6 Things to control in any fight

Not that you will control all of them all the time, but the more of them you do control, the better off you are.  Here I am, having one of my occasional bouts with insomnia.  I have learned that when my mind attacks a topic when I am trying to sleep, it is better for me to just let it go, write it down and move on.  So here we go!

A number of years ago, and by a number I mean over 10, I realized that controlling distance in my sparring matches seemed to make a big difference in my outcomes.  I didn’t fully understand all that that entailed but it put me on the road to thinking through what I labeled in my head as the fundamentals of fighting.  Basic concepts, strategies, or principles that would guide successful fighting that transcended any style or body of technique.  My list is by no means comprehensive, but tonight I want to talk about 6 of them.  Specifically the 6 controls.

I divide them into the 3 internal controls and the 3 external controls because that just makes sense in my brain.

First I will list them, then I will describe what I mean by them.  Keep in mind, that I don’t have these mastered, I am still exploring how to accomplish controlling each one of these.  I am sure there are hundreds of unique ways, but each fighter has to discover how THEY will control them.


  1. Distance
  2. Position
  3. Timing


  1. Tools
  2. Balance
  3. Psyche

I divide them internal vs external because it makes sense to me, but maybe it doesn’t make sense to others.  I will explain my thinking.  By internal I am talking about things I control directly myself.  I am looking at them by looking at myself in comparison to my opponent.  They are me focused… more or less.  By external I am talking about things outside of myself, my opponent centered.  Many of these things are related to each other and one will often lead into the other.  Controlling distance will often times influence timing/tempo of the fight.  Controlling tools often enables you to control your opponent by controlling position.


When you control distance, you force your opponent to fight by your rules.  You might want your opponent to stay away from you to slow down his offensive and rob him of options.  Or you might keep him in a range that favors you and your skill sets.  Kick a puncher, punch a kicker, grapple a striker, strike a grappler.  All of those things are largely controlled by controlling distance.  When you want to control your opponent by keeping them at bay, how do you prevent them from rushing in?  How do you prevent them from grabbing you?  How do you prevent them from creeping in close?  When you want to be close, how do you overcome their attempts to stay away?


In grappling, controlling your opponent through position is more clear cut than in striking.  Often the position is constantly changing while you are in stand up.  The goal is not to maintain a single position, but to maintain a level of control over the position.  To keep your opponent fighting for the position change then change it in a way they don’t want… so you maintain the advantage.  This may be accomplished by using control over distance, or balance, or tools, or psyche, or just through timing your moves well.  You might choose to maintain control through position by using attacking strategies to keep them on the defensive then switching to a different advantageous position.  Or you may recognize they are countering your positioning, so you may abandon the position prematurely to stay ahead of their attempt to gain the advantage through their own position changes.


Timing refers to both the timing of your movements to your opponents and also the pace of the fight.  If conditioning is on your side, you may win the fight solely by keeping the tempo so intense they can’t maintain their defense long enough to win.  Or it could simply mean that you are timing your maneuvers so well that you are always capitalizing on the windows of opportunity that present naturally in every confrontation.  Not moving too soon or too late.  When they are always responding to your changes and tempo and never seem to be able to get the upper hand, you may be controlling the timing/tempo and that might be what is giving you the advantage over them.


Controlling your opponent via their tools means that through physical contact you are preventing them from getting their body into play the way they want or need to be able to do.  This may be accomplished by clinching with them, or controlling their head with a headlock, or grabbing their arm, or by checking their hips, or stepping on their toes, or applying pressure on their elbows to move their body and jam up their arms.  This might enable you to gain control over the position or their distance or their balance.  Often it is a good window into their psyche as well.


When your balance is off, it is very difficult to mount or continue an attack.  Sometimes the defensive strategy is to simply unbalance them in the middle of their attack.  While they are fighting to stay balanced they cannot mount effective attacks.  The trick is to not be unbalanced with them when they accept the loss and invest in it.  This is often how throws and takedowns start, or how grappling sweeps and escapes are accomplished.


This can mean many things.  It can cover getting your bluff in early.  Faking out your opponent by leading them to believe one thing but doing another.  Influencing their emotions in order to control the tempo of the fight and exhaust them too quickly.  “Reading” their mind.  Intimidating them.  Inflating their ego then baiting them into a trap. You want to control how they feel or what they think so you can undermine the effectiveness of their actions.

The focus should be on figuring out how to gain control of the fight by controlling your opponent through one of these 6 pathways, or more than one.  But remember, it can be a rapidly changing environment, don’t fight to hold on to one if it looks like you are going to lose it, simply switch to another.  I might control the distance to get position, then control tools and balance to keep it, only to switch to a tempo/timing strategy to gain control of them via their psyche then back to distance.  The important thing is that you not be afraid of change and that you control the scenario by controlling one or more of these at all times.

Train smart so you can fight easy!



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About Shifu Read

Primary instructor of the school. Training in martial arts since he was 5. He started in kickboxing, then moved to XingYi at 18. At 32 he began training in BaGua. At 36 he began training in TaiJi. At 40, he began in BJJ. He loves to share his knowledge with his students and help them along in their own martial journey.
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