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No matter how good an escrimador is in wielding his weapons, it would do little good unless he has the right footwork to bring him to his intended target. There are varied approaches to footwork in the Filipino martial arts (FMA) but the most commonly used is the triangular footwork.
The triangular footwork stemmed out of the dynamics of the movement of the stick as a weapon. The best diagram to illustrate the triangle footwork is a box with an X inside it (dividing the square into four connected triangles).
The upper diagonal lines resembling a “V” represent directions to take on either the right side or left side of the opponent.
If the opponent is swinging a forehand horizontal strike with a stick from his right to his left, moving forward on the left diagonal stem of the “V” connotes jamming the weapon, stopping it on its track before it could gain momentum.
On the other hand, moving forward on the right diagonal stem of the “V” would mean flowing with the weapon’s movement until it arrived in a “zero-pressure” zone where it had already lost much of its force.
Moving along the lower diagonal lines resembling an upside-down “V” represents evasion – avoiding damage by staying out of the business end of your opponent’s stick.
Besides the triangle, other approaches to footwork can be found in various styles of FMA like the linear footwork similar to western fencing and boxing. There’s even some that incorporated Chinese kung fu footwork as in the case of Lapunti Arnis Abaniko, which is the result of the collaboration between Grandmaster Felimon Caburnay and Grandmaster Johnny Chiuten.
In his article “Lapunti Arnis: The Third Style” (Rapid Journal Vol.5 No.1), Rene Navarro, Chiuten’s friend and student wrote, “Caburnay and Chiuten met in 1972 and combined the existing techniques of Arnis de Abanico – solo baston, doble baston, daga and espada y daga, along with the subsidiary techniques of tapi-tapi, palakaw, arko, contadas and trangkada – and the deceptive footwork and kicking techniques of Hong Cha.” Chiuten was the top student of Lao Kim, the legendary kung fu master of Manila’s Chinatown during the 1960s.
The triangular footwork is the most common footwork in the FMA
I personally believe that the practice and choice of footwork would become a highly personal thing in the long run. A number of factors would affect a practitioner’s choice of footwork such as his physique, psyche as a fighter and preferred weapons.
Dan Inosanto once told of how he tried to copy the footwork of the late Juanito “Johnny Lacoste with no success. A part of his book the “Filipino Martial Arts,” reads, “Danny Inosanto says he’s been trying to copy LaCoste’s footwork for 14-years. He’s finally gotten to where he can describe it, but actually use it the way LaCoste does? No.”
While some Filipino masters offer elaborate explanations on the intricacies of the footwork of the FMA, some pays scant attention on the subject.
Samuel Chau, a practitioner and coach of Eskrima De Campo-JDCIO under Maestro Ireneo Olavides stated that there’s no fancy footwork in their system. Chau said that De Campo-JDCIO just employs simple small and big steps on both left and right directions, “It is more fitting with the “sniper nature” of our system,” he pointed out.
Chau is pertaining to the largo mano (long hand or long range) nature of De Campo Eskrima that employs fast, accurate and rebounding strikes.
Bonifacio “Loloy” Uy, creator of the BDU (Bonifacio D. Uy) System of escrima even goes farther by stating that, “There’s no footwork in arnis-escrima.”
In my own practice, I found that what works for me best is the step-and-slide method of footwork. This kind of footwork is accomplished by simply stepping first with the foot nearest to the direction you are taking and then the other foot slides into place.
Personally, I’ve found this method effective in moving in all directions both offensively and defensively. Because the feet always remain at shoulder-width apart, it also doesn’t disturb one’s center of gravity much during movements.
But remember that no matter how efficient a particular footwork, terrain can impose limitation on its efficacy. It’s easy to develop preferences when you are practicing your art in a comfortable setting. A good exercise then is to test how your footwork would work on different environment like on a ledge, the slope of a hill, a slippery floor or while wading in knee-deep waters.
Inosanto in his book “Jeet Kune Do: The Art and Philosophy of Bruce Lee,” wrote, “To further illustrate the profound impact environment can have on one’s method of fighting, I would only mention that there exists a style of Filipino sword fighting which teaches its practitioners to respond to an encounter by immediately dropping to the ground in a seated posture.
Ridiculous, you say? Sure, if the assault takes place on solid footing, such as a parking lot or a deserted street corner. But there is an unusually heavy rainfall in the region where this style comes from, which leaves the ground so muddy and slippery that after the first stroke the practitioner would invariably slip down anyway.”
Unlike other Asian martial arts like karate and kung fu, footwork in traditional arnis-escrima can be learned without practicing formalized stances. In many traditional styles of FMA, the student is encouraged to discover his optimum stance through body-feel and the understanding of body mechanics.