This is one of those universal strategies in fighting that transcends style, weapon and situation. Regardless of whether you are fighting empty handed or with weapons, sparring lightly with friends or fighting for your life against 3 opponents, a big man or small man–learning to control the distance between you and your opponent, as well as controlling the access to your own targets, is vital to success in combat.
This skill involves more than just dancing around and fancy footwork.
There is a saying in streetfighting, that you never allow a man to get closed enough to you to punch you unless you are ready to punch or be punched. This is the primary idea behind controlling the distance. Simply put, you do not allow your opponent to get close to you until you are ready to counter his attack–or you are ready to attack him. This is accomplished at the most basic level by movement. However, there are other ways to do this. First, when the opponent makes a move towards you, react by attacking the closest target to you. In stick fighting, this would be your opponent’s legs. The body is too far back, and when he approaches you, the closes limb to you is often his leg. However, he may approach by sitting back and then throwing a strike at you with his weapon. In that case, you would attack his arm, hand–or even his weapon. The secret to “attacking the weapon” is to strike that weapon so hard, the percussion of your strike against his weapon either knocks his weapon out his hand or hurts his hand just holding the weapon. On the other hand, if you are fighting empty handed, you would attack him with your front hand to his chest or face. Second, you move around, forcing your opponent to move. When he settles in his stance anywhere near you, make him pay by initiating a long range, powerful multi-strike attack (like a combination). Doing this will force your opponent to keep a long distance between you and him because he fears your attack. Third, you can attack as you move around your opponent. This prevents him from following too closely. A good example of this is how the “old” Mike Tyson use to move around. He used a combination of moving while jabbing and flinching/bobbing/weaving while moving to keep his opponents on edge. This type of strategy keeps his opponents from getting too comfortable being within striking distance, so even the simple act of repositioning causes his opponents to keep not just a physical distance between you, but also keeps a mental distance. “Mental distance” means that the opponent is defensive while you move and is not even considering an attack. His failing to attack gives you the same advantages to being far from the opponent, because you know that you will not be hit for that period.
Using the above strategy accomplishes two things. The opponent is respectful of your power and your attack and will not attack often. This does not mean he won’t attack at all; he will simply be cautious and will carefully plan his attack. If you are a counterfighter or a power puncher, this is a good thing, as the one thing you get problems from is a busy opponent. By the opponent hesitating to attack, you have fewer attacks to deal with, and will be more prepared when he does attack. Next, the strategy above gives you the power of deciding when the engagement occurs. In having this power, you are only “punching when you are ready to punch or be punched”.
Which leads me to my next point.
The second, equally important part of this strategy is allowing the opponent to have access to you. Meaning, when do you allow the opponent to get close to you? Anyone want to guess?
That’s right. When you are ready.
The last thing any fighter wants is to be attacked when you aren’t ready. Fighting isn’t like a match when you can call “time out”. If you need to pull your pants up, take a breather, shake off a good shot that just landed to your jaw… whatever the reason, you may need to have a lull in the action. The ability to control the distance gives you that power. When you are ready to defend yourself, or when you are ready to pull off that great counter, you must draw the opponent in to land those shots. (As Bruce Lee would call it, “Attack by Drawing”) When I was fighting regularly, I liked to rotate my counters, so that I didn’t get typecasted as a fighter. My method was to make sure I didn’t use too many of the same techniques match after match after match. It was some advice I got from none other than the great Billy Blanks when I was about 14 years old. His words were, “never get caught doing the same techniques over and over.” When the opponent notices the same answer to specific techniques he’d throw, a smart fighter will throw it one more time to get you to do it again–and he will have a clever answer for it. As the saying goes, “never attack the opponent without knowing what his counter will be.” We test the opponent from a safe distance by throwing shots at him knowing he is really too far to successfully counter it. Most fighters won’t notice that he is too far and will try the technique anyway. When the distance closes again, you throw your shot, and when he does the technique you’ve already seen him do repeatedly–answer it with something to beat it. Now, for counters all you have to do is the opposite. When the opponent attacks you from the long distance, it may be half-hearted or it may not, but you will either ignore it or throw a half-hearted response. When the distance closes, look for the attack again, and when it comes, you respond with a different counter. When I fought in tournaments, I might use that counter one or two more times (remember, other fighters are watching you fight to see what they have to look out for), but my strategy changed from opponent to opponent.
And how do you get your opponent to attack you, you ask?
Simple. Do nothing. Your opponent is a fighter, so he will try again and again and again. All you are going to do is not attack him and allow him to be the aggressor. If you aren’t ready, move. If you are, let him come to you by moving and not attacking, and he will do the work for you. This time, when he attacks–you’ll be ready. Remember to rotate your counters and attacks, so the opponent can never be sure what to use or what will come at him.
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