Monday, February 28, 2005

More on footwork

Once again, I'm diving into the depths of basics. As my old Kenpo teacher used to say, there are no advanced techniques, just more advanced combinations of basics done better, so with that in mind, I keep going over the same fundamentals, mining them for that vein of gold yet untapped.

Serrada footwork is based on the male triangle, and our replacement step is called the papeet. It's simplicity itself - bring the rear foot up next to the front one, then back with the other foot. Usually. Sometimes we step up and then back again with the same foot. Why? Timing, deception, change of reaction to fit circumstances, etc. The focus of this post, though, is the nature of the male triangle, because as simple as it is, it seems hard for people to get. Some people are uncomfortable standing in against an attack, while others have habits from previous training that don't account for what we are trying to do.

Triangle stepping falls into two categories, male and female. If drawn on the floor, the point of the male triange points at the centerline of the opponent and the base is opposite and away. Conversely, the female triangle steps across the centerline, so the base is towards the opponent and the point faces away. As we have only these two variations, it shouldn't be too hard to differentiate, right? Not so fast!

It seems a lot of people have a really hard time doing the male triangle. They think they are being direct in their stepping but are automatically going wide. This is usually because of a perceived need to aviod a head-on clash. To be honest, even Angel sometimes took a slightly wide step, but that was not the philosophy of this system. As I've been saying a lot lately (in my best "arrrgh," a la Pirates of the Caribbean) "Them's more like guidelines than rules!" We want to control centerline, range, balance, and the male triangle establishes our position as the fulcrum. However, knowing rules means you understand when it is necessary to break them, and so Angel sometimes took that wider step. Occasionally it is "Do what I say, not what I do." If we don't pay attention to a detail - any detail - or try to master it, it just isn't going to happen of itself. Right?

So, why do we want to use the direct male triangle if it seems counter-intuitive? Foremost, leverage, both physically and psychologically. When we step in straight, we cut the line of our opponent's movement, forcing him wider either by taking his intended place or by getting deeper into him with our counter. For example, the check hand on an inside move has more deflection if we are direct. Step wider, we have less effect deflecting the strike or unbalancing his center. Sometimes I have students test to see who has the balance of the other. Either you have your opponent's or he has yours. Only one of you can own the center of the circle that is the dynamic of the fight between you. Stepping wider often concedes the center of this two-person dynamic.

The papeet allows us to control range without clashing. Serrada assumes our opponent has the intelligence to strike effectively, so we know where he is going to be. Our ideal range from which to counterstrike is right in front of his hand, because this keeps us defensively just out of range of a sudden and unexpected strike from the other hand. Against multiple attacks we "float" there. If our opponent just misses us, he's close enough to counter effectively. Wider steps may make him miss by more, but it also takes us out of range for that opportunity to hit quickly inside the timing of his movement. By staying "on point" and controlling the center, we are able to change the direction we face more quickly and with less effort. We change sides, making the opponent run around us in circles. All else being equal, he will get tired faster because he must move further. In military tactics, similarly, one has the advantage of direct lines of supply, support and communication inside the circle; to divide the enemy weakens his ability to concentrate his forces. We see this concept graphically mapped out in the widely seen escrima logo of a triangle inside a circle. In simple language, a straight line is the most direct way to get from point A to point B.

Are there dangers to being direct? Of course. There are no perfect or invulnerable techniques; martial arts is about maximizing our odds. We can get run over against a hard charge, or get our front leg swept. Knowing what can go wrong allows us to monitor against such possibilities. Conversely, going wide opens our centerline to the opponent. While that might not be an issue in largo mano range, in medio or corto the wider movement offers our centerline targets to an opponent, such as a kick to the groin. While one can be on guard against that, it takes only a split second of inattention for a quick or savvy opponent to exploit this vulnerability.

Our proper footwork is a heel-toe alignment; the front foot points towards the opponent, the heel of our rear foot is in a straight line with the front foot. This is the natural alignment for a lunge step, and using it closes the low line against the easy groin kick. Sometimes people keep the front foot on line but step wide with the rear foot. Again, in close range this opens that low target.

What are some circumstances that support the direct approach? Aside from the intrinsic value already mentioned, what if one is in a restrictive area? Think of fighting in a hallway or stairwell or on a narrow trail or defending a doorway. What about fighting on a balance beam or similar structure? If one habitually moves from side to side, this could be environmentally unsound. Angel put it this way - we all know how to move because we get around all the time. It is staying in one place that is difficult. If we can make smaller movements, we can always make a few of them to add up to a bigger one. If we always make a big movement, we can't always make it smaller. Think of it as units of measurement. If we map the California coastline in 100 mile units, it is pretty crudely drawn. If we use 10 mile increments, the detail is better. One mile units, even finer. Go down to 10 meters, even more so. The level of precision and detail increases by fine-tuning our scale, and so learning to hold our ground means we can either stay put or move just a tiny bit as our calculations deem necessary. This is perhaps the most cogent reason to discipline our stepping to that male triangle, because it is the smallest increment we can use in facing our opponent.