One of the most important aspects in mixed martial arts fighting, and one that is often overlooked and taken for granted, is that of footwork. The fighter with superior footwork and movement skills has a notable advantage in any fight whether boxing, Muay Thai, MMA or streetfighting.
Some of the greatest fighters we have seen in boxing have all displayed tremendous footwork and movement; Jack Dempsey, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Prince Nassim and the incomparable Mohammed Ali all utilized incredible foot work and movement skills to evade and attack their opponents.
One of the major difficulties that the early kickboxing scene was plagued with was that fighters came from the karate disciplines. The classical karate disciplines emphasized flat-footed stand your ground tactics with poor footwork and maneuverability. Many early kickboxers, coming from karate backgrounds, complimented their karate kicks with the superior punching techniques taken from boxing but most were slow to adopt the highly mobile boxing footwork.
Those fighters that came from a boxing background or who recognized that maneuverable footwork and strategic positioning were an integral part of the boxers' game plan incorporated it in their training and demonstrated a notable advantage.
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 dominating and it appeared that fighters that predominantly relied on their standup skills were not going to be competitive. The fighters that relied heavily on standup were very ineffective 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 predominantly striking game. From there the evolution continued and predominant strikers appeared again. The mixed martial arts fighters that predominantly relied on their takedown game now under the selective pressure of having to adapt their takedown methods to cope 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 was there footwork and ring (cage) generalship that enabled 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 important 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 acquired, 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 addressed 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 in mixed martial arts.Mixed Martial Arts Training - Footwork, Maneuverability and the Value of the Hit and Run Strategy
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