SUMMER SCHOOL: What is footwork?

boxing04.07.08 - By “Old Yank” Schneider: The woman in my life has sucked me in. If a show is on TV that is about dancing, it is either on the screen or it’s recording on TIVO. As a real man I can admit I’ve gotten hooked. Real men know that showing a sincere interest in what a woman likes is a sure path to her heart (and other regions). As a huge boxing fan I genuinely appreciate how a dancer moves. And like any great fan, I genuinely appreciate watching great footwork from a boxer.

We often hear that a boxer has great footwork or that his footwork got him in trouble. Some of us have gotten some training along the way so we actually know what footwork is. Amazingly, most fans have heard the term and generally know that it is obviously about a fighter moving his feet, but don’t have the benefit of being trained so they really don’t know all that much about what footwork really is.. Some fans have an image of Ali doing the Ali-shuffle and think that this must be some model of what footwork is all about. Or they watch Ricky Hatton rush in to get in close and assume that because he used his feet to close the distance, there must be something about his footwork that is involved. But is a shuffle or rush across a ring what footwork is really all about? Take a walk with me and let’s find out.

All footwork starts with understanding the stance. Stand up and squarely face the computer screen. Draw an imaginary box on the floor that is slightly wider then the width of your shoulders. The box has the front and back of the box parallel to your computer screen. Now slightly step back with your dominant foot (that’s the right foot for righties and the left for southpaws) to the back corner of the box (the back, right inside corner for righties). Move the other foot forward to the opposite diagonal corner at the front of the box. Pivot on your heels 45 degrees toward your dominant side. The toe of your forward foot should now be aligned with the heel of your back foot. If you are right handed, your left foot is cutting a diagonal inside the front left corner of the box. Your right foot is cutting the diagonal inside the back right corner of the box. Both of your feet are still inside the box and your feet, from front to back, are slightly more than the width of your shoulders apart. It should feel natural, comfortable, stable and balanced. You have just assumed the most basic stance in boxing.

From this basic stance there are a few rules you should try to follow. First, it is a position in boxing that is just as important to a fighter as the “start” position of a rumba is to a dancer. Just as the rumba dancer eventually returns to the start position, so too will a fighter return to his basic stance. What ever you are going to do from here, you can always return to this most basic stance to begin another “step” or move. From front to back, always try to keep your feet at least as far apart as your shoulders. Making a stance to narrow can lead to being too easily knocked off-balance. But, likewise, try not to allow that “start” stance to get too wide either. A wide stance places too much of your weight too far apart to move as quickly as you will need to move. Don’t “square up” inside the box; this will also cause your balance from front to back to be easily upset. Try to keep your back foot at an angle that does not exceed a parallel with the back of the box when turned outward, and equally, try not to turn your back foot in more than 45 degrees.

Look down at your feet and see the imaginary triangle your feet have formed. That triangle begins at your lead toe; is drawn straight back to the center of your back heel; it then extends from your back heel to the toe on that back foot, and returns to your lead toe. The shape of that triangle will change (slightly re-shaping it by primarily turning your back foot in or out). Changing the shape of that triangle is important in learning how to throw different punches. If you keep these basic rules of a stance in mind, you will always maintain a solid basic stance and have a sound platform to return to.

What next? Every move of your feet from this basic stance and returning to this basic stance is what is known as footwork.

The technically perfect jab begins with your forward foot moving forward (maintaining its turned-in angle), as the punch is thrown. So how will you be able to see if good footwork is being used when a jab is thrown?

The jab has several main uses. You can measure distance with a jab. You can set up another punch with a jab and you can score a clean, effective punch with a jab.

If you see a fighter stepping forward and throwing jabs, but the distance always seems too far as the jabs fall short of a target (or fall short of any measuring purpose), then you can likely blame it on poor footwork. When you see this happening, take particular note of what is happening with the boxer’s back foot. Good footwork that accompanies a jab should find the fighter sliding his back foot forward after the jab to re-establish his stance. If he does not slide it forward far enough, he ends up with a stance that is too wide from front to back. And from a stance that is too wide, a jab will have difficulty reaching its target because the forward foot cannot be placed or moved sufficiently forward to make the jab effective.

Try experimenting with making your stance wider and wider from front to back. Eventually you will be so wide that moving your front foot forward becomes heavy and slow. You will also notice that as your stance gets wider and wider it becomes increasingly “heavy” to “bounce” on the balls of your feet. The technically perfect stance is balanced.

You should conclude that every punch has a technical footwork component to it that either contributes to how effective the boxer will be in his punching or it will detract from his effectiveness. How a boxer uses his footwork to recover to his stance is critically important because so much of the sweet science is based on working from the stance. The technical purist masters the science of balance, leverage and distance in footwork.

Now that you know a tiny bit about the basics of footwork and how it relates to the stance and a jab, take the time to learn what footwork is involved in throwing a hook, an overhand right or an uppercut. Take the time to learn what footwork is involved with cutting off the ring. Learn what footwork is the correct technique for backing out of harms way. Learn the importance of turning in you back foot in order to “sit down” on a punch for power. Don’t let the casual fan blarney his way through using the term “footwork” while all you can do is grin and know that you’ve heard the term but don’t know much about it. You just got a small start in learning what footwork is. Now go find out more about it! It will make you a better fan.

From here on out, develop a better understanding of what to look for in the footwork of a fighter. Eventually you will be able to tell the difference between sloppy footwork and great footwork. You will be able to see the difference between a fighter following an opponent around the ring and cutting off the ring before the announcers tell you what you are seeing. You will be able to judge how technically proficient a fighter is in his footwork. And, you will enjoy watching So You Think You Can Dance with your woman like you’ve never enjoyed it before!

Article posted on 04.07.2008

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