In every martial art and combat sport, the importance of a proper stance can never be underestimated. Similar to how maintaining a proper form during an exercise makes all the difference, a proper stance is the foundation of a fighter’s technique.
That’s why here I’ll explain the logic and fundamentals of different fighting stances across several martial arts. You’ll get an understanding of why stances are so important and how they need to be adapted to each martial art. Let’s begin!
Table of Contents
Why Martial Arts Stances Are So Important?
Jeet Kune Do
Why Martial Arts Stances Are So Important?
Before I start breaking down any specific martial arts fighting stances, I want you to understand the idea behind a fighting stance. A stance is supposed to be the most optimal position a martial arts practitioner can assume to maximize their offensive and defensive capabilities. However, that is not to say there is a universal best stance for fighters.
Every stance across every martial art has strengths and weaknesses that can be countered or matched using different stances. Fighting stances aren’t made on the fly; they have to serve a specific purpose derived from either trial-and-error testing or martial arts doctrines from decades ago.
Still, that does not mean that a martial art’s stance can’t change. A fighter might pioneer a new stance that compliments their fighting style and physique better than a traditional stance.
The same fighting stance might not suit everyone since the physique and fighting styles of every practitioner are different. Having said that, if you’re a novice at martial arts, it is recommended you follow your school’s stance and fighting style until you master everything. Pioneering a stance is something you can only effectively do when you deeply understand the fundamentals of your martial art.
With all that out of the way, let’s break down the fighting stances of some of the most popular martial arts!
Boxing is the most popular combat sport in the world, and for good reason. Boxing (or a version of it) has been around for thousands of years and was even included in the ancient Olympic games. Since then, the sport of boxing has undergone multiple improvements and revivals. This, of course, included the stances.
Here, I’ll explain boxing stances in-depth because it is the combat sport that best illustrates all the fundamentals of what makes a good fighting stance. Boxing didn’t invent fighting stances, but the sport is a great reference point for stances used in other martial arts. With that out of the way, let’s start by looking at some of the most famous boxing fighting stances.
Modern Boxing Stance
The textbook modern boxing stance is the upright stance. In the upright stance, the boxer stands almost side-on with their feet just over shoulder-width apart. They also lean slightly forward with one foot a step ahead of their body. Your lead foot will almost be pointing forward, and your back foot will almost be at a right angle to it.
The hands are brought up to their face height, with the dominant hand protecting the side of the face while the weaker hand is in front of the face to fire jabs and parries. More confident boxers may keep their hands lower, but you need to have plenty of confidence and fast reflexes to do this.
Many people consider southpaw and orthodox stances as separate stances. However, they are effectively the same in their mechanics other than being mirrored versions of each other. Inexperienced orthodox and southpaw stance fighters often struggle when facing each other since they are not used to receiving attacks from the opposite side.
Many boxers will specialize in other stances after they master the upright stance. This is because while the upright stance is great for throwing punches, it is not the best boxing stance when it comes to defense, counterpunching, outboxing, or pressure fighting.
While there is no limit to boxing stances, I’ll look at the three most notable boxing stance systems employed by legendary boxers like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.
Hands Down Stance
Starting with Muhammad Ali’s style of fighting with his arms down, this is a stance that goes against the boxing fundamentals of ‘always keep your guard up.’ This stance leaves the boxer completely open to attacks but, at the same time, allows the boxer to have clear sight of their opponent’s stance and punches.
The hands-down stance shines when it is used by a boxer with exceptionally quick footwork and reflexes. This stance uses speed and distance as a defense instead of the traditional practice of guarding with your hands. Out-boxers are the best-suited type of boxers for this stance.
Another downside of this stance is the long distance your arms have to travel when throwing punches. This gives your opponent a lot more time to react and block your strikes. Thus, out-boxers who employ this stance will often rely on counters and quick precision strikes to win the fight.
Peek-a-Boo and Crouched Stance
The peek-a-boo fighting style pioneered by the legendary boxing coach Cus D’mato uses the crouched or semi-crouched stance as its base. In the crouched stance, the hands are placed close to the face while you crouch slightly to lower your center of gravity, making it harder for the opponent to land clean hits.
The crouched stance is an extremely defensive stance that sacrifices the range and mobility of out-boxing stances for an air-tight defense. To add lethality to the naturally defensive stance, the peek-a-boo fighting style adds strong brawling and pressure fighting techniques to the crouched position to overwhelm the opponent at close range.
The peek-a-boo is the best style for a shorter fighter since it makes an already small target even smaller. This stance, when combined with a strong punching power, allows the boxer to throw extremely aggressive onslaughts and overwhelm their opponent.
The downside of this stance is that it is naturally passive and requires you to be either a good pressure fighter or a counterpuncher to get the most out of it. The crouched style is often combined with other aggressive pressure-fighting systems to add offense to a solid defense.
Philly Shell (Mayweather Guard)
The Philly shell or shoulder roll is one of the most difficult stances to master and use in a fight. The Philly shell stance is when you face your opponent with your shoulder pointing towards them. The side facing the opponent serves as a guard against all forms of straights and jabs.
The dominant hand is also kept ready at chin height to capitalize on any counterpunch opportunities. This stance minimizes the area your opponent can hit without forcing you to use pressure-fighting techniques to attack. Floyd Mayweather is one of the most popular users of this style, with his own unique variations.
The Philly shell is the perfect middle ground between the crouched stance and the upright stance. It is a stance that relies almost entirely on counterpunching and winning by attrition in a fight. As the name suggests, the fighter retreats into a shell and refuses to go on the offense unless given the ideal opportunity.
Because of these reasons, Philly shell is a style that suits extremely patient fighters. The goal is to tire and frustrate your opponent by guarding or dodging most of their punches. Bait the opponent into throwing a reckless combo and then punish them with your own counterpunches to win.
The Philly shell is difficult to master because it demands agility, patience, and finesse from the fighter to be executed properly. Lacking any of the three would mean the defense quickly falling apart. However, when employed perfectly, the Philly shell is almost impregnable.
Now that we know the fundamentals of how feet and hand position can be crucial to a fighting stance, let’s go through all the other popular martial arts.
Krav Maga is a dynamic martial art and the deadliest in the world. A part of the reason it is so effective is that it’s highly adaptable to any situation. Due to this, the stance needs to be adaptable so that you can take advantage of any weakness from your opponent.
That being said, Krav Maga does have two main stances, which are the neutral stance and the fighting stance. The neutral stance is more squared on with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your weight evenly distributed. This is effectively a stance that is prepared for action.
The fighting stance is for when the fighting begins and is almost identical to the standard boxing stance with your lead foot forward and the back foot angled. The only difference is that in Krav Maga your chest is a little more open. As you can see, the reason I talked about boxing in great length is that this stance is used as a basis for most combat martial arts.
One of the disadvantages of a boxing stance is that your lead foot is usually quite far from your body. This works in boxing as it gives you the greatest balance and allows you to rotate over your body for more powerful punches. However, in other combat sports, this lead leg can be vulnerable to kicks.
It’s due to this that starting MMA fighting stances are usually a little more square-on to be less vulnerable to not only kicks but also takedowns. However, there is a wide range of stances in MMA, and the one a fighter chooses is often developed from their martial arts specialty.
For example, a fighter who started their career learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu is likely to have more of a grappling stance, and one who learned Muay Thai will have a more upright stance. Keep reading as I’ll explain the nuances of these stances below.
Kickboxing stances are similar to boxing stances for the most part. However, since kickboxing includes kicks, the kickboxing stances focus more on evasion as a form of defense. As such, kickboxers will avoid guard-heavy stances that affect their mobility.
The textbook kickboxing stance is similar to the upright boxing stance but with both hands farther out and the lead leg a little further back. Unlike the boxing stance, though, the kickboxing stance does not include leaning forward on a leg to help with forward movement. The front leg is always aimed toward the opponent to pre-emptively guard against forward-checking kicks.
This stance can be different for American kickboxers who focus on side-kicks instead. Still, the idea is to use one of the legs to guard against oncoming kicks. Since kickboxing is relatively less popular than other combat sports, most kickboxers usually employ a boxing or Muay Thai stance modified for kickboxing.
Muay Thai is a striking martial art that employs the use of knees and elbows in addition to fists and kicks. It’s called the art of eight limbs, and the Muay Thai stance is the best representation of this. Since Muay Thai is a cultural martial art, many aspects of it are traditional and are a result of multiple generations of masters improving and passing on their techniques.
The proper Muay Thai stance has a lot of variation depending on the skill level of the practitioner. For beginners, it is recommended to keep their arms in front of them at almost head height. Your hips should be directly facing your opponent, and your feet must be slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
This stance will let you cover the maximum area against incoming strikes. A thing to note is that as you become more familiar with the techniques in Muay Thai, the more you can experiment with the stance. Many expert Nak Muays will often switch up the position and distance of their feet and arms to better adjust to defense or offense.
Taekwondo is yet another martial art that has a rich cultural history behind it and a wide range of stances. Similar to Muay Thai, taekwondo techniques have been passed down for generations in the oldest dojos.
The basic Taekwondo fighting stance is where the feet are in front of each other in a straight line, with you looking over your lead shoulder. A 1.5x shoulder length distance should be between both feet and the lead hand should be raised to shoulder height with your whole body relaxed.
Since taekwondo competitions are less gruesome than other combat sports, innovating a new or more effective fighting stance is usually not on a taekwondoin’s list of priorities. Instead, there is a greater focus on techniques and tactics.
Similar to taekwondo, karate is a cultural martial art that focuses more on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of the martial arts. The are many forms of karate and they all have a wide range of stances.
These karate stances that each focus on executing a particular movement or force direction. All Karate practitioners begin by learning a few basic stances and learn more as their understanding and proficiency of karate increases.
Moreover, in karate, a stance and a fighting posture are two separate things. A stance (called dachi) refers to the position of the feet when executing a technique. A fighting posture (kamae) refers to the overall position of the body, including the angles and positions of the arms and feet.
Still, the idea behind both remains the same. Both dachi and kamae focus more closely on the artistic representation of the technique instead of ideal positions in a fight.
Kung fu is an umbrella term used for all Chinese martial arts. These include Wing Chun, Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and more. Almost all forms of kung fu are artistic and philosophical. Due to this, there are a huge number of kung fu fighting stances.
Stances in kung fu require balance and fluidity in movement. The purpose of these stances is to nurture a sense of patience, control, and self-mastery in the practitioners. How effective a particular style of kung fu is in combat is debatable, as some have legitimate combat philosophies (such as Shaolin Kung Fu) while others are purely recreational, such as Tai Chi.
Aikido is a martial art that is all about the artistic expression of techniques with little to no real combat effectiveness whatsoever. An aikido stance or ‘hanmi’ is similar to the upright stance position in boxing but with both hands open and extended forward.
The aikido stance does not provide any specific advantages over other martial arts stances. However, it is still a good stance for beginners who want to learn the basics of maintaining balance in a fight.
Judo and jiu-jitsu are both grappling martial arts that focus on bringing the opponent to the ground as soon as possible using leverage. While judo is a traditional martial art, it does not focus on the artistic aspect as much as the previous martial arts on this list.
A fighting stance in judo is just the position that both judoka assume at the start of a round. The stances generally come down to which side you want to grab the opponent from. Hence, outside the sport form of judo, there is no judo fighting stance.
Both jiu-jitsu and judo focus on positioning and leverage in a fight to overwhelm, throw, or put your opponent into a submission lock. Both of these martial arts are similar in the sense that the outcome matters more than the stance or appearance of the technique.
Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do is a martial art that focuses on adaptability and free-flowing techniques. The basic Jeet Kune Do stance is similar to the upright boxing stance with the legs slightly bent. However, there are no limitations or restrictions on the exact stance.
Jeet Kune Do shares many similarities with modern MMA. It encourages the practitioners to freely incorporate all forms of techniques and stances to gain an advantage in a fight. Jeet Kune Do is also called the art of intercepting fists because it aims to counter incoming strikes with a faster and more precise strike of your own.
What is the ultimate fighting stance?
There is no ultimate fighting stance. A fighting stance can give you an edge over the competition depending on a person’s abilities, fighting style, martial arts base, physique, and the opponent. However, a mismatch is equally likely to hinder you.
The purpose of a basic fighting stance is to help you develop martial arts fundamentals. After reaching a reasonable level of proficiency, you should start experimenting to fight the best fighting stances for you.
What are stances in martial arts?
In martial arts, your stance is the way you place your feet and orientate your body. This helps to put you in the best position to both attack and defend. A good stance will allow you to stay balanced and apply the techniques you’ve learned.
Why do stances matter?
In any striking martial art, your feet are the foundation for your strikes. They are also how you are going to evade attacks and develop counterattacks. A bad stance will make you vulnerable to strikes/takedowns and will also mean you aren’t able to deliver much power in your strikes.
What is a proper fighting stance?
I find this a difficult question to answer for two reasons. One, different stances work for different fighters, and two, different sports require different stances.
Generally, a proper fighting stance is one that allows you to maintain balance and move your feet quickly. If you feel like you’re not agile enough or easily getting overwhelmed by your opponents, having a coach look at your stance is probably a wise idea.
How do I find my fighting stance?
The right stance for you will depend on what combat sport you’re participating in. Ultimately, it’s best to play around with different stances and fighting styles during sparring. This will give you a good idea of what feels natural and what doesn’t. There is no one perfect fighting stance, as you’ll find out what works for you.
Can you be both southpaw and orthodox?
Not at the same, but yes. Orthodox is a fighter that leads with their left foot and left hand, with the idea that you can rotate your body to deliver power shots with your right hand. With southpaw, the opposite is true, leading with the right foot and right hand.
In a fight, a fighter can switch between these two stances whenever they wish but generally, a right-hander fights orthodox and a left-hander fights southpaw. Switching it up can confuse an opponent and give them angles they’ve not trained for.