Engagement Posture – Kamae

Kamae

I read a great little piece of translation at Kenshi247.net attributed to Nakayama Hakudo, founder of Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido, on the subject of Kakashi Jodan, and it got me thinking about Engagement Postures (Kamae) in general. Read this short article and then continue reading here.

“Kakashi’ means someone who takes the outward form of something for the sake of status or pride despite their lack of ability to do the thing they say or attempt to do. It can also refers to scarecrows – they look human, but they aren’t.” 1

Kamae (Engagement Posture) is a term with a broad meaning that includes physical posture, readiness, deception, and attitude. Engagement Postures are related to Timing (Hyoshi), Distance (Ma-ai), and Stillness (Tomari); can be used to produce confusion and to deceive; and can be related to the number of opponents you face. Kamae is definitely related to mental status and can even cause an opponent to hesitate or give up attacking.

There are hundreds of Engagement Postures used by various Budo disciplines. Understanding them is a study unto itself, but all are related to a position that is equally ready for attack, defend, or both. Many have specific applications and have wonderful names. Here are some examples from the Chito Ryu Karate Kata:

  • Earth Posture (Chi no Kamae)
  • Peaceful Bird Posture (Chinpi no Kamae)
  • Expanding/Tension Cloud Posture (Choun no Kamae)
  • Cannon Ball Posture (Hoken no Kamae)
  • Open Hands at Eye Level Posture (Kaishu Ganzen no Kamae)
  • Both Hands Invitation Posture (Kaishuho Sasoi no Kamae)
  • Cloud Fist Posture (Kenun No Kamae)
  • Bow Power Posture (Kyusei no Kamae)
  • Heron Wing Posture (Ranchu no Kamae)
  • Dragon Tongue Posture (Ryuzetsu no Kamae)
  • Heron Posture (Sagi Kamae)
  • Heaven and Earth Posture (Tenchi no Kamae)
  • Horned Posture (Tsuno Gamae)

Some names above are descriptive of an animal, bird, or the offensive and defensive strategies they resemble. Others imply deception or purposely show an opening that is really a trap for the unwary. Some Engagement Postures hide the length of a weapon whether it is a sword or staff.

Essentially, Engagement Postures are ways of minimizing exposure of weak (Kyo) positions to our opponent on all three levels (physical, mental and spiritual), and prepare us to exploit any weakness in the opponent—a balance between offence and defence.

At the same time, with deeper Insight (Kan) into Kamae, an Engagement Posture is a symbol of your opponent’s thinking—of what he will do. How you present yourself to your opponent tells a lot about you and your level of experience. In addition, by observing how your opponent approaches you, you are seeing his reaction to how he perceives you.

Rigid adherence to a particular Engagement Posture shows a lack of flexibility and indicates likely reactions to attack. Adopting a posture to mentally dominate an opponent (such as Jodan Kamae) but lacking in credibility might appear on the surface as a solid Kamae, but in fact be a weakness (Kyo) that can be exploited. This is really what the article on Kakashi Jodan referenced above is all about.

The most basic, and arguably the most important, Engagement Posture is the Middle Engagement Posture (Chudan Kamae). Regardless of which martial art you study, I would even include modern military combat shooting and western fencing, this engagement posture is used in every combative art.  There are differences based on whether or not you hold a weapon, and the type and nature of the opponent’s threat, but there are some basic principles you can see right away.

“To understand Engagement Posture you must thoroughly understand Chudan Kamae. Chudan Kamae is the heart of the attitudes. If we look at strategy on a broad scale, Chudan Kamae is the seat of the commander, with the other Kamae following the commander. This should be examined carefully.”
Miyamoto Musashi, Go Rin No Sho

Examining the Middle Engagement Posture (Chudan Kamae) we can see many things:

• Stance is oriented to provide maximum stability toward direction of force or opponent.

• Knees aligned and bent toward opponent to protect them, provide protection from a kick to the groin, and maintains a strong hip position.

• Body is upright paying attention to the Vertical Axis (Seichusen), and center of gravity is stable. 

• Both legs aligned for kicking.

• Upper body turned into a Half Front Facing (Hanmi) position to minimize profile to opponent. Although modern Kendo Kamae is less so, older Bujutsu favored this.

• Forward hand or sword protecting the centerline of the body.  Makes it difficult for a direct hit and forces a glancing blow (like the glacis on the front of a tank.)

• Forward hand or sword tip points toward the opponent’s face, locked on target.

• Forward hand or sword in a central position so blocking movements whether inside or outside only have to travel half the width of the body. Up and down movements to block low and high are minimized.

• Rear hand is targeted toward opponent and ready to be used as circumstances permit.

• Chin is slightly down in case the face is struck. Still maintains eye contact even if hit. If the head is turned away then you cannot see what is going on.

• Teeth slightly together to help protect jaw if hit.

• Body weight distributed evenly between forward and back foot. Allows for movement in any direction easily, either foot to kick or otherwise use (e.g. for sweeping).

Studying the Middle Engagement Posture can give you Insight (Kan) into other Kamae and helps identify their strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly not to fall into the deception that many carry.

Natural State – Shizentai

Shizentai to a vast majority of people in the martial arts means “natural stance” and that is the end of their search for understanding. Shizentai is one of the highest expressions of Budo. Shizentai does not just mean to stand in a natural position, but it also means being prepared to deal with any situation.

While in Japan many years ago, I was given a small cast metal wall hanging by my instructor.  The piece depicted Miyamoto Musashi standing in a relatively relaxed position holding two swords. I had read Musashi’s book, the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), and had visited the cave called Reigando near Kumamoto where Musashi lived for the last six years of his life and where he penned this work in the seventeenth century.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my wall hanging was based on a famous portrait of Miyamoto Musashi (picture at right). To the less experienced, he looks less than impressive, but the man survived over sixty encounters with other able swordsmen, and was quite clearly a very experienced swordsman.

There had to be more to this picture.

The Engagement Posture Musashi is depicted in is known as Happo Biraki or “open on all eight sides.”

This type of Engagement Posture is sometimes termed the Engagement Posture of No Engagement Posture (Mu Kamae no Kamae), meaning that the concept of Engagement Posture now becomes irrelevant to combat, but that does not mean Kamae is not used. It means the person has reached a state in which he can adjust to his opponent in a fluid manner according to the situation. His mind is not attached, his body is not attached, yet both are integrated and completely ready to engage the opponent. In the words of a friend, “if I was the attacker I would have to pause and consider if he was just nuts, or like a coiled rattlesnake.”

In this case Musashi is obviously an integrated individual. His Kamae shows no Gaps (Suki), even though he looks innocuous.

Kamae is a reflection of thinking. You understand this, you begin to see Gaps (Structural, Movement, Execution and Mental) and understand what you will do from this posture—and that creates Gaps that can be anticipated. Having no Kamae makes you unpredictable and very hard to read.

Shizentai is actually the epitome I strive to find in my Budo. It encompasses not only the relaxed body that embodies Eye Position (Metsuke), Breathing (Kokyo Ho), Abdominal Convergence (Tanden), Stance (Dachi), Timing (Hyoshi), Distance (Ma-ai), Changing Speed (Johakyu), Coordinating and Expressing Ki (Kiai and Aiki), and Voice (Kake Goe), but also a mental state that we describe as Immovable (Fudoshin).

Shizentai is found in any stance—every stance has a Naturalness (Shizen). Shizentai is not just standing naturally, and yet, it is.

Recognizing Shizentai for what it is, has expanded my understanding well beyond Budo. I can see this Natural State (Shizentai) in artists, painters, gardeners, poets, authors, craftsmen, orators and philosophers. My search for truth by studying Budo has led me to a much broader understanding.

I have a question for you at the end of all this. Is the long-eared owl shown at the top of this article, showing Kakashi Jodan? Is he a scarecrow, or a Musashi of the night sky? How was he thinking of me when I photographed him? What was he telling me? And finally, can you see how your postures and those of others during everyday situations reflect a person’s thinking?

Engagment Posture (Kamae) is a reflection of thinking.

by Rick Rowell

Interested in delving deeper into many martial arts principles? Consider Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles as a reference.

References:

1. Kakashi Jodan. 2011. http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/11/09/kakashi-jodan/ accessed 10-Nov-11