Stick to the lines!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know I like to use all kinds of tools and ideas to help students learn karate…

From cups and coins, to belts and pads, and of course sticks. Yep, the stick is my favorite training tool. And no, not because I like to spar with them, but because a simple bo staff is a great tool to help with stances, transitions and posture.

Last week when I was teaching kata to some of my beginner students, they were having an extremely challenging time making their angles precise. So many times students THINK that just because they turn their head a certain direction, they are FACING that direction, but their actual stance, feet position and body alignment could be 20, 30 even 40 degrees off.

I’m sure you know what I mean… you too have had students with stances more twisted than a baked pretzels, and so unbalanced they look like they might be standing on tightropes.

I’ve tried to use visual references like lines on the floor to help them understand where their feet should go, and while this cures stance alignment issues, like a bad drug it has side effects. In this case students tend to look down during kata – not exactly what we want.

Introducing the bo staff, again.

Simply place the stick on the ground exactly where you want your students to step. Tell them one foot must be on the left of the stick, the other on the right. This is cool because they can keep their eyes focused forward but if they misstep they’ll know about it immediately.

For example, consider Tai Kyoku Shodan – a basic kata that is familiar to most styles (the standard “I” shape), where the first move is a block down in forward stance to your left, followed by a lunge punch. The third move is a step behind with a downward block followed by a lunge punch. The fifth move sees a block down at 90 degrees to your left followed by 3 lunge punches…. and so on.

Simply lay out some sticks as shown. Notice the sticks laid down in directions 1&7 are slightly offset to the sticks at directions 2&8. Also the stick at direction 4 is slightly offset to direction 5.


I’ll let you use your gray matter to figure that out… =)

Anyhow, once you have laid down the sticks as shown, have your troubled students practice the kata and encourage them to keep their eyes up. They’ll soon learn to step more carefully and align their stances more precisely, as stepping on the stick can be uncomfortable.

(Please note there is a potential danger here to roll an ankle so please supervise and assist as your student learns.)

And of course this isn’t limited to just simple kata, and you don’t have to put sticks down for the entire kata either. Instead, have students practice just one transition that they’re having difficulty with, before moving onto the next. That way in a class of 8 students all you need is 8 sticks, and not dozens of them.

Try it out and see how it helps with developing good stances, accurate transitions and alignment.

Until next time…

– Jason

P.S. Of course if you’d like more great karate drills and exercises, be sure to check out my complete list here.

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