Often in a fight, the one who controls the distance controls the fight. You see it all the time in mixed martial arts fights. The grappler who can get in close will often defeat the striker trying to stay on the outside. Likewise, the striker who can maintain a long range distance will often defeat the grappler who must get in close to set up his offense. The bottom line is it all comes down to how you use your footwork.
The footwork you utilize in long range, medium range, and close range fighting will all vary depending on your goals, objectives, and what your opponent is doing. First of all, there are an infinite number of ways to utilize your feet to go forward, back, sideways, diagonal, circular, etc. I want to cover the most common methods and perhaps the most effective. Second, most Wing Chun practitioners maintain a flat footed stance meaning they keep the whole foot on the ground as much as possible. Their hips are square and hands are raised to cover their centerline. In theory, this is done to prevent you from being knocked off balance or taken down and defend against straight line attacks. In actuality, you will need to vary your footwork and hand position as no footwork style or stance works for every situation. There are advantages and disadvantages to weight distribution in both a flat footed position and a position where at least one foot is on the toes. I use the term “toes” because toes is easier to write than “balls of your feet.” In actuality, you’re on the balls of your feet and your toes, not literally on your tippy toes like a ballerina (in case anyone was confused on that).
In competition fighting and sparring, typically the contestants start off at a reasonably long distance away outside of striking range. So, you’ll need to learn to utilize your footwork from long range. From this range, what is your goal? If you aim to bring the fight to him, then perhaps, moving quickly and intelligently on the balls of your feet would be best. If you’re waiting for him to initiate, then perhaps, you want to maintain a flat footed style to counter or intercept with more power. Alternatively, you’re on your toes waiting for him to initiate so you can move, then counter him or maybe, you’re flat footed and intend to bring the fight to him, sacrificing some speed for power. No strategy is right or wrong at this range. While in close range and attacking however, it’s best to use a flat footed footwork to attack and be on your toes if you need to retreat.
From mid-range, if your opponent is bigger than you, it’s best to stay on your toes until you attack, avoid his heavy shots, counter quickly, and keep moving. Don’t stay in one place too long because taking one punch from a bigger opponent could end the fight for you. When you attack, attack with power grounded in a flat footed structure, but don’t stay there, keep moving. If your opponent is the same size or smaller, you may be able to overwhelm him with power and forward pressure. Here you can use more flat footed stepping to root yourself for harder shots. Bottomline, assuming equal skill, if your opponent is bigger, don’t try to match his power. Hit with a rooted structure, then un-root and stay on your toes to get out of the way of his counter if you can’t defend it. If he is smaller, don’t try to match his speed, use your power.
Typically for close-range fighting, flat-footed is the preferred method. Yet, much depends on the situation. If your opponent is bigger than you, will being flat footed allow you to match his power? If he outweighs you by 50 lbs, probably not. You can stand and trade punches with him at close range. However, I don’t care how good your Wing Chun is, if you’re in close range with a bigger fighter of equal skill, you will trade punches. You may hit him with 10 chain punches, but he’ll land one hook that will end the fight. Alternatively, you can try to keep your distance. Since smaller fighters are typically faster, why not use your advantage and pop in and out of range?
Flat footed fighters tend to have more power as their heels are rooted in the ground, they are able to generate more torque in their punches. Fighters who are on their toes or ball of the foot, tend to be faster, able to get in and out quickly and move out of harm’s way. So, much of your footwork depends on who you are fighting and whether you are attacking or defending. Wing Chun utilizes both types of footwork. Footwork on the toes (balls of the feet) is used to dodge, distance oneself, maybe throw a feint, and maneuver. This type of footwork is rarely used to attack or defend with the arms or legs. The ways and manner in which you can move on your toes is up to your imagination and dictated by the situation.
When flat footed, Wing Chun utilizes what we call triangle footwork. This means we typically will move at an angle to our opponent, moving in at an angle, rather than moving in on a straight line. Again, pros and cons to this. Moving in on a straight line is faster as the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Wing Chun does move in on a straight line, but prefers the angle if you can get it. Moving in on an angle is slower but, if successful, will be more effective as your opponent will have a harder time responding. Triangle stepping works best when your opponent can’t respond right away such as when he is in mid-motion attacking or defending. If he is attacking and you’re able to step to an angle then engage, that is the optimal situation. However, once you take an angle, you must take another one before your opponent adjusts. Never stay attacking from the same angle. Too many fighters go in with the Wing Chun chain punches, but never change the angle of attack once they enter. It’s like they go on auto-pilot.
Circular stepping is also utilized to protect the centerline, groin, stay grounded, and to uproot your opponent when in close. All stepping and footwork in Wing Chun relies on pushing off of your back leg or generating power from your back leg. So, train your back leg to be rooted able to add power to your footwork and any attack combined with your stepping. You can use this type of stepping to uproot your opponent and disturb his posture, structure, and stance. In other words, in Wing Chun, we don’t just attack with punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, but also with our footwork. You can use your footwork to jam or smash into your opponent’s knees, legs, step on his foot, sweep him off balance, and many other methods of attack. All of these footwork methods utilize a flat footed style and is used for attacking and defending.
Forward stepping is used to move in quickly. This is ideal when you feel a loss of pressure from your opponent. Loss of pressure just means there is an opening. For example, your opponent punches and misses, there is a loss of pressure as his hand is retracting back. You can follow that loss of pressure in with your own punch and connect. However, always bring your horse, your structure, your footwork with you. Rarely should you punch without also doing something with your footwork. Why waste the moment? Use your whole body to attack, not just your arms or legs. Moving in on a straight line using a forward step will allow you to take quick advantage of any gap or hole left by your opponent. With forward, circle, and triangle stepping, you can use all of these in combination with each other. You may step to an angle, then circle in or you may step forward with a feint, then triangle step to counter his attack. There are other footwork methods as well, but the purpose here is just to cover the most commonly used methods.
With regards to being taken down or thrown off balance, neither style seems to work better than the other. To avoid being taken down or knocked off balance, you must widen your base. You can assume a classic horse stance which may assist or you can sprawl depending on the nature of the takedown. You will see MMA fighters use a horse-like stance when against the cage or to avoid a judo throw, but they will sprawl away from the cage.
A few final thoughts:
Wing Chun footwork relies on the utilization of multiple leads. For ease of terminology I will use boxing terms. If you fight only orthodox (left lead forward) or only southpaw (right lead forward) then you will need to learn to fight from both. From a Wing Chun perspective, orthodox just means you have the left leg forward, southpaw, right leg forward. Your hips may be square or not. You may have your left arm forward, right arm forward, or both at the same distance. Learn to fight from any stance or position. Wing Chun footwork relies on that. You will have many more options in angles and variety of attacks by being able to switch leads seamlessly as part of your fighting style. Boxers and MMA fighters will often switch leads obviously before they attack. Wing Chun is much more subtle and switches frequently in mid-attack during the engagement in order to assume a new angle of attack. However, as you switch, ensure that you maintain a strong structure and base.
With all stepping and footwork, keep in mind that the hands and arms move faster than the feet. So, often your punch may lead your footwork. The important thing is that it is a coordinated effort between your footwork and punching or hand positions. It’s not just about using your whole body, but using you whole body as one coordinated unit to maximize speed and power. Practice over and over again moving with your attacks. A boxing bag doesn’t move much, so it’s easy to sit in front of the bag and hit it from a stagnant position. Use your footwork when you attack because your opponent will be moving a lot more than a bag does. Get used to it. And remember, train footwork on different terrains in different environments. A classroom floor is a lot different than wet grass. Thank you for reading.
Wishing you peace and compassion.
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