There are three basic ways of varying a stance. It can be either:
- Low and wide, or high and narrow
This refers basically to how much the knees are bent, and how far apart the feet are.
- Open or closed
This is best explained by example. A totally closed stance is one where the feet are placed one behind the other on the line leading towards ones opponent. A totally open stance is one where the feet are parallel, and both placed on the line perpendicular to the line leading towards ones opponent.
- Crouched, or upright
A crouched stance is one where the fighter is bent forward at the waist. An upright stance is one where the upper body is held relatively vertical. It is also possible to vary an essentially upright stance by leaning, without bending the waist.
I recommend a moderately open stance, where both feet pointing about 30 degrees from front and parallel. From a line drawn through the legs towards the opponent, the toe of the front foot should touch the line, while the heel of the back foot should be four to six inches away from the line on the side opposite the front foot. Please see figures 1a and 1b, below.
The height and width of a stance should vary with the situation. A low stance can provide more power, since the legs have a better angle at which to push. I prefer to widen my stance when I move into "slugging" range during an attack, especially when using two swords. I prefer to use a higher, narrower stance at range, since it provides increased mobility. I do not use a crouched stance in my style. Crouching interferes with the rotational power application that I use for my strikes, blocks, and returns. This is because the rotational style relies in the stomach muscles to connect the upper and lower body, and crouching makes it difficult to keep the stomach muscles flexed, so that they can fulfill this role. Also, crouching moves the upper body forward from the center of rotation, and thereby interferes with that rotation. A crouching stance can be used effectively in a style that emphasizes close contact, and that relies heavily on thrusts for offensive techniques.
Stance variations that are not generally useful, such as the lean, can be profitably used in certain situations. Generally, most variations gain situational advantages by incurring a disadvantage. A decision must be reached as to whether the advantage gained is worth the price. In any case, it is dangerous to assume that since a tactic works so well in one instance that it will be similarly effective in all circumstances. Some of these variations are as follows:
- Sword Foot Forward
This stance provides the advantage of increased range by allowing the sword shoulder to move further forward during a swing. Personally, I find it most useful as a transitional stance during combinations or movement. The disadvantages are severely reduced power and reduced support and mobility for the shield arm. In single-sword fighting it has the additional disadvantage of reducing the protection for the front leg, if the opponent is fighting with the opposite hand.
- More Open Stance
This is generally useful in the cross-blocking style of Florentine, and single-sword fighting. In this Florentine style, the stance is opened sufficiently that the toe of the back foot is almost even with the heel of the front foot, with the width slightly wider than it would be with sword and shield. This allows more leg push to be applied to the second sword. It also allows the cross-blocks to reach to the opposite knee. The disadvantage is that it opens up the centerline of attack. In single sword, it allows a cross block to reach low blows on the opposite side of the body.
I do not use leaning much in my style. If I choose to commit forward, or if I wish to present the illusion that I am closer than I am, I will lean slightly forward, realizing that this will interfere with my techniques, while providing positional and tactical advantages. I never lean back, except while dodging. Leaning back can provide similar positional and tactical advantages to a forward lean (as well as similar interference with technique), but I consider the advantages outweighed by the commitment backward.
Movement should employ the concepts of balance and commitment. It is very desirable to avoid committing your weight to any direction not desired. This includes leaning as well as shifting your weight too early during movement. When your weight is centered, movement in any direction starts from that center. If, for example, you are leaning forward or back, or your weight is distributed heavily forward or back, movement in the opposite direction, or laterally, will be more difficult and slower, since you will have to pass back through the center balance point before moving on. If, on the other hand, your weight is balanced, but you commit your weight heavily to each step, you will be unable to react properly to an attack or movement which occurs during that commitment, but before your balance is restored after the step.
Further, it is important to avoid any unnecessary motion, or commitment to a pattern of motion forward or back, sideways, or up and down, etc. This also includes repeated patterns of motions which otherwise are correct. It also can include motionlessness, held too long. It also includes extra motion during swings and blocks, even when not walking.
Basically, these commitments to unnecessary or unwanted directions, movements, and patterns either interfere with your ability to perform efficient techniques, reduce your options of movement or technique, or provide information to your opponent. Please see the section on exercises for more discussion of this subject.
The timing of movement is critical. If you step forward during a strike or block, you will lessen the power. If you step forward just before a strike or block, you can enhance the power. Generally, when you are striking, your weight moves off of your shield foot, allowing you to move that foot. During a return, the weight moves off of your sword foot, allowing you to move that foot.