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!
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.
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
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!
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:
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:
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:
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:
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