Fighting Stances Explained: Self-Defense, Street Fighting, or MMA

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Most of us will never need to take up fighting stances for self-defense or the defense of our loved ones, but it could be the difference between winning and losing, between surviving and not. Of course, there’s more to combat than just how you stand, but your fighting stance is a fundamental yet critical part of your martial artist arsenal. So put ’em up, and let’s do this!

Whether you’re on your way to mastering a martial art or just learning how to defend yourself in the street, your fighting stance is something to consider, as it will play a massive part in your success or demise.

Martial arts all have differing fighting stances, and there’s a reason for that. So before deciding how to stand in a fight, you must understand how you intend to fight. A boxer should stand differently from a taekwondo fighter or a wrestler, so ask yourself, what’s my martial art style?

In this post, I will show you the pros and cons of each martial arts stance so you can better decide what fighting stance you should use.

There are variations within styles, and individuals may differ in their stances, but this discussion will focus on the typical stance of fighters from each martial art.

Taekwondo Stance

Pros and cons of the taekwondo stance

Taekwondo is the martial art of kicking, as are other Korean martial arts, like Tang Soo Do. In competition, you gain points by kicking the body and head of your opponent; punches, allowed only to the body, don’t give points, so they’re almost non-existent, even in sparring.

So for taekwondo fighters, it’s crucial to kick fast from the front leg, hide spinning kicks, and slide backward to avoid incoming kicks.

  • The head is held high to watch for head kicks and to lean back to avoid them
  • The hands are low to help with speed and balance when kicking and because there is no worry about knockout punches
  • The long stance makes lifting the front leg fast, and front leg kicks are used like a boxer’s jab
  • The stance is turned sideways to hide spinning kicks, such as a counter back kick or attacking spinning heel kick

These factors create a very narrow stance. Kicks are mostly avoided rather than blocked.

Wing Chun Stance

Pros and cons of the wing chun stance

Wing Chun is always part of the martial arts debate; it’s simple, efficient, and effective, but it never performs well in the ring, cage, or octagon. It leaves you wondering if wing chun is effective for self-defense.

The wing chun stance is different from other kung fu styles such as Shaolin Kung Fu or Taichi, it’s simple and logical; the hands are held high, protecting the face, and the narrow stance is suitable for quick movement to avoid strikes.

But there are problems, too; the head is too high, the hands are too far forward, and the stance is too short. These issues reduce how much power a wing chun striker can generate. They move forward with short straight punches, but look how open this stance is to anyone who can stand firm and throw a hook or an overhand right.

Muay Thai Stance

Pros and cons of the muay thai stance

Muay Thai is a martial art that most MMA fighters say is a vital part of their arsenal. This kickboxing style focuses on fast, vicious strikes from the hands, feet, elbows, and knees.

The front foot is kept light, with most of your weight supported by the back leg enabling faster kicking and blocking incoming low kicks. The hands are kept high, higher than most boxing stances, and the chin is tucked. The hips turned forward to open up the power strikes from the back hand and leg.

  • Light front foot
  • Hips turned forward
  • Hands Held High
  • Chin Tucked

The Muay Thai stance is solid, but the light front foot and weight-bearing back foot make movement slow. The hands held so high make the body an easy target, especially with a tucked chin and high hands obscuring your vision. Expect to get hit if you take up this stance.

Karate Stance

Pros and cons of the karate stance

Similar to the taekwondo stance, a karate stance also has a sideways profile with a narrow foot width. Also used for points fighting in competition, the karate stance must protect from punches, unlike the Taekwondo stance. The Karate vs. Kung Fu debate extends even to their stances which are hugely different.

  • The chin isn’t tucked, so the practitioner can watch for head kicks
  • Hands are up to protect and deliver punches
  • The long narrow stance makes moving back and forth quick

Boxing Stance

Pros and cons of the boxing stance

Of all martial arts, boxing has the most recognition and prestige. No other fighting sports come close to the purse sizes that boxers get paid. That’s why you see MMA athletes like Connor McGregor competing in professional boxing matches, his $100 million purse for the Floyd Mayweather fight was by far the biggest he saw in his career.

Boxing stances vastly differ from the typical MMA fighter’s stance. They don’t need to think about kicks or takedowns, which affects their stance. Where a Taekwondo or karate fighter might turn almost completely sideways with a narrow stance, boxers can widen their stance and turn less.

Their hands don’t need to block head kicks, so they are primarily concerned with protecting the chin from hooks.

Wrestling Stance

Pros and cons of the wrestling stance

Every culture has some form of wrestling, from sumo to Greco-Roman, Mongolian, or Mexican. Wrestlers have a different stance that is instantly recognizable, characterized by its low crouch, forward-facing, and hands reaching forward to grab.

The wrestling stance needs to be quickly adapted for MMA or other combat because it leaves the head vulnerable, and it’s difficult to throw punches from.

Jeet Kune Do Stance

Pros and cons of the jeetkunedo stance

If there was ever a student of martial arts, Bruce Lee was him. He studied every martial art he could, taking extensive notes and taking anything useful, combining it into his “not-a-style” Jeet Kune Do. Bruce drew diagrams in his diaries as he studied the fighting stance.

Bruce learned from styles as varied as fencing and boxing to traditional kung fu and Philipino escrima. The result was a distinct stance you don’t see in any other martial art. This was the first attempt at an MMA stance or a stance most efficient for combat.

The cocked heel makes a faster, more powerful back leg kick, and the open hand can block incoming body strikes as well as protecting the face.

Capoeira Stance

Pros and cons of the capoeira stance

Capoeira is a martial art developed by African slaves taken to the new world. Predominantly found in Brazil, they hid the martial aspects of capoeira within a dance. The “stance” of capoeira is not a stance at all; it’s a basic dance step called Ginga. It consists of four steps, where the feet form a triangle.

As the feet move back and forth, the arms swing in the opposite direction. This “stance” can be quite disorienting for anyone used to fighting against traditional styles that stand still or bounce. Trying to land a jab-cross on a capoeirista is a challenge, but the regular rhythm of this step does make a capoeira fighter easy to time.

Jiu Jitsu Stance

Pros and cons of the BJJ stance

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling art where most action is on the ground. Jiu-Jitsu fighters, therefore, look to grab hold of an opponent and pull him down to the floor quickly, hopefully ending up on top. Jiu Jitsu’s stances have developed to be most efficient for this end, and so are similar to a wrestler’s stance.

A forward lean with a wide or long base and hands ready to reach or grab characterize the Jiu-Jitsu stance. This head-first approach is a red flag in most martial arts, especially those that employ kicks, but in jiu-jitsu, it allows you to grab a single leg when the opportunity presents itself quickly.

How Should You Stand in a Street Fight? Five Tips

FeatureProCon
High HeadBetter Vision and MovementOpen to Knockout Blows
Tucked Head/ChinResistant to KnockoutReduced Vision & Head Movement
Head ForwardEasier TakedownsVulnerable to Headshots
High HandsProtects HeadTiring
Forward HandsFaster StrikesReduced Power
Low HandsBetter BalanceVulnerable to Headshots
Wide StanceDefensive MovementLarger Target
Narrow StanceReduces Target AreaLimits Striking
Long StanceMakes Kicking EasierLimits Sideways Movement
Short StanceReduces Distance to OpponentLimits Defensive Movement
Hips ForwardEasier Rear Hand/Leg StrikesLarger Target Area
Hips Half TurnedSmaller Target Area
Hips SidewaysHide Spinning AttacksSlower Rear Hand/Leg Attacks
Rear Foot UpFaster KicksTelegraphs the Kick
A table showing the pros and cons of fighting stance features and variations

Here are the most common features of fighting stances that you can use to your advantage.

  1. One Foot Forward
  2. Hands Up
  3. Tuck Chin
  4. Turn the body
  5. Wider than normal stance

Learning a martial art for street fighting is the best thing you can do if you are concerned about defending yourself in the street. But if you do nothing else but these four steps, you will still have a great posture to set you up for defending yourself and throwing your own attacks.

Practice Sparring to Perfect Your Fighting Stance

If you’ve never been in a ring before, sparring against a practitioner of any martial art style will be a fantastic learning experience.

Before doing any traditional martial arts or self-defense training, please ensure you have the necessary protective gear! Including:

  • Headgear
  • Mouth Guard
  • Boxing Gloves
  • Groin Protector (cup)

First, try fighting without taking a fighting stance. Keep your hands by your waist, square up to your opponent, and keep your feet at shoulder width apart. You’ll find out fast that you’re at a huge disadvantage!

Next, return to the ring, dojo, or backyard, if you’re teaching yourself martial arts at home and employ the five essential fighting stance tips above. They won’t make you an instant black belt, and you still won’t be able to beat a practiced martial artist, but you’ll find much more success (and take fewer fists to the face!)

Which Stance Is Best for MMA?

Mixed martial arts, like the UFC, give fight fans the best look at what works and what doesn’t. Look at your favorite fighters’ stances, and you’ll find that they’re all different. Why? Because your stance should change based on three main factors:

  1. Your body type
  2. Your fighting style
  3. Your opponent

A tall fighter with long arms and legs should use them to his advantage, which means a long stance with hands further forward. This will keep his opponent at bay. A shorter, smaller fighter will want his opponent to come closer to him within range of his strikes, which means a tighter stance with hands closer to the body and feet closer together.

If you fight primarily with kicks, taking up a short stance like wing chun practitioners won’t help you, a Thai kickboxing stance would suit you better.

The third aspect of your stance is your opponent. If you’re fighting a wrestler, for example, you know he will try to take you down, and so standing in a sideways stance (like in Taekwondo) will be a disadvantage – he can reach down anytime and grab your front leg for a single leg takedown. If your opponent is a boxer, staying at range with a longer stance will make it harder for him to hit you.

A Fighting Stance is a Signal

Some attackers don’t really want a physical confrontation and think they can win without throwing a punch, bullying you into submission. When you take to your fighting stance, you show them that you want will fight, and you won’t back down. The attacker now has to choose whether or not to engage. Some may try to de-escalate at this point or retreat.

When you go from standing naturally to adopting a combat posture, it tells your opponent a few things:

  1. You know how to fight
  2. You aren’t going to back down
  3. The confrontation has escalated and is now physical

But any time you take up a fighting stance, you must be prepared to fight! Stay Safe!