Mixed Martial Arts training focuses on footwork, agility, and the value of hit and run strategy.

One of the most important aspects of mixed martial arts fighting, and one that is often overlooked and taken for granted, is footwork. The fighter with superior footwork and movement skills has a remarkable advantage in any fight, be it boxing, Muay Thai, MMA or street fighting.

Some of the greatest boxers we’ve 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 used incredible footwork and movement skills to dodge and attack their opponents.

What are the various footwork patterns used in MMA training to develop mobility?

One of the biggest problems that plagued the early kickboxing scene was that the fighters came from the karate disciplines. The classical karate disciplines emphasised the flat-footed stand-your-ground tactic with poor footwork and agility. Many early kickboxers, who came from karate backgrounds, said that boxing had better punching techniques than karate, but they were slow to learn how to move quickly on the ground like boxers did.

Fighters with a boxing background or who recognised that manoeuvrable footwork and strategic positioning were essential components of the boxers’ game plan incorporated it into their training and demonstrated a significant advantage.

Muay Thai fighters, however, who are not tainted by the classic karate systems, have always shown a very fine sense of footwork and position, going in and out just out of reach to let the opponent miss and then back in to reach the range and hit with power and precision.

We saw a recurrence of the kickboxing era in the early days of mixed martial arts combat, where the grapplers dominated, and it seemed that fighters who relied mainly on their stand-up skills would not be competitive. The fighters that relied heavily on stand-up were very ineffective at stopping the grapplers’ takedowns, allowing them to be placed in positions that restricted their movement and eventually knocked out.

That was until Maurice Smith showed that with good footwork and ring (cage) generalship, the grapplers could be stopped with mostly striking play. From there, the evolution continued, and again the dominant strikers dominated. The mixed martial arts fighters who mainly relied on their takedown game are now under the selective pressure of having to adapt their takedown methods to cope with the evasive manoeuvrability and modified attack methods of the standup specialists. The main features that distinguished the successful mixed martial arts fighters from those who failed were their footwork and ring (cage) generalship, which allowed them to neutralise the takedowns.

How to Improve Reflexes for Fighting and Martial Arts

We now see mixed martial arts fighters who have adapted and developed their movement and positioning for the cage so that the fights are more dynamic and 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 hitting and movement skills that are key to the attackers’ game against a grappler.

It is therefore important that when we train, we incorporate fast and agile footwork into our mixed martial arts practice. Once a new rise or take-down technique has been acquired and practised enough for effectiveness, we must combine it with effective footwork and movement so that we can go in to perform it, and out again, when it becomes necessary. On execution, we have to go because it didn’t finish the job and cover the opponent; a hit-and-run strategy of fighting.

Here are some of the key points to address in your footwork, whether it be mixed martial arts, Muay Thai or boxing:

1) To facilitate quick and accurate weight transfer, learn to move on the balls of your feet with your knees bent.

2) Avoid wide stances by keeping your feet about shoulder width apart.

3) When moving, take small steps; it is preferable to take a series of smaller steps rather than one large one that upsets the balance.

4) Practice quick changes of direction and maintaining good balance at all times.

5) Maintain constant movement.

6) Develop a keen sense of position relative to your opponent; this must be developed to the point of unconscious competence so that you can concentrate on the fight.

7) When you get on the train, aim for speed, explosiveness, and accuracy.

8) To avoid removal, train extension and angle changes.

In addition, footwork should be developed for both offensive and defensive tactics. The use of evasive angular steps, which are the foundation of the “make ’em miss, make ’em pay” strategy, combined with quick bridging techniques and good ring generalship, must be developed to provide the complete fighting game plan in mixed martial arts.