I have been instructed to do short* steps. This is intended to provide agility in close quarters. When changing the direction of travel rapidly - for example from advancing to retreating - I have observed two approaches work reasonably well:

  1. always contact the ground with the toes first; for quick steps the heel doesn't even hit the ground
  2. at the moment of rapid change of direction, strike the ground with the heel as to transfer maximum momentum onto it.

Number 2. sounds suspiciously like a bad practice. Is it?

I feel this is going to take some years to resolve. Terrain is possibly the king. On floor tiles with heavy-duty hiking boots it's trivial to plant the heel. Not so much when barefoot over broken glass.

Contemplating the issue: heel planting produces more rapid response than toe stepping. Has tons of disadvantages but provides really rapid short steps useful for sport fencing; parrying a knife or whatever; even getting behind someone's back.

* - distance from heel of leading leg to toes of trailing leg shorter than one foot

  • 2
    Which martial art? Oct 8, 2022 at 8:51
  • Also, change of direction is clearly too general. You align the foot with the intended direction of movement but whether heel or ball of the foot is the main contact clearly depends on whether the new direction of movement is roughly forwards or roughly backwards. For sidewards, the main pressure is still on the balls of the foot. Thus, you'd be a bit more clear what directions you are speaking about Oct 8, 2022 at 12:19
  • @PhilipKlöcking in my(perhaps very wrong) experience both methods outlined in the question work in any kinematics i.e. retreating after a jab can be done entirely on the balls of the feet.
    – Vorac
    Oct 10, 2022 at 16:09
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    The question is not what can be done, it is what is most efficient. And that is simple biomechanics. You have your weight on the balls of the foot because the Achilles tendon, the plantar fascia, and the fascia of the calves can absorb a lot of kinetic energy when landing on the balls of the feet that they can release in motion back up without muscular involvement, ie. in addition to what the muscles do. Also, of course retreating movements (backwards) are initiated with pressure mainly or even entirely on the balls, the latter especially for quick, small steps. Oct 10, 2022 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


In the absence of any further detail, I'll answer as if the O.P. was related to striking arts such as full-contact Karate and Boxing.

'On your toes!' is a mantra of many a fighting coach, and for good reason, but it is possible to take the advice too far and to try to remain 'en pointe' all the time, high up on the toes like a ballet dancer. This is unnecessary and may even slow/reduce the power of your movements (because you are forced to either lower the heel prior to pushing with full force, or to push with less than optimal movement of the muscles/joints). Remaining too high and stiff will also likely unnecessarily increase muscular fatigue in the calves and quads and can lead to repetitive stress in the knees and knee ligaments (ACL, PCL and LCLs).

The heel need only remain slightly off the ground (roughly an inch/2.5 cm). It is inevitable that you will make contact with your heels at times; when defending, when fatigued and when resting out of range, but particularly when planting the front foot to promote maximum force on impact during some punches (such as stiff jabs or straight rights), or the rear foot to promote maximum force on impact when kicking (such as during low roundhouses and axe kicks).

If you lazily walk around the ring when in range, you will likely be caught on your heels, unable to evade, but don't be too concerned if your heel occasionally hits the ground when performing especially powerful movements. If you constantly feel your heel tapping the mat, you might want to start working on your calf strength via skipping, tyre/trampoline work, shadow-boxing and/or calf-raises, and to simply focus more on your footwork when training. Shadow-boxing is a great time to hone your footwork (or any technique), as you aren't encumbered by the additional cognitive stresses of complicated pad-work, sparring, fighting or high-intensity physical drills.

Deal with this problem sooner rather than later. As with all habits, the longer you train them, the more difficult it becomes to correct them.

  • 1
    Laziness. And sheer incompetence. I shall spar some fencing-as-in-i-touched-you-so-point. And - somehow - a Wing Chung guy who can crush my head through a full guard. Somehow. I'll report back.
    – Vorac
    Oct 30, 2022 at 17:01

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