Hanmi and Kamae – Aikido

Hanmi and Kamae - Aikido - Kingston Aikido

Aikido postures, and especially feet orientation, throw up a whole world of debate and arguments; should my front foot point forward or rotate outward, and what about my back foot, 90 degree or 65 degree, and so the debate goes on and on….

“It’s hard for the average Gorilla to believe that they’ve descended from Homo Sapiens.”

In one class I’m told to position my feet this way, then in another, I’m berated and corrected towards the other end of the scale, very frustrating, isn’t it.

In this post I’ll be discussing feet orientation whilst standing in basic posture, without delving into ground, kneeling, kiba-dachi or bukiwaza type postures.

In Aikido, as in all martial arts, sports or physical activities, from walking to throwing the javelin, body posture provides the basic structure, the foundation to perform whatever you’re about to attempt in the most time, energy efficient and productive manner.

Each school has a particular bent on feet position; Shodokan Aikido practitioners always keep the forward foot straight. Yoshinkan practitioners always turn the front foot out.

Overtime, we figure out that the structure of the body when lined up with the desired movement, creates less need for muscle power and therefore will be less damaging on the body. I can imagine, once posture and its variations are understood at all levels, and within any particular art, then one can start to experiment with no-posture.

As in the title of this post ‘Hanmi and Kamae’, feet position throws up some energetic debate. So what does Hanmi and Kamae actually mean, and what do they look like in practice?

Hanmi and Kamae - Aikido - Kingston Aikido

Hanmi means ‘half posture’, which translate to how much of your body your attacker can actually see, in the Hanmi stance, the tori shows the uke less body (less of a target – half posture).

In Hanmi your front foot points a relaxed forward, and you back foot is anywhere between 90 and 30 degrees perpendicular to the front foot, almost marking out a ‘T’ shape. Your hips being slightly rotated forwards along the line of your leading leg/ front foot. Some place the heels along an imaginary straight line, others dissect the line with the mid-sections of their feet.

Kamae literally refers to ‘Posture’. Some schools believe it stands for ‘full posture’ where the hips are ‘square on’, facing the uke and the front foot is rotated outward anywhere between 60 to 30 degrees, the rear foot being the same as in Hanmi.

Hanmi and Kamae - Aikido - Kingston Aikido

From the various instructions I’ve received, weight distribution over the front and rear legs in Hanmi is typically 70/30 to 60/40 to 50/50, respectively, and in Kamae it’s anything from 70/30 to 90/10.

In Hanmi the weight is more centralised, providing a quicker all direction movement, whilst typically in Kamae, the weight is further forward, squaring off the hips, helping with faster front foot pivotal movement, when stepping in.

It’s interesting to note, that when pivoting/ rotating on the front foot, without a step in, your leading foot will actually and naturally rotate inwards to facilitate rotation efficiently and without stress.

Studying Morihei Ueshiba videos and photographs, you’ll hardly ever see O’ Sensei with his front foot rotated outwards, but more often than not, either straight or slightly rotated inwards, which may possibly be due to Aikido’s Taijitsu being founded and developed from many Jūjutsu schools, especially a style called Daitō-Ryū.

What is common, and generally a rule of thumb, regardless of which standing posture you may adopt; is that you’ll try to move and turn on the balls of the feet.

Any stances, from Hanmi to Kamae to Kiba-Dachi can easily be observed and studied, when either static or performed during basic (Kihon) practice. But within any moving and dynamic Aikido, stances blend and move through each other.

If one starts in Hanmi, you would need to turn your front foot outwards to engage a step-in pivotal move, and since it is going to become a rear foot at some point, your hips will momentarily become ‘square on’, and visa-versa.

From my experience and observation, most schools of martial arts, including some Aikido schools, keep the front foot pointing a relaxed forward, with your front knee bent, and for good reason.

Having your front knee for prolonged periods of time in outward facing orientation, due to your feet placement, will inevitably damage the knee joint, especially the meniscus. The additional shearing action required for certain movements can also lead to a painful experience.

Hanmi and Kamae - Aikido - Kingston Aikido

You’ll have probably guessed by now, which camp I fall into with regards to the front foot orientation. Not surprisingly, as the first two-forms I learnt, were ‘Ai Hamni Katatedori’ and ‘Gyaku Hanmi Katatedori’.

The relaxed forward pointing front foot feels natural, faster and for me, provides greater safety, both in protecting the knee joint from overworking and from frontal impact.

So, who’s round is it?

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