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How to Assume a Horse Stance in Karate

Updated on August 15, 2014
Horse Stance
Horse Stance | Source

by Christopher Peruzzi

Let’s talk about fundamentals.

If you decide that you want to follow the path of a martial artist and learn the art of karate, you’ll have to learn a whole lot of things that don’t seem to make sense at first. Eventually though, some of the exercises reveal themselves. Those of us who have seen the original Karate Kid with Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita thought that it was Mr. Miyagi’s plan to get Daniel Larusso to build him a new extension to his house. It wasn’t until later that “sand the floors” and “wax on, wax off” made sense.

This brings us to the horse stance in karate and kung fu. To this day, I still don’t see a practical reason to assume the horse stance in combat. It does not provide mobility or real maneuverability. Yet it is a staple to every version of karate out there.


Well, there is value. It’s just very well hidden. The horse stance, which is one of the first positions a student learns in any school, requires balance, coordination, and discipline to execute properly. If done properly and if done long enough, it will strengthen your legs, ankles, knees, and hips. It will also give your blows a modicum of power from the stable stance you are assuming.

My experience has been that it’s a great exercise and is used in many katas (a dance-like performance that uses various kicks, blocks, counters, and punches that tells a story). When doing a kata that involves a horse stance, form is crucial.

Here’s how to do a basic horse stance.

Steps to Execute a Horse Stance

The best thing to do initially is to imagine yourself riding a horse. Picture a saddle between your legs and that you have your legs bowed around the horse’s mid section. That’s essentially what you’re doing.

No, I’m not kidding.

Here’s how you start.

  1. Spread your legs approximately a little greater than shoulder width apart.
  2. Point your toes approximately forty-five degrees out – meaning your left foot should be at 10 o’clock and your right foot should be at two o’clock. There is some debate as to what direction the feet should be facing. Some styles say that your feet should be pointing straight ahead. Either method will accomplish the intended goal.
  3. Bend your knees so that your glutes are almost in a sitting position (without a chair or horse), while your back remains upright. Ideally, if you are wearing a gi (karate uniform) with an obi (belt), the knot of your obi should be balanced in the middle. That is where your weight should be. You should feel the stress on your thighs and hamstrings.

Now, stay in this position for a million jillion years. No, it’s not fun.

Final Words

As I said, this is an exercise and it is done in kata. It will help you in your leg strength, discipline, and balance. It is not something that is regularly used in kumite (sparring, fighting).

I recommend to any new student of the martial arts to get used to this position. It will help you in the long run. Really, it will. It can also be used as a good meditative device if you can do it and breathe regularly.

As I said (and will say to most white belts that begin this road), “There are a lot of things we do in this class that won’t make any sense at this point. But, trust me; you’ll get it soon enough in time.” This stance is one of them. You’ll be able to execute all of your basic movements from this stance. It requires balance, strength, and form to do something that requires balance, strength, and form.

Before you run, you must walk. Before you walk, you must crawl. Before you crawl, you must fall. Everything good needs a foundation… and that’s what you’re building.


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    • cperuzzi profile image

      Christopher Peruzzi 3 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      It's been a while since I read this article. It still holds firm - although after talking to a former comrade regarding the practicality of this in kumite (sparring and real fighting), he argues that it's perfect for fighting in rooms with low ceilings.

      Should I find myself fighting for my life in an unfurnished basement that is less than six feet high, I'll certainly keep that in mind.

      The horse stance for me will forever be a staple for any serious martial arts student to help build strength, endurance, and discipline. There's a lot of power to be found in it and I recommend it highly as part of any class regimen.

    • Michael Smathers profile image

      Michael Smathers 5 years ago from LaGrange, GA

      Not so awesome if the penny drops^^;; Then you get to do 10 knuckle pushups. Those aren't fun.

    • cperuzzi profile image

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      A penny? Awesome!!!

    • Michael Smathers profile image

      Michael Smathers 5 years ago from LaGrange, GA

      Good overview of it. There's an exercise we used to do called the penny drill. Basic gist: assume kibadachi (horse stance) and place a penny on each knee, then practice alternating straigh punches. The object is to keep your legs still and stable so the pennies don't fall off.