Regardless of how excellent an Arnis Escrima practitioner is in using his or her weapon, it’d do badly unless he or she executes the proper footwork that brings him or her to the intended target. That's why, in this post, we discussed the different footwork used in Arnis Filipino martial arts.
The knowledge you will gain in this post will help improve your Escrima footwork. You may practice the different escrima footwork and adopt the ones that work for you.
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Common Arnis Escrima Footwork
In FMA, there are numerous approaches to footwork, but one that is mostly executed is the triangular footwork, which came from the dynamics of the stick’s movement. One way to best illustrate this type of footwork is a square marked with an “X” inside – dividing the area into four equal connected triangles.
The upper V portion represents directions in either the left or right of your opponent.
If the opponent executes a forehand horizontal strike using a stick from his or her right to left and moves forward on the V’s left portion, you can then jam the weapon and stop it on the way before it gains momentum.
But if he or she moves toward the V’s right portion, it would indicate that you flow with the movement of your opponent’s weapon until it reaches a zone of zero-pressure where it’d used up or lost its force.
If you move along the lower, upside-down V, it illustrates that you evade your opponent’s strikes and avoid getting hit by evading the end portion of the stick of your foe.
Other Types of Footwork
Aside from the triangular footwork, FMA still has other numerous footwork techniques such as the linear footwork that resembles boxing and western fencing. There are even some other variations that incorporate Chinese Kung Fu footwork like in Lapunti Arnis Abaniko, which combines the teachings of GM Johnny Chiuten and GM Felimon Caburnay.
Rene Navarro described in his article entitled “Lapunti Arnis: The Third Style” in Rapid Journal Vol.5 No.1 that Chiuten and Caburnay met in 1972, and integrated the existing methods of Arnis de Abanico – doble baston, solo baston, daga, and Espada y daga, together with the subsidiary methods of palakaw, arko, tapi-tapi, trangkada, and contadas – as well as the deceptive kicks and footwork methods of Hong Cha.
In fact, Chiuten was the best apprentice of Lao Kim – the 1960’s legendary Kung Fu master of Chinatown in Manila.
I think that the choice and use of footwork would eventually become a very personal thing. Numerous factors would impact the choice of the footwork of a practitioner, like his or her physique or build, psyche as an escrima arnis kali fighter, and chosen weapons.
Even Dan Inosanto once admitted of how he attempted to copy Juanito Lacoste’s footwork and unable to do it. In his book, Inosanto describes that he had been attempting to copy Juanito Lacoste’s footwork for several years. He had eventually arrived at a moment where he could describe the method. However, he was not able to execute the technique the way Lacoste did it.
While several Filipino masters provide detailed descriptions of the complexities of the FMA footwork, others only pay little attention to the matter.
Samuel Chau, an Eskrima De Campo-JDCIO coach and practitioner, said that there is no fancy or elaborate footwork in their FMA system. He further stated that De Campo-JDCIO employs only simple big and small steps on both right and left because they suit the “sniper nature” more than complex moves.
Chau talks about the largo mano (long range or longhand) nature of this FMA system that involves quick, accurate, and rebound strikes.
Bonifacio Uy, BDU (Bonifacio D. Uy) founder and creator even goes further by saying that Arnis martial arts do not have any footwork.
According to him, what works best is the step-and-slide footwork technique. A practitioner can accomplish this footwork by initially stepping with the foot closest to the direction you will take, and secondly, the other foot of the practitioner slides into place.
He personally preferred this method and found it effective when he would move in all directions both in defense and offense. Since the feet remain at a constant shoulder-width length, it also does not disrupt a practitioner’s center of gravity during his or her moves.
But always note that how good or effective a certain footwork is, terrain can enforce a limitation on its efficacy. It is very easy to develop certain favorite techniques when you are practicing your system in a setting you feel comfortable. An excellent exercise then is to examine how footwork would function well in various setting such as on a ledge, a slippery floor, a hill’s slope, or while walking in knee-deep waters.
In his book entitled “Jeet Kune Do: The Art and Philosophy of Bruce Lee,” Dan Inosanto stated that to illustrate further the huge effect the environment can have on a person’s fighting technique, I’d say that there is a distinct Filipino sword fighting style which teaches its students to react to an encounter by instantly executing a sitting position.
It sounds ridiculous, certainly. But if the assailant happens to attack you on solid footings like a parking lot or an empty street corner, this technique is quite useful. However, if it has been raining heavily, leaving the ground slippery and muddy, that after the initial attack, the practitioner would often stay down anyway.
Unlike other martial arts in Asia such as kung fu and karate, a practitioner can learn the footwork in traditional Eskrima Arnis without practicing the formalized stances it employs. In numerous FMA styles, the student or practitioner is urged to discover his or her optimum stance through body-feel as well as the body mechanics understanding.
Below are some of the fundamental postures and stances in Arnis Escrima:
1. Open leg stance. In this stance, your feet are at shoulder-length apart, your toes are pointed slightly outward while your body is upright, and your right hand is holding the base of the stick. Your left hand is holding the tip portion of the stick, which is positioned horizontal to the floor, with arms rested on the side. Your eyes are focused straight while maintaining regular breathing with the diaphragm, and breathe in and out through the nostrils.
2. Attention stance and salutation. In this stance, bring your left foot to your right – touching both your heels and point your toes outward at a 15-degree angle. At the same time, with your right hand, raise the stick to your left chest below the breast portion, and salute as the stick is at a 15-degree angle, and pause for a few seconds. Straiten your body, chin up, and focus your eyes straight. Don’t bow when saluting with the stick. But you may slightly bow when saluting without any weapon, with your right hand resting on your left chest.
3. On-guard stance. This stance is also called the ready or starting position. Place your feet at shoulder-length apart. This will provide you with a square support base. Hold your stick upright, leaning forward a little, point your weapon arm to the ground, and position your freehand at open palm – close to the chest. Bend forward your knees and body toward the direction of likely motion. Lean your body, bend your knees, and raise your rear heel resembling a runner set to take off.
Cock your raised heel, preparing to release a torque force as your foot twists and pushes to force the power that accumulates from one body part to another in a sequence up to the impact at the snapping of the wrist, releasing the strike power.
In order to facilitate movement agility on all sides as well as to guarantee excellent moving balance, pace your feet at shoulder-length apart to the front, rear, and sides. The equidistance is similar to a square base which is stable on each side. The shoulder index enables quick interplay of footwork in every direction particularly in handling numerous enemies.
4. Right or left lead stance. The right or left lead stance is just like a forward stance with your body weight distribution at 30%:70% on the rear and leading leg. This marked difference is, this version promotes shallow instead of deep stances to have flexibility in your footwork. Often, this stance is used to strike and counter employing the torque power.
5. Right or left rear stance. This is like the cat and back stance. Your body distribution is at 70%:30% on the rear and front leg. Raise your front foot heel slightly while your rear foot is flat. You can use this stance for deflecting and blocking. Hold your weapon vertically to the ground with your body facing at a 45-degree angle to the left when you block at left rear and to the right when carrying it out at the right rear.
6. Diagonal or oblique stance. You can do the diagonal or oblique stance in blocking strike number 9 to the knee. Slide along the rear right leg as your step to the left. This would allow you to maintain your shoulder index pace. Often, this stance is done low to regulate bending, with little exposure to possible strikes.
7. Straddle stance. The straddle stance (also known as the center stance) is like the horse stance where you equally distribute your body weight in both legs. You can use this stance when you instantly move to the side to evade an attack, defense transition, and to attack or counter.
Footwork is one of the major foundations of any martial arts, especially in Arnis Escrima. Thus, knowing the different stances and footwork can help develop your skills as a martial artist.
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