Scott J. DaDante


Yes for sure you are only as good as your footwork and there is no other way to say it. History has proven this time and again by being displayed in all the professional footwork from the world's top fighter's and teachers. It was without a doubt the secret to their success and it can be yours.


Footwork provides you with the freedom of motion, allowing you to improvise and adapt to any given situation. It fuels your technique and provides your set weight a moveable landscape to play freely on.


Do not take the word footwork for granted, it applies to stand up as well as grappling. It has no limitations and is free in form. It can move from a solid to a liquid and even into a gas state allowing your personal axis full range of motion.

It moves you in and out of the line of fire and creates distance as well as closing the gap. It provides you with the silence and softness of the most delicate step while also creating the tremble of instability in your opponent's foundation similar to an earthquake.


It allows you the ability to use your natural surroundings to your advantage, even in the toughest of terrain while giving you the fluidity to control and manipulate the under carriage of even the most balanced of men.


Yes for sure, footwork is the key to one's success.

How do we develop it? How can we refine it? How can we capture its energy and make it our own?

There are many different drills and training devices to help develop your footwork and I'd like to bring some of them to your attention in hopes to increase your footwork's efficiency and effectiveness.

First, let's start off by talking about your footwork's floor pallet. In Kenpo, we refer to this as the 'Clock Principle' and is displayed through the 'Universal Pattern'. The universal pattern is both horizontal as well as vertical; it has height and depth and represents your free range of motion from any single position. It is made up of a series of linear and circular lines that offer an endless opportunity of angles and directions. It utilizes all your natural weapons and natural defenses and is limitless in form. We refer to this natural range of motion as our personal zone. To touch me or make contact with me, you will have to be in my zone and on the reverse end for me to be able to make physical contact with you. I'd have to be in your zone.

Different natural weapons have different zones, for instance, if I wanted to back fist you to the floating ribs, I'd have to be closer or further in your zone to make contact to that area than say a roundhouse kick to the floating ribs. The reason is, is that your leg is longer than your arm, which means that you could be at a farther distance from your opponent but still make contact. Understanding distance and depth perception is crucial in understanding zoning. Your arms at full extension has more reach in a horizontal position then if it was angled up in a 45 degree position or and other angle for that matter. The reason is in the arms total length, when an opponent is standing directly in front of you, by extending your arm out horizontally straight in front towards them, your length is at its greatest when it comes to reach, but when you extend it upward, downward, outward or inward, even though your arm technically is still the same length your reach is compromised. Why? Because your depth is affected and for you to make contact with the strike your distance must draw closer depending on the degree of angle you extend your arm in. Your arms angle, in this case, is based off the technique you choose.


This applies to kicks as well or any part of your body for that matter and it is important to observe these depths and angles from defense positions. Practical application is the key in studying these concepts. How does one close the gap to allow this theory of the universal pattern of motion to work? Footwork! The universal pattern also outlines your footwork theory as well.


Now the clock principle is your basic understanding of direction, providing you with a visual map of directional ideas of where you footwork could and will lead to. The nice thing about the clock principle is that it provides the newer student with different options on where their footwork could lead and encourages them to cut on angles instead of always stepping just forward, back or side to side; like most beginners tend to do and even some of the most experienced martial artists seem to be limited to. These angles naturally close the gap for you and allow you to position yourself in the blind spots of your opponent's field of vision, which creates new secured openings for your attack. 


By cutting these angles and the ability to apply these principles and patterns will alone gain you added knowledge to the geometry of fundamental application by adding a new perspective when it comes to the height, depth and width of your opponent and your opponent's range of motion. This theory of course also applies to you on the reverse end too.

A drill used in Kenpo is simply continuous application of technique on others of all sizes and structures. This along with kata practice combines advanced footwork drills in itself, but you must look inside of this practice to really understand its importance in application. Another way to gain advances in your footwork is by practicing the set out line drills, for students, including all the open drills and set out weapons training. This type of training combined with sparring and kumite, whether it is one on one, two on one or many multiple attackers will build up your timing, stamina and strategy. There is so much to learn off footwork and its applications are endless. 

In Ninjutsu, their footwork is very silent, but beyond stable. They become their surroundings, whether by using the natural free standing structures around them or the ground underneath them. Sometimes the terrain can be rough, so the ability to become one with the earth is essential in one's security toward victory. Learning to be able to move your footwork on the ground, meaning to never leave to ground only to glide across it like ice skating, gives you the ability to keep your set weight stabilized throughout your motion, a free moving foundation. This idea allows you to always maintain your balance, which means you will always have power in your technique at any position. 

This idea will also allow you to adapt to situations by improvising with your opponents technique in turn feeding off their energy. The freedom of motion your footwork creates can move with the power of their technique which could allow you to turn their energy against them.

A great drill for this type of footwork is a two man drill in which the two hold on to each shoulders and try to incorporate the foot maneuvers on each other. This will be exhausting and informing. Feel your partner's strengths and struggles, capitalize on their weaknesses and try to don't only flow with their footwork, but try and foresee their direction of motion. Do not get caught up in only seeing this drill through your eyes only, but see it also through their eyes and also observe others from an outside point of view in hopes of new ideas to enhance your footing. Also observe other's mistakes to remind you first hand of what not to do or even what is necessary to do it the right way.


Another great drill is to take a freestanding heavy bag and leap behind it on angles and to keep repeating this process all around the bag placing yourself in different positions for striking. In this drill you will be leaping, lunging, shuffling and applying all the different types of long distance stepping. This will come off as more or less as a ply metric exercise and is great cardio work along with building up your footwork by getting used to the new areas that you find yourself in.

From the Philippines, with styles like Kali, we can increase are footwork by adopting offensive and defensive triangle steps, which allows you to either move out of the line of fire to then return in the line of fire or to move in to then return out. This type of footwork can be attained through drills like around the river, which you stand in front of an object like a heavy bag and move all around it using these triangle steps. Always facing the object and always staying in its zone and line of fire.


This type of footwork in a sense is like dancing; in fact all footwork can be compared to this in some way or another. Like a 'Jinga' in Capoeira, which is based off a dance, footwork offers more than just practical application; it also becomes quite a great work out.

Try getting back on your feet from various ground positions. Rolls, springs, pull-ins, leaping steps, etc. will allow you access to your stand up game, but you have to experiment to get comfortable with each. Being able and feeling comfortable in moving in and out of these positions will allow you instant access to any of these appropriate moves and the freedom to move accordingly into a follow up technique.

Pad drills also help in modifying your footwork, assisting in understanding ranges so you can adapt your distance to set you up for maximum power behind your technique. Whether you use hand pads, kick shields or a plain old heavy bag all these forms of pad training will give your footwork the kick it needs to spice it up a bit by each of them offering a different approach in application.

A double end striking ball is another great tool for the martial artist in developing great footwork and timing as well. This tool seems to have a mind of its own and moves accordingly to your strike, it is important that you study the balls course of motion and response from a strike. The bag, like a human being has a reaction for every action you move with, so placement of your body is important to you in the means of your safety from being struck by your opponent, or ball, by placing your body into vulnerable positions.


Your muscle memory will increase in time and your speed will also increase. This increase in speed in turns speeds up your upper body technique as well. The benefits of good solid footwork, is invaluable to the serious martial artist, for they know this is the secret to their success. By being able to adapt, flow, redirect, misdirect, control, manipulate and improve with your opponents motion allows you full access to their game, in turn making it yours. If you own his game you own the fight and it all stems from your knowledge and application of footwork.


Like a spider who dances on its web, practicing his footwork while waiting for its next meal, he patiently waits for his enemy to come into contact with the zone of his web. Once the contact is made he dances around his prey forcing them to panic by entangling them into his trap. Now disabled and helpless the spider can do whatever bidding he chooses. His understanding of his zone, his use of the universal pattern and his advanced footwork all combine a natural control for his game. One word - Success!


There are many drills out there designed in promoting your footwork, explore them search for knowledge. Use knowledge as your key by expanding your vocabulary, knowing more than the next guy and by always bettering yourself.


Respect and Honor.