How to train on a slippery surface

Ever since I started reading martial arts and self-defense books, I saw one piece of advice come back over and over: don’t always train in the dojo or gym, go train on a different surface and in a different environment. Being somewhat inquisitive of nature (OK, I just want to know everything.) I did just that many times and one of my favorite challenges was experimenting with how to train on a slippery surface.

You don’t always fight on a perfectly dry and solid surface. In real life, you fight wherever you are when the bad guy decides to take a swing at you. That could be:

  • On a wet, tiled floor like the one in my garage.
  • In a bar where the floor is full of spilled drinks and other fluids (you probably don’t want to know which ones…)
  • On wet grass.
  • On snow or ice. If you’re really unlucky (or Swedish… Hi Paul, hi Mark!), on both at the same time.
  • In the sand on the beach.
  • In mud.
  • Wearing shoes with crappy soles that make you slide all over the place but you have to wear them because they match your new suit and if you don’t, your wife/GF/significant other will be on your case about “that time you wore those awful shoes” forever…

With some imagination, I’m sure you can find even more more situations where you’re on a slippery surface and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you have to defend yourself right then and there, here are some questions you first have to answer in training:

  • Which techniques can I do without slipping and falling?
  • How are these performed differently from when you do them on a normal surface. (Hint: there will be differences…)
  • Which techniques are still possible but with some specific technical adaptations?
  • Which are out of the question?

You’ll probably answer these quesitons differently than I do and that’s perfectly fine. We’re different people with different skills, preferences, etc. The key issue is that you do ask these questions and find the answers that work for you, before you need them in the street.

Here’s how I do it:

I have a one-car garage where I hang my heavy bag and do a lot of my solo training. The thing is, it has a tiled floor. If I’ve been training in there for a few weeks and it suddenly rains, the floor gets slippery as hell because of the moisture in the air. That’s my reminder it’s time to scrub it with detergent so it’s clean again and less prone to holding on to the humidity.

But before I do that, I have one last training session. In that session, I wear my old sneakers, the ones with very slick soles, to make it even more difficult. It’s not like I’m standing on roller blades or ice skates, but it sure isn’t stable.

Sometimes I practice purely self defense techniques, other times it’s forms or doing knife and stick drills, I always do something different from last time. This time, it was working on the heavy bag. I put on my gloves and started banging on the heavy bag for six 3min. rounds.  Heaps of fun of course, especially as you simply can’t just punch and kick like you normally do; if you try that you slip and hit the floor.

Anyway, here’s a short video from tonight’s training session:

As you could read: I shot this with my cellphone which has a very basic camera in it. So the results aren’t all that great. But you can still see I manage to make the bag dance and get the chains off the hooks a few times. If you pay attention, you can hear the difference between when a punch and a kick lands.

Also, as you can see in the end when I slide around a bit, I’m not faking it: the floor is pretty damn slippery.

So how do you train then?

Like I’ve said ad nauseam, the differences are just as important as the similarities. Change one little thing and the whole technique changes. This applies in spades when you train on a slippery surface. If you throw a punch, it’s still the same one as you’ve done for so long but because the floor has you sliding all over the place, you can’t throw it like you’ve always done.

Like I said before, everybody’s different so what works for me might not work for you. That said, here are some things I use to avoid slipping and falling over while trying to punch and kick as hard as possible.:

  • Forget driving forward off the back foot. In many stiles, you learn to push off the back foot to generate power in punches and kicks. This is very hard to do when that foot slips out from under you as soon as you put pressure on it. To a degree, you can make it work but it’s very, very hard. At first, you’ll probably fall on your face a lot…
  • Forget deep stances. The further apart you place your feet, the more you have to work to keep your balance. It can be done but it takes a lot of strength and usually leaves you in a very static position you can hardly get out of in a hurry. Personally, I like a narrow stance that keeps my weight on top of my legs and have my knees bent slightly more than I normally would.
  • Control is more important than power. I’m not saying power isn’t important; I’m saying that extra bit of power you generate is useless if it means you slip and fall to the ground. Controlling your body is the key to effective techniques here. If you just throw your arms and legs around as hard and fast as you can, you won’t stay on your feet for long…
  • Pivot on one leg. If you stay with your weight in the middle between both legs, this will always push one (or both) of these legs away from under you. especially when you try to accelerate by pushing from one of these legs. Instead, try to shift your weight on one leg and pivot upon it. It takes some time but the better you get at this, the more you’ll be able to  eventually use the other leg too.
  • Don’t go for maximum power first. Build your way up to hitting with full power. If you go for it too soon, you might end up relying on the heavy bag to keep you in balance. In fact, training on such a bad surface is a great way to teach you how to avoid just that. As you can see at 55sec into the video, I can do several round house kicks to the midsection without losing balance. I didn’t throw them at my maximum power even though they still have a solid impact behind them. But I did kick with the highest amount of power I can without over-committing and using the bag to stay upright.

I think this kind of training is very useful, but it obviously isn’t the same as the real thing. However, it can give you an edge for when you might find yourself in a self defense situation when you’re not on solid ground.

Have fun training!

UPDATE: Check out Part Two where I train on ice.


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  1. Nice! At one point, quite a few years back, me and a bunch of my training buddies all worked at the same restaurant. We use to mess around a lot in the back of the kitchen where it was always slippery -totally different ball game! No one wanted to kick because it was so easy to slip.

    • That’s also a great environment to train in. First you train and then you eat. :-)
      I always liked kitchens for the loads and loads of improvised weapons you can find in them. Too many to pick.


    Check out how Jason Statham solves the slippery floor problem.

  3. Good tips! “Wet floor” and “slippery shoes” are probably the most frequently occurring, relative to when you’d meet up with trouble: at a bar/club, and (if you’re a suit & tie guy) to/from work.


  4. I used to spray the driveway with water when it freezes – that’s once or twice a year here and normally only at night – and have class outside. It was messy but it worked.

    What’s snow?

  5. Good idea. It’s been raining here a lot recently I’m going outside to work on this.

    Time to get ready for more weird looks from my neighbors. :)

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