Everything About the Guard Stance Except Guarding

Hands up! Put up your dukes! En Garde! The correct guard position is an important item though, many times, it barely  “guards” anything.

I love to teach the guard stance because it brings the students’ minds into focus on the whole idea of self-defense. The guard stance is so basic that almost anyone can lift her or his hands and do a fair imitation of it, even with little training.

But to a seasoned eye, the difference between good and bad in a guard stance is as great as between Picasso and pizza. Here are a few thoughts about the position. You might already know all this but it’s a good list to help you re-establish the fundamentals of self protection.

1.      The guard stance is neither here not there. It’s not just about guarding your self. It’s also about taking it to the other guy. The guard stance should give you the perfect blend of defensive postures and initiation mobility. This seems obvious, but if you cover up too much and shrink too tight you might as well ring a bell before you switch into attack mode.

2.      Hide behind the weapon. In fencing it is quite clear: you keep the sword between you and the opponent. A guard stance has to put the threat of reprisal out there in the face of the opponent. Not only is this just common sense, it is enough to make the opponent think twice about entering the fight line. That hesitation may make up for any initial jump he might gain on you when entering the line. It is essential that all direct routes are blocked or at least obscured. Remember that third of a second he takes to realign himself is all you need for your reaction time.

3.      The guard stance is a fun house mirror. Nothing your opponent sees in your guard stance should be quite right. In commercial art we called this, “Out of drawing.” Not something terrible, just wrong enough to make you itch. That big open invitation between your arms is a bit askew, sort of like a corridor in the Mystery House. Experts never show a direct, authentic way through their defense without wanting to. It might be a taunt but it’s not a mistake. Just to get a quick taste of this, look right into the mirror for a few minutes and you will automatically find yourself getting “shifty” about what is exposed and what is covered. The guard stance always lists a bit.

4.      A guard stance is not vision dependent. When it comes to empty hand fighting I tell my students they should have four hands; their two normal ones and their elbows. When the opponent punches low you don’t drop your hands. You don’t look down. You simply sense the angle of his low attack and adjust accordingly. After all, it’s the stance that should be doing the work, not you. If you find you have to move your hands like a cross-eyed bandmaster, or that every attack by your partner forces a spastic, skittering over-reaction, it’s time to clean up your stance and start relying on senses besides sight.

5.      Lazy is best. The idea of the guard stance is to do as little as possible. If a slight move away works, the deal is done. It is not always intuitive what this means. Sometimes a wise double parry can be more efficient than a small, sharp block. The situation decides.

6.      Don’t contradict yourself. There’s a little psychological dependency we all have ingrained in us. It is the need for closure. We see an arm and have to block it. You have to overcome this to really master defense. If you move away and make him miss, don’t go messing it up by blocking, too. I have literally hundreds of pictures of fighters in tournaments blocking punches and simultaneously getting walloped in the face or body. The problem? They backed up to a successful distance then instinctively had to reach in and finish making contact with their block despite everything. Back to instinct: it’s flight or fight, but try to pick just one at a time.



6 Responses to “Everything About the Guard Stance Except Guarding”

  1. Jeff says:

    I have the most trouble with 5 and 6. Since I have a tendency to overreact while sparring, I am trying to learn to redirect that wasted action into positive action, by combining a block and an attack. So, if my opponent throws a round kick, rather than block and move away, I block and move forward – to throw a punch or backfist. I’m also trying to work on my angles, but when there’s limited space to move around, it’s difficult to practice on a live target. Which brings me to…

    I’d love to read your thoughts on how the training space affects training. When you have twenty people on the floor all trying to spar at once, everyone is forced to spar in straight lines. Then they get into an open ring at a tournament and can only go backward and forward.

  2. Plum Staff says:

    Good idea, we’ll give some consideration to covering just that.

  3. Jeff says:

    I first started thinking about this at a tournament, after a weapons competition. I had been practicing Yin Shou Gun in my backyard. As I made the first turn in the tournament ring, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough room to complete the next road. I had to angle off and completely alter my stepping in ways I had never practiced in order to avoid the side judges and stay inside the ring. I needed a ring at least twice as wide as I had. This was something I’d never thought about before.

    Many of the Chinese staff forms I have studied range over a large space, whereas Kobudo staff kata are very tight, rarely moving more than two or three steps in any direction from the starting point. I thought perhaps this difference could be the result of the space in which the forms were originally designed – open courtyard vs. enclosed dojo.

  4. Ty Hicks says:

    The main consideration for me regarding the guard is this; “Am I training to spar/sport fight, or am I training to fight? I have done some of both and the differences are huge. You step in a ring and everyone is in agreement that there will be a fight-with foreknowledge everyone has prepared for this. In a real fight preparation is zero most of the time, and things come up fast. You might possibly only have time for one action, and if that action is you getting into a guard the other man’s one action might be hitting you, so…you lose. I have no desire for sport fighting any more,30 years of fighting is enough for anybody, and I feel lucky because I am 42 years old and honestly in my prime. SO, I am in refinement. If someone wants to spar I will stand there, arms down and wait. When the man moves, I move, and MY first action is going to be offensive. I have found the most aggressive guys lose their ambition very quickly this way, not to mention the psychological effect-they become unsure of themselves and start to question the validity of their actions. Let me give a couple of examples. Two different times in real fights(I was doing security) the aggressors just gave up. I gave them nothing to “push” against and my hands were down, which probably made them question their actions, and maybe their safety. BUT psychologically they kept their pride and no one got hurt. So I guess I am asking ” why the jumping around and wasted movement? It will only slow you down and tire you out.” I guess I am saying that maybe just standing and waiting IS a guard and maybe worth developing, because sport or real it seems to nullify all the pros and cons of “the guard”, and as physical beings, there is never going to be a perfect solution. I have so much more to add, but I will ask this; “If you take everything away from a man, what does he have?”

  5. Plum Staff says:

    Excellent points, and a really good explanation of what gets confused in sparring. Training the Guard Stance, as I see it, lets the beginner define his perimeter, measure his distance, set his weapons. When that knowledge is obtained, the sense of presence can never leave you. Arms dangling, the Guard Stance is still there, like radar. It’s like the time Lord Grey was asked, “Should a gentleman know Latin?” to which he replied, “It’s enough for a gentleman to have forgotten Latin.” The Guard Stance, once gotten, should be forgotten.

  6. Ty Hicks says:

    A good article and a great reply. It seems at times I condense a single point and leave all other considerations out (for the moment). I like every point made in this article, and I truly believe the guard is going to teach an endless array of skills that are absolutely necessary. The different guards that individual styles teach can actually tell us a lot about the fighting philosophy and attributes that they posses-a physical time capsule of sorts. to give an answer to my question above; If you take everything away from another man, he has nothing to act against. If the man is yourself, you allow everything to rise spontaneously from nothing-nothing is everything and everything is nothing. That was my primary point above, which is part of my current understanding. By the way, when I say I am in my prime, it is by no means supposed to be some egotistical statement. I am older, wiser,more refined and much kinder in every way, (compared to any time in my life) that is why I say I am in refinement-refinement of my life, my family, my friends and my community. Thank you Ted and Debbie for everything.

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