At its uppermost level, fighting consists of endless physical, psychological and emotional components. All of these components are in a state of constant flux – that is to say that they are permanently acting, reacting and interacting with one another simultaneously and differentially.
Every fighter must necessarily develop each and every component that they can. For to be a top fighter, nay to be the best fighter, you must adapt to the necessities of the situation. In short, you need them all!
That being said, and assuming the basic punches and kicks have been perfected (something which is no mean feat in itself!!), movement stands alone as the single most technical component a fighter can develop. Technical? I hear you question. Yes, technical. It is a physical skill and physical attribute to be able to move your body from one place to the other or from high to low and vice versa in order to evade or deliver a punch or kick. Yet we class it as technical because there are specific movement patterns which fighters can use to evade particular attacks and there are also certain movement patterns that a fighter can utilise in order to create openings in their adversary’s defence. At its core, movement is embroiled with deception and distance control, both of which are essential for success in any fight. Thus in order for it to be effective, the physical skill of movement requires a technical mastery and application.
At its most basic, fighting is the distance on a straight line between two points –that of you and that of your opponent. In order for you or your opponent to successfully strike a blow, then the critical distance must be shortened so that either one of you are within hitting/scoring range – ie you must step towards your opponent or let them step closer to yourself.
If you wish to evade a strike you must maintain the critical distance between you and your opponent, meaning that if they step towards you then you must step away in order to escape their blows/strikes.
Now, we know that fighting does not take place on a bridge and with an unlimited number of backward or forward steps. By which I mean, you can circle, change angles, change heights and that you can’t continue backwards indefinitely otherwise you will hit the ropes or the edge of the area you are fighting in!
But essentially mastering the principle of critical distance via movement on a straight line between two fixed points allows you to develop the same principle on an unlimited number of lines of attack and angles or heights.
In my experience very few fighters or coaches will dedicate a whole session to just footwork on a regular or even daily basis. This astounds me. Often they want to practice certain punches or kicks on the pads or bags or even in open sparring (which will obviously benefit the conceptualisation of critical distance but will not have the same learning effect as drilling specific movements against specific attacks etc). Everyone would agree that drilling basic techniques is essential to becoming a great fighter. Yet, you can have the fastest, most efficient, most powerful punch or kick on the planet and it would be useless without being able to get yourself into a position to deliver them!! We take so much time to develop our punching and kicking that we often forget that the same principles apply to footwork and movement. That is, we can practice them in lines, in open situations, in closed situations, with or without techniques, with or without a partner, as well as many more variations.
Many fighters see movement as something which is defensive. And yes, it is an excellent defensive tool. Someone with good movement can evade blows and make their opponent hit fresh air. This always makes me think of Muhammad Ali talking about when he fought Sonny Liston and the latter’s formidable power saying “hitting power didn’t mean nothing, cos there was nothing to hit!” if it was just a matter of evading blows, the time and effort put into drilling footwork and movement would be worth it. But footwork and movement are much, much more than mere evasion.
Firstly, if you develop the skill to constantly make your opponent miss, then they begin to question their ability to hit you. They begin to change their strategies. They begin to hesitate. You have their mind racing with psychological insecurity where they are constantly second guessing themselves – should I throw this technique now or not, should I choose another technique, and so on. This psychological uncertainty thus becomes an offensive weapon on your part! Your defensive evasiveness has now become a form of attack!!
More importantly however, movement is a way in which you can successfully open up and strike your opponent. As stated before, you can use your movement, steps forwards , backwards, to the sides, in order to close the critical distance by creating angles and openings so that you can strike your opponent.
In any fight, Successful Movement controls the critical distance and the lines of attack. If you can control these two things then you can control the fight. If you became more efficient and proficient at closing the critical distance then you will be better able and more frequently able to land successful strikes upon your opponent. If you are more efficient and proficient at maintaining the critical distance then you will be better able and more frequently able to successfully avoid your opponent’s blows/strikes.
To me, the art of successful fighting is all about hitting and not getting hit. Movement therefore forms the foundation stone upon which the art of fighting is based!
Thus much like all of fighting, it becomes a technical skill that involves physicality. We may call this physical-technicality or technical-physicality. Regardless of what we label it, FOOTWORK AND MOVEMENT ARE FUNDAMENTAL WEAPONS IN EVERY FIGHTER’S ARSENAL!!