Footwork is the term and action we use for advancing, retreating, moving laterally, diagonally, pivoting and stepping around an opponent. Footwork is tied to your base, enhances your balance while moving and essentially keeps you grounded and upright. Footwork, for all intended purposes, is the Ready Position plus movement(s) or those “Transitions between Stances.”
The definition of “Footwork” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary calls it: the activity of moving from place to place; the management of the feet (as in boxing); also the work done with them and active and adroit maneuvering to achieve an end.
The above definitions are as simple as Footwork will ever get. Footwork, from this point forward becomes more than words. It takes more than just moving the feet from place to place. It takes some understanding of how to bring our movement alive fundamentally and tactically.
The Eight Universal Planes of Motion
Footwork takes place within the 8 Universal Planes of Motion as it is applied to the surfaces we walk, run and roll on. These are (1) forward and (2) back, (3) lateral left and (4) right, 45 degree angles (5) forward left (6) forward right and 45 degree angles (7) back left and (8) right. It again, applies to the ground under our feet and it is an asterisk in shape.
The Eight Universal Planes of Motion
Fighting Stance (Ready Position)
Fighting footwork begins before movement, starting from your ready position or your stance. Different fight games may offer varying ready positions, but for the purpose herein we’ll use the Jeet Kune Do (JKD) fighting stance called “Bai Jong.”
JKD Bai Jong Position (Fighting Stance)
In Jeet Kune Do, the fighting stance (Bai Jong) is taught with emphasis on your body’s overall position. In the above graphic, you’ll see the essential elements of a defensive position and its importance to fighting functionality. Some of the more important elements are your head position, your hand, lead shoulder position and placement of the feet. All are integral to striking, evasion from head shots and for protection of the jaw and body. Positions of the feet emphasize the elements of mobility and kicking.
The Bai Jong is to be used while in the flow of motion. Ranging, timing and other elements assist you while your position is in constant change.
It is always emphasized that each position change through footwork, that we move back into our fighting stance. Example, a lunge with a lead jab, the rear leg will follow up and move back into that ready position. This is the way in which we continuously reset our fighting stance thus providing its benefits that allows us protection, offense and explosive movement in any direction. This reset action is done more than 90% of the time with our footwork patterns.
Types of Footwork Patterns and Sequences
The examples of footwork moving within any of the 8 directions are, but are not limited to: Step up (Stalking), Lunge, Pendulum Step, Replacement Step, Shuffle Up and the Triangle Step (Changes Lead).
Footwork sequences or patterns can also be doubled and tripled up to close the gap on an opponent if the gap between opponents is great enough to warrant it. These examples include but are not limited to: Shuffle Up and Step and a Step-Shuffle-step.
In the previous examples, crossing of the feet while in motion is frowned upon. Footwork most normally, with some exceptions, advances first with the leg in the directions of lateral movement and with the lead leg in the diagonal, forward and back directions. Crossing your feet in direct view of the opponent is a quick way to encourage them to advance on you because your mobility is compromised. Basically in this position you are caught between steps and could be ran over. With this being said there are plenty of rear leg first advances.
Another type of footwork used for kicking attacks is the Step Behind (for sidekicks) type of application. In this example of footwork the legs actually do cross. But, the direction of attack is not laterally, your side faces the opponent in the footwork, so the crossing of our feet is hidden making it safe to close a gap between opponents in addition to its ability to chamber your leg for a powerful kick at the end of the advance.
Additionally, used in conjunction with the 8 directions and the footwork sequences are patterns that will take you off the opponents attacking line. Some are advancing and crossing back over that line and some circling around those lines of attack.
First, the 45 degree, stepping forward or back angle footwork patterns of the Filipino Arts, called the Male and Female Triangles.
Second, the L-Turn is primarily used when advancing or moving away from an opponent, while striking, then deliberately taking a 90 degree turn off the line from the opponents attack or counterattack and striking while moving in and away.
A T-Turn replicates the L-Turn, striking going in and away but then advances back across towards the opponent (This makes the T-shape) to attack after initially moving offline with the L-Turn.
The Half-Turn is needed when you have to turn all the way around to engage, re-engage an opponent and is great against multiple opponents.
T-Stance footwork is done in a central position and on an axis. You are transferring your weight to one foot and turning to one side. The T-Stance, used in tight spaces and for evasion of thrusts, rotates on an axis with the body hollowing out or leaning back to evade the attack.
Types of Footwork Patterns
The Quarter Turn or Inquartata can be done while standing and in motion while advancing or moving back. This movement turns and rotates you 90 degrees off line of the opponents attack and advancing direction.
The Inquartata Step (1)
Pivoting is another form of turning. A member of the Quarter, Half and T-Stance family a pivot from a stationary position allows for adjustment to any direction an attack is perceived. It all starts with the feet. (2)
Pivoting in Boxing (2)
There are footwork patterns used with weapons set-ups, from fencing and other blade work systems that allow you to put yourself in maneuverable positions where you can change your Attack Gate (level) to the opponents’ body. (3)
In the below example, a hand set-up (Fake) combined with specific footwork deceives the opponent, combined with body maneuvering or Breaking the Plane (to the Lower Gate) creates a low line opening for a thrust.
Passata Sotto (4)
Drilling your Footwork
Footwork requires practice. Practice gives you enough repetition to feel comfortable in its use. Line drills, drilling along patterns on the floor, mirror work, work with light, color, signs and motion to build reaction speed in footwork are all viable teaching methods. Reaction Speed as well as Initiation Speed is required to interact with the opponent and take advantage of their poor footwork and defenses.
You can drill the Filipino male and female triangles in the shape of an hourglass. You may drill L and T-Turns inside a box or rectangle and the Filipino Triangles (an Hourglass) can be contained inside those. It becomes larger or smaller depending on your intent, choices and level of expertise.
The concept behind using larger versus smaller footprints in one’s learning curve is that it may be easier to understand starting with big shapes and flowing patterns (Larger grids) and end with short, tight close-quarters patterns (Small grids). This example is not unlike the development process of the stick, baton or sword. Where larger lines, with shapes and motion for early learning followed by the tightening up of those lines into smaller, more compact applications of those weapons translating to the shorter clubs, knives and empty hand applications.
Speed, rhythm and timing also play an integral role in footwork. It is important to be ahead of the curve in defense. Speed to hit. Timing to find an opening and rhythm enough to fit it in during the flow of combat. These three are used in conjunction with mirroring and other opponent monitoring and checking skills and keeps us one step ahead of the opponent. (Pun intended)
Circling (Stair stepping) is another type of footwork where our feet do cross while moving around an opponent emulating a spiraling staircase like action. It is found within the Filipino arts and others effectively circling around to the opponents back where there is no defense and we are facing their unprotected spine.
Rolling (Footwork of the ground) is another type of movement important to understand and incorporate. For the purposes of attacking and evading rolling in its many ways will also follow the 8 Universal Planes of Motion in its direction movement.
Proper footwork is also a must for the detail required to execute throws, trips and other off-balancing actions of Judo and Jujitsu. The detailed stepping used to enter for throws positions oneself to throw effectively and safely.
And lastly, Tolling (5) is a term in animal ethology that refers to a bit of behavior exhibited by social animals that hunt as a pack [in our case, wolves and their genetic offspring dogs.] This is also an example of an opponent’s erratic behavior before an attack. The pacing and gesturing are all part of the dance preparing for an attack.
Tolling is distinct from feinting which is disguising an attack by providing something that looks like an attack to a different line and following it up with an alternate real attack. In fact, it looks like a performance, it looks like a street-show in preparation of their attack.
And in closing, I hope you have understood the information about the elements of our footwork’s position, re-positioning, its patterns, the 8 directions, drilling and additional movement concepts.
Footwork is the Dancing with the Stars part of combat. Footwork is quite effective and essential for our success. But, if you rather be tripping over your own feet the whole confrontation with no grace, stability or command and basically “Plod” your way through a confrontation that’ll be great…for the other guy.
3 Gate of the Body, (1-Head-Shoulders-Upper Chest), (2-Torso) and (3-Legs)