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To achieve power and quick movement in the martial arts, you must first have stability. This means your body must be in balance and steadfast. There are two ways to view the importance of stability when fighting. One, you must have stability if you want to win. Two, you must upset your opponent's stability if you want to win.

Factors of stability

Three factors determine stability:
  • Mass. Mass is determined by gravity's effect on your body and does not change significantly during a combat situation.
  • Base. The base is an imaginary line drawn between your feet over which your mass is supported.
  • Center of mass. The center of mass is the center of balance or center of gravity of your body (usually in the lower abdomen, at a point a few inches behind the knot of your belt). It is the single point at which the body is in perfect balance. Your center of mass changes position with body movement and may even move to a point outside the body. For you to maintain stability, your center of mass must lie within the boundaries of your base. 

Principles of stability 

Stability may be expressed as the ratio of the width of the base to the height of the center of mass above the base.
  • Stability is inversely proportional to the height of the center of mass above the base. As the center of mass is moved higher above the base, stability decreases, and vice versa. The deeper a stance, the greater the stability.
  • Stability is directly proportional to the width of the base. As the base narrows, stability decreases and vice versa. When performing a sitting stance, the wider the stance  (base), the lower the body, and, the more stable the stance.
  • Stability is inversely proportional to the horizontal distance of the center of mass from the center of its base. The more the body leans, the less the stability.
  • Stability is directly proportional to the mass. The heavier the person, the greater the stability.
  • Stability in each direction is directly proportional to the horizontal distance of the center of mass from that edge of the base. The closer the center of mass is to an edge of the base (while remaining within the base) the weaker stability is in that direction and the stronger it is in the opposite direction.

States of stability

Stability may exist in two states: static (not moving) or dynamic (moving):
  • Static stability. Static stability is important, but the martial arts involves movement, so dynamic stability is more important to a martial artist. If the body is not stable, then it cannot move quickly to either block or attack, and techniques will lack speed and power. In performing a stance, the body must have static stability. The feet must be far enough apart to form a strong base and the center of mass must remain along and directly over the base.
  • Dynamic stability. To perform a kick, the body must maintain dynamic stability throughout the kicking motion. This means the center of mass must constantly shift so it is kept directly over the base (which is now the supporting foot).

Center of mass

Any time the center of mass moves away from a location directly over the midpoint of the base or outside the area of the base, stability decreases. As the center of mass is moved higher above the base, stability decreases, so the legs should be bent so the center of mass is kept as low as possible while still permitting quick movement of the body. As the center of mass is moved lower above the base, stability increases until the point is reached where the body may no longer move effectively.

Students must develop flexibility and strength, so they can make quick shifts of their center of mass to maintain stability and balance. Sometimes, a small twist of the knee or rotation of the foot may maintain stability, while at other times, such as while being grabbed and pulled, larger movements and great strength may be required to maintain stability. To maintain stability, strength and flexibility are required, but not body tension.

The center of mass is an important concept in all the martial arts. In China, it is known as the Dan Tian. The outer Dan Tian refers to an acupuncture point a few inches below the naval. The inner Dan Tian is visualized as a ball inside the abdomen and roughly corresponds to the fascial layer surrounding the abdominal cavity. This "ball" lies just under the diaphragm and breathing greatly influences its shape and position. Many energy skill exercises focus on contracting, expanding, and rolling this "ball" in conjunction with breathing.

In Eastern medical theory, energy is flowing around and through this "ball." In terms of Western physics, the center of mass is changing because of abdominal rotation and angular motion. When coupled with proper stability this angular motion allows great force to be expelled. If there is no stability, then the amount of force generated will be limited by the relationship between the mass and the velocity of the rotation.

With stability, the transfer of force from the ground up through the joints of the body is coupled with rotation of the center of mass to generate even more power. With stability, when contact is made with a target, the reacting force is directed down the legs, where it hits the ground and rebounds up and out to the target. This is good news for older, slower, smaller people who can’t rely solely on body mass and speed to generate power.


Integral to stability is balance. You must maintain balance to have stability. You maintain balance through subtle movements of your body, not by gross body movements. Large movements may overcompensate and require further compensation in the opposite direction. Use your arms for defense and attack, don’t swing them around for balance. If you extend your arms for balance, it leaves you open to attack. Maintain your balance using minute movements of joints, muscles, head, or feet. If minute movements are not sufficient to maintain balance, then move your entire body into a new position that is in balance.

Interactions of the following systems help maintain one's balance:
  • Inner ear. The inner ear is key to the balance. It sends signals to the brain regarding your position. 
  • Vision. The eyes send signals to the brain about position and movement.
  • Proprioception. Proprioception refers to a sense of joint position. Tension, pressure, and stretching in the muscular system send signals to the brain via the sensory receptors.
When the brain receives confusing signals from these systems, such as when experiencing  motion sickness or vertigo, balance is severely affected.

Breaking balance

Breaking the balance of an opponent, means you are causing the opponent to lose balance or to be off-balance. Some principles of breaking balance include:
  • Eight directions of off-balance. The directions are best described by relating them to the directions of a compass where the opponent is standing at the center of the compass facing south. The eight directions are north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest. You should push or pull your opponent in one of these directions to cause them to become off-balanced. If your opponent is already is already moving in a certain direction, pull or push the opponent in that direction to cause him or her to become off-balanced.
  • Coordinate all parts of your body. Don’t rely on just your arms to force an opponent off-balance, also use the strength of your legs and twisting of your body.
  • Reaction time. Take advantage of your opponent's long reaction time. When your opponent is distracted, such as when concentrating on an attack, he or she is not thinking about balance and will react slower to being forced off-balance.
  • Keep your center of mass lower than that of your opponent.  By keeping your center of mass lower than your opponent’s, you are more stable than the opponent and your off-balancing attempts will have a greater effect.
  • Use your hips. Keep your hips and waist pointed in the same direction as the toes of your weight-bearing leg. When fighting, no matter the stance you use, you will usually have most of your weight loaded onto one leg or the other. For maximum stability and power, keep your hips and waist pointed in the same direction as the toes of the foot with that has most weight loaded onto it.

Ways to improve balance

Some ways to improve your balance include the following:
  • Eye exercises. Performing eye exercises aids the visual aspect of balance.
  • Resistance balls. Resistance balls are used by a lot of physical therapists to improve balance. Many muscle conditioning exercises maybe done on this over-sized ball. 
  • Balance boards. Balance boards come in different forms. Their main focus is on improving balance.
  • Slides. Using a slide apparatus improves lateral movement and balance.
  • T'ai chi. Balance is considered the single most important movement skill in this art. It concentrates on utilizing the energy of gravity.
  • Yoga. Many Yoga exercises are done on one leg to enhance balance.
  • Pilates. Pilates exercises emphasis on the stomach and back, which are key in maintaining balance.


To move, one must break balance. A step is merely a controlled fall. Just before the stepping foot strikes the floor, the body is falling forward. If the stepping foot slips or is knocked away, the body falls.

Two components of movement

  • Speed. Every martial artist wants to move quickly, either to attack or avoid an attack. To move the body, muscles must contract. Since the speed of a movement is directly proportional to the force that produced the movement, the stronger the muscles are, the quicker the movement. So, to increase speed, develop more muscle strength.

    Strength is increased by subjecting muscles to more forcible contractions than they are normally subject to. This is done by quickly contracting the muscles against light resistance for many repetitions (which strengthens existing muscle) or slowly contracting the muscles against heavy resistance for only a few repetitions (which builds more muscle). Strength may also be increased by either quickly or slowly contracting the muscles while keeping them tightly tensed, this is called dynamic tension.
  • Accuracy. You must not only move quickly, you must also be able to move to the exact the position desired. To move accurately, you must keep your eyes open and the opponent in view and compute the exact direction and distance to the point you wish to move to. If you can detect the opponent's initial movement as soon as possible, you will have more time to compute and move. Fatigue will reduce accuracy as well as speed, so the more physically fit you are, the better your accuracy and speed.


Stances greatly influence movement. If a stance is too rigid, then any movement will be hampered.

A stance with the weight on the front leg is useful to:
  • Receive force from the front (block).
  • Create force to the front (punch or kick).
  • Move to the front (step forward).
A stance with the feet relatively close together and the weight equally balanced (such as a sparring stance) is useful for moving in any direction quickly, while a wide, low side stance is strong to the sides and allows movement to either side.

A stance with the weight on the back leg is useful to:
  • Back up.
  • Move the body away from the opponent without moving the feet, to avoid attacks.
  • Set up counterattacks. By moving the body weight back to avoid attacks and the shifting the body weight (center of mass) forward with the counterattack, a great deal of force may be created.

To improve movement

  • Low, long stances are better for delivering powerful techniques.
  • Higher, shorter stances are better for moving quickly.
  • Use a forward stance if you want to go forward.
  • Use a back stance to back up or want to keep the feet close to the opponent and the body out of range.
  • Use an evenly balanced stance to be prepared to move in any direction.
  • If you are losing your balance while kicking, bend your base knee and keep the base foot flat and the body as erect as possible.
  • If you are being pushed or knocked off balance, bend the knees, lower the center of mass, and make sure the hips and shoulders are in line.
  • When stepping, try to make the body go forward rather than up and down. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

  • Schroeder, C. R. and Wallace, B. (1976). Karate. Basic Concepts and Skills. Philippines: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
  • Watanabe, J. and Avakian, L. (1974). The Secrets of Judo. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company. 

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