In many private lessons and classes that I have taught over the years, I have noticed that poor footwork will often negate good stick technique. Sub-optimal footwork has reared its head enough that new students are introduced to footwork on day one. I will go through some basic footwork and stance drills, often through the angles of attack, in order to ensure that good habits are established right away. With good footwork established, good technique will follow.

Footwork Drills

First of all, I start with two very basic footwork patterns/drills. The first is the one step footwork, illustrated below. As one can see, it’s done in a V-shaped pattern, stepping at a 45-degree angle either to the right or the left. Here’s the basic one step footwork exercise:

(1) Starting Position
(2) Step to the right;
(3) Return to starting position;
(4) Step to the left.

The purpose of the one step footwork is to drive home the need to angle off from an attack. This is just a basic footwork exercise.

Next, the second footwork pattern taught in Modern Arnis is the two step footwork.

(1) Starting position in the middle of “railroad tracks.”
(2) Step off to the right off the railroad tracks;
(3) Back foot steps off as well;


(4) Back foot crosses to the other side of the “railroad tracks.”
(5) I move my right foot back across the “railroad tracks.”

The above sequence is somewhat akin to the ginga of capoeira.

YouTube video here.

While there are substantial differences between the Modern Arnis two step footwork and the capoeira ginga, having to do with the orientation of the feet, center line, and the rhythm/timing of the movement, the principle is similar in the sense of “stepping over the railroad tracks.” Consequently, I stress these two footwork patterns quite a bit.

Common Mistakes

When it comes to the two-step footwork, most have trouble with the second step, as illustrated below. A common mistake is to step with the right foot only and leave the back/left foot on the railroad tracks. As a result, they are vulnerable to a counter attack.

You can see the problem with this position. Anytime I see this, I get on the student’s case about this. This is, by far, the most common mistake with the two step footwork that I see. That said, this is a technical mistake that can have dire consequences.


Don’t leave that back foot in the middle of the railroad tracks.

These are the first two footwork patterns that I teach in private lessons and in my classes. That said, there are other kinds of footwork that we incorporate such as those associated with sweep strokes, body manipulation techniques, takedowns, and throws.

Once the one step and two step footwork patterns are learned and the technical mistakes rectified, the practitioner needs to go beyond robotic stepping and progress into being comfortable moving their feet around. This is crucial.

Usually, if the student remains stuck at the robotic stage, then execution of techniques will, likewise, be robotic.


I have found that it takes a considerable amount of practice to transition from robotic footwork to being light and agile on your feet. 

Needless to say, a student should be as comfortable with moving around and using their feet as they are picking up their eating utensils. Make no mistake about it, this takes time, patience, and lots of repetition.

Let me repeat, it takes quite a while to transition from robotic footwork to being nimble, agile, and deceptive in your footwork.

If you do not move properly, you will not be able to defend. If you do not move properly, you will not be able to hit the other guy. Consequently, you will not able to effectively defend yourself.  It’s as simple as it gets.

If you have time at home, practice your footwork for a few minutes every day. You’ll notice that you will become less robotic and more natural in moving over time. With practice, you’ll have nimble feet like the guy below. 🙂

Get a move on!



9 thoughts on “Get A Move On!

  • July 6, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Could not agree more. If your foot work is wrong it really does not matter what you can do with the stick. You will be in the wrong position.

    Enjoy your Friday fix it and other posts.
    Wish you were closer so I could join but Wisconsin is to far away for a week night trip! ;(

    • July 6, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      Hi Mary, thanks for reading my post and commenting about the footwork! Wisconsin is, indeed, quite a ways from Toronto! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  • June 20, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Footwork is really the part of any style or system that either means your art is effective or not, it controls range and teaches you to avoid or close your opponents, and it’s the core that generates the power through centrifugal and weight shifting and delivers kicking , it’s always the first part of any system as it the most important part to be mastered and controlled, however students see it as boring and can’t wait to jump ahead to the fighting aspects, and forget the reason why it your first lesson, as it’s the hardest beast of your art to tame,
    It’s the thing your instructor will constructive criticise you the most, but still it’s dismissed, it’s one of those eureka moments when your off balance staring at your feet, unable to move pinned and easy to uproot, that suddenly you realise your not moving correctly and one finger can jam or topple you, and it hits you footwork that’s what the old man trying to teach me, like Jackie Chang in snake in the Eagles shadow, another part of puzzle fits, suddenly all those words have meaning, and you start to refine and improve your stance and footwork, shifting and transferring the energy, and bridging the kicks fluidly, it’s the very basic moves that are the core to the advanced complex moves, and without the basics you have a weakened system, but it takes time and repetitions for it to unlock it’s value, and build that solid foundation and strong root

    • June 21, 2016 at 9:00 am

      Thanks for reading the post and commenting! You make great points, especially in that footwork is the most important part of any martial art. I agree completely on this point.

  • June 21, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Things have changed (progressed) over time in Modern Arnis, as they have in all martial arts. If you look at older video of the Professor, you will see that they are only stepping with one foot. I don’t lnow when it went to both feet moving, but the basic rule remains, you can’t get hit if you’re not there. Footwork is just as important as any other defensive skill, if not more. The simple rule is “MOVE!”
    Sometimes, it’s too easy to overlook footwork due to the desire to learn more hand orientated techniques. No matter how many strikes, blocks, or traps you learn, it is usually the basics that will save you in a confrontation.

    • June 21, 2016 at 9:00 am

      Thanks for reading the post and commenting! You make great points, especially in that footwork is the most important part of any martial art. I agree completely on this point.

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