Improve Your Footwork NOW (Tips from TKD, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Bojutsu)

By Joel Williams | Home Study Students

Dec 03

When beginning any martial art, most of us want to get right to the “good stuff” … you know: Punching … Kicking … Fighting! And that is where we often focus, initially. However, we shouldn’t overlook the foundation of any martial art: Footwork. Lack sound footwork and you’ll literally be stuck and predictable. Want some great tips on footwork essentials? Then keep reading and get sage advice from our GMAU instructors!

Thibault’s “mysterious circle”

The image above comes from a sword manual, Académie de l’Espée, written by Dutch fencing master and mathematician, Gérard Thibault (1574–1627). In that book he illustrates something he called the “mysterious circle” – a circle containing collateral, transverse and diameter lines – which was used to teach fencers where to step and position themselves in relation to an opponent.

In this image we can see fencers using Thibault’s circle in their training area

Regardless of how scientifically one approaches footwork, one thing is for certain: it is a key element of determining success or defeat. In the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee described footwork as the most fundamental aspect of any martial art. He said that no technique will be effective without you first getting into the right position (and range).

” …the quality of a man’s technique depends on his footwork, for one cannot use his hands or kicks efficiently until his feet have put him in the desired position. If a man is slow on his feet, he will be slow with his punches and kicks. Mobility and speed of footwork precede speed of kicks and punches. “
Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee Statue – Seattle, WA

Footwork allows one to move into more advantageous position while preventing their opponent from doing the same. Proper footwork provides balance, speed, power and control; it is both offensive and defensive. However, footwork does not always get the detailed instruction it needs. In this blog, you’ll here from our GMAU instructors about the fundamentals of good footwork, and some drills you can use to hone your footwork. Let’s get to it!

Tips From Adam Gerrald, GMAU Taekwondo Instructor

Adam Gerrald, GMAU Taekwondo Instructor

According to Adam Gerrald, you should focus on footwork in “about 40% of each class.” He says that students often “dread footwork, but they shouldn’t … good footwork is required to close distance, create distance and avoid being kicked or punched.”

In TKD you never start out at a distance from your opponent where they can hit you (or vice versa). Therefore, you have to be able to “close distance fast.” To do this, you need “explosive speed”. He also suggests that as you close the distance you should “move faster toward your opponent the closer you get to them”. Another tip is that it is common to bounce in competition or sparring and the purpose of the bouncing is to “keep your muscles awake.” He warned that you should not bounce flat-footed, rather you should do so on the balls (front) of your feet. This continuous movement allows you to move explosively at any moment. In addition, he added that you should not “bounce with a predictable beat” and you should “use a broken beat so your movement is not predictable … when you are predictable your opponent will know exactly when to kick or punch you.”

Lastly, he recommends that as you become more proficient with lightly bouncing in this ready-to-explode-at-any-moment phase that you begin to learn to do that as you move around – and don’t always step back when your opponent attacks, “use angles because typically an opponent can move forward faster than you can move backward.” A couple of recommended drills from Adam include:

  • Face a partner and both should try to step on the other’s foot.
  • Try moving across the training floor such that one person advances and the other retreats – the student retreating has to react to the other student’s movement. Once you reach the wall, simply reverse roles and repeat.
  • For the “zombie drill”: place objects (or people) around the training floor and the student has to use footwork to use fast and efficient footwork to avoid these obstacles.

Tips From Michael Hodge, GMAU Ultimate Bo Instructor

Michael Hode, GMAU Ultimate Bo Instructor

According to Sensei Michael Hodge, footwork for bo is similar to other martial arts, with a few differences. “Regarding footwork, I use very similar footwork that I would use in karate or kickboxing, but you clearly keep more of a distance between you and your opponent on purpose [because of the reach of the weapon].”

Sensei also points out that when using a bo (or other weapons) there is a strong relationship between footwork and stability: “footwork must be combined with [good] stance … The long front stance that you see where we get pretty narrow and line our body up behind a thrust, actually allows for you to have significantly more power and stability than a wider stance.” Here are some of his tips, specific to good footwork with a long weapon, such as a staff:

  • Don’t be completely flat-footed. Keep your heels just slightly off the ground in-between strikes or blocks.
  • After blocking, fully commit to your strike in a way that will generally bring you weight down to the ground, like you are pushing your feet into the ground.
  • Immediately after doing the full range of motion on a strike, you return to your lighter stance. This gives you the ability to change to another strike, block, or simply avoid.
  • Footwork is the best defense. You don’t always have to engage with your weapon. If you are able to side-step, or step backward, or quarter-turn – or side-step and run out the door – do it.

Tips From Dustin Koppel, GMAU Krav Maga Instructor

Dustin Koppel, GMAU Krav Maga Instructor

Dustin explains that it is important to remember that Krav Maga “comes from military fighting and as such it uses a very squared up stance.” In Krav Maga, the basic stance is (at least) shoulder width with the power side to the back (the leg on that side is one step back). Dustin says that you “must have a sturdy base” and that “if you are off balance, you will not be effective with your strikes, kicks, knees or elbows.”

He points out the “footwork is key for several reasons.” Footwork is necessary to create distance or close in on your opponent. “There is so much going on in an altercations, we are try to stay far enough away that we are out of range of an attacker or we are in-close on them … a middle distance is usually transitional.” Footwork is also important because “our power comes from the ground – whether that be a strong strike or kick or a sturdy base for clinching.” Here are a few drills (which can be performed solo, or with a partner) to use for improving your Krav Maga footwork:

  • Forward movement: your front foot is positioned toes forward with the heel down, your back foot is at a 45 degree angle with your heel up (for mobility). To move forward, push off the back foot, advance the front foot then drag your back foot to the appropriate shoulder-width/one step back position. Repeat as you advance across the training floor.
  • Backward movement: as above, your front foot is positioned toes forward with the heel down, your back foot is at a 45 degree angle with your heel up (for mobility). To move backward, push off the front foot, advance the back foot then drag your front foot to the appropriate shoulder-width/one step back position. Repeat as you advance across the training floor.
  • Side to Side movement: using the same basic stance (and assuming a left-foot forward positioning) step to the left with your front foot then drag your rear foot … step with your rear foot to the right then drag your front foot.
  • Quarter turn: you don’t always want to move linearly front-back or side-side. To avoid an attack (or to position yourself appropriately for a particular offensive technique) you can use the quarter turn to angle away from your opponent. To do this drill you can step forward (with your front foot) at a 45 degree angle then drag your rear foot 90 degrees (to create the quarter turn) in that direction … imagine someone coming toward you (forward facing) as you step to their dead side and reorient yourself so you are facing their side. In this position you are safe from their attack and you have multiple options of offensive strikes and kicks. Similarly, you can use the quarter turn as a defensive/retreating movement where you step at a 45 degree angle away from an attacker (with your rear foot) then complete the 90 degree quarter turn with your lead leg. This would put you on the other side of the attacker.

Tips From Nick Vasallo, GMAU Muay Thai Instructor

Nick Vasallo, GMAU Muay Thai Instructor

Nick highly recommends the Muay Thai book on footwork by Anthony Yuan (see links below). He says it “is one of the best on Muay Thai footwork.” Because Muay Thai is more of a front-facing style, Nick says that it is “important that all 8 limbs are positioned to be ready to fight.” Because of this positioning of the body the Muay Thai fighter must use “small, efficient movements, not big movements – small and efficient movements save energy whereas big movements require a lot of energy.”

Further, he points out that in Muay Thai “the lower body ‘jabs’ (not just power kicks), so the legs aren’t used in Muay Thai the same way as they are in boxing … in boxing, the legs are central to movement and positioning but not used as weapons – therefore the movement is very different when you want to use your legs (and knees) as weapons in addition to closing/creating distance and positioning yourself in an advantageous position.”

He suggests that when you watch a Muay Thai fight closely you will notice that in the beginning of most fights the athletes will be “mostly walking around, probing and judging distance … they use short push kicks as a jab.” Nick recommends lots of bag work for improving both footwork and techniques:

  • His primary preference is a standard 4 foot heavy bag 4 ft heavy bag (rather than the longer, more stationary, banana bag) because hanging bags move, they requirs you to work more on your timing, distance and accuracy using footwork.
  • Nick also likes the teardrop bag, which rests about hip height (hangs from the ceiling) – these are good for strikes and kicks.
  • He also recommends looking into a double-ended bag (attaches to the ceiling and floor) for every punch or kick gives an immediate counter action – requiring you to react in turn (using your footwork).
  • Another favorite is the Wavemaster with “targets”. Nick likes to use this piece of equipment for practicing non-traditional hook kicks and spinning kicks. Use footwork to position yourself correctly to connect with the target.
  • To improve head movement, Nick uses a suspended wiffle ball (on string) – you simply push or jab the ball so it moves away from then back toward your head. You want to see how many times can you slip or move before it comes back. As you get good at this you can move around more (footwork!) and add in counter-strikes.

More Useful Resources

Although each art uses specific methods or strategies for footwork, there are several things that are common to all: footwork is important for controlling distance, for putting you in a better position than your opponent, for generating power, and for having appropriate balance and leverage required for executing effective offensive or defensive technique. If you are interested in further reading on the topic of footwork in martial arts, check out the links below:

Footwork Wins Fights: The Footwork of Boxing, Kickboxing, Martial Arts & MMA by David Christian

Staff, Baton & Longsword Combat Series: Understanding and Developing Footwork by Luis Preto

Muay Thai: The Footwork: The Secret to Learning the Art of 8 Limbs by Anthony Yuan

About the Author

Husband. Father. University Professor. GMAU Certified Krav Maga Instructor.

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