’t know what to expect – New opponent, new school, new style? Just get in a good stance and fall back on blocking with your lead hand and reverse punching with your rear hand. It’s reliable, if not exciting.
• You’re in the club. I had to, I’m sorry.