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DWx
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 1:40 pm    Post subject: Sparring: Developing Good Footwork Reply with quote

Following on from my previous article on sparring ("Sparring: The Basics"), I wanted to cover some more advanced sparring drills and concepts for developing sparring beyond the individual techniques. Specifically, I wanted to talk about footwork. Again, I'll state that this is primarily aimed at continuous point sparring, but can be modified to apply to other sparring models.

Footwork and Positioning

In the "Development" section of my previous article, I talked about taking the time to teach your students how to move. Footwork and positioning is of utmost importance - if you're not in the right place at the right time, nothing else matters. A stationary target is also much easier to hit than a moving one, so keep moving! If you're main style is a kicking art, as mine is, it's even more important to organise your feet so that you can lift your legs and kick yet still maintain balance. Although with enough experience and sparring time they can work out their own methods of covering distance and moving, giving your students some basic concepts to work with will give them a head start, and they can learn how to adapt it their own particular style.

As a starting point, you only need some basic ways to move forward and backwards, and to move off the centre line. You should be able to cover distance when on the offense, and when moving defensively. But sparring is not just back and forth. Moving off to the side and circling round is very important. Not only does it open up more targets, and provide more opportunities, but if you're in an enclosed space or in a competition ring, you'll run out of room rapidly.

So how would I teach you to move? Well, we primarily fight from a half-facing stance called an L-Stance (Niunja Sogi) which is probably most similar to a karate back stance (Kokutsu Daichi). The knees are softened and bent, weight mostly on the balls of the feet (weight onto the full foot when landing a strike), and the weight spilt somewhere between 50-50 or 40% on the front leg, 60% on the back.

On-the-spot switch: While not overly useful by itself, learning to switch on-the-spot will teach students to switch the stance with the hips and not the legs. This then leads on into switching to gain distance and switch kicking.

There is not much to describe but essentially, it's all in the hips. All you're doing is swapping the positions of the feet but it must be the hips that initiate and drive the movement. The hips go first and then the legs and torso follow afterwards, kind of like a coil unwinding. You must swap the arms every time the lead leg changes so that you're still guarding. Markings on the floor are a good visual aid to help make sure you don't creep too far forward or too far backwards. Once you've gotten the movement down, you're ready to move on to...

The switch in/switch out: Same action but now we're gaining a stance length in distance. The switch in/out is one of the fastest ways to quickly move in and out and can easily be combined with attack and defense movements. It's basically like stepping forwards with the rear leg (or backwards with the front leg) except that the hips drive the movement. Especially useful when wanting to move away from an incoming attack, the switch out lets you create a stance's length of distance between you and your opponent. Switching in and out like this also has the added benefit (or disadvantage!) of swapping sides every time you step so if you really want to put your right foot forward for one reason or another, switch the legs in or out to quickly swap stance.

When switching forwards (or in), the front foot stays where it is and only the rear leg moves. The back leg assists in getting you moving with a slight push but then the hips propel it forward to get the legs to swap quickly. When switching backwards (or out), the opposite is true. A slight push off of the front leg then the hips pull the leg to the back.

Practice switching in and then pushing off the front foot to reverse the motion and switch back out quickly before switching in again. As I said earlier, floor markings are a great help to see where you're placing your feet each time.

The crossover/foot-to-foot: The clues are in the name really. To go forwards, the back foot comes next to or crosses over the front foot, then you move the front foot out. You only cover the same amount of distance as a switch movement but you have the benefit of remaining on the same side. The movement can easily be adjusted mid way through so that the back leg steps in and then the front leg is used to throw a side kick or front (pushing) kick, too. Again practice going forwards and then going backwards straight away to get the legs flowing.

You may be wondering if you should cross the feet in front or behind? Depends really. Because of where the feet start, it's much easier and quicker to just cross in front and if you're pairing this action with a front leg roundhouse then it's fine. Meanwhile, it's a bit more difficult to cross in front if you're intending to pick the leg up to do a side kick because the action means you might get a bit tangled. Best to just play around with it by yourself.

Push step: Shift the weight onto the back leg and then push forward and move the front foot so you're almost lunging. Then bring the back leg in underneath the body to form your stance again. This doesn't move you very far but all your weight is going forward so combine with a lead leg kick or punch.

Shifting: You won't cover that much distance when shifting but it is useful when you only want to move slightly back or forward. Ensure that the feet do not come off the ground. You're not a rabbit so there's no need to jump! If you want to shift backwards, load up the front leg and use that to push back - push with the back leg to go forwards.

Push-off to the open side: So for example, your left leg is leading and you want to move to your right. This is a similar pushing action to the shift except now we're going to move the back around as we do this. As you load the front leg, the back leg moves over 45 degrees to the open side - then you shift. This is great if your opponent has really committed to coming forward at you as they should fly past. It is essential though that you practice this then combine it with the forward movements (like crossover and switch stepping), and attacking techniques as if your opponent is unbalanced after you evaded their attack. Now is a great time to go in and score some shots on them.

Switch to the back side: Your left leg is forward and you want to go left? Well the switch out movement described earlier can be modified slightly to get you going off to that side. Switch out but only bring the leg partway through the 180 degrees. As it goes to land, push with the front leg and shift back that way. It takes a while to get that movement smooth but you're moving a stance back and off to the side in one movement. For tournament sparring where techniques can't score to the back, you've now swapped your stance so the open face is now away from their incoming attack.

Being comfortable with footwork comes from lots and lots and lots of practice. First, just practice chaining together all of these different ways of stepping. So crossover forwards, then switch out, then push-off to your open side, etc. After that, start putting techniques in. Crossover forward and side kick, off to the open side and follow through with punches, etc. Practice footwork shadowboxing and practice on floors with markings so you can see just how you are moving.

Drills

Footwork drills can serve as a good warm-up and precursor to sparring practice. I briefly mentioned it in my previous article, but an excellent practice is to have students pair up with one assuming the role of the "attacker." The attacker then uses the footwork that they've learnt and the "defender" has to do the opposite to stay within range, or just out of it. So if the attacker takes a step forward, the defender must take a step back. Combine this with a game of tag (attacker has to tag the defender whilst the defender can move and block/parry), and it's a great opportunity to practice sparring without any kicks or punches.

Multiple attacker sparring also works great to get students moving. 2-on-1 or even 3-on-1 forces the victim to move around to avoid being overwhelmed by their attackers. The key to working this as a footwork drill is to stress that the student being attacked should be concentrating on evasive manoeuvres, and on positioning themselves rather than just trying to take on the attackers. The attackers should keep the pressure on and should, if possible, try to come in from all sides so that the defender is forced to move around.

The majority of students generally don't have a problem going forwards or backwards but off to the side. Backpedalling when under attack is a common problem and can be addressed by placing the student directly in front of a wall. For most, their natural response when faced with something coming at them is to "get the hell away from it!," and this invariably means running backwards from it. The problem with this is that you're always retreating, and you'll eventually hit something that stops you from going back further; be it a wall or fence or edge of the ring. Stick a brick wall directly behind them and have a basic drill which means that they have got to learn to use footwork to come off to the side.

With kids, a simple enough drill is to assign different methods of stepping to numbers. When I shout "one!" they have to shift forward. A shout of "two!" means they should shift backwards. It gets them thinking a bit more, and makes it more engaging for them. You can even do it so that whoever gets it wrong has to sit out until you're left with one winner. Another great game for kids is a modified dodgeball. Throw the balls at them but require that they use their footwork to get out of the way.

There are loads more drills you can do but basically anything that gets the repetitions in will suffice, and then you can move on to combining kicks and strikes with the stepping and moving.

A Brief Word About Range

Hand-in-hand with footwork is range so an article about footwork would be incomplete without it. Knowing your own range and how far your techniques can reach is important. Personally, I like to think of my opponent standing in the centre of concentric circles, like a target. The outermost layer is how close I have to be standing to reach with all of my long-range techniques (e.g. side kicks, roundhouses). In a layer is the shorter range kicks (e.g. front kicks). In again is long range hands (e.g. some punches and strikes). Finally the close-quarter techniques.

You need to use range to your advantage, and you need to use your footwork to get you into (or out of) range. Assuming the same abilities, when you're equally matched in height and reach by your opponent you can fight from anywhere. If you're smaller or bigger how you manage your range will dictate how the fight goes. Obviously the taller you are the more reach you have so you can fight further away. It makes sense to keep your opponent within range for you but so that they cannot reach you. If you're sparring someone taller than you, then you've got the harder job but you have to get within range without getting hit on the way in. In both cases, footwork is crucial so practice, practice, practice!
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Patrick
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 1:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission, Danielle.

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Wastelander
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 2:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing this article!
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 8:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article, Danielle, excellent!!

Footwork, imho, is at the heart of sparring's do's and don'ts. Without one understanding footwork, one will just basically trip over themselves.



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article-thanks!!! I love foot work drills!!!!





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bushido_man96
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2014 5:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article, Danielle. Love the ideas! Thanks for sharing them.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 4:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome post, thank you!
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wayneshin
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 05, 2014 7:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a great article. I teach WKF style kumite and it is interesting to ponder the difference but especially the similarities in movement. Probably the footwork we most commonly use is what you term the push step. A top level competitor can make up to a metre with this step and if more is required we would use what we term a double step. In general a push step is also the first part of defensive footwork moving backwards.
Your descriptions of sideway movement (push off to the open side/switch to the back side) are identical to the way we train my students to move sideways (we commonly call it breaking line)

One point of difference – I actively discourage the “crossover/foot-to-foot” especially in beginners. I don’t particularly like them bringing their feet together. For punching a double step is faster and can make more distance. We used to still do it for kicking off the front leg but I have even cut that back.
Would you mind clarifying the switch step. I presume both feet move at the same time?? Is it used in competition??
Also if you ever have the time and inclination I would love to hear something from you about kicking drills/setting up kicks.
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DWx
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2014 5:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayneshin wrote:
This is a great article. I teach WKF style kumite and it is interesting to ponder the difference but especially the similarities in movement. Probably the footwork we most commonly use is what you term the push step. A top level competitor can make up to a metre with this step and if more is required we would use what we term a double step. In general a push step is also the first part of defensive footwork moving backwards.
Your descriptions of sideway movement (push off to the open side/switch to the back side) are identical to the way we train my students to move sideways (we commonly call it breaking line)

Thanks for the feedback wayneshin. FWIW the names I've given the movements are pretty arbitrary.. I hear tons of different names for the various movements but I wouldn't know if there are proper names to them

The move I call push-step I like to liken to how a fencer would lunge forward.

wayneshin wrote:

One point of difference – I actively discourage the “crossover/foot-to-foot” especially in beginners. I don’t particularly like them bringing their feet together. For punching a double step is faster and can make more distance. We used to still do it for kicking off the front leg but I have even cut that back.
Would you mind clarifying the switch step. I presume both feet move at the same time?? Is it used in competition??
Also if you ever have the time and inclination I would love to hear something from you about kicking drills/setting up kicks.

I'm at a conflict over whether I want to personally teach the crossover movement. In the early days of my training we used to do it a lot but now, like you said, it's not so good to bring your feet together. I've been training a lot with some K1 kickboxers recently and they too emphasise keeping the feet apart at all times. I suppose at the moment I still see the crossover as a stepping stone to learning how to skip in quickly with a front leg side kick although in this case the step movement is cut shorter.

With the switch step I'll see if I can get a video or something together to clarify.. [/quote]
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wayneshin
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 09, 2014 3:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks again. On reflection there is one particular combination we use a crossover step for. A punching technique we only use in mirror stance (eg right handed versus left handed) so we can get outside our opponents line. I only teach it to advanced fighters but I guess there is a time and place for everything.
One fundamental difference in the rule set (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that we are allowed to sweep and throw. Any kick can leave you vulnerable at an elite level but a crossover step to kick probably more so than most.
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