The fighter with better footwork and movement skills has a definitve advantage in any fight, however, it is an aspect of fight training that is more often than not neglected taken for granted. Fighters who have taken the time to perfect their movement skills whether in boxing, mixed martial arts, Muay Thai or the street have a more complete and robust fight game.
Some of the most impressive fighters we have seen in boxing, such as;Jack Dempsey, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Prince Nassim and the incomparable Mohammed Ali have all employed incredible foot work and movement skills to evade and attack their opponents.
One of the major frustrations that the early kickboxing scene was plagued with was that fighters came from the karate disciplines. Many early kickboxers, coming from karate backgrounds, complimented their karate kicks with the superior punching techniques taken from boxing but most were slow to take up the highly mobile boxing footwork.The classical karate disciplines focussed on flat-footed “stand your ground tactics” with inadequate footwork and maneuverability. This often led to fighters from predominantly boxing backgrounds and with token kicking skills defeating high ranking karatekas that had taken up full contact kickboxing to demonstrate the power of karate.
Those fighters that came from a boxing background or who saw that maneuverable footwork and strategic positioning were an essential part of the boxers’ game plan demonstrated a notable advantage by incorporating it in their training.
Muay Thai fighters, however, not tainted by the classical karate systems, have always demonstrated a very fine sense of footwork and position, such that that they move in and out just out of range, to make the opponent miss, and then back in to range to hit with power and precision.
We saw a repeat of the kickboxing era in the early days of mixed martial arts fighting, with the grapplers ruling and it appeared that fighters that mainly relied on their standup skills were not going to be competitive. The fighters that relied heavily on standup were very unsuccessful at stopping the takedowns of the grapplers, allowing themselves to be put in positions that limited their movement and ultimately to be taken down.
That was until Maurice Smith showed that with good footwork and ring (cage) generalship the grapplers could be stopped with a mainly striking focussed game.
The mixed martial arts fighters that mainly relied on their takedown game were now under the selective pressure of having to adapt their takedown methods to contend with the evasive maneuverability and adapted striking methods of the standup specialists.
The main characteristics that set the successful mixed martial arts fighters apart from those that failed were their footwork and ring (cage) generalship that permitted them to neutralize the takedowns.
We now see mixed martial arts fighters who have adapted and developed there movement and positioning to the cage, such that the fights are more dynamic and evenly balanced between the grapplers and strikers. The latest exponent of excellent footwork and generalship, in mixed martial arts, is Lyoto Machida who demonstrates very powerful hit and move skills that are the key to the strikers’ game against a grappler.
It is therefore essential that when we train we include fast and maneuverable foot work into our mixed martial arts training drills.
Once a new standup striking or takedown setup technique is adopted, and has been adequately drilled for efficacy, we must combine it with effective footwork and movement so that we can move in to execute it, and out again, if it is countered or if on execution we need to move away because it did not finish the job and the opponent covers up; a hit and run strategy of fighting.
Here are some of the main points that must be considered in your footwork whether fighting mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, or boxing:
1) Learn to move on the balls of the feet with bent knees to facilitate rapid and precise weight transfer.
2) Keep the feet spacing about shoulder width apart, i.e. avoid wide stances.
3) When moving make the steps small; better to take a series of smaller steps, then one large one that upsets balance.
4) Practice quick changes in direction always ensuring to maintain good balance.
5) Practice constant movement.
6) Develop a keen sense of position in relation to your opponent; this must be acquired to the level of unconscious competence so that you can concentrate on the fight.
7) When you step in to strike train for speed, explosiveness and accuracy.
8) Train sprawling and angular changes for takedown avoidance.
In addition, footwork should be developed for both offensive and defensive tactics. The use of evasive angular stepping that is the basis of the “make ’em miss, make ’em pay” strategy, combined with fast bridging the gap techniques and good ring generalship must be developed to provide the complete fight game plan when learning how to fight in mixed martial arts.
For a great in-depth look at gap bridging strategies, that will compliment your learning in all martial arts fighting systems, check out my very comprehensive resource “Mastering the Danger Zone” DVD series which is packed full of concepts and techniques for set ups and “Bridging the Gap” in Muay Thai, Mixed Martial Arts fighting and the street self defense situation that will put you way ahead of the game when learning mixed martial arts and Muay Thai.
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In addition I often discuss these strategies together with other fight game and self defense tactics in my blog at http://www.UltimateFightingSystems.com/blog that will help you develop your knowledge and experience when learning how to fight in mixed martial arts, Muay Thai or self defense.