When I started my Footwork Friday series, I didn’t put any thought into organization. I just started writing and whatever footwork I was thinking about that week was the topic of the article. That isn’t the way that I teach footwork, though. Having a progression for the students is a stronger method of instruction, and part of that progression is blocking together like objects. Counterpoint Tactical System employs block curriculum as an organizational method of instruction, and the material in each block can be further broken down into similar categories. This gives a continuity to training; we’re not skipping around week to week. Today, our Footwork Friday post will cluster together footwork patterns already discussed in groups that build off each other. This entry is an example of how to block similar footwork patterns with an eye towards skill progression.
Disclaimer: The footwork discussed below is from Counterpoint Tactical System as I’ve learned it from Master Zach Whitson. Any errors or inconsistencies are mine. The spirit of this series is me studying footwork in more depth. I don’t claim to know everything, and I will make mistakes. But, again, those mistakes are mine. Also, this article is for reference only and should be used as a secondary source only. Please, see a Filipino martial arts instructor if you wish to accurately learn these techniques.
Putting together the angular footwork block is a pretty easy task. Start with the reverse triangle and then move on to forward triangle. These two patterns are featured a lot in Footwork Friday posts, and that’s because they are my go to footwork patterns. I can’t practice these enough. In fact, I recommend you practice them till you’re sick of them and, then, practice them some more.
After a lot of repetitions of forward and reverse triangle, you can put them together into the X. It’s good to keep this pattern together with the above triangles to break the habit of moving in one direction only.
These three patterns are what I like to start with for beginners. These three patterns are the ones that I come back to time and again. Whether with weapons, empty hands, or just footwork only, these patterns are the start of my personal practice. After working on the mechanics of the patterns, I then try to get some cardio in by working the triangle variations. At this point, I increase speed and add the knee raises in to up my heart beat. I’m looking to break a sweat, not burn my legs out.
The side step is a pattern that I focus on simply by itself. I like to teach it after the angular footwork. Side step is used over and over in CTS. I usually teach this with the introduction of pangamot, or empty hand versus stick. So much of the CTS empty hand vs. weapon foundation is built on that drill, which makes it important to work and set up the mechanics right away. Side step, when used properly, is fascinating because it is used to distance yourself from the weapon while staying close to your opponent. Range is incredibly important in self defense, and it is most often taught as a whole. Your whole body is at long range, or your whole body is at short range. Side step is the first encounter applying the principles of range to different parts of your and the opponents body.
Ranging Footwork Drill
Once the students are skilled with angular footwork and side step, I introduce the ranging footwork drill. I love this drill. When time is a factor, this is a great warmup that employs all three footwork patterns learned so far. You can also add variations to this drill in order to break patterns.
In my opinion, angular footwork is the most important to start with because most students instinctively know how to move forward and backward. It may not be skilled or purposeful footwork, but everyone knows how to move forward and backward. Convincing the body to go against instinct and move on an angle is tougher, but once the student has started down this path, linear footwork cannot be neglected. It’s time to match the forward and backward instincts with skill and technique. This is where I introduce step-drag. After a few years of teaching this, I introduce step drag first because it seems to be easier to grasp why we’re dragging our foot. The zombie-like drag has a reason, and it’s important to understand why before moving on.
The next class after step-drag, I’ll introduce the complementary drag-step pattern. This does cause a little confusion, which as an instructor I like, but we keep working on it. Objectively, these are the same patterns; the only true difference is which foot moves first. Application dictates which pattern is necessary.
Once the students are able to differentiate between the two steps, I like to play a game with them. The shadow game works with one student leading and another reacting as quickly as possible by following the lead’s movement. At first, stick with one type of footwork to facilitate learning, but you can increase the complexity by having the lead student vary the pattern and having the other student match which pattern is used.
The linear footwork so far keeps the student in one lead only. No matter which direction the student moves, the lead foot will not change. We learned with the angular footwork how powerful changing leads can be; so, there has to be a way to change leads with linear footwork, right? Right! You’re so smart. This is the time to teach the step-through. Mix and match the step through with drag step or step drag to have linear footwork that works both sides of the body.
By this point, the students have worked three categories of footwork: Angular, Side Step, and Linear. It’s time to move to the circular footwork. Move up the circle is important for making small adjustments. It will take you offline of a thrust without changing the distance between you and the opponent. It’s really just a fun little pattern to work, but it doesn’t move you anywhere. You are literally circling around yourself. This is why I teach it after all the other footwork. It is important but it doesn’t move you across distance. It simply changes the direction that you face. When used correctly, this is a powerful tool. On its own, this pattern is too specialized for general usage.
The power of move up the circle, though, comes from the ability to combine it with the other categories listed above. Now, move up the circle becomes a critical adjustment that allows you to keep all of your weapons on target.
If I could go back to the beginning of Footwork Friday, the categories as presented above would be the order in which my articles came out. This grouping of footwork patterns is incredibly powerful for teaching footwork. By learning similar skills in proximity to each other, each pattern takes on a larger significance, and the lessons end up being greater than just the individual parts. This grouping takes a little forethought by the instructor, but the gains for the students are large. I recommend grouping skill sets together as general teaching device. This works for all aspects of the martial arts. Grouping is also a great way to show the student just how far he/she has come. When we reach move up the circle, I can point back to the triangular footwork to show just how much has been learned. As we start to combine move up the circle with other footwork, smiles usually break out. Progress has been made.