Sanshou Footwork Drill

This is a Sanshou footwork drill I like to do in class. It’s not terribly complicated but it’s effective in teaching certain things. Here goes:

  • You do pyramid striking up to five techniques. That means you hit 1, then step away. Then you throw two techniques, start over. And so on until you do a 5-count combo.
  • Every time you finish striking, you try to use sideways footwork, working both the left and right side. This simulates anticipating a countering opponent and getting away from the line of fire.
  • Once you’re comfortable with that, the partner walks forward each time you finish up. He can just walk, spring forward ,extend his arms, strike lightly, it’s all good. This makes the drill a little bit harder because now you have to wait  for his movement to time your side step and its direction.
  • Next round, go for a throw/takedown as he steps in (preferably, he punches at the same time.) Try to not go straight forward for the entry but use the sidestepping or angle off slightly. Anything but a head-on collision.

Here’s me, getting my sanshou groove on in the drill:

I did some editing to only show the parts where I’m working or the video would have been too long. But usually, you take turns being the attacker after you finish the 5-count. The round is 3 minutes long.

Some more pointers:

  • Every combination had to be different. Don’t throw the same one twice but instead, try to have as much variety as possible.
  • The partner can’t block, so go easy on the power. Especially techniques to the body will be painful if you get carried away, so don’t. Go for technique, speed, timing and versatility, not power. You only crank it up once your partner is allowed to become more active in the drill (which changes the drill a lot) or against the pad man.
  • The partner has to turn to face you immediately after you sidestep. This is crucial, because it improves your footwork immensely: as soon as he finishes turning, you should be able to attack again. Crisp footwork allows you to do that. Sloppy footwork, not so much.
  • I teach Sanshou, so the throws and takedowns are specific to the sport. Our grappling is different from MMA because the rules are different. So you won’t see a typical shoot for a single leg. To adapt the drill for MMA: work mainly on the entry of the throw. Get the timing right to come close, grab the partner and lift/shove him a bit. But don’t complete the technique. If he has to get up every time, it slows the drill down too much.

As with all drills, this one is not exactly like real fighting. But it allows you to work specific components of what you need in an actual fight. No more, no less. Of course, you can change the drill in a number of ways to change what you put the emphasis on. In this instance, I wanted to make people work on the lateral footwork, making different combinations and countering with throws or takedowns. Feel free to change those things to make the drill work for you.

By the way, I shot this clip with my new camcorder, a Samsung HMX-R10 . I got a discounted model at an electronics store at a third of the list price. It’s a great camera for just this type of video, a quick one you shoot during class. I highly recommend it.


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  1. Nice drills.
    And great explanations.

  2. Good one, Wim. Did it last night. There all kinds of ’round’ possibilities.

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