Distance and timing are perhaps the two most important attributes in nearly all competition sports. When looking at combat sports such as boxing, kickboxing, MMA and so on, it is easy to see how fighters with superb timing and control of distance and range can defeat opponents who are faster, stronger or more technically-savvy. Look at Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jamey Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and Georges St-Pierre, just to name a few of my personal favourites.
I have encountered two schools of thought with regards to these attributes in the context of self-defence.
Many self-defence systems, particularly Krav Maga exponents, advocate the idea of forward movement as the base for successful defence. The idea behind this is to put the attacker on the back foot, literally as well as mentally, in order to disable their ability to continue the attack. The forward movement, combined with a blitz attack should enable the defender to push the attacker back and inflict sufficient damage to subdue the attacker or to cause enough stun to allow for a quick escape. As such, distance becomes almost irrelevant, as we have only two options – either there is enough distance to run away, or get so close as to disrupt the opponent’s attacks, but very little happens in between. The same logic applies to timing – in self-defence there is often no time to assess your opponent’s movements, patterns or technical ability. The only option is to escape or press forward, and executing movements like a perfectly-timed light jab is not effective. Timing relates more to how long an encounter takes place before other factors, such as multiple attackers or weapons, come into play.
The other approach, which I tend to lean towards, is that both timing and distance do indeed matter in self-defence. That being said, I also believe they take much longer to develop and be comfortable with.
The application of technique should, ideally, follow this logic - “nearest target, closest weapon, best result”. In other words, we have to pick the best target and use the optimal weapon available in order to inflict maximum damage. Both Distance and timing play a crucial role in doing this successfully.
To start with, if you are alert enough to your environment and surrounding, you may be able to eliminate many threats altogether by controlling distance using effective movement. This could mean running away, circling or maneuvering to a position where you have the advantage.
Next, take the typical male ‘monkey dance’ where two guys stare each other down from across the room. As one approaches they begin to verbalise threats or challenges and gradually close distance until they come to blows (assuming no opportunity to deescalate or escape is available). This implicitly implies that the same technique won’t work at all ranges of the encounter. Throwing something, kicking, punching or head butting can all work as efficient techniques, but only at different ranges. The same goes for timing. If the opponent closes the distance faster than you realise you may use the incorrect technique, for example kicking when you should punch, and you may find yourself off balance and paying dearly for that mistake.
Secondly, while it is true that most self defence situations will end up in some form of grappling or extremely-close quarter combat (the ‘bad breathe’ range, as a good friend likes to call it), it does not start there. Let’s look at another example – someone rushes at you to try and tackle you to the ground. Depending on your understanding of timing and distance you may choose to block if they are very close, sprawl if you have a bit of space, kick if they are further out, or redirect them if you can. But all of these require a good understanding of how far away the opponent is, how quickly they are closing the distance, how quickly you can execute the technique and what the range will be when you execute the technique.
There are many more such examples.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please comment, post or email us any time.
Stay safe, stay tuned.