Muhammad Ali Footwork & Jab
Muhammad Ali is the self proclaimed greatest of all time, and it’s hard to argue with him. He used his complex footwork and lightning fast jab to beat his opponents senseless, and then threw flurries to finish them off.
Today we are going to break down how Ali used a specific sequence of steps to circle his opponents far out of range and then dash in and out with a quick jab.
One of the surprises when I watched Ali slow motion was that he had very regular patterns to his footwork. Different sequences were used for different situations.
Today we are going to break down his most iconic pattern.
This is the one you think of when you hear float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. This sequence allows you to cover a huge amount of distance with minimum effort, and each step is another chance to pivot, accelerate, or change direction.
Here’s a sideways view with no pivoting. Step, hop, hop, step.
Step one is to step to your opponents inside with your lead leg.
Step two is to bring your feet close together, hopping on your front foot as you do so.
Step three is to hop off of your front foot again and swing your back leg behind you.
Step Four is to bring your front foot back into position.
Ali may have the best jab in boxing history. Lets take a look at its execution and then see where it fit into the footwork pattern we just broke down.
First, Ali pushed off with his back foot to close distance and generate some power. Then, he whipped his hand out elbow first, like a back knuckle.
He landed on his lead foot, and then pushed off of it to pivot and dart back out of range.
This is pretty unconventional. I can’t imagine a boxing coach who tells you to put all of your weight on your lead leg when you jab and let your back foot come way off the ground. Oh, and lean really far forward too! But this lack of structure is what allowed Ali that great mobility.
By the time he completed his jab, he had drastically changed the distance and centerline.
In musical terms, Ali’s timing was on the half beat.
If you were counting one and, two and, Ali was in range on the one and out of range on the and. He did in one beat what most fighters would do in two. By setting up a regular cadence, Muhammad lulled his opponents into a false sense of security, and then broke that cadence to take them by surprise.
Circle and Jab
By traveling quickly in a wide arc, Ali made his opponent lose their balance and timing when they tried to follow him, and he took advantage of the openings this created in their guards.
He almost always threw his jab after step 2 in the footwork sequence. With his feet close together, he would launch himself off his back leg, then pivot off of his front and continue the pattern, starting over again.
If you notice, the second part of Ali’s jab is the footwork from step 3, where you hop off of your front leg and swing your back leg behind you and to the side. So the footwork for his jab blended seamlessly into the pattern he used to circle on the outside, and he could continue this sequence without interruption.
He added a lot of variety to this pattern. He played with distance, angles, and timing in such ingenious ways that its truly incredible to watch.
There are a lot more footwork patterns that Ali used, and there will be more videos on them and his other punching techniques in the future.
Try out Ali’s footwork and jab and let us know how it goes. Even if you don’t have a long reach like Ali, I’ve personally found you never know what you can learn from trying out new techniques. For example, I’ve found that Ali’s footwork works really well for setting up deceptive kicks when sparring, believe it or not. So you never know.
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This has been David Christian form the Modern Martial Artist, wishing you happy training.