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Essential Footwork for Self Defense

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Essential Footwork for Self Defense

Footwork: 3 Essential Movements (pt. 1)

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Understanding how to move yourself into position (or out) is what allows for proper distancing to your target, generates momentum for increased power, and gets you out of range from oncoming attacks. There are a number of ways to move in and out of position, but boiled down, there are really only three essential footwork movements you need to know for self defense training:

• Step-through

• Shuffle

• Slide

Yes, there are bursts, lunges, double-steps, and plenty more. At the end of the day, they are all just variations or modifications to the above three. So, let’s keep it simple and focus on what you need to know in early stages of training.


A step-through is really just walking but from a fighting stance. Just take a comfortable step while adjusting your hips, shoulders, and hands to compensate for the shift in rotation so that you’re still able to protect yourself.


To shuffle, lead with the leg that matches the direction you wish to go. (Front to go forward, back to go backward, left to go left, right to go right). Simply lift your foot and press off the ground with the other in the direction you intend to move.

• Fastest for short distance

• Less than full step

• Keeps one side forward

Some describe shuffling as an “open-close” motion to our stance. It is. Just be sure to “open” and “close” from your regular fighting stance. Your feet should remain apart, not touch, in order to maintain the ability to spring in and out of position. Also, as you lift the foot, your body naturally begins to fall in that direction. Use that natural drop to emphasize the push off rather than stepping and dragging the other foot back to position.


The slide step is effectively the inverse of the shuffle. Rather than moving the lead foot in the direction you wish to move, start with the opposite foot. (To move forward, bring the rear foot toward the front foot, then place the front foot into position to maintain stability).

The slide step differs from the shuffle in that you can cover the same amount of distance as a step-through, only you get to remain with the same leg in front. There are two main benefits to this: It’s still quicker than the step through because there are less moving parts, and you can keep a dominant side ready to strike or defend with very little adjustments. You can mask your approach better when attacking. As long as you keep your head at the same level (by staying at the same height in your stance), you minimize telegraphing your movement.

We want to minimize any movement our bodies need to make. We call this The Economy of Movement. This conserves energy, minimizes unnecessary motion, and prevents giving away our intentions [telegraphing]. Think of a car driving down a country hillside versus a desert road. The more that car goes up and down the hillside, the easier it is to track its progress. The flat desert road creates a mirage effect that makes it difficult to recognize which direction the car is moving, let alone how fast. These microsecond adjustments comprise the very things that “trick” the opponent’s brain into delaying their response.

Whichever footwork you are using, keep these key tips in mind…

1. Be Consistent. The distance you move one foot, move the following foot the same amount. This helps maintain your balance and efficiency.

2. Stay centered. Think of a carousel horse. The pole down it’s center allows it to rise and drop, or rotate without tipping. Leaning over your toes or heels is your body’s way of telling you to that you’re off balance and need to bring your torso back to center.

3. Small corrections. Be prepared make little adjustments in your steps to maintain proper distance and balance.

As you build muscle memory with these movements, in time, you will find your body responding without you having to think about it, freeing up your bandwidth to consider other parts of your training.

Click this link to jump to Part 2 of Essential Footwork



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