All of us in the martial arts community focus on the proper mechanics of strikes and kicks as well as the effective timing of defensive blocks and parries.
We hit and kick shields, work heavy bags, have partners throw various combatives at our body and head, just to reinforce the muscle memory of each technique.
As we progress through the ranks of a given system,

our precision improves, our timing becomes more confident and we begin to feel “sniper” accurate in our offense and impregnable in our defenses. Our dojo/studio “street-cred” is high and all is well.

Things change, though, when we transition from drill work to a more free-style and chaotic situation like sparring or confrontation/stress drills. We realize that the introduction of movement suddenly takes our well rehearsed technique and throws it literally, off-balance. Targets that we could hit easily with focus mits and shields are only open momentarily. We have issues making clean contact and sometimes miss entirely. It is immediately evident that there is more to battle than good mechanics. We need to master the timing of our offense/defense and win the war on distance. While this may seem to be an obvious statement, it’s practice is one that can take years to master. Let’s dive into this a bit more from a self defense perspective…

Once we have identified an attacker we immediately have a choice to make. Do we,

  • quickly defend the initial attack and make a hasty retreat once we have stunned them with a counter? Or do we,
  • improve our position in the fight and deal with this threat by incapacitating them or rendering them unconscious?

Each choice has very specific spacial requirement with the attacker in question.Defending and disengaging immediately speaks to using our best available weapon and then separating quickly. It creates the need for distance as we do not want to get into a wresting match, remain within our attacker’s striking reach or run the risk of being grabbed in transition. The best options (if available) are our long range weaponry, or kicks. A quick kick to the groin, knees or solar plexus can be enough to stun or disable our attacker momentarily, permitting us to disengage and run towards the exit.

If our attacker is too close and we are forced to use mid-range weapons (hand strikes, lunging knees), we now find ourselves within your attackers reach and can sustain damage as they throw their own combatives at us. We are in danger of being drawn into a full-out scrap and our ability to extricate ourselves quickly is reduced.

If the attacker is “up in our grill”, and all we have available to us are elbows, controlled knees, head-butts and eye gouges, then we are now pretty much committed to a fight. Our game plan should still be to hurt/disable and run, but our opportunities to disengage will be based on in-close fighting skills. Battles at this distance can shift with every shot thrown and we are always at risk at being taken down and controlled.

So our awareness in a fight needs to be on what weapons are available based upon the distance we are from our attacker and what targets are, in fact, open. If we are more comfortable kicking than punching, we need to establish spacing that enables our kicks. If we are too close, we will be off balance or jammed up with no power. If we are punchers, than we had better get into range that enables our hands. Sounds pretty simple, right? The key is to be able to do these things while moving in and out of range of our attacker. For example, if I’m trying to throw a right straight, that places me well within kicking range of my attacker. Movement and distance awareness is what will determine the winner of the exchange.

I am a fan of drills in the studio that allow partners to “slow spar”;  where both partners can lightly throw all their weapons, while moving. This gets students focused on what is available to them at a given distance. When push comes to shove, our attacker on the street will not be rooted to one place, holding up a focus mitt or shield. We must learn to move with our attacker and take advantage of our weaponry at the optimum distances and best times available. This will elevate us to having more than just “street cred” in the studio/dojo; we will be ready to deal with whatever comes our way in the street.