by Sensei Neil Prime
October, 1995

How many time have you seen somebody with a devastating punch, or kick and when they practice in line it comes out fast and furious and looks like it could destroy an army?

How many times have you seen someone like this, or experienced the same confidencein acertain technique yourself, but have not been able to put it to use for you in a practical sparringsituation because your opponent always seems to block it or get out of the way first?

Quite often it is not the punch or the kick that are at fault, but it could be the set-up or thedistancing, or maybe the angle of attack that you execute, rather than the actual technique thatis to blame. Quite often it could be your timing, not to be confused with speed. Timing is a skillthat can be developed to create or overcome speed, which can be exemplified by good footwork.Being mobile, being able to execute an attack from many different angles with changes in rythemand speed combined with accuracy and power make a superior weapon. This is something weall can be if we employ the proper balance of skills.

This sounds like a lot to think of all at once but with determination is a very attainable, realisticexercise to perform. The key to this success is to concentrate on being mobile.

There are certain objectives you must have when entering into a sparring match. First andforemost, you don't want to get hit. How do we stop this from happening?... We get out of theline of fire. This may be backed up by certain hand movements (blocks), but essentially we tryto move ourselves out of the way of an attack and at the same time reposition ourselves so thatwe can counter the attack put upon us. We can achieve this by using effective footwork. If yourfeet are planted firmly on the ground when your sparring, your going to end up in big trouble.You want to be as light as you can so that you can react to an attack or, react with an attack toan opening in your opponents defense. Everyone will position themselves' a little different, butthe most effective sparring stance will have a basis of the following: You should carry yourweight approx. 50/50 so that you don't favor one leg (or direction) over the other. If your feetare shoulder width apart and facing on a forward angle this will also help create a good base foragile movement. Keeping your heels slightly off the ground will also make it less likely to getcaught off guard. If you are flat footed it makes it very difficult to move with any type ofsmoothness or speed. Your head is still going to have to tell your feet where to go, therefore theleast amount of resistance is desired, so be light, quick, and snappy.

There are many effective drills that we can employ to improve our footwork skills. What wewant to keep in mind is that footwork is imperative for offence and defensive skills. I try todevelop a lot of these skills working defensively. I feel if you can get out of the way of dangerquickly, it will be easier to confront it when the opportunity is available. Therefore if we practiceour defensive skills, our offensive skills will fall into place easier.

Try working with a partner (the aggressor) who is going to executing a number of consecutivetechniques towards you (as you will be the target). Work these techniques, not too hard, but at a rate where the target can move out of the way by moving their feet. A certain amount of bodymovement (ducking, bobbing, weaving, fainting, faking,etc.) is necessary to co-ordinate with yourfoot movement, but don't make this exercise too complicated by concentrating on the upper bodymotion. When first working this type of drill, the key to success is good posture and keep yourfeet shoulder width apart at all times.

The general rule to follow is if you move forward, the forward foot must lead and the back footmust follow immediately. If you move to the right, the right foot must lead and the left foot mustfollow immediately, and so on for back and left. One of the most common mistakes that peoplemake is to move forward with the front foot and keep the back foot way behind. This causesmany problems: you lose most of your power, you end up leaning into your opponent (usuallywith your face), you are off balance and you are vulnerable to counter attack because you cannot react as quick in a wide stance. Another major problem area is when you cross your feet.This usually happens when moving out of the way of an attack, or when combining a numberof sequences together that require lateral movement. There are certain few instances whencrossing your feet may be an asset. When setting up a spinning technique you can create greatvelocity by sinking and unwinding at the hips as the feet are crossed, but this is notrecommended for someone trying to develop good footwork basic skills.

Once you develop confidence of movement at a slow speed, have your partner pick up the pace.More advanced partners will be able to judge when the tempo should be picked up automatically. Don't go too fast where you start making errors. You are trying to develop good habits and badhabits are just as easy to learn if you go beyond the desired pace. Again, a good partner willnotice your errors and point them out to you as you start to lose the rythem of the exercise.

Remember, a good foundation is the strength of all structures, and considering your footwork isthe primary base of your technique, you too should first try to develop a strong base.

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