Friday, October 14, 2011


Since you asked...

Read this first, if you haven't already. It's the basics of how I teach power generation. The drop-step falls under the category of power stealing. It is very simple. It is also counter-intuitive and violates a lot of what martial artists are taught from day one.

The drop-step is as simple as falling. Ernie described it pretty well in the comments of the last post, but I glitched on some of the words, so here's my take.

Stand with your feet a little over shoulder-width apart. Lift one of your feet. You will fall. You will fall quick and hard with absolutely no telegraph. Most of you, especially trained martial artists, won't be able to do it.

We've all been taught from our first class to never, ever lose our balance. And so before we 'fall' we subtly shift our weight to one side before lifting the foot on the other side. That creates a telegraph and, because the Center of Gravity is now just barely out of the base, changes a violent fall to a slow topple.

If you can just lift the foot, nothing else, trusting to get it back under you before you land on your face, you will move with great speed, power, and no telegraph. That's freaking useful.

My training trick (because I'd been taught to always keep balance too) was to try to touch my left knee with my right foot as quick as I could. Or reverse the left/right. All same.

It's not a step. It's not a leap or a lunge. The effect you want is of a table that suddenly has two legs removed. Just fall.

You can add lunge dynamics to it, and that is one of the reason that fencers are so freaking fast. But the lunging leg adds after the fall. Other than the natural bend in the knees, you don't load the lunging leg. That's the telegraph and it slows you down. That lunging leg can also steer you a little.

Steering might be important because the natural direction of the drop-step is along your strong line, the line you get if you draw a line between your feet. You want that strong line pointing in a useful direction (towards the threat for impact damage, obliquely towards the threat for damage + position.)

You can also, for the record, go straight down by lifting both of your legs. There are times where that is very useful. The stupid-looking move of drawing fists to hips and dropping into horse stance is one of the few motions that can generate a lot of power (concentrated on an elbow thrust) to the rear flank dead zone.

All of your normal power generation, hip action or hip twitch, whip action, dead hand, ballistic, structured ballistic... whatever you do, can usually be stacked with a drop step for a big increase in power. When you hit, though (and this is another thing that contradicts some training) you want your attacking weapon to hit the bad guy just before your foot catches you. If the foot hits first or at the same time, that's a certain amount of kinetic energy going into the floor instead of the bad guy. In efficient. I think the emphasis on simultaneous impact of foot and hand is a side-effect of the influence of fencing. Pointy swords require very little kinetic energy to do damage.

Ernie's drill is good and I use it as well. Take a stance perpendicular (hips, feet and shoulders square) to a training partner. Have him throw linear strikes at your face. Fall out of the way. Gradually speed up. Once you are consistently falling out of the way, change the angle so that you are falling 45 degrees towards the threat, but still getting off line before the punch lands. Add a mirror block for insurance but do not rely on the block.

And if your training partner starts tracking your fall, have him target and shut his eyes before he punches.


Anonymous said...

Excellent explanation.

It was killing me that I couldn't quite figure this out when reading Facing Violence.

I train in a martial art with a heavy emphasis on retaining balance over all else at its beginning levels, so counter-intuitive is an understatement.

Your explanation here helped me bust through that and understand - thank you!

Patrick Parker said...

Drop step is a day-1 concept in our Aikido classes, and is the basis of everything we do up to about shodan. You're right - it works great, and your explanation is excellent

considerphlebas said...

As a fencing coach, I work hard to teach hit before the foot lands, because hitting before the other guy does is very important. I file teaching to hit as the foot lands under bad/mistaken fencing. It causes other problems or lockups, too, so I really like drills to disassociate hand/foot synchronization (one blade action per step, briefly, to let them feel what they want to do, two blade actions per step to introduce new timing, and then three blade actions in two steps to really break their head open and put it together in a new way).

More likely culprit is our conscious mind. I read an article that mentioned that our brains will synchronize sound and visual stimuli before we're aware of it- up to 100ms and we will perceive them as simultaneous. So if you are seeing a lunge demonstrated and the timing is close, it's going to read as simultaneous. When students start working on it, I often found it easier to evaluate by not looking at them and instead just listening to the thwack-thump.

David R. Campbell said...

Is there a video somewhere out there showing this technique?

Anonymous said...

Wow, all we have to do is ask for the "simple" but not "easy" moves explained in words, and we get it! Sweet! Because the drop step was so well explained, I would love to see the explanation for "pull the ground with your feet".

Daniel said...

I teach Bareknuckle and Jack Dempsey style boxing and the drop step is a very important aspect of Power Punching. One way to teach it is by having someone step off a curb or stair step and feel the shift of their weight go forward as they step downward without lifting the knee. It's hard to explain something that needs to be felt, this step drill will help.

Nick Lo said...

I'm really glad I was one of those that asked for this description as I now realise that it was a form of drop step that was taught to me while doing Kendo. In fact it was one of those formative moments that I'm forever thankful to Len Bean of Hagakure Dojo ( ) for teaching me.

What you've now made me realise is the reason I found it so unintuitive was likely due to to prior martial arts training telling me to put my foot down for balance before the cut. Len persisted very patiently and I still remember the very moment (it was almost 20 years ago) when I got it. Thanks Rory for adding a little bit of extra understanding to that moment.

@Patrick Parker, I also read your Mokuren Dojo blog and would be interested in a description of the drop step you mention teaching in aikido.

Scott said...

In the Chinese arts I learned that we should always know where upright is. That is different from being balanced. There are a lot of ways to "stay" balanced, I think the confusion happened because people started training indoors or on some type of mat. On mud and ice the drop step is "staying" balanced...while sliding.

Joe Callahan said...

Thanks for the explanation. That was helpful. Having fenced many years back that description switched on a light more than thinking of it in terms of my current Chinese MA practice. The earliest lessons stick in the brain most deeply?

Anonymous said...

Master Bruce Terrill of Wu Ying Tao Karate called it "controlled abandon.' Combined with 'weapons-first', non-leading center movement, timing and distance, it is a one-shot, one-kill certainty. It allows the ambush to work against someone who is watching for it.

Anonymous said...

The foot hitting the floor at the same time as a hit is a neat way to learn timing... stacking the power generated by base on top of good mechanics and core follow through... getting all tha structure in motion and hitting with everything you can generate.

However, it is elementary. Like all teaching tools, wean yourself from them. Rid yourself of directing power down to the floor as soon as you find your timing. Any power leaving the body at the foot is power lost from the strike. The feet hit the floor before the strike hits the target is just like putting the brakes on all that velocity you just generated.

A drop step uses gravity to initiate a power generation, so there is no telegraphed body mechanics or tell.
-Billy G.

Anonymous said...

In Kenei Mabuni's book (son of the great Kenwa Mabuni who taught Funakoshi many katas), he talks of of the principle of toboku ho - or 'falling tree' in which you 'borrow' (it is mistranslated as 'lend) energy from the earth.

For those of you from a karate background that are familiar with Rory's writing, I would really recommend this book. Seen through the lens of Rory's experience, the book makes a lot of sense, though to our modern eyes it may seem a bit 'use-the-force-Luke'. But he essentially talks about the exact same things that Rory does and laments the exact same sorts things in modern karate. The book has a lot of history and interesting parables and is a thumping good read (although he can waffle a bit). Think Sgt Rory Miller as Yoda and you're pretty well there.

In the old days of kimonos and geta (sandals), the Japanese/Okinawan walked in a style called nanba aruki - they moved their hands and feet together on the same side of their bodies. You can still see this today in Japanese theatre - kabuki. I mention it here because it is related to the drop step technique - if they didn't walk like this, in combination with Suri Ashi, their kimonos would loosen and their geta would fall off.

The actual technique of drop step in karate is called hiza o nuku or hize wo nuku and is discussed here:

and is roughly translated as 'taking the knees out'. But i think it is generally supplanted by yori ashi or glide step in modern karate - it's not discussed nearly enough IMO.

By far the best explanation I have read is Rory's though.

A kata that has hiza o nuku in it is a shuri-te kata -Naihanchi. But it is obscure in its presentation. Ian Abernethy has great flow drills based on this kata but the drop step is not discussed. Either it is presumed that Yori Ashi is sufficient for the same purpose or we might be missing a trick.


Rory said...

Thanks, Patrick and Billy and Rohan and Mac and Nick and Danny and Scott-- It's in, I think, every system. It's almost too useful NOT to be, but it gets missed by a lot of instructors.

Phlebas- Thanks for the clarification.

David- I did a search and the one I found, the guy had decent power but it was really telegraphed, so he wasn't doing it well.

Anon- I did searches for 'pulling' 'ground' and 'feet' and couldn't find where I said that. Can you point at the post? I might have been talking about kicking in boots or stalking or twisting power from the ground or something else.

damkrantz said...

Gah! I recognize the step in the katas from Goju Ryu Karate. I still have the worst time with it. It is in Gekiasai Daiichi, Gekisai Daini, and I bet it is supposed to be done like this in two places in Saifa. It definitely makes more sense to have a drop step when coming down on top of someone's head with a fist.

underajunipertree said...


You might find it near the beginning of Seiunchin, too: three horse stances, and then a falling punch (about 00:40 here:

I had a bit of a "...wait a minute" moment when I first read Rory describe his little "touch the back leg with the toe of the falling leg" trick, because that's exactly the motion I was taught when learning that section of Seuinchin... except I was told that it represented a heel kick to the rear.

If this does represent a drop-step, it takes us to a point where we can start to think about 'kicky/sweepy' type movements in kata as /byproducts/ of what's actually going on, rather than as specific techniques to be emulated. The hip flick/drop/hammer fist sections of Saifa might be another example--there could well be a drop step in there as you say, and perhaps the 'foot sweep' that I was taught to do as a part of the turn is actually just a byproduct of whipping your hips around in order to turn more ballistically.

Speaking of whole body movement into strikes:

Michael said...


Rory said:
"All of your normal power generation, hip action or hip twitch, whip action, dead hand, ballistic, structured ballistic... whatever you do, can usually be stacked with a drop step for a big increase in power. When you hit, though (and this is another thing that contradicts some training) you want your attacking weapon to hit the bad guy just before your foot catches you."

This is interesting, and I'm trying to figure out how it would work. Let's take a right cross for simplicity's sake. The way I try to generate a solid hit with a right cross (left lead) is something like:
1. step forward lead foot, transferring weight onto lead;
2. flick right hip to trigger punch as weight comes onto left lead (using weighted left lead as a pivot or base),
3. punch lands as right leg catches up in stance.

This is a decent hit and implementing the drop-step at stage (1) does increase the power, even though it violates the "hit before the foot lands" constraint. Obviously the down-side of my method is that there's more telegraphic, even though you can push out those 1-3 steps quickly and with little warning (works better with a jab on step (1) obviously).

So how do you add hip twisting for a right hand hip if your left lead is the one drop-stepping to the target? Are you advocating flicking hips at the start of the drop-step, e.g. "raise leg and flick hip, fall, hit, leg lands"?

In short, I normally have a base around which I flick my hip. This base is normally my left lead for a right hand strike (I do have some stance bias that I'm trying to wean myself off). How do you couple this with a drop-step in a way that executes the fall, flick, and hit before the foot lands?

I know this stuff's hard to explain online and I'm going to go have a play with it myself anyway, but keen for your input on this one.

Michael said...

PS--'underajunipertree' was me as well; guess I have two blogger accounts. Hmm.

Kamil said...

I'm glad to see the references to Jack Dempsey. Bruce Lee also talks drop stepping when writing about the straight lead especially the part about hitting before your foot lands. Tatsuya Naka has devoted two DVDs to unstable falling motion that seems to be exactly what is mentioned here. I will be looking up Kenei Mabuni's book -- thanks for the lead.

HerbM said...

Jack Dempsey knew about, used it, and even wrote a book on boxing technique that uses it as the central concept.

The "Guide Chaos" folks (i.e., John Perkins) make it a centerpiece as well and aren't as totally FOS as their web site makes them appear.

There are a limited number of ways to generate -- and effectively transfer force -- but there are also far more ways than most fighters and martial artists realize or use.

Most people seem to hit on one or two and then train as if that is all there is.

Drop hitting can be trained while punching the heavy bag, at speed, with power -- but it's best to use a water bag (or something similar) rather than the traditional hard packed (e.g., sawdust) type or the ridiculous foam "karate school" floor standing things.

Proper timing can leave the drop until the hit is virtually certain -- that is, no loss of balance UNLESS you will be able to transfer the force to the target.

This means that (most) misses won't invoke the drop, or any loss of balance.

A drop hit that misses can put one it a terribly vulnerable position.

Ymar Sakar said...

What I usually use is to just lean on someone, at an angle, with only one foot on the ground. Then the other guy at random times just moves away and thus I no longer have anything to lean on and must step forward or fall. Using this downwards gravity assisted momentum, I figured out that if I could place that behind a strike, then it's good.

All I needed was the term that "one must hit before the foot hits the ground" to understand that benefit.

Tai Chi Chuan, on the other hand, prefers weighted movements where the power is always "on", and thus does not often use the free floating falling zero gravity flying of drop steps. For the power to always be on in your limbs, so that you can resist immense incoming strength, your weight must be centered on a strong hip alignment and on at least one leg. Then when the other leg's heel is on the ground, then you can move forward using constant pressure on the hips, forward aligned, to be able to push people off their feet if they are coming in.

Common application in brush hands. Originally I was trying to find ways to make what I learned from Target Focus Training work better in terms of body weight transfer.

HerbM said...

Sakar is correct.

The mechanics of the Dempsey style drop step (IMO) are similar to a learn-- at high speed however -- where very briefly your weight is on the back foot and your striking hand through the target.

Balance is maintained by rapidly slapping/slamming the front foot back to the ground with weight. This happens in coordination with the strike retraction or in the case of a miss.

Dempsey describes hearing another fighter who used this -- as slapping his foot with almost every strike. They key point is this slap is AFTER the strike transfers energy to the target.

Mark Oszoli said...

The straight lead from Bruce Lee's JKD also focuses on the drop step and landing the strike before the foot. As well as hands before feet as mentioned by considerphlebas. Bruce Lee followed the idea of keeping the center line from Nadi's fencing and was heavily influenced by Dempsey when working on the straight lead. I believe this is what the 1 inch punch demonstrates. With proper footwork you can generate power without winding up. Some of the modern fighters could learn this from him.