Movement is a critical component of surviving a combative encounter. Armies understand the value of movement, boxers spend as much time on footwork as they do on punching, and offline lateral movement during close-range gun battles has been proven to drastically increase survivability. Two or more combatants rarely remain stationary for very long while engaging one another with empty hands, knives, impact weapons or bullets.
Possessing the ability to move during a reactive incident provides numerous advantages, including escape, getting off the line of attack, opportunity to attain cover or concealment, alteration of one’s target profile, achieving a favorable angle of attack, and gaining a time advantage (however minor). In simplified terms, moving targets are more difficult to hit, and a moving body is harder to isolate, entangle, and control.
Platform and Balance
Start in at least a shoulder-width stance, lean forward (like leaning into a heavy wind) with your dominant-side foot slightly rearward of the support-side foot, heel raised and knees bent. Think of how you would stand if someone in front of you suddenly pushed you back. This fighting platform is balanced, stable and flexible enough to adapt to whatever environment you may find yourself fighting in. Now you’re ready to move.
Will we ever have to move from awkward platforms or positions during reactive situations? Yes, but training begins from this known platform, acclimating the body and mind in an effort to make the unknown easier. Strive to work from a good platform so that when it is compromised, it can be reacquired as rapidly as possible.
Footwork training should be as natural and simple as possible. Although we have been walking, running and moving naturally all our lives, I submit that we have not been fighting, working with impact tools, blades or shooting while moving all our lives. What elements of natural movement can we work to enhance, thus aiding us when engaging another person physically, with tools, or evading and escaping?
A few consistent attributes of effective movement are noticeable in elite athletes and trained fighters, and seen during video debriefs of actual incidents. These attributes are not specific footwork patterns but foundational elements of movement that support balance, stability and flexibility. The following are three commonly seen attributes.
Initiate movement with the rear foot.
Initiating movement with your rear foot allows you to gain traction for maximum speed and balance throughout the movement. Watch any professional athlete moving rapidly, such as a basketball or tennis player. When making sudden direction changes (such as a reactive movement), they ground the rear foot for traction and push off aggressively.
Use the lead foot as an antenna.
Initiating movement with the rear foot places the majority of weight on that foot, allowing the lead foot to glide along the surface being traversed.
The lack of weight on the lead foot permits tactile sensitivity, which can detect terrain changes, walls, or the drop-off of a curb. When such an obstacle is detected with the lead foot, the lack of weight on that foot allows for rapid stance adaptation or change in direction.
Raise the rear heel.
This places your weight on the ball of the rear foot. Since the rear foot initiates movement, it should not be flat. In order to move rapidly, make aggressive direction changes or run, the heel must come up first. Instill this technique into your fighting platform from the beginning to eliminate the additional step needed to “load” the fighting platform.
During any combative movement, if possible, do not:
Allow the feet to come together.
This adversely affects balance and compromises your fighting platform, since now both of your supporting pillars are in one place. Think of a tall candlestick that can easily be knocked over.
Cross the feet.
During close-quarters conflict within zero to seven feet (the majority of civilian and law enforcement encounters), your opponent/s can close the distance and clinch or standing grapple very rapidly. If this occurs when your feet are crossed, your platform, stability, and balance become highly compromised. A standing fight will rapidly become a ground fight.
Take large steps.
Large steps may spread the feet wider than shoulder width apart, again compromising platform and balance. Large steps result in a tendency to pick the lead foot up higher than usual, which eliminates the tactile information provided by that lead foot acting as an antenna.
Lock the knees.
This makes it difficult to move rapidly in a reactive manner because your knees have to be unlocked prior to movement. It might seem negligible due to the short amount of time it takes to unlock the knees, but during a close-quarters fight, every millisecond counts. Maximize your efficiency and keep your knees bent.
Movement is an absolutely integral part of fighting, and your ability to move is directly related to your survivability. Think of it from an aggressor’s standpoint: would you rather attack a stationary and awkward opponent, or an opponent who is agile and balanced? Integrate these movement guidelines into your workouts and range time. Before long you’ll see tangible results as all your combative movements become more fluid, balanced, and coordinated.