The drill in the below video forms the basis of our method for training footwork. It is not unique, as it is a variation of one of the (probably) most ancient forms of martial arts practice, where one strikes and the other avoids. But we have our particular way of doing it, which makes the drill fun and engaging, while still useful.
Much of the success of the exercise lies on the subtle communication between the "attacker" and the "defender". The attacker is not trying to hit or make contact at any cost, neither is the defender actively trying to run away from the sword.
Instead, the attacker maintains a pace that is constantly at the limit of what the defender can avoid, occasionally going faster or slower to break the rhythm. There should be very few actual hits, but it is also important to make sure the defender is actually being challenged.
The defender tries stay within the range of the cuts, only avoiding them at the last moment. The defender can try to invite attacks or try to "manipulate" the attacker to make cuts that are easily predictable. But he is not running away.
The occasional silly turns and jumps are encouraged as a way of further seeing what the body can do, and they can be anything that the individual comes up with at the moment. However, the basis should always be clean, precise stepping and judging the measure to a millimeter. Only when the base movement is smooth and precise, should the occasional more expressive avoid be mixed in.
The attacker should treat the sword more as a generic "object" moving in space rather than a sword making cuts, especially to begin with. This exercise exists mostly to simply motivate the defender to move, giving their movements context. The incoming sweeps give the defender the distance, direction and timing for the movement.
We first started doing this drill when we were teaching a workshop at the 2017 Two Days of the Blade event in London. During a break I was probably getting on Hanna's nerves with something, so she decided to slap my buttocks with her sword. I started (trying) to avoid, and thus the exercise was born. ❤