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How to move forward in Zenkutsu Dachi? Two Approaches Compared

Zenkutsu dachi belongs to the most basic stances, or tachi-waza in Shotokan karate. In fact, it distinguishes Shotokan from other karate styles because most of them do not put so much emphasize on at. However, most karateka have a very static approach to the stance. Although new and dynamic approaches how to move in zenkutsu dachi have been developed in recent years. We are going to present them in this article. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

In recent years, a new way of moving forward in zenkutsu dachi has been established. For some commentators it is way too “sporty”. Others criticizes it for its exaggerated focus on leaning forward. We are going to present you the “sporty” version and contrast it with the modern approach to move forward in zenkutsu dachi taught by masters like Tatsuya Naka.

The Sporty Approach of Zenkutsu Dachi

The classical approach of moving forward in zenkutsu dachi has always focused on pull the back leg as close as possible to the front leg and from there to move it forward to the front. Several master like Masatoshi Nakayama and Hirokazu Kanazawa had taught it this way.

In the new approach, on the other hand, not the legs initiate the motion but the body center. The body shall be moved to the front in order to reach a tipping point. Behind this idea stands the conviction to let the own weight pull the rest of the body over the tipping point. This would save power and still create more speed.

The concept works best by bending the front knee through relaxation. Trough the relaxation the body enters a forward motion. This initiation works without utilizing power of the body. After the body center has crossed the tipping point the muscles in the legs become applied and generate extra speed and power.

Our friends from the Karate Dojo WaKu in Tokyo created an excellent explanatory video about this approach.

The Modern Approach

While the sporty approach indeed offers an efficient way of acceleration it also leads to an instable motion. It comes pretty close to “falling” forward. It sacrifices control for speed because the upper body leans too much to the front.

The classical approach, as far as taught by masters like Tatsuya Naka, combines the concept of relaxation with a strong focus of pulling the thighs together. Our advisory board member, Keigo Shimizu Sensei, explains this approach in the folling video. sent us the below video. Due to the fact, that he speaks Japanese in the video, we have here a brief translation for you:

“It is important to have the feeling that the thighs close during the step at all times. Not the feet execute the step but the thighs close and pass each other and accelerate together. Do not bring your feet together. If one masters this step it is possible to accelerate very fast and cross long-distances. To move fast and clean, the weight should not only lie on the front leg. The back leg has to be pulled to the front leg.”

The zenkutsu dachi step focuses more on pulling than on pushing. Due to that, both legs are engaged in the motion and the energy is directed to the front. This approach is a synergy of the classical and “sporty” step. It utilizes the energy that emerges through a relaxed front knee. But it combines it with a strong focus on an active back leg and a stable and coordinating body center. Through that it creates power and speed but also stability and security. Because for Keigo Sensei counts: “Kihon must work in Kumite. Kihon only for Kihon reasons is like a beauty contest.

The picture shows Karate-Gis by SaikoSports, Taisei, and Momoko in the The Dojo Shop.

5 thoughts on “How to move forward in Zenkutsu Dachi? Two Approaches Compared

  1. When you really think about it . This is human movement optimised & understood to make the most of a bodies func
    tional dynamics & power ,a lifetime before modern science realised it for modern sports today . 🙌

  2. I think you need a sports physiologist to examine the action of the knee of the sports (new) example. The knee collapses inward as he starts his ‘drop’ and goes through quite a big outward rotation during his step. I do not see it as two different methods, rather a two distinct punches. One as oitsuki (Nakayama style), the other a karate sports punch

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