Moving to Fight, Fighting To Move
I have always felt that one of my strengths is my ability to see the subtle nuances in the fight game, that often go overlooked. One of these strengths is looking for patterns in an exchange in sparring, rather than a single technique. For example, I may see someone land the perfect shot to an opponents jaw, but beyond the obvious fact that he or she used a jab, what were the circumstances that lead up to that perfect punch landing?
In fact in this example, the jab is only the last, or final action one sees. Preceding it, were numerous other subtle motions that made it possible. One of these is movement, more specifically footwork. As with many things in the fight game, footwork (and by default this means movement) is often overlooked, or at best given a cursory glance – it’s simply not as exciting as hitting something. But if you training for the fight game, the truth is, that your inability to both land and avoid shots, is largely predicated on how well you moved first.
Movement is an organic unfolding chaotic process that arises out of your intent, your sparring partners reactions, his intent and your reactions. Some approaches to moving allow you to capitalise on this ever changing, ebb and flow of action/reaction and others don’t. At the core of movement is always what I term Adaptive Active Balance (and one of the core four drivers of a stand up game in Crazy Monkey). AAB for short, suggests that when you are out of balance, then your ability to effectively attack, or defend diminishes greatly.
Balance should be inherently active, which means, that at the heart of the fight, is movement, and one needs to move either to attack or to get safely out the way of attacks — but it would be useless if it is done in such a way that you fall over your own two feet. Footwork also needs to be adaptive, to the changing ebb and flow of the fight. If your opponent is out of striking reach, you need to find an effective way to close that distance — but within the framework I have defined here — it should never be done in such a way that it compromises your balance, and or your ability to change up that footwork if suddenly the field of battle changes (this is the Active ingredient of AAB).
The thing to take note of here is that just because something seems to work, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right or the best way to accomplish something. For example, I notice it is really common in MMA for fighters to have both feet flat on the ground, and often with the back foot facing away from the target in front of them (as we know, where I feet point is where we end up). These MMA fighters are still able to strike from that kind of flat foot movement etc, because they compensate for bad footwork (and hence movement) with over developed attributes in a single plain (i.e., for example hand speed, or throwing punches as hard as they can). What they don’t realise however, is that while it may work (to a point), it is not the most efficient, or best way to move. A lot of this comes down to never being taught a better way.
You could try this yourself. Go in front of a heavy back, stand flat footed in a fighting stance and focus on just working on a jab and cross. Take time to note how it feels (feel is the optimal word here). You will find its sluggish, there is a tendency to overreach with punches, your hands may drop on the way back, and most of the work is done only with your arms. There’s movement, but it feel sluggish, or what I refer to in class as being, “stuck in mud.” With the back foot not pointing in the same direction of the rear punch, it always feels it just doesn’t have the right reach, and that getting maximum power in it seems somewhat pulled in two different directions.
Then try this.
Stand in a fighting stance, place your feet in a similar way to a 100 meter sprinter would, waiting for the starter gun. Raise both your heels slights, so you are on the balls of your feet (your front heel is only raised slightly, while the back heel is raised more higher than the front), make sure the distance between your feet is slightly wider than your shoulders, and your hip is facing forward (we teach all of this in the CM1 Game). Now work the jab and cross.
What’s the difference in the feel now?
What you will notice is that you feel lighter, that you are driving forward on your punches, but because you are raising your heels, you can change direction more easily. The analogy I often use in class, is if your friends car broke down, and you were asked to help him push it, you would go behind the car and almost like a hundred meter sprinter, get into a similar position before pushing. Why? Because your body knows it is the most efficient way to drive a heavy object forward (and in most instances when you striking an opponent that is exactly what you are doing, driving forward towards a target). But even if you had to back up, you don’t want to back up in a way, that wouldn’t allow you to actively strike back if you needed too. If you look at a lot of MMA fighters they really struggle with this. Watch when they are put under pressure and have to retreat, it often resembles more like someone running away from a fight, than a controlled, strategic retreat, where with good balance, they could strike back with maximum efficiency if they needed too.
As I noted earlier, often, it’s this type of mistake described in this article that is holding your game back. In other words, its not always the obvious things. I hear these kinds of comments all the time: “My jab sucks,” “I can’t make the cross land, its always landing short,” My answer often, “it’s not your jab, it’s not your cross, its because your footwork sucks, and you are punching by starting out of an unbalanced position.”