This is a follow-up post to an earlier article discussing some basic principles that are applicable across all martial arts and self-defense in general. This was originally supposed to be a one-and-done article, but as I began to write, more and more principles and concepts began coming to mind – one of the side effects of being in martial arts for nearly two decades. A blessing and a curse as there’s tons of knowledge stored up in my noggin, but accessing it comes in ebbs and flows.I saved these concepts for a separate post because most of them tie in together. This is where the concepts start getting a little more lofty and implementing them in your training will oftentimes be frustrating. Bear with it though and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor as you will dominate both inside and outside the sparring ring. Let’s begin.
Mind Your Distance
In my training, I split up fighting into five ranges depending on the distance between you and your opponent. At each range you will employ different techniques and tactics in order to survive the fight. Those five ranges are as follows:
- Weapons Range – This is the furthest range where you and your opponent can only strike at each other via the use of weapons (think bats, knives, guns, etc.).
- Kicking Range – Some weapons are still applicable here, but now you are close enough to easily reach your opponent with kicks.
- Punching Range – At this range, most kicks are too unwieldy and ineffective to utilize. At this range, your primary weapons will be your fists. Boxers are most comfortable at this range.
- Standing Grappling/In-Close Range – At this range, you’re up close and personal with your opponent. Most punches and all kicks are not options at this point. Typically, if you reach this stage of a fight, things are going to go to the ground which brings us to…
- Ground Grappling Range – This is the BJJ practitioner’s territory and a dangerous spot for you to be. Both you and your opponent are on the ground, locked in combat, trying to get to an advantageous position.
Breaking a fight down into the various ranges helps you figure out a strategy for handling yourself in each. This concept is typically not given enough credence in many martial art schools. You can see this fact when a student is thrust into a range he is unfamiliar with. One of the most extreme examples that comes to mind is a Taekwondo practitioner, known for their kicks, against a BJJ fighter who excels at fighting on the ground. As long as the Taekwondo fighter can keep their distance they are golden, but watch the look of confusion and panic cross their face if the BJJ fighter closes the gap and takes them to the ground. They’re a fish out of water.
There’s a WIDE plethora of approaches to take for each range, but for the sake of simplicity I will cover just a few options for each. You will need to determine your own approach based on your own capabilities and experience.
- Weapons Range – Run! Seriously, the best option if facing an assailant with a weapon is to get the heck out of dodge. Self-defense is about surviving and encounter. Getting away from an armed attacker does just that. If you can’t flee however (perhaps you have your wife and kids with you), your best option is typically to quickly close the gap and disable the attacker’s weapon (Note: this rule doesn’t apply when facing someone with a knife).
- Kicking Range – Keep your opponent back with low kicks. Do not -I repeat- do NOT perform high kicks in a real fight. A general rule is no kicks above thigh level in order to prevent the attacker from catching your leg.
- Recommended Targets: Knee, IT Band, and inner thigh.
- Recommended Strikes: Front kick, side kick, and roundhouse kick.
- Punching Range – Assume a boxer’s stance; hands up, guarding the face and chin down. Stay light and mobile looking for opportune moments to attack.
- Recommended Targets: Jaw, nose, and throat.
- Recommended Strikes: Jab, cross, hook, and palm strike. No haymakers!
- Standing Grappling/In-Close Range – This is probably the trickiest range to tackle as there are so many viable options. Spend a lot of time training in this range in order to get comfortable being so close to an opponent when fighting.
- Recommended Targets: Floating ribs, liver, kidneys, groin, and solar plexus.
- Recommended Strikes: Knees, elbows, hooks, various locks and throws.
- Ground Grappling Range – This is probably going to garner some heated debate, but I believe you should know just enough to get off the ground and back to standing. The reason for this is being on the ground in a real fight is insanely dangerous. The risk of your assailant having a buddy ready to curb stomp you is just too high. Get up and get out.
- Recommended Targets: Eyes, throat, and groin.
- Recommended Technique: Escape from guard, mount, and side mount.
Please note this is not an be-all-end-all list on suitable targets and techniques for each range. Rather, it is what I find works for me. After I find 2-4 techniques for each range that work for me, I continually train them, flowing in and out of each range.
In this discussion on angles we’re referring to the direction of your body versus the direction of your assailant’s. We’re not going to get into measuring angles down to specific degrees so don’t concern yourself about that. Rather, we’re looking at trying to attain an advantageous position while simultaneously putting your opponent in a disadvantageous position. Can you think of a position like this?
Go on, take a second.
One such extreme example would be where you are actually behind your opponent. For the briefest of instances, your opponent will be unable to see you, block, or strike back until he turns all the way around and locks back on you.
Now that is the most extreme example, but it illustrates an important point that you should always keep in mind. What angles puts you in an optimal position to strike while putting your opponent in a position where they can’t? Once you determine that you must then determine how to get there.
I have found the best way to improve your positioning against an opponent is when they attack. Attacking typically requires committing to forward pressure. If you opponent is coming towards you with a punch or kick, they cannot do anything else until they reset from that strike. It is during this brief window that you have the opportunity change the angles on him.
As you can see on the left, you essentially have eight angles which you’re working with. Let’s briefly cover these options and their implications.
- Lateral (Left/Right) – These angles are effective for avoiding a strike but you’ll usually still be out of range to strike back.
- Straight Backward – This is what I call a neutral angle. It’s not good, but it’s not bad because you basically are in the same spot as before the attack.
- Straight Forward – To utilize this angle you must be ready to move as soon as you see your opponent initiate an attack. Typically you will move in, stuff their attack, and then immediately counter with your own strike or sweep.
- 45 Degrees Backward – Same issues as moving back or to the sides as you will still be out of range. However, it is better than moving straight back as your opponent must reorient themselves before coming at you again.
- 45 Degrees Forward – This, in my opinion, is the best angle to utilize. It puts you well within striking distance as well as puts your opponent in a poor position to defend themselves. When sparring in class, I have used this angle to get almost completely behind my opponent. Utilizing it is trickier than the rest though as you will have to make a guess as to what your opponent is going to do and hope you move across the right angle to avoid his attack.
Wrapping Up Part 2
So this little series is going on longer than I had expected, but that’s ok. This information is invaluable and often not discussed enough in martial art classes. Expect to see more posts on this topic. Next time we’ll go into some concepts that are more specific to certain martial arts, but are still applicable to self-defense situations. As always, leave your questions and comments down below.