Kamae “構え” basically means stance, yet there are several ways to approach kamae. In Japanese, we have the verb form of Kamae, which is “構える“Kamaeru, which has several meanings as well, which it means; to prepare, to adopt a posture, to be ready and so forth. Without going too deep into a Japanese lesson, let’s discuss the finer details about Kamae in general.
Kamae is first a posture or stance, it is made up of specific rations involving the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and feet, around the spine and our cores. Whether it is shizen no kamae, ichimonji no kamae or hicho no kamae, there are similarities and specific ratios that are maintained. From, the knees and elbows when connected in kamae form straight lines to the floor, the shoulders and hips are also lined up, the feet also are lined up in most kamae, but connected to another point that makes up the kamae. There are some kamae that seemingly break these ratios, most notably is bobi no kame, but it also generally follows the same structural ratio. I want you to keep in mind, the kamae I am specifically discussing are the way kamae is demonstrated and done by Noguchi Sensei and the late Oguri Sensei there are similarities by other Dai Shihan, but they differ slightly with their approach to kamae. See my post “On Balance”.
These ratios make up the majority of what makes or breaks a good kamae in my opinion. In addition to these ratios, you have a control of balance as well as weight distribution. Generally, you should maintain a kamae without much of a shift in balance, when you raise a single foot of either the front or back leg at any given moment. Basically, in kamae you should maintain an ability to easily lift either foot. If you must radically shift your balance to either leg, you have misplaced your balance somewhere it shouldn’t be, and you will not be able to adapt quickly enough to either counter or move into a better spot if a sudden attack comes, or by the third attack you will be “cooked”.
In addition, being able to easily move with minimal shifting of balance, we must look at the general structure of Kamae and purposes. Kamae is meant to control lines, and both guard and guide attacks and defenses alone these lines. Look to them as barriers set up to control the flow of water or air. How would these kamae look in a wind tunnel? How would water flow around these kamae in a river? In addition, kamae is also intended to affect both our own mental states as well as the mental states of the opponent or uke. They are meant to create a type of pressure on the opponent. Both, easing or putting on pressure or energy in the kamae is important, all the while controlling the flow of that pressure along lines you choose. At the same time, you can increase your confidence and calm your mind in these kamae. Now, I am not waxing poetic or philosophical on purpose here, but this imagery might be helpful.
Kamae helps guard and protect vital areas on the body, it also helps hide both movements and intentions. Free use of kamae, comes from understanding your body and balance fully. Taking kamae also requires practice and should be thoroughly studied and understood. Kamae is not necessarily static, but first you need to understand your own structure and balance for techniques to be learned and acquired. Will your Kamae break or faulter under pressure, will a breeze knock it over? Yet through proper practice and time you should be able to understand kamae more intimately. Through the process of Shuhari “守破離” you will arrive at a place where Kamae simply blends into what we call “体術” taijutsu. Kamae, in addition, to balance is just one of the fundamental principles that is Taijutsu.