Foot work is the foundation for everything we do as martial artist. If you don't have a stable connection to the ground, you can't move. If you can't move, you can't fight. That simple. We are going to take a look at some of the basics of footwork starting with posture, and try to make people more aware of what their bodies are doing.
Briefly let us look at posture. I am going to be borrowing from Steven Pearlman's "The Book of Martial Power" on this one.
Generally in martial arts when we stand, we want to keep our backs up straight. Imagine if your spinal column was a bunch of toilet paper rolls stacked on top of each other. What happens when we lean this forward or back? We get rolls all over the floor. Your body is much like this but we have a muscular system in place to keep from falling apart. So if you are leaning at an odd angel while moving, your muscles are exerting a force to keep you upright. This is low efficiency, and waste your energy. We wan't to use our skeleton to support its self.
Another thing we will see when leaning forward is the toddler walk. That is some one who is leaning so far forward that they are falling into each step like a toddler. A large part of martial arts is about being able to control your movement. This is mode of movement has no control. Maintaining your back up straight and lowering your stance makes it so you should be able to stop anywhere mid step and change directions. A great tell-tell of this is if your head is bobbing up and down. If you are stable and using your legs to propel you forward you should be able to walk with out your head bobbing up and down. Mirrors are a great tool for this!
P1. Book of Martial Power: The Toddler Walk. Notice the subject is straight limbed and leaning forward, falling into each step.
P2. Book of Martial Power: Proper Walk. Notice the subject's back is straight and his legs are bent so he can use his muscles rather than gravity to propel himself forward.
As a beginner the general rule is that you point your front toe at your opponent, or more properly in the direction that your weight is going. Your knee is a joint with a one degree of freedom. If your momentum is going forward and your knee is caving in to the left or right, you are torquing that joint and going to do long term damage to your knee. Guy Windsor has an excellent free course on Knee Health that I recommend everyone go through: https://swordschool.teachable.com/p/free-course-knee-maintenance
As can be seen in the figure on the side on the side in both images my front foot is pointed at my target. On the left however my knee is caving inward. This is that bad knee destroying habit that will also sap your mobility and stability. For years I yelled at myself and my students to check their knee alignment, typically believing that it was just point your toe and go. Recently, Russ, a friend of mine showed me a pretty easy way to fix this. When you tell people to put the weight on the ball of their foot most put it on the ball of the big toe, the first metatarsal. This will naturally cause your knee to cave inwards. By focusing your weight on your fourth metatarsal, that is the "ring finger toe" it causes your knee to pull into proper alignment.
Foot Work Found in Bolgonesse
Lets start off with possibly the simplest and most natural foot work, the passing step. You start in a guard left or right foot forward, keeping your head stable, back upright, knees aligned and lowered and all that other good stuff step forward with your back foot. If you are new to martial arts do it slowly and really focus on staying stable. Good, just like walking, now go backwards. Awesome. This is basic linear stepping. Next you should work on going off on 45 degree angles to the outside, forwards and backwards.
Building on the passing step, we step 45 degrees to the outside with a pass, the like a cartographer's compass we bring our back foot around to create a new center line. This is the start of circular movement, and is good for changing angles.
On of Dall'Agocchie's favorites, and he uses it in two tempo defenses. From your guard, bring your back foot up to the front one, then step out with it as though you had done a passing step, OR push the other foot forward. Experiment with doing this straight, and to both the left and right with each foot.
While not as stretched out as later rapier masters the early Bolognese masters have a some what shorter lunge. Dall'Agocchie prescribes this for single time or mezza tempo defenses. That is some one attacks and you stab them while intercepting their blade. To perform this from your stance push of your back foot lifting your front foot slightly off the ground. You will land slightly on your heel, this should not be a hard landing at all. Typically you will pass backwards to recover from this. Think of this more as a lunge from older military saber manuals than as a rapier lunge.
Air Squats: Google these, if they are too easy for you try Goblet Squats or move on to lunges.
Walking Lunges: Step Forward and squat down till your back knee almost hits the ground, back up take a passing step and go up and down the Salle like this.
Scissor Squats: Remember the Scissor Stance? Make an exercise of going down into it and back up.
As far as solo drilling goes it is hard to beat Ilkka Hartikainen's video from a few years back. But if I put this first no one would of read all my ramblings :D