Jeet kune do basic footwork skills
“The essence of fighting is the art of moving,”
moving is footwork. The principles of movement form the very heart of combat.
Footwork means mobility, and being mobile is strongly emphasized in Bruce Lee’s
art. The two chief things that proper footwork provides for the martial artist is a
means of finding a target and a means to avoid being a target. It will beat any punch
or kick and get you to where you want to go; whether in for a strike or the hell out
of harm’s way.
Bruce Lee once said that the four components of footwork consisted of:
1. The sensitivity of your opponent’s aura,
2. Aliveness and naturalness,
3. Instinctive pacing (distance),
4. A balanced position at the start and finish.
It should be obvious that you cannot use your hands or legs effectively until your
feet have put you into position in which you can do so, if you are slow on your feet,
you will be slow with your punches and kicks. Good footwork allows you to hit from
any angle and also to follow up your initial attack with more powerful finishing
blows. Footwork, in short, “gets you there and gets you out.” Another important
tool in JFJKD is learning how to correctly judge distance, which Bruce Lee referred
to as “the fighting measure,” which is simply another way of saying, “distance.” It’s
very important to know to judge distance because distance is the relationship
between you and your opponent. It all depends on the length on the distance you
need to bridge or close between you and your opponent and also your opponent’s
Bruce’s main emphasis was always footwork. He told me that “Good footwork can
beat any attack.” And he used to have me drill constantly on footwork, in an effort
to get me to improve my balance. He wanted me to be able to glide in and out,
throwing techniques from all angles after coming into various ranges through
footwork. And, of course, he emphasized the avoiding of attacks through footwork.
Without footwork, you cannot complete the task of fighting with any degree of
Jute kune do basic footwork skills
Footwork is purposeful movement
Many people think of footwork as some sort of bouncing movement, but the one
thing Bruce Lee stressed to all of his students was never to move for the sake of
moving, and not to bounce simply for the sake of bouncing. Bruce didn’t bounce
around much when he was sparring; he was very controlled and motionless, until he
saw an opening. And by then you were flat on your back. Every move you make
should be purposeful; it should be done to either deliver a hit, to move into position
to deliver a hit, or to move out of the range of being on the receiving end of your
The key to success in footwork is to keep it simple. If you aim toward simplification,
rather than complex or intricate foot patterns, which more resemble dance patterns
than efficiency, your footwork will be smooth, direct and efficient. If you use
economy of motion, you will always be relaxed, which is crucial to your reaction
time and to the speed of your attacks, defenses and counter-attacks.
Another great benefit to proper JFJKD footwork is the fact that it provides you
with a means by which you can employ the force of inertia, which, properly applied,
can tremendously boost your punching / kicking power. These are some of the
reasons that footwork seems to me so important. Footwork also serves to enhance
your body alignment, which makes your leverage more favorable and your strikes
Another aspect of combat that is enhanced by proper footwork is speed. I mean
footwork is what gets you there to deliver your technique, and out of there, before
your opponent can deliver his. Footwork is not only used to deliver techniques or
avoid techniques, but also to set up techniques. It’s part of strategy, a form of P.I.A.
(Progressive Indirect Attack). It can lure your opponent in to a trap, allow you to
gain the proper fighting measure and also bridge the gap to your opponent. Good
footwork accomplishes all of these things.
I liken good footwork to operating a four-wheel drive. Most people only utilize a
two-wheel drive; that is, they’re limited as to what techniques they can throw
because they’re really only comfortable in their two-wheel drive mode. However,
once you learn on the options that avail themselves to you with increased mobility,
you realize that footwork is an option provider.
While some people mistakenly consider to be merely bouncing around like
Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard, others equally as mistaken, think of
footwork as simply something that moves you in to hit your opponent, without
realizing that it’s just as important in preventing your opponent from hitting you.
In Thai Boxing, for example, you see a lot of “give and take”, wherein one fighter
will whack his opponent and then stay there and get hit back by his opponent. Such
back-and-forth exchanges are common place, and quite often the winner is the one
with the highest pain threshold. In JFJKD, however, the bottom line is to hit your
opponent, and not get hit back. JFJKD teaches one how to be a thinking fighter. A
smart fighter. Nobody should opt to get hit particularly when you can substantially
reduce the chances of that happening by employing proper footwork.
The four basic types of footwork
Basically there are only four types of footwork, the rests being simply variations on
these four. The four basic types of footwork are advancing, retreating, circle left and
circle right. Incidentally, “circling,” as I use the term here, means,” sidestepping.”
First things first – Stance
All footwork is initiated form the On-Guard Position which is also known as the
“Ready Position.” The On-Guard is the most versatile of stances because it allows
you to be ready for all things, attack or defense instantly. It’s a geared position that
is geared for mobility. You have to feel very comfortable in the On-Guard. If you’re
not comfortable in the On-Guard Position then there is something wrong. You have
to feel comfortable at all times so that you are able to react instantly. If you are
tense, that is not comfortable , you’re not able to react quickly. You need to be so
relaxed that whatever happens, you respond to it instantaneously, whether it be the
need to immediately advance, retreat or side step an attack. That’s why the On-
Guard Position has been called the “Anchor of JFJKD”, for all techniques flow
from it. The On-Guard is the best way to move straight back, forward or to the side.
You’re not over committed one way or the other. The On-Guard places your
strongest side forward, which, in JFJKD is typically your right side, with your
strongest hand lifted up so that your fist is in line with your shoulder. Your chin and
shoulder should meet about halfway, with the right shoulder raised an inch or two
and the chin dropped about the same distance. The right side of your chin should be
tucked into your lead shoulder. Your left hand is also in close, to protect your
midsection. Your right hand is your attack weapon so it should cocked and ready to
fire. The right shoulder is slightly raised and your chin slightly lowered in order to
protect your chin and jaw from strikes. The right knee is turned slightly to defend
your groin area and your right foot should be rotated in roughly 25 degrees so that,
if necessary, you can employ it as a kicking weapon. Your left foot should be angled
at approximately 45 degrees. The heel is raised because it is your sparkplug, ready
to ignite you forward, backward or sideways, and depending whatever besets you.
Your stance should be like a car with its engine idling; you’re ready to go, with as
much power as you need, as soon as you engage the transmission, which in this case,
is your legs and hips. Now that you’re ready to move, let’s look at some of your
Correct On-Guard Position
Too Wide Too Narrow
Step & Slide
The Step & Slide is used primarily as a Gap-Bridger. It is not utilized typically to
execute an offensive technique. However, it is very effective in gauging and
obtaining correct distance from which to launch a strike. You take a step forward
and your rear foot (left) slides up to where the right foot was. Typically your step
forward does not exceed six inches, which means that your rear foot travels a
maximum of six inches as well. The weight distribution in the start and finish
position is 50-50, with 50% being on your right or lead foot and 50% on your left or
rear foot. However, during the movement, all your bodyweight is moving forward
on your right foot initially and then 50% of it settle on the rear leg when the
movement is completed. If you push off harder, you will notice that it to the front leg
quickly- but this is only momentary. You should be able to control the weight
distribution and be in perfect balance at all times.
The Push Step is used primarily for bridging the gap to the opponent. The Push
Step is very effective when employed with PIA (Progressive Indirect Attack). You
can fake with the hand, for example, and then move right in instantly when the
opening presents itself. The Push Step is really the only type of footwork that works
well for efficient punching. A Step & Slide, for example, would prove to be
inefficient for delivering a punch because, by the time you step and slide, it would be
too late. Punching in JFJKD occurs in one fluid motion. Footwork always comes
after the punch is initiated, the hand moves first and then the feet. Even in evading a
blow, the body should move before the feet. If someone were, for example, coming to
deliver a punch to my face, I would avoid the blow with my body and then employ
footwork to position me either further out of harm’s way, or to deliver a counter
The Shuffle Step is more like a pulling movement, than a stepping movement.
Regardless, it’s a quick movement. It’s one motion, whereas the Step & Slide is a
two-part motion. All of the torque comes from the toes and the balls of the feet.
While the front foot looks as though it’s flat on the floor, it isn’t. Most of the weight
is on the ball of the foot and the toes. It’s less a push than a pulling movement, as
you push with the rear leg while pulling simultaneously with your lead leg. It’s
almost like you’re trying to grab a clump of earth and throw it back to your rear
leg, that’s the type of tension that should be in your feet and the correct motion your
lead leg needs to assume to perform this movement correctly. At the beginning of
the movement it’s very subtle and it’s hard for the untrained eye to see it. However,
while it may be a delicate, deceptive motion, it’s tremendously powerful and
efficient, allowing you to throw your bodyweight instantly behind a technique. Even
though I’m moving, it appears as though there has been no bodyweight shift at all.
I’m not moving and yet I’m moving. Or as Bruce Lee once said :
“The stillness in stillness is not the real stillness. Only when there is stillness in motion,
does the universal rhythm manifest.” – Bruce Lee
The Burst (a.k.a.: The Shuffle Step)
The Burst is also a push-pull movement. It is used for a quick advance, for kicking
and for punching. The Burst is used primarily to deliver a devastating kick such as
a side -kick, or to counter an opponent’s attack. That’s why footwork is not just for
“transition” between techniques, but also the delivery system that allows you to
execute your techniques properly. Any Properly executed kick or punch comes off
There are many forms of retreating as there are advances, techniques such as the
Shuffle or Step & Slide, can also be used as retreating tactics. However, I’ll focus on
one retreating technique that differs from the others in as much as it’s not simply
the reverse of the advancing techniques as outlined above.
The Pendulum Step
The Pendulum Step is used primarily to avoid an attack. From the On-Guard
position, the lead leg is quickly drawn back to where your rear leg is, while
simultaneously withdrawing your rear leg backwards. The entire weight of your
body should be resting on the lead leg at this point, with the rear foot barely
touching the ground for counter-balance purposes. As soon as this happens, you
have an option to either maintain the On-Guard from this new vantage point, safely
out of harm’s way or to immediately reverse the movement, with the rear foot
moving back to its former position and the lead leg becoming an offensive weapon of
attack by returning fire. If you watch the first movement that Bruce Lee does in
Enter the Dragon
attempted shin kick. If you watch Bruce fight against Bob Baker in
attack and launching a counter kicking attack.
, it’s a pendulum step backward out of the way of Samo Hung’sThe Chinese, you will see the pendulum step employed as a means of avoiding an
“Sidestepping,” Bruce Lee once said, “is shifting the weight and changing the feet
without disturbing balance.” Sidestepping serves many purposes.
1. It can be used to frustrate an attack simply by moving every time an opponent gets
“set” to attack.
2. It may be used as a method of avoiding blows or kicks.
3. It may be used to create openings for a counter attack.
In sidestepping, the rule of thumb is that if you’re going to move to the left, your left
foot should move first which, if you’re in the On-Guard position with your right side
forward, would be your rear leg. Then, once your rear leg has moved into position
anywhere from 6 to 18 inches of travel, then your right or lead leg moves over 6 to
18 inches as well. The same sequence applies when sidestepping right, only the right
or lead leg moves first, with the rear leg following in a lateral motion. The key is to
maintain perfect balance at all times.
From the On-Guard position, move your left rear foot to the left roughly 18 inches.
Then slide the lead foot (right foot) an equal distance to the left, all the while
maintaining the On-Guard position.
From the On-Guard position, move your right lead foot to the right roughly 18
inches. Then slide the rear foot (left foot) an equal distance to the right, all the while
maintaining the On-Guard position.
People should practice the sidestepping motion on their own in order to master it. In
fact, practice is the “secret,” if you’d care to call it that, of success, not only in
JFJKD, but also in any other martial art. I remember coming to Bruce Lee’s house
and seeing him practice. He was constantly practicing. He would practice for hours
on end. He would practice moving and striking with his hands, and then moving and
striking with his feet and then just moving so that he became more and more
comfortable and familiar with what he could do and how he could maneuver at
different angles and at varying speeds and distances.
I personally have been practicing as best I can what Bruce taught me since 1967,
which means that I’m fast coming up on 30 years of training in JFJKD. Some things
I’ve become quite good at, while others I still need more work on. However, I will
say that I am a much better martial artist now than I was back when Bruce was
teaching me, simply because I’ve had so many more years of practice. Like Bruce
“Like boxing or fencing, JKD is a step by step process in which each maneuver must
be repeated many times.”
Another important aspect of training that Bruce Lee emphasized to me was:
quality not quantity.” He said:
“It’s better to know how to throw 5 really good punches, than 20 LOUSY ones. So
every time you throw a punch, put 100 percent into it.”
Bruce always stressed emotional content or intensity in the execution of one’s
techniques. Learn to react not plan. Let it flow from within. Personally, I had a real
problem with this in my early years of training with Bruce. Often he would look at
me and say “Ted, you lack a killer instinct,” meaning that I wasn’t able to summon
enough pure anger or violent energy from within when I performed my techniques.
I’ve learned however that “killer instinct” is hard to switch on or off like a light
switch, it is largely a situational reaction to you circumstances.
Based on the degree of self-knowledge I’ve obtained, thanks to Bruce Lee’s
teachings, I know now that I do possess “killer instinct” in abundance. And that
should I ever need it, it’s there. The key is to maintain a clear mind that is
unobstructed by thoughts or concerns. Your reaction must be pure and honest and,
If the intent is expressed honestly, your opponent will be in serious trouble.
Since I’ve been able to make my footwork more efficient through constant practice,
I’ve found to my delight that I’m able to move just as quick as I could when I was
younger, and probably hit a little bit harder.
I’ll be the first to admit that footwork is not an exciting thing to practice but what it
enables you to do once you’ve mastered it is very exciting indeed. It’s like exercise
for the body nobody really enjoys taxing themselves physically, but we know that
it’s necessary in order to enjoy the benefits that good health provides. If you want
options, i.e., different angles and possible combinations, then you need balance and
skill in movement and that is footwork.
One of the best exercises I’ve found that you can do to enhance your footwork is
shadowboxing. Shadowboxing teaches you how to relax when you move, how to
explode when you move, how to throw techniques while in motion. It alerts you as to
which techniques are assets and which are liabilities. You can bob and weave, move,
kick, punch, kick/punch/kick and you can also cultivate the coordination necessary
to successfully execute all of the above. It also teaches you how to regain your
balance after throwing a technique or combination, and just how important balance
is. Other activities such as skipping rope or running, will also train your
neuromuscular pathways to handle your bodyweight better and enhance your
balance, but shadow-boxing seems to be the purest exercise for enhancing your
BRUCE IS THE STANDARD:
When I hear people say, “You shouldn’t bother to train like Bruce Lee did, or to
follow his teachings, because you don’t possess his attributes,” I realize that they’ve
missed the point as to what Bruce Lee was all about. He would frequently tell us
that he wasn’t anything “special,” but rather that he was a very dedicated trainer.
Bruce was so good, because he made himself so good. He practiced all the time and
then looked for ways to make his practicing even more efficient. If you only work
out 20 minutes a day, or three days a week, I mean if that’s all you’re willing to
commit to your martial arts training, then, yes, it would be impossible for you to
obtain attributes similar to Bruce’s because he practiced long and hard for every
inch of progress he made.
“Don’t expect Bruce Lee like results, unless you’re willing to put in Bruce Lee like
hours to obtain them.” Ted Won