Footwork is one of the most important skills in combat sports. Footwork dictates whether you are able to get close enough to strike, positions you for follow-ups and gets you out of danger when needed. I cannot over emphasise how important footwork is. As footwork is so critical, it should be included in every session. It is vital that a fighter develops the ability to move in any direction, smoothly and on balance.
A fighter’s feet and legs are his powerhouse responsible for initiating all movements and generating power. If the fighter has poor footwork they cannot control range, cover distance in order to strike or evade attacks. There are several essential key elements required for good footwork.
- Keep your knees bent as this allows for quick changes of direction and explosive movement. If your legs are straight you will need to bend your knees before you can move, so keep your legs slightly bent at all times.
- Try to move on the balls of your feet. If you keep your feet flat your weight tends to settle on the ground and you will start dragging your feet, which creates friction and slows your movement. You want to be up on the balls of your feet so that your heels are just off the ground. It should be possible to slide a piece of paper under your heels at all times. By keeping your feet in this position you create explosive potential in the muscles meaning you can move faster and adjust quicker to changes of direction.
- Avoid letting your feet drift too far apart as this slows movement and in kickboxing and MMA leaves you vulnerable to leg kicks or takedowns. In order to block the leg kick it is necessary to have a balanced stance where either leg can lift to shin block quickly. A stance that is too wide makes quick shin blocking slow.
- A Fighter’s feet should also never come too close together. A narrow stance reduces the body's ability to generate power and makes the fighter vulnerable to being swept or losing balance. The feet should be kept at a comfortable distance apart at all times. As all people are individual there is no exact universal distance between the feet that is appropriate for everyone. Some people prefer a wider lower stance and some prefer a shorter narrow stance. You can experiment with different stances and over time you will find a comfortable stance that allows for free movement and the ability to generate power.
- When moving a fighter should glide along the floor rather than take big steps. Every time the foot is off the floor there is a loss of power and an inability to easily change direction. Most of the time the feet want to stay in contact with the floor. Small gliding steps will help you maintain your stance and keep your base under your body for effective attack and defence.
- Try to avoid moving in one direction repeatedly as a good opponent will notice this preference and set you up for an attack. Footwork needs to be smooth and unpredictable. It is important to have the ability to move in every direction possible in a balanced and efficient manner.
- Never cross your feet when moving as this creates unstable base and limits the potential number of techniques you can throw from a crossed foot stance.
- Lead with the foot that is closest to the direction you want to move. So in an orthodox stance a fighter that wishes to step forward should lead the movement with their left foot. In the same stance a fighter that wishes to move backwards should lead the movement with their right foot. If they wish to move left they should lead with a left foot and if they wish to move right they should lead with their right foot. These instructions are reversed for a southpaw fighter. This keeps the stance balanced at all times.
One of the best bits of advice I have been given about footwork is to imagine there is a chain around your ankles stopping your feet from moving too far apart and a stick between your knees stopping your feet moving to close together. If you visualise this when training it will help you maintain a good base and control your footwork so that you don't over-extend.
When training the basic numbers, boxing combos and drills on the pads it is a good idea to practice each technique with footwork so that you can move comfortably in any direction while striking or defending. Most fighters feel comfortable moving forward but have a harder time retreating or angling to the left or right so it is wise to spend a bit more time working on moving in these directions.
In an ideal world you would charge through your opponent and win the fight without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately this rarely happens (to me anyway) so developing good defensive footwork is necessary.
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