Footwork (martial arts)

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Footwork is essential in boxing. Ouch-boxing-footwork.jpg
Footwork is essential in boxing.

Footwork is a martial arts and combat sports term for the general usage of the legs and feet in stand-up fighting. Footwork involves keeping balance, closing or furthering the distance, controlling spatial positioning, and/or creating additional momentum for strikes.


Basic incarnations of footwork

Boxing footwork

The characteristic footwork employed by most of the world's major boxing and kickboxing styles, such as Western boxing and Muay Thai, has changed little over the centuries, and has remained largely invariable between radically different cultures. The boxer relies on 'push stepping'. In which the leading leg advances first, then the rear, with the feet coming to rest in the exact relative position.

Rear movement is a reversal of this step, and lateral movement involves push stepping in the same fashion, with the foot closest to the desired direction stepping laterally, followed by the opposite foot, which is used to move the body.

For the pugilist, footwork is to be deft and simplistic, allowing the fighter to move in and out of striking range as quickly as possible. Footwork is key to generating sufficient power in the basic strikes shared between the major boxing styles. During the jab, the lead foot can move forward to close distance or remain stationary. During the cross, the rear foot pivots inward to launch the rear shoulder forward, allowing the cross a good deal of its strength. During the left hook, the lead foot pivots in an inward manner to transfer body weight. The right hook's pivot is identical to the cross (assuming the boxer is orthodox). The lead uppercut, like the jab does not use any pivotal motion, the power comes from the transfer of body weight to the lead foot. The rear uppercut employs the same inward pivot as the cross. To maintain balance, both feet can step, pivot or slide as appropriate. The jab may be thrown while moving forward or backward; for the other punches it is advisable not to throw while in motion.

Kickboxing footwork

Kickboxing employs the same basic footwork pattern as the styles that focus only on the upper body, with the one key difference lying in the defense and positioning for lower body strikes. The kick-boxer will often shift his weight backward onto his rear leg to allow his leading leg to react more quickly to an incoming blow as in a 'shield,'(right) a defense used against a round kick, or to execute swift kicking maneuvers such as foot jabs and the Muay Thai teep or stop kick. Radical pivoting and sudden lead changes also accommodate the wider, more powerful movement of the knees and legs. In styles that allow for the clinch, the debased balance forces movement to be more squared, and footwork to be replaced by powerful thrusting or frenetic skipping movements with the sole purpose of keeping on one's feet.

In Thailand, Muay Thai fighters will often provoke attack by tapping their lead foot or by letting it rest in the air, both considered grievous insults within that nation.

Linear footwork

Linear movement is common to a great deal of the martial arts world, and is predominant in arts of Japanese and Korean influence such as many forms of Karate and Tae-Kwon-Do, as well as some grappling arts such as Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Sambo and Shooto, and few forms of Chinese martial arts, such as Wing Chun and Bruce Lee's later incarnation, Jun Fan Gung Fu. Perhaps the most stark example of linear footwork, however, is that used in European fencing, especially within the modern sport aspect.

Dominated by the philosophy that the fastest and most economical way to an opponent is a straight line, arts that use linear movement as their focus adopt mostly rigid stances and behaviors, and focus primarily on the speed of advance and retreat to overcome an adversary. The striking arts of Japan and Korea utilize linear form quickly to overwhelm opponents with powerful, focused blows, whereas the Chinese arts primarily respect linear movement as a method of staying in reference to the opponent's centerline, and for its necessary use in trapping, or close-range grappling exchanges (See Chin Na).

Linear footwork's direct, sharp movements are natural for most grappling systems, which aim quickly to take an opponent to the floor with as little movement or adjustment as necessary. "Shooting," or rushing for the legs in order to execute a takedown, is a universal action that is an example of linear footwork's application.

Triangular footwork

This unique and highly versatile footwork pattern is popular within the arts that populate many of the nations that once comprised the Majapahit Empire, including those of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines Principally Kali-Arnis-Escrima (see Escrima), Silat, Kuntao, and Panantukan. Diagonal or triangular footwork involves moving in triangular fashion as opposed to the direct forward or lateral movement present in boxing and other styles such as Karate or Tae-Kwon-Do.. For example, a user of triangular footwork will choose to advance or retreat at a diagonal to one's opponent, as to potentially set oneself into a superior position or attack or defense, and to disorient opponents that may not be familiar with this type of unconventional movement. Users of triangular footwork appear as if zigzagging along the points of many diamonds in randomized directions. The emphasis on evasion over blocking, as well as efficient counterattacking, is likely influenced by the significance of weapons, especially edged ones, in Kali-Arnis-Escrima and silat. Because the danger of exchanging weapon strikes is much higher risk than with empty hands, it is common practice to use triangular footwork to achieve a superior position to one's opponent to both avoid an attack as well as launching a counterattack before the opponent has a chance to recover.

There are three types of triangular movement: The male triangle pattern with involves retreating in a triangular pattern that is facing away from the practitioner, the female triangle pattern that has the practitioner advancing along an inverse triangle facing opposite of the fighter, and the lateral triangle, which involves moving in a triangular pattern to the right, and left of the practitioner.

Movement in a linear fashion is achieved, principally, by a "step and slide." The fighter will first move to the desired 'point' on the triangular matrix, then swiftly slide one's rear leg to meet his leading foot. From this position, the practitioner either rests one's foot to facilitate an attack or defense, or shoot his foot out to another point to complete another step and slide motion. Advanced users of triangular footwork literally "bounce" their rear feet off the ankle or heel area of their leading foot to jut out to another point as swiftly as possible, allowing for change of direction at incredible speed. The majority of the arts that utilize triangular footwork can effectively be practiced in either right or left leads interchangeably, so they are naturally suited for this manner of movement.

Panantukan, Filipino boxing, is an exception to the standard step and slide, as it features a hybrid footwork pattern that combines triangular movement with a boxing stance, and boxing's close attention to body mechanics. A Panantukan fighter will use his unique footwork to attempt to zone his opponent to achieve the perfect striking position.

Circular footwork

Circular movement patterns are an integral part of many forms of traditional Chinese martial arts, such as Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and Taijiquan, due principally to the strong influence of Tao philosophy. Circular footwork is also the basic method of movement in Enshin karate and derivative styles. Circular footwork functions in a way similar to triangular footwork, in that the martial artist advances towards his opponent at an angle in order to occupy the opponent's "blind spot." From here, the practitioner can strike more effectively while limiting his opponent's options for attack. Circular footwork is often considered more difficult to master than other types of footwork.

Unconventional footwork

Many styles of martial arts the world over contain footwork patterns that defy categorization. Such arts many Chinese Kung Fu styles that contain proliferant footwork methods that involve deep crouching, and closely mimic the movements and behaviors of animals, such as the tiger (harimau), monkey, or snake. The unique methods present within these arts make them philosophies unto themselves.

Brazilian martial art Capoeira uses footwork much like a dance to create offensive and defensive opportunities. Capoeirista use a side-to-side movement pattern known as ginga from which all other techniques are initiated.

An unconventional "dancing" style of footwork was popularized by heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in the 1960s. He moved side to side, and forward and back, while bouncing on the balls of his feet and dancing around his opponents. This allowed him to quickly move to wherever he wanted in the ring. He also occasionally shuffled his feet back and forth quickly, confusing his opponents before landing a blow, a move called the Ali shuffle. [1] [2] His unconventional footwork was referred to as the "dancing legs" at the time. [3] The martial artist and actor Bruce Lee was influenced by Ali's footwork, which he studied and incorporated into his own Jeet Kune Do style of mixed martial arts. [4] Ali's footwork also inspired a brief dance craze in Europe during 1966, mimicking Ali's footwork to a swinging up-tempo beat. [5]

Footwork and weaponry

The presence of weapons can vastly influence how a fighter moves, in order to correctly accommodate the specific weapon in hand. Most forms of swordsmanship and stickfighting advocate that the lead foot be matched with the main hand, or hand that is currently clutching the weapon, as to allow the maximum possible reach to be achieved. This is also true for the use of knives and daggers, polearms, and flexible weapons. When using a weapon, reach is paramount to all other positioning options, thus the lead-to-lead rule is almost universally present, with few exceptions. Also, you generally want to shield your body with your weapon and not vice versa.

See also

Related Research Articles

Boxing Full contact combat sport

Boxing is a combat sport in which two people, usually wearing protective gloves and other protective equipment such as hand wraps and mouthguards, throw punches at each other for a predetermined amount of time in a boxing ring.

Kickboxing Stand-up combat sports

Kickboxing is a stand-up combat sport based on kicking and punching, historically developed from karate mixed with boxing. Kickboxing is practiced for self-defence, general fitness, or as a contact sport.

Kick Physical strike using the leg, foot or knee

A kick is a physical strike using the leg, in unison usually with an area of the knee or lower using the foot, heel, tibia (shin), ball of the foot, blade of the foot, toes or knee. This type of attack is used frequently by hooved animals as well as humans in the context of stand-up fighting. Kicks play a significant role in many forms of martial arts, such as capoeira, kalaripayattu, karate, kickboxing, kung fu, MMA, Muay thai, pankration, pradal serey, savate, sikaran, silat, taekwondo, vovinam, and Yaw-Yan. Kicks are a universal act of aggression among humans.

Muay Thai Combat sport of Thailand (lit. "Thai boxing")

Muay Thai , sometimes referred to as "Thai boxing", is a combat sport that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. This discipline is known as the "art of eight limbs" as it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins. Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the late-20th to 21st century, when Westernized practitioners from Thailand began competing in kickboxing and mixed rules matches as well as matches under muay Thai rules around the world. The professional league is governed by The Professional Boxing Association of Thailand (P.A.T), sanctioned by The Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT).

Jeet Kune Do Hybrid martial art

Jeet Kune Do is a hybrid philosophy of martial arts heavily influenced by the personal philosophy and experiences of martial artist Bruce Lee.


Tenkan is the Japanese name of a movement practiced in several martial arts. It is a 180 degree pivot to one's rear, on the lead foot. That is, if the left foot is forward, the pivot is clockwise, and if the right foot is forward, the pivot is counter-clockwise.

Filipino martial arts

Filipino martial arts (FMA) refer to ancient Malay and newer modified fighting methods devised in the Philippines. It incorporates elements from both Western and Eastern Martial Arts, the most popular forms of which are known as Arnis, Eskrima, and Kali. The intrinsic need for self-preservation was the genesis of these systems. Throughout the ages, invaders and evolving local conflict imposed new dynamics for combat in the islands now making up the Philippines. The Filipino people developed battle skills as a direct result of an appreciation of their ever-changing circumstances. They learned often out of necessity how to prioritize, allocate and use common resources in combative situations. Filipinos have been heavily influenced by a phenomenon of cultural and linguistic mixture. Some of the specific mechanisms responsible for cultural and martial change extended from phenomena such as war, political and social systems, technology, trade and practicality.

Arnis National sport and martial art of the Philippines

Arnis, also known as Kali or Eskrima/Escrima, is the national martial art of the Philippines. The three are roughly interchangeable umbrella terms for the traditional martial arts of the Philippines, which emphasize weapon-based fighting with sticks, knives, bladed weapons, and various improvised weapons, as well as "open hand" techniques without weapons.

Strike (attack) Directed physical attack

A strike is a directed physical attack with either a part of the human body or with an inanimate object intended to cause blunt trauma or penetrating trauma upon an opponent.

Taekkyeon Traditional Korean martial art

Taekkyon,Taekgyeon, Taekkyeon, or Taekyun is a traditional Korean martial art.

Shadowboxing Sports training exercise

Shadowboxing is an exercise used in the training for combat sports, especially, as its name implies, in boxing. It is used mainly to prepare the muscles before the person training engages in stronger physical activity. In shadowboxing, only one person is required to participate; the participant throws punches at no one in particular. Muhammad Ali once performed a now famous shadowboxing routine next to Howard Cosell for ABC's Wide World of Sports television cameras. Black Nova Scotian boxer George Dixon is widely credited for developing the technique.

Hook (boxing)

A hook is a punch in boxing. It is performed by turning the core muscles and back, thereby swinging the arm, which is bent at an angle near or at 90 degrees, in a horizontal arc into the opponent. A hook is usually aimed at the jaw, but it can also be used for body shots, especially to the liver.

<i>Ragione di adoprar sicuramente lArme, si da offesa come da difesa</i>

The Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme, si da offesa come da difesa was a famous treatise on fencing published by Giacomo di Grassi in 1570. The text was later translated into English and published again in 1594, as Di Grassi, His True Arte of Defence. The translation of Di Grassi was one of the three premiere fencing texts known from Elizabethan England.

Roundhouse kick type of kick used in martial arts and combat

A roundhouse kick is a kick in which the practitioner lifts their knee while turning the supporting foot and body in a semicircular motion, extending the leg striking with the lower part of the shin and/or the instep the ball of the foot can also be used to strike the target and is preferable when power breaking thick boards. This type of kick is utilized in many different martial arts and is popular in both non-contact and full-contact martial arts competitions. The kick has many variations based on stance, leg movement, striking surface, and the height of the kick.

Punching power

Punching power is the amount of kinetic energy in a person's punches. Knockout power is a similar concept relating to the probability of any strike to the head to cause unconsciousness or a strike to the body that renders an opponent unable to continue fighting. Knockout power is related to the force delivered, the timing, the technique, precision of the strike, among other factors.

Peek-a-boo is a boxing style which received its common name for the defensive hands position, which are normally placed in front of the boxer's face, like in the baby's game of the same name. The technique is thought to offer extra protection to the face whilst making it easier to jab the opponent's face. The fighter holds their gloves close to their cheeks and pulls their arms tight against their torso. A major proponent of the style was trainer Cus D'Amato, who didn't use the term peek-a-boo and instead referred to it as a "tight defense." The style was criticized by someTemplate:By Teddy Brenner A Boxing Propomoter because it was believed that an efficient attack could not be launched from it.

Boxing styles and technique

Throughout the history of gloved boxing styles, techniques and strategies have changed to varying degrees. Ring conditions, promoter demands, teaching techniques, and the influence of successful boxers are some of the reasons styles and strategies have fluctuated.

Stances are a highly fundamental part of all Chinese Martial Arts. Wushu is characterized by low, wide stances designed for mobility and protection. Stability is another key concern of Chinese martial arts, and the wushu stances reflect this sensibility. There are five key stances utilized in both contemporary wushu and traditional wushu. Many others exist, and different styles of wushu prescribe a particular protocol for "correct" stance.

Fencing tactics

Tactics are very important to playing well in modern fencing and although technique is important in the sport, using an array of tactics will help fencers make the most of that technique.


Suntukan is the fist-related striking component of Filipino martial arts. In the central Philippine island region of Visayas, it is known as Pangamot or Pakamot. It is also known as Mano-mano and often referred to in Western martial arts circles of Inosanto lineage as Panantukan. Although it is also called Filipino Boxing, this article pertains to the Filipino martial art and should not be confused with the Western sport of boxing as practiced in the Philippines. In recent times, suntukan has become a generalized term for any brawls in the Philippines, with the term panantukan becoming more frequently used to denote the actual martial art.


  1. "5 Of Muhammad Ali's Signature Boxing Techniques You Can Add To Your Game - Evolve Daily". Evolve MMA . 9 June 2019. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  2. Willis, George (4 June 2016). "Anatomy of the Ali Shuffle: The dizzying, mesmerizing dance". New York Post . Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  3. Anderson, Dave (7 March 1971). "Frazier and Ali: Morality Drama Unfolds". The New York Times . Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  4. Vaughn, Jack; Lee, Mike, eds. (1986). The Legendary Bruce Lee. Black Belt Communications. p. 127. ISBN   978-0-89750-106-4.
  5. "People Are Talking About". Jet . Vol. 30 no. 25. Johnson Publishing Company. 29 September 1966. p. 48. ISSN   0021-5996.