WALLACE ON WINNING
A s a living legend of the martial arts, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace needs no introduction for the majority of Black Belt’s readers. But for those who are new to our pursuit, here are a few keywords that describe the world’s greatest kicker: high-school wrestler, Air Force veteran, judo black belt, karate black belt, undefeated professional full-contact fighter, bodyguard, fight commentator, actor, stuntman, fight choreographer, Black Belt columnist, author, video talent. Add to that the fact that Wallace is perhaps the most popular martial arts instructor in the world and has been for four decades. If that’s not enough, know that he owns a master’s degree in kinesiology. The take-away is that if you’re into point fighting, continuous sparring or full contact, you’d be wise to heed Superfoot’s advice when it comes to combat. In this article, he focuses on a topic that’s likely right up your alley: the top 10 strategies that will put you on the path to becoming a champion.
1 Limber Up Your Limbs
Just like all human beings need air, all martial arts champions need lower-body flexibility. To become flexible, Superfoot says, you must work your hamstrings, quadriceps and adductors. In the long term, stretching those muscle groups will move you toward the goal of truly gaining control of your legs.
Wallace focuses on three T’s for flexibility: temperature, tension and time. You need to raise the temperature of your muscles by warming up, he says, after which you need to put tension into each stretching move- ment and then spend time holding the stretch. Maximizing flexibility clearly requires dedication. However, it need not be such a sacrifice if you adopt the right mindset. Here’s what I mean:
Say you like to watch television. Instead of being a couch potato, do the stretches Wallace recommends while you enjoy reruns of The Big
Bang Theory or The Simpsons. Start with floor stretches. Then stand up and turn so that while you’re doing a basic forward-bending stretch, you can still see the tube by peering between your legs. You get the idea.
Feel free to recruit friends and family members for partner stretches in your living room. If no one’s around, use a sofa or chair for support. Use commercials as cues to switch to a different stretch as you work your way through the three T’s.
ADDED ADVANTAGE: You’ll get your stretching done at home. That will save your valuable training time in the dojo for your art.
2 Pressure-Test Your Strategies
Because of the injury he suffered, Wallace’s left leg became his primary weapon in competition, and he used it mightily to win. Over the years, he developed some fantastic fighting strategies that meshed with his offensive and defensive capabilities. One method he used was a strategy from chess.
The objective is to control the center of the board, thus forcing your opponent to take the long route to get to you. That leaves the quicker and shorter path through the center for you to exploit. Here’s how Wallace says he made it work:
Superfoot always used the left-legforward, side-facing stance in con-
junction with the “Wallace leaning tactic.” This enabled him to turn his body away from his opponent while positioning his left leg close to the person, and he could lean backward in an instant when he needed to protect against a head strike.
If a fighter came straight down the middle, Wallace says he would drill him with a side kick or left jab. As the person retreated, he’d raise that left leg and chase him down while peppering him with quick kicks. Wallace’s unique footwork and leg chamber made this possible.
Those foes who opted for an outside attack were also at a disadvantage because Wallace had the speed needed to adjust his positioning and basically subject the person to the same abuse. And unfortunately for aggressive opponents, the quicker their attack, the harder the whack they’d receive.
3 Fine-Tune Your Footwork
Wallace developed footwork and movement patterns that complemented his side-facing stance and kicking style. Because he was always standing with his body facing sideways, long strides were never an option. He tended to take shorter steps than most martial artists do when moving toward or away from an opponent, which helped him maintain offensive readiness. When he moved forward, he led with his front foot. When he retreated, he led with his rear foot.
Another movement pattern Wallace used was to chamber his left leg so he could kick with it or use it as cover against strikes — and still move forward or backward. When he advanced, his short (and bouncing) steps enabled him to siphon off some of the momentum to slingshot his left knee up into his chamber and unleash a killer kick.
Even if you can’t kick like Superfoot, your aim should be to do what he did and develop footwork that helps you throw effective techniques on the go. Experiment with minimizing your stance so you don’t have to use longer steps to maneuver.
4 Polish Your Kicks
“People are full of excuses,” Wallace says in reference to skill improvement. “They say, ‘I have to wait until I get in better shape to work my kicks,’ ‘I have to do the splits first’ or ‘My knee is a little bit sore right now.’ Hey, I injured my knee in a judo accident, and my knees are as sore as just about anybody’s.
“You’re already training, which means you’ve made a commitment to be a martial artist, so now you need to make a commitment to spend part of your training time working on your kicks. It makes no sense to hold off for these reasons or wait until you’ve made some other arbitrary accomplishment before you start. Just do it.”
Yes, you need a certain amount of strength to lift your leg, as well as a certain amount of endurance to keep it raised and ready. If you’re not there yet, don’t make excuses; just start slowly. “Find yourself a chair for support so you can focus on the kick,” Wallace says. “Place the chair in front or to the side of you and hold onto it, raise your kicking leg and do a nice, slow roundhouse kick. Do this 10 times, then do the same with the side kick. Then repeat using the other leg.”
Exercises like this will strengthen your muscles, after which you need to build stamina, he says. “For endurance, raise your kicking leg and do 10 kicks before placing the foot down. After awhile, increase it to 20 kicks per set. Do these exercises a couple of times a week — you can add variations and work other kicks if you like. When you feel ready, quit using the chair for support.”
BONUS TIP: When chambering to execute most kicks, you should raise your knee as high as you can with your foot positioned near your buttocks, Wallace says. At the same time, turn your stationary foot so your toes point backward and your heel faces forward. This “opens” your hip, which allows for smoother technique. “People who throw their kicks without first pivoting the planted foot and opening the hip joint have the most difficulty because all the muscles are working against each other,” he says. 5 Customize Your Strikes Many martial artists try to incorporate their basic techniques into their sparring repertoire because of all the time they spend practicing them. Unfortunately, some of those moves aren’t as effective for fighting when using a certain stance or when facing an opponent in a particular stance. That means you need to weed out the stuff you can’t rely on and concentrate on what you know will work, Wallace says.
“It doesn’t make any sense to throw a reverse punch when you’re standing there sideways because there’s not enough reach,” he says. “I [chose to] use the backfist, but I made sure it didn’t get jammed so easily by raising my elbow first and then snapping it out and back quickly.”
His backfist always originated from a downward position because he fought with his lead arm down to protect his left side. If you elect to fight his way, try using Wallace’s style of backfist. If you use a more orthodox punching stance, experiment with other options such as the reverse punch and ridge-hand strike.
For full contact, Wallace often fired a combination that featured a left jab, a left hook and then an uppercut with either hand. “I always liked the jab because it worked to keep people off me, it helped set up the side kick and it’s pretty easy to poke someone in the nose with the thing,” he says. “Plus, I like hitting people in the head because it makes me feel good.”
Because he’s left-handed, the left hook proved a natural move for him, and the punch has a lot of pop. The uppercut, which possesses knockout power, was also an easy fit because it’s an inside move. Wallace says the best way to develop hand strikes such as these is to spar a lot with different partners. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t, he says, then work to smooth out your execution.
6 Land Your Shots
Making contact in competition isn’t as easy as people think. One key to Wallace’s success is he learned how to exploit any opportunity using his speed and footwork — without telegraphing his intentions. His flexibility, along with the aforementioned positioning of his planted foot to open the hips, gave him superior extension on his kicks. He could throw that foot high with ease, and his midlevel kicks benefited from the extra reach.
He was able to land so many of his shots because he could anticipate the angle and direction of an opponent’s attack, then launch his response and let the other guy run into it. Wallace did that a lot and made it even more effective by disguising his techniques and movements. He also created scoring opportunities using deceptive combinations. In one of them, he’d open up his opponent by throwing a side kick to the head, then drive a side kick into his ribs. In another, he’d execute a roundhouse to the body and follow up with a hook kick to the back of the head. Or he’d offer up a jab to get the guy moving back, then blast him with a side kick.
“If you want to kick or punch someone who doesn’t want to be kicked or punched, you’ve got to apply Newton’s second law, which says an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest,” Wallace says. “It’s a lot easier to get the other guy with your technique if you’re already moving.
“To keep moving throughout a match, you’ll need to work on your stamina. To build my stamina, I always sparred as much as possible, and I did shadow-kicking and rounds on the bag, too. That was in addition to all the leg-strengthening and endurance drills and the flexibility. It all works together.”
7 Boost Your Speed
Wallace has always been fast, but the effectiveness of his kicks was enhanced by the fact that all his techniques were designed to snap out and back, rather than thrust out and lock. He’d throw his foot out and immediately retract his leg and repeat, hitting his foe again and again. If he missed, it was no big deal — he’d just come back with a different technique.
However, when you set out to boost your speed, it’s often best to start with hand techniques before concentrating on kicks. If you’ve got good hand speed in a match, your opponent will give you more distance to work with, thereby allowing you more distance to throw a kick, Wallace says.
A recommended way to build hand speed is the palm drill. First, square off with a partner and have him or her hold an open hand in front of you at head height. The distance should be such that you can just touch the hand with your jab. Your job is to tap that hand, and your partner’s job is to move it away so you miss. Do 10 reps, then switch roles so your partner benefits, too. Once you have it down pat, perform the drill while you and your partner move around.
8 Hit Your Workouts
Most martial artists will benefit from adopting a regular workout schedule, Wallace
says. “My daily regimen at home is very simple. I start with a set of dumbbells. I do three sets of 10 curls, three sets of 10 triceps extensions and three sets of 10 military presses. Next, I lie down on the mat and do three sets of 30 crunches. Then I do all my stretches. The workout is fun and easy to do. It’s good for me to know exactly what I’m going to be doing every day so my body stays used to it.
“As for the cardiovascular system and the strengthening and endurance stuff, I do that while teaching my seminars every weekend and on many weekdays, too. That includes working on kicking, boxing, flexibility and all the other material I teach. During off weeks and when I have a couple of hours to burn, I go to the boxing gym and do a more extensive workout.”
Don’t let your training lapse when you’re on the road, Wallace says. “You need to devise a plan to stay in shape — if you don’t, you may lose your edge. When I was competing, I was in hotels all the time, and here’s what I did: dips using two chairs for support, pull-ups using a towel stretched over the bathroom door, regular push-ups, incline push-ups using a chair for elevation, full situps and crunches while putting my feet under the bed for support, and stretching out with several of the flexibility exercises.
“I always did it. Don’t be the one who says, ‘I’ll do it in the morning.’ When morning comes, you may not want to get out of bed. Then you say, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ but tomorrow never comes.”
9 Love Your Training
It’s easy to be persistent when you enjoy what you’re doing. You never hear Wallace complain about working out because he loves training. Strive to love yours. That may mean finding ways to make your routine so rewarding you just can’t wait to get off work or out of school so you can start it.
The best way to do this long term is to set goals. Goal setting motivates you to do what you need to do to improve. That might entail finding training partners and fellow tournament goers who share your passion.
“DON’T BE THE ONE WHO SAYS, ‘I’LL DO IT IN THE MORNING.’ WHEN MORNING COMES, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO GET OUT OF BED.”
10 Live Your Life
Wallace believes in the value of cross- training, but it’s not like the cross- training many people do. His theory is, Why spend valuable training time riding a bike, running or doing other unrelated activities when your goal is to become a martial arts champ? It’s better to do sparring and drills — and perhaps some weight work if you need to pack on some muscle. “For weight training, just use lighter weights and do more reps,” he says. “You don’t want to bulk up too much.”
He cautions people not to misinterpret this advice as a campaign against engaging in hobbies and having fun. Outside interests are necessary for a fulfilling life, he says. Which is why he’s still smitten with motorcycles and sports cars and why he absolutely loves golf. He was successful in martial arts, however, because he relegated those activities to his spare time and didn’t let them interfere with the training he needed to do to become a world champion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Floyd Burk is a San Diego–based 10th-degree black belt with 45 years of experience in the arts. To contact him, visit Independent Karate Schools of America at iksa.com. To contact Bill Wallace, visit superfoot.com.